Has DNA evidence finally unmasked Jack the Ripper?

Has DNA evidence finally unmasked Jack the Ripper?

An amateur sleuth claims that fragments of DNA from a shawl found with a Ripper victim have identified the killer who terrorised Whitechapel, East London in 1888. 

The blood-stained shawl, allegedly found by the mutiliated body of Catherine Eddowes, was bought at auction by Russell Edwards in 2007.  Edwards said:  “There was no evidence for its provenance, although after the auction I obtained a letter from its previous owner who claimed his ancestor had been a police officer present at the murder scene and had taken it from there.”

Edwards suspected that the expensive shawl didn’t belong to Catherine Eddowes herself, but had been left at the scene by the murderer.

He enlisted the help of Finnish biochemist Dr Jari Louhelainen, senior lecturer in molecular biology Liverpool John Moores University and an expert in analysing forensic evidence from historical crime scenes.

Louhelainen used infrared to determine that the dark stains on the shawl were consistent with arterial blood spatter caused by slashing.  He also discovered fluorescent stains which had the characteristics of semen, as well as a kidney cell (one of Eddowes’ kidneys was removed by her murderer).  He then used state of the art techniques to analyse the mitochondrial DNA from the old genetic material still present in the cloth.

Police photograph of victim Catherine Eddowes
Police photograph of victim Catherine Eddowes

Edwards asked a descendant through Catherine Eddowes’ female line, her 3x great-granddaughter Karen Miller, to provide a sample of her DNA.  The two samples matched.  This, according to Edwards, authenticated the shawl and made it the single most important artefact in Ripper history.  Further painstaking research on the dyes used in the shawl showed that it was made in Eastern Europe in the early 19th Century.

Although any DNA remaining in the semen traces on the garment was too old and fragmented to be analysed, the shawl still contained surviving cells from the epithelium, a tissue which coats organs likely to have come from the urethra during ejaculation

Edwards knew that the police at the time had a prime suspect in the Ripper case.  Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, who led the investigation, named him in his notes: Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jew who had emigrated to London in the early 1880s with his family, to escape the Russian pogroms.  Kosminski was 23 when the murders took place and working as a hairdresser in Whitechapel.  He lived with his two brothers and a sister in Greenfield Street, close to where the third victim, Elizabeth Stride, was killed.  He was kept under close police surveillance after the murders and was later admitted to a lunatic asylum, where he died aged 53.

Edwards tracked down an unnamed woman who is a British descendant of Kosminski’s sister, Matilda, who agreed to provide a sample of her mitochondrial DNA.  Dr Louhelainen confirmed it was a perfect match with the genetic material on the shawl.  Furthermore, he found that it was from haplogroup T1a1, common in people of Russian Jewish ethnicity.  He even established that the subject had dark hair.

Does this prove beyond reasonable doubt that Aaron Kosminski was Jack the Ripper?

Read the full story in the Mail Online.

Russel Edwards and the shawl he claims has unmasked Jack the Ripper
Russel Edwards and the shawl he claims has unmasked Jack the Ripper

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