One of the more enduring mysteries of time, like who built the pyramids or how does Gwyneth Paltrow have a career is, who the hell was Jack the Ripper? It’s unlikely that we’ll actually ever really know: Too much time has passed and evidence is scant, but that doesn’t stop speculation and accusation from running wild and out of that world comes someone claiming that, for real this time, they’ve got the guy.
The latest example of this is Russell Edwards who, after cracking the mystery, wrote a book about it and gave the exclusive story to The Daily Mail. This time Edwards has DNA on his side, DNA captured from a shawl that belonged to Catherine Eddowes. Eddowes was both the victim of one of the Ripper’s most savage attacks – her intestines were pulled out and thrown over her shoulder – as well as one of two victims he killed on the same night.
The shawl in question was taken by an officer from the scene of the crime and presented to his wife, who understandably rejected the blood-soaked gift, and after years of being handled and put in storage, was put up for auction. There is no real claim of ownership however, and it’s not really known if the shawl belonged to Eddowes or not. In fact the only evidence that it did belong to Eddowes comes from a letter that the officer wrote, saying that it did. Tenuous at best. It’s more likely that the shawl was just something that was close by and the officer presumed that it was hers.
The DNA evidence itself is said to be semen, or more precisely cells from the urethra that were brought out during ejaculation that still exists over 100 years later. So far, so suspect. The problem is that this ‘cutting edge tests’, as Edwards calls it, has not been peer reviewed or backed up. Nevertheless, Edwards was comfortable in naming Aaron Kosminski as the Ripper. Kosminski isn’t unfamiliar to anyone who has a passing interest in the Ripper case. His name has appeared on lists for years but there’s never been anything tangible that ties him to the murders. He was a Polish Jew, schizophrenic and later died after living in an asylum for 20 years. His involvement in the case was likely because he was unfortunate enough to be the victim of some anti-Semitic statements at the time (Case files from the time notes that Israel Schwartz may have seen the face of the Ripper, but was chased off when the man started shouting anti-semitic statements at him).
Anyone brought up with CSI will assume that if you got DNA evidence then that’s all you need. But it’s not enough. Not only is the ‘evidence’ shady at best, but there’s not really anything to support it. Kominski was not a well man, this much is true, but he was still a far cry from a murderer. He was a chronic masturbator who heard voices, he was partial to not having baths and was prone to picking things up from the floor and eating them. However, he had no history of violence and was walking the streets long after the killings mysteriously halted.
Kominski may very well have gotten semen on the shawl of Eddowes. He could’ve easily found it on the floor and used it to relieve himself for example. But that’s not enough to point the finger at a man for murder. Nor is he the first person to be definitively named off the back of DNA evidence (Hello Walter Sickert) and Edwards isn’t the first person to flog a book that names the Ripper (Hello Patricia Cornwell).
I don’t think the case will ever really be solved and as time goes on those small chances diminish a little more. Still, there’s something endearing about that fact that people still try, that they study every little scrap of evidence again and again hoping to find something new. Here’s to those crazy people, long may they continue.