With Halloween quickly approaching, I thought: Hey! Let’s talk about something spooky, eerie, and creepy…Jack the Ripper! I will admit: when I was studying abroad in England, I went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour through Whitechapel. And it was fascinating!
And now, almost 130 years after initially grabbing headlines, old Jack is back at it. (Thankfully, NOT because of more murders.) On September 7, 2014, UK newspaper, The Guardian, released a story claiming “armchair detective” Russell Edwards had unmasked the identity of one of the most grisly murderers of all time.
Aaron Kosminski, “definitely, categorically and absolutely” Jack the Ripper, was a 23 year-old Polish immigrant who fled to White Chapel in 1881 with his family to avoid persecution during the Russian pogroms. Kosminski has always been one of the three most credible suspects. Often described as a hairdresser, Kosminski was seriously mentally ill. According to the Daily Mail, Kosminski was most likely a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered “auditory hallucinations and [was] described as a misogynist prone to ‘self-abuse’ – a euphemism for masturbation.” Kosminski was admitted to a string of lunatic asylums, where he died in 1899 of gangrene in the leg. This admittance is what may have caused the murders to cease abruptly.
So how did Edwards come to this conclusion? Through a blood-stained shawl purchased at an auction in 2007. Fascinated by the murders, Edwards found a shawl from one of the Ripper’s victims (Catherine Eddowes) up for sale; naturally, he bought it. How did the shawl end up on the auction block, you may ask. Answer: crack police work. Allegedly, Sergeant Amos Simpson, who was on duty the night of Eddowes death, saw the shawl next to the body and decided to take it home for his wife. Not surprisingly, the wife was horrified at the blood-soaked wrap, so she never wore it. Although, she did keep it, passing it down through the generations, before turning up at the auction house.
Edwards, now in possession of the shawl, enlisted the help of scientist Jari Louhelainen to find DNA. Dr. Louhelainen, a leading expert in genetic evidence from historical crime scenes, began testing the shawl in 2011. Through the use of an infrared camera, Louhelainen was able to identify not only blood, but also semen, stains that he would later test. Using traces of mitochondrial DNA, Louhelainen matched Catherine Eddowes DNA to Karen Miller, a great, great, great-granddaughter of Eddowes. Similarly, a descendant of Kosminski’s sister Matilda, provided a mitochondrial match to Kosminski himself.
However, other Ripper experts cast doubt on the claims. Richard Cobb, who runs Jack the Ripper conventions and tours, avers that the shawl has been touched by so many people over the years, rendering DNA samples less reliable. But that isn’t stopping Edwards. He released a book in September: Naming Jack the Ripper.
So why do we still care so much? What’s the fascination? Perhaps part of the obsession stems from the gruesome and sexualized nature of the killings. These victims were eviscerated: the Whitechapel murderer removed parts of organs, including the uterus and vagina. Add to that the fact that several of the victims sold sex as a commodity, and we’ve got one hell of a mystery, rife with all sorts of psychological and sexual connotations. But perhaps it’s time to care more about the victims than the perpetrator?
Into conspiracy theories? Check this out–5 other Ripper suspects, including a Prince and Lewis Carroll!