125 years later it appears that one of the greatest mysteries of all time has finally been solved. New evidence presented by Russell Edwards claims to “definitely, categorically and absolutely” show the identity of Jack the Ripper.
Jack the Ripper has captured the minds and imaginations of countless writers, film makers, and self proclaimed “Ripperologists” since the murders occurred 125 years ago. In the fall and winter of 1888 five women were killed by a single serial killer in the Whitechapel district of London. The murderer gained media attention at the time and was given the name Jack the Ripper due to a letter (probably fake) sent to the media. The killer has never been identified making the case of Jack the Ripper one of the most widely speculated and studied mysteries ever; at least until now.
In 2007 Edwards bought a shawl at auction which is believed to have belonged to one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Catherine Eddowes. This shawl is the centerpiece of Edwards’ claims as DNA found in the blood and semen stains on the shawl link this piece of evidence to the identity of the Ripper. Edwards teamed up with Dr. Jari Louhelainen from the Liverpool John Moores University to analyze the stains on the shawl and reveal the identity of Jack the Ripper.
Using modern molecular biology techniques, Louhelainen was able to extract mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from both the blood stains and the semen stains on the shawl. The mtDNA from the blood stains was a match for descendants of Catherine Eddowes as expected, the mtDNA from the semen was a match for a descendent of the sister of Aaron Kosminski, a Polish immigrant who was committed to an insane asylum in 1892. A descendent of Kosminski’s sister had to be found as mtDNA is passed only through the female line. This appears to put to bed the mystery of Jack the Ripper once and for all; it was Aaron Kosminski. DNA extraction from various samples has become critical in solving several cases such as this one.
But not so fast, there are still doubts that this new evidence is in fact the definitive proof that Edwards claims it to be. Although mtDNA is much more resilient than nuclear DNA and could stand the 125 years of degradation and other environmental stresses; not only is mtDNA contained within the membranes of mitochondria, there is often many more copies in a cell than nuclear DNA. However, this does not exclusively put the issue to rest, although Edwards and Dr. Louhelainen believe this to be the end of the story, many people including esteemed scientist Professor Sir Alec Jeffries, the inventor of DNA fingerprinting, are calling for the results to be published in a peer reviewed journal so that the results and methods can be properly scrutinized. This is some interesting news to an old cold case.
Is this the end? Was the DNA evidence contaminated in the lab of Dr. Louhelainen leading to a false positive? Were proper blind samples and negative controls used to verify the results? Were the samples compared to other Ripper suspects, or did Edwards conclude that Kosminski was the man then went out to prove it? For now we don’t know the answers to any of these questions, so for now at least the mystery remains alive.