Mystery solved? Jack the Ripper and the blood-stained shawl

The identity of notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper has long been one of Britain’s biggest unsolved mysteries. Not anymore. According to Russell Edwards, Jack’s name is Aaron Kosminski.

Between 31st August and 9th November 1888, Jack the Ripper brutally murdered five prostitutes – Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. Their murders sparked one of the UK’s biggest manhunts, but ‘Jack’ was never found or identified.

Naming-Jack-the-Ripper

Until now. Or at least that’s what Russell Edwards – amateur detective and author of Naming Jack the Ripper – started claiming at the beginning of last month. His claims appeared in multiple newspapers, and in his own detailed article for the Daily Mail.

The shawl that started it all

Basically, Edwards got his hands on a shawl believed to have been taken from the body of Catherine Eddowes after her murder. He enlisted the help of scientist Jari Louhelainen, who found DNA linking the shawl to both Eddowes and Aaron Kosminski. Kosminski was a Polish immigrant and Jack the Ripper suspect, who was locked up in an insane asylum in 1891 due to a masturbation addiction.

Edwards says his work proves that Kosminski is “definitely, categorically and absolutely” the Ripper, and that “only non-believers that want to perpetuate the myth will doubt”.

Well, he sounds pretty sure of himself. But what’s the proof this shawl has anything to do with Eddowes’ murder?

According to Edwards’ Daily Mail article, David Melville-Hayes owned the shawl before he passed it to Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum in 1991. His ancestor, Sergeant Amos Simpson, had asked his superiors if he could take it home from the murder scene and give to his a wife, a dressmaker. His superiors said yes.

What?! That sounds fairly ludicrous for starters. Sergeant Simpson sounds like one seriously disturbed fellow – hardly police officer material – if blood-stained shawls from murder victims are the sorts of gifts he gets for his wife. And the police just let him take this potentially vital piece of evidence? I nearly spat out my tea when I read this.

Edwards also recognises that the shawl was far too expensive to have been owned by poor Ms Eddowes. He theorises that the Ripper brought it with him when he did the deed and left it at the crime scene as a clue.

All sounding rather daft so far.

The proof is in the DNA

Ah, but there’s proof. Jari Louhelainen apparently found evidence of blood ‘spatter’ consistent with slashing, plus what he “believed” to be a kidney cell. And Eddowes was found to be missing a kidney – one of Jack’s ‘trophies’. Louhelainen found a perfect DNA match when testing the blood against that of one of Eddowes’ descendants, ‘proving’ the shawl’s authenticity.

As to Jack himself, there were traces of semen on the shawl. Louhelainen tested this against a living relative of Kosminski’s and Bob’s your uncle. Another perfect match. Kosminski is Jack. Case closed. Goodnight.

But hang on a second…

I’m sorry, but no. That’s the attitude of Hull historian and Ripper expert Mike Covell, who rubbished Edwards’ conclusions a few days later. He said that Amos Simpson, who claimed to have taken the shawl, was never even at the murder scene. He added that no mention of the shawl was made in any of the official reports.

But what about the DNA? Covell argues that any DNA found on the shawl could have easily been contaminated. Lots of people have handled it since David Melville-Hayes gave it to Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum, including several of Catherine Eddowes’ descendents. He also pointed out that while blood and semen were indeed found on the shawl, mitochondrial DNA – which is what Louhelainen based his findings on – is less accurate. It can’t be used to identify individuals, only groups who might share an ancestor or two.

Most importantly of all, other scientists have not yet verified or lent credence to any of these findings.

From the sounds of it, they’re not going to.

Next week: Are there time travellers among us?

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