Technology

Investigator Claims To Have Solved The Ripper Mystery Using DNA

September 7, 2014 | by Stephen Luntz

Photo credit: A drawing from The Illustrated Police News at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders

An amateur investigator has claimed to have identified Jack the Ripper, the archetypal serial killer. The claims are still far from verified, but that hasn't stopped tabloids declaring the case solved.

Between 1888 and 1891 eleven women were murdered in the Whitchapel area of London. Of these, five are believed to have been committed by the same killer, dubbed Jack the Ripper, while the others may have been the victims of copycats or people they knew.

The new claim is that DNA has been found connecting suspect Aaron Kosminski to the murder of Catherine Eddowes, one of the so-called “canonical five” killed between August 31 and November 9, 1888.

Though it's been more than 100 years since Jack the Ripper terrorized the streets of London, his crimes survive in the public imagination.

After seeing the movie From Hell, businessman Russell Edwards was intrigued enough by the crimes to have bought a shawl that was supposedly found near Eddowes' body. The shawl was collected by one of the police officers investigating the crime, though preservation of evidence was more lax in those days.

While other “Ripperologists” have dismissed the shawl as a fake, Edwards believed its Michaelmas flowers were an obscure clue left by the killer warning of his next attack, which occurred on November 8, 1888 at the Eastern Orthodox Churches' Michaelmas festival.

Edwards had the shawl tested and found not only blood, but also semen. The DNA was too degraded by the passage of time for microsatellite analysis, but Dr. Jari Louhelainen, a senior molecular biology lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, matched the mitochondrial DNA from the blood to a descendent of Eddowes, using a technique he developed for extracting genetic material from cloth.

Edwards has also claimed to have matched the DNA from cells in the semen to a descendent of Kosminski's sister. Kosminski was long considered one of the main suspects for the crimes. He lived in the areas where they occurred and was known for his severe mental illness and his misogyny. In addition, the crimes of the original Ripper stopped after he was committed to a mental institution. 

Edwards is claiming the evidence as conclusive, but has chosen to publish his claims in a book and the frequently anti-science Daily Mail, rather than a scientific publication.

DNA evidence has solved many crimes, and exposed so many wrongful convictions it has changed the debate on capital punishment. Nevertheless, it is not perfect; forensic consultant Dr Carol Mayne says the letters should stand for Do Not Assume because “It is not as infallible as people think”, even from far fresher samples and where the match is to the suspect, not a remote decedent. 

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