There has been a huge amount of coverage this week on the revelations that a shawl, purporting to belong to Catherine Eddowes, Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim, had been tested for DNA and had given up the name of the culprit who has evaded professional and amateur detective for 126 years.
If you’ve not looked at a newspaper this week, then there’s a possibility that you may have missed this earth shattering find.
So, here is a brief re-cap.
Russell Edwards, having bought a shawl at auction in 2007, that was said to have been taken away from the Eddowes murder site in Mitre Square on 30th September 1888, had it tested for DNA.
He then had the samples compared to DNA from one of Catherine Eddowes descendants and one of the major suspect’s, Aaron Kosminski’s, descendants.
A positive match in both cases.
I don’t want to go in to the argument here as to whether or not this latest revelation does, indeed, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, – or should that be beyond reasonable doubt? - that the case of Jack the Ripper can finally be closed, as this was covered in this previous article.
However, here at the Jack the Ripper Tour of London we love to discuss any finds on the case, with participants who join us on our nightly walk.
So, I decided that these were the people to ask as, if anyone would have a definitive answer, they would.
And so I posed the following question on our Facebook Page “Does the shawl prove that Aaron Kosminski was Jack the Ripper?”
Now, if I can just stress that the question wasn’t “was Aaron Kosminki Jack the Ripper?” but simply whether the shawl actually proved the case against him.
We simply asked for a one word answer, yes, no, or undecided.
And, the results a came in as follows.
Yes 10 votes.
No 71 votes
Undecided 6 votes
Possible 1 vote
No comment 1 vote.
So, there you have it, 71 people out of 88 people who took part were emphatic that the shawl in no way proves that Aaron Kosminski was Jack the Ripper.
The people have spoken!
Incidentally, if you would like to see our film about the police case against Kosminski you can do so on the following video.
If you would like to discuss these latest finds with our expert guides then we’d love to welcome you onto our Jack the Ripper guided tour in the course of which you will have the opportunity to, not only become your own Victorian CSI, but will also be able to analyse all the facts with your guide and fellow walkers.
You can book your places here.Posted in General News Comments Off
A flurry of excitement, mingled with an awful lot of controversy, swept the Ripper world on Sunday with revelations in the Mail on Sunday that, after 126 years, the identity of Jack the Ripper had finally been confirmed.
According to Russell Edwards, whose book Naming Jack the Ripper is published today, the sequence of murders that took place in the East End of London in 1888 were carried out by Aaron Kosminski.
Interestingly, this was the suspect we featured in great detail in our drama/documentary Unmasking Jack the Ripper in 2005.
But, as was mentioned in the programme, there was no way of proving any suspect’s guilt with 100% certainty because almost all the actual police evidence is no longer available.
THE CASE AGAINST KOSMINSKI
Kosminski was the favoured suspect of the two leading officers with direct responsibility for the Jack the Ripper case, Dr Robert Anderson, who was the head the the Metropolitan Police Detective Department, and Chief Inspector Swanson, who was put in charge of reading and assessing all the information that was coming in on the case.
Both these men had access to the evidence against all the major suspects and, if they though the evidence against Kosminski was stronger than the evidence against other suspects then that must place him high on the list of likely Jack the Ripper suspects.
Kosminski was found to be of unsound mind in February 1891 and was sent to Colney Hatch Asylum.
Here he, most certainly wasn’t particularly homicidal – at least as far as we know he wasn’t – and the only known act of violence he is known to have committed was to throw a chair at an attendant.
So why was he suspected?
The problem for modern day researchers has always been that very little of the evidence has survived or, if it has, we haven’t been able to find it. So these latest sensational revelations in the Mail On Sunday are a major development in the hunt for Jack the Ripper.
Indeed, they seem to suggest that, after 126 years of intense speculation regarding the identity of the World’s most famous and elusive serial killer, Russell Edwards has, indeed, solved history’s greatest murder/mystery.
Sadly, however, this is just the latest in a long line of similar revelations – such as a diary and a pocket watch, which “proved” that James Maybrick was the killer – in which an author claims to have solved the case once and for all.
Now we have Russell Edwards popping up and, with the help of molecular biologist Dr. Jarl Louhelainen, solving the case conclusively yet again.
The evidence, such as it is, revolves around a shawl which was said to have been found next to the body of Catherine Eddowes, the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper, who was murdered in Mitre Square in the City of London in the early hours of the 30th September 1888.
The shawl was, reputedly, taken home, with the permission of his Superiors, by Acting Sergeant Amos Simpson.
It was then stored away, without, apparently, being washed, and was subsequently passed down via various descendants until coming into the possession Simpson’s great grandson, David Melville-Hayes.
In March 2007 it was sold at auction and was acquired by Russell Edwards, who duly commissioned Dr. Louhelainen to conduct tests on the shawl to try and prove its authenticity.
The initial findings were, to say the least, extremely promising.
The tests revealed that the dark stains on the shawl were, in fact, arterial blood consistent with spatter caused by slashing, ”exactly the grim death Catherine Eddowes had met.”
The next set of findings, however, were even more impressive as, under UV photography, a set of fluorescent stains were revealed which, according to Jarl, showed characteristics of semen.
Was it possible that they had, at long last, uncovered physical evidence from Jack the Ripper himself?
The next step was to acquire DNA samples from a direct descendant of Catherine Eddowes and a direct descendant of Aaron Kosminski.
As far as Catherine goes, this wasn’t too difficult as her descendants are quite active on the ripper scene and have appeared in various television documentaries. Indeed some of them have even joined us on our Jack the Ripper Guided Walking Tour.
Karen Miller, a three times great grand daughter of Eddowes agreed to provide the required sample and it came back as a “perfect match.”
As for Kosminski, there are various people around who claim having him as an ancestor. Indeed, when we made the documentary Unmasking Jack the Ripper in 2005 we interviewed a wonderful lady by the name of Zena Shine who had grown up in the East End of London and whose maiden name was Kosminski. However, it soon became apparent to me that she probably wasn’t a direct descendent of the Aaron Kosminski although he may have been her uncle.
Russell Edwards managed to track down a descendent of Kosminski’s sister, Matilda, who agreed to give a DNA sample and, once more, this also came back as a positive match.
With the DNA of both the victim and of the perpetrator present on the shawl this was a moment of euphoria for Russell Edwards and he duly celebrated the fact that, after 126 years, they had “nailed Aaron Kosminski.”
But have they?
Well, in all honesty it is an impressive find and we shouldn’t detract from Russell’s terrific efforts on the case.
But as for actually “nailing” Jack the Ripper, it’s a bit more complex.
The shawl, and the tests, may have proved that Aaron Kosminski and Catherine Eddowes may have met and may even have been intimate.
But, this still doesn’t prove that Kosminski was the man who murdered Eddowes.
One of the main problems though with sharing in the general euphoria that the case is finally closed is that we are being asked to take on trust the identity of the descendent who gave the DNA sample that was a match for Kosminski.
Russell Edwards says, and probably fairly, that he is protecting “her” identity.
But the problem is that we are being asked to take on trust the crucial piece of evidence that links the victim and the murderer.
In other words, historians are being asked accept that a genuine descendent was traced, tested and proved to be a positive match, but are not being allowed to know the identity of that descendent in order that she can be independently verified.
Which, in my opinion, leaves us no closer to knowing the identity of Jack the Ripper than we were a year ago, or the police were 126 years ago.
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One of the most intriguing pieces of film on the Jack the Ripper murders appeared in James Mason’s film of “The London That Nobody Knows.”
This film captures parts of London that have long since vanished including a trip along Hanbury Street where we are treated to a view of, not just the exterior of number 29, but also the back yard as well where the murder of Annie Chapman, the second of Jack the Ripper’s victims, took place on the 8th September 1888. With the 126th anniversary of that murder now approaching I thought that this would be a great subject for today’s blog.
The footage shows James Mason standing in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street. It’s also wonderfully staged in that the woman who answers the front door when James Mason knocks isn’t in the least bit phased by the fact that she’s got an internationally renowned Hollywood actor standing on her doorstep.
I think this is the only footage we have of an actual murder site before it was developed and, as such, it is, most certainly, a genuine piece of Jack the Ripper history.
Anyway I hope you enjoy the little film and, if you would like to see the site of the second murder by Jack the Ripper you can book onto our nightly walking tour that takes you around the murder sites.Posted in General News Comments Off
Mary “Polly” Nichols was a resident at one of the Common Lodging Houses in Thrawl Street in Whitechapel.
But, in the early hours of the morning on 31st August 1888, she had spent what little money she had drinking in various pubs in the area, including the Frying Pan at the junction of Brick Lane and Thrawl Street and, as a result, she didn’t have the four pence that she needed to pay for her bed for that night.
As far as the deputy lodging house keeper was concerned, if she didn’t have the money she didn’t get a bed and so he, unceremoniously, turned her out into the night.
“I’ll soon get my doss money,” she is said to have told him as she left, “see what a jolly bonnet I’m wearing.”
It would appear that she was intending to prostitute herself on the local streets and she believed that the bonnet would prove irresistible to potential clients.
At around 2.30am in the morning of the 31st August 1888 her good friend, Emily Holland, met Mary at the junction of Whitechapel Road and Osborn Street. She was quite drunk and somewhat unsteady on her feet. According to Mary she had, in fact, made her “doss” money three times over but had, each time, spent it on drink. She was now going to see if she could acquire the required amount a fourth time.
Emily was somewhat concerned at Mary’s obvious drunken state and urged her to come back to the lodging house and sober up in the kitchen. But Mary was adamant that she could make the money and so staggered off into the night, calling back as she did so “It wont be long before I’m back.”
Over the course of the next hour Mary made her way along Whitechapel Road where she met a potential client. As an experienced street walker she would have known the perfect spots to take him to where there would be little chance of them being interrupted.
So, she duly led this stranger to Buck’s Row, a dark thoroughfare set back off the well lit Whitechapel Road.
At 3.40am, on 31st August, local carter Charles Cross was on his way to work along Buck’s Row, when he found her body lying in a gateway.
At first he wasn’t sure what the prone form was and he approached it to take a closer look. As it dawned on him that it was a woman he hard footsteps approaching and, turning, noticed another Carter, Robert Paul, walking towards him.
He beckoned him over and the two men checked to see if they could detect any signs of life.
They couldn’t and, since they were now late for work, they decided that the best thing they could do would be do make her decent by pulling her raised skirts back down over her knees, and then continue on their way in order that they could tell the first policeman they came across what they’d found.
However, no sooner had they left the dark gateway in Buck’s Row than Police Constable Neil, the local beat officer, came along the dark thoroughfare, noticed the form on the ground, and shone his lantern onto it. He saw what Cross and Paul had not noticed, that the woman’s throat had been cut.
Soon, local medic Dr Ralph Llwellyen had been summoned to the scene and, having carried out a cursory examination, he pronounced life extinct and ordered that the body be removed to the nearby mortuary where he would make a more detailed examination later that day.
So, within an hour of the body of Mary Nichols being discovered she was lifted onto a police ambulance (in reality little more than a wooden hand cart) and was trundled away from the scene.
Once the body had been delivered to the mortuary Inspector Spratling arrived to note down a description of the deceased. It was he who lifted her skirts back up and made the shocking discovery that the woman had been disembowelled.
Meanwhile, back in Buck’s Row, the crime scene itself was washed won to remove as much of the blood as was possible. Mary Nichol’s “jolly bonnett” was lifted from the gutter and taken away and, by 6am, there was little physical evidence remaining to suggest that a hideous crime had taken place.
By the end of that day the police had traced Mary’s estranged husband, John Nichols, and had taken him to the mortuary to identify the body. As he stood looking at her, his distress was evident, as he whispered to her “I forgive you, as you are, for what you have been to me.”
What nobody realised in the immediate aftermath of the murder of Mary Nichols was that, in that dark gateway in Buck’s Row Whitechapel, the autumn of terror had begun and Jack the Ripper’s murderous reign was under way.
You can learn the full story of the murders on our nightly tour of the Jack the Ripper sites.Posted in General News Comments Off
I really do find it fascinating, even a little eerie, to watch the old black and white films of London that are on the BFI you tube channel.
Today I cam across this wonderful little film of London After Dark, which shows the Elephant and castle in 1926. An interesting thing about this is that, although 1926 sounds like an awfully long time ago – and, I suppose, to all intents and purposes, it is – in the greater scheme of things it isn’t that long ago.
It was, for example, the year that Queen Elizabeth 11 was born.
But historically, this is London between the wars and the wonderful thing about these old black and white films is that you get to see England’s Capital prior to the widespread destruction that was wreaked on it by the bombs of The Blitz of the Second World War.
I love the little captions, which are almost poetic in their sentiments. For example, there is that wonderful opening caption informing us that “…the sun has settled down to slumber and the Big City is wrapped in the mantle of moonlight…” pure poetry!
The there’s a wonderful long view of St Paul’s Cathedral, seen from the south side of the River Thames, before we’re told that we’re off to the “Elephant” which, according to the caption, is that “bustling centre of humanity.” I’d call the Elephant and castle of today many things but, I have to admit, a “bustling centre of humanity” wouldn’t be one of them!
But, to me at least, the accolade of the most poetic of the captions goes to that wonderful description of the “Elephant Theatre” as an ‘academy of art… wherein those big-hearted working classes can enjoy the good old drama.” I’d have loved to have been looking over the caption writer’s shoulder as he wrote out his lines. I wonder if he afforded himself the occasional chuckle as he came up with the lines!
As with so much of the BFI film archive this really is something worth watching, as it really does capture the flavour of a long vanished London age.Posted in General News Comments Off
One of the locations we pass on our Jack the Ripper Tour is Middlesex Street, which is better known the World over as Petticoat Lane. A constant observation that we get from participants on our walk is how wonderful it would be to be able to go back in time and see the streets as they actually were in 1888.
Well, thanks to the BFI, who have now started putting their wonderful film archive on Youtube, you can do just that and pay a visit to Petticoat Lane, on film at least.
This film shows the Sunday morning Petticoat Lane Market as it was in 1903, so we’re talking just 15 years after the Jack the Ripper murders. It is somewhat chilling to consider that many of the people whose faces you see in this short film actually lived thorough the horrors of the Whitechapel Murders and would have had their own first hand accounts of what it was like.
So enjoy this nostalgic trip down memory lane and take a look at an East End Street as it was at the time of the most infamous crime spree in history.Posted in General News Comments Off
The 7th August sees the 126th anniversary of what may well have been the first of the Jack the Ripper Murders.
The murder itself took place on a first floor landing of George Yard Buildings, located in George Yard, a dark turning off Whitechapel High Street.
A local newspaper described George Yard, rather unflatteringly, as ”…one of the most dangerous streets in the locality…” and even today, although parts have been redeveloped and the name has been changed to Gunthorpe Street, it still has a menacing air about it.
It had just gone 5am when John Saunders Reeves came out of his apartment in George Yard Buildings and began descending the stairs. As he arrived on the first floor landing he discovered the body of a woman lying on her back in a pool of blood.
He raced off to fetch a policeman and soon returned with Constable Barrett who, having ascertained that the woman was beyond help, sent Reeves to fetch the local medic Dr. Killeen. When the doctor arrived he carried out a cursory examination, noted that she had been “brutally murdered” and, having pronounced life extinct, ordered that she be removed to the mortuary.
What he noted was that the woman upper body had been subjected to a frenzied knife attack that had resulted in 39 stab wounds that ran from her throat to her lower abdomen.
There was considerable unease in the area at the fact that such a brutal murder could have taken place, again to quote a local newspaper, “next to the citizens peacefully sleeping in their beds” without anyone hearing a sound and without a “a trace or clue being left of the villain who did the deed.”
The woman was soon identified as local streetwalker Martha Tabram (also known as Turner) and, at the subsequent inquest into her death the assistant Coroner, George Collier, opined that her’s had been ”…one of the most dreadful murders any one could imagine.”
As for the person who had carried out the crime, he was of the opinion that, whoever he was, he must have been ”…a perfect savage to inflict such a number of wounds on a defenceless woman in such a way.”
Of course, at the time the sequence of murders that we now know as the Jack the Ripper crimes were yet to capture the imagination of the public. So, brutal as it was, this was still a crime that was an isolate incident.
What the murder of Martha Tabram did do, however, was add to a general feeling of unease that was already taking hold in the area that something was happening in Whitechapel.
People genuinely became afraid of walking through those dark, unlit thoroughfares, for which the district as a whole was notorious.
The result was that, when within less than a month the body of another woman (Mary Nichols) was discovered in a dark gateway in nearby Buck’s Row, the unease gave way to outright panic.
So, for the people of Whietchapel, although they had no way of knowing it when they woke up on the 7th August 1888 to the news of the horrible murder in George Yard, their autumn of terror had begun.
As mentioned earlier, George Yard, the site of Martha Tabram’s murder, is now called Gunthorpe Street, and it has lost nothing of its menacing ambience, despite the passage of 126 years.
It is the first destination on our nightly Jack the Ripper walking tour and those who join us on the walk often comment how, the moment they pass through the dark archway, through which Martha Tabram would have passed with her murderer on 7th August 1888, they really do feel like they’ve stepped back in time.
As to whether or not Martha was a victim of the ripper, the jury is still out. Some say she wasn’t because her injuries were not consistent with the injuries suffered by the canonical five victims, others say that she was was and that, in killing her, Jack, by targeting her throat and lower abdomen, was evolving the modus operandi that, three weeks later, he would use to such devastating effect on his first definite victim, Mary (Polly) Nichols.
It has to be said that, at the time of the murders, most of the officers working on the case were in no doubt that Martha was slain by the slain hand that slew Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly.
So there is every chance that on this day in history, August 7th 1888, Martha Tabram became the first victim of Jack the Ripper.
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If there is one mystery that has been rife with conspiracy theories its the Jack the Ripper case.
Almost from the moment some unknown miscreant began his series of murders on the streets of the East End of London people have been coming up with wilder and wilder theories as to who he (or in many cases they) was/were and the reason why the crimes themselves were committed.
At the height of the ripper scare, George Bernard Shaw was suggesting that the reason for the murders was some “independent genius” had discovered the perfect way of exposing the horrific conditions in the districts of Spitalfields and Whitechapel and was carrying out a series of murders as a sort of social reformer. Admittedly Shaw’s tongue was firmly in his cheek when he made his social reformer suggestion, but others were coming up with equally bizarre and unlikely theories.
It was the police themselves, it was the Russian Secret Police trying to discredit their counterparts in the Metropolitan Police. It was the anarchists trying to destabilise British society and bring the government down. All these were put forward as potential suspects at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders and many of them continue to be put forward today.
But the most oft quoted conspiracy theory, and the one that is still trotted out time and time again is that the murders were carried out by a member of the Royal family and the government and the police closed ranks to keep it from becoming public knowledge.
The Royal’s name who is put forward as being either the perpetrator of the crimes or the instigator of the crimes is Prince Albert Edward Victor, Queen Victoria’s grandson and the heir presumptive to the throne of England.
The fact that he wasn’t even in London on the nights of the murders seldom features in the various conspiracy theories that link him to the crimes.
But the fact that many people, despite so much evidence that exonerates him, wish to put him in the frame for the Jack the Ripper murders shows that we need our villains to be big, bold and important.
The real Jack the Ripper, on the other hand, was probably an undistinguished nobody who lived in the heart of the area where the murders occurred for whom, every so often, the voices in his head proved too much and he went out and committed another murder.
How’s that for a conspiracy theory? Now, where’s my publisher!Posted in General News Comments Off
Strangely, a question we get asked from time to time is “What exactly is a Jack the Ripper Tour?” Some people think that we are a bit like one of those theme park jump out and scare you attractions.
In fact, our Jack the Ripper tour is a walk that explores the twists and turns of the Jack the Ripper mystery and which takes clients to the major sites associated with one of the World’s greatest murder/mysteries.
As a result, the people who join us tend to be people who have a genuine and real interest in the various historical and forensic aspects of the case and who are looking for an intelligent and thought-proving look at the various aspects of the Jack the Ripper case.
That is why we offer guides who know the case inside out and who have been researching and studying the Whitechapel Murders for many years. Most of our guides are even published authors who have written extensively on the both the case and on East End history in particular.
Why do we think this is important?
Well, put simply, the Jack the Ripper murders are one of the most intensely studied and most widely reported crime sprees in the annals of criminal history.
Our clients tend to be people who have read up on the case and who have much more than just a passing interest in it. They want to be able to discuss various aspects of the mystery, or they want to see and learn about specific locations or suspects. If the guide were someone who has just read a quick synopsis of the mystery – and there are quite a few guides conducting Jack the Ripper Tours who don’t really know that much about the case – then when it comes to being able to interact with our clients, or discuss one of the many twists, turns or contradictions with which the case is littered, then they are not going to be able to do so.
Our clients would be left disappointed.
But with our guides, you will be shown around by acknowledged authorities on the case who are not only able to answer and discuss questions, and involve you in the process, but who are also happy to do so.
As our clients comment time and time again, it is evident form the moment the tour starts that they are with a guide that is not only knowledgeable about the subject but who is also extremely passionate about it.
That is why, when you join us for a tour of the sites associated with the Jack the Ripper mystery, you will really feel that you are getting a full experience and, on some nights, you will even get snippets of newly unearthed information about Jack the Ripper that your guide may well have only uncovered that very day.
If you think about it, isn’t that a much richer and desirable experience than just listening to a guide who is previously recited from a well honed script?
So, in answer to the question with which I started this article, what is a Jack the Ripper tour? It is a two hour walk through the very streets where the murders occurred, which tells you the story in an intelligent and thought-provoking way and which is guided by some of the World’s greatest authorities on the case who are friendly and approachable and who won’t just invite you to ask questions and discuss the Jack the Ripper mystery, but who will positively encourage you to do so.
In short, it is very much a thinking persons tour experience that does not rely on gimmicks and cheap thrills to engage you and keep you entertained.Posted in General News Comments Off
THE LETTER THAT CREATED ‘THE RIPPER’
“Dear Boss – I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they won’t fix me just yet…”
These are the opening lines of what has probably become one of the most infamous letters ever written. Commonly known as the ‘Dear Boss’ letter, it was written on 25 September 1888 and received by the Central News Agency in New Bridge Street, London , two days later. Up until the publication of this letter on 1 October 1888, the Whitechapel murderer had gone by his earlier soubriquet of ‘Leather Apron’, after a local man known to terrorise prostitutes on the streets of the East End.
After mocking the police about their ineffectiveness at catching the real killer and threats to commit further outrages, the author signed himself off with a chilling “Yours truly, Jack the Ripper” and thus a legend was born.
It is impossible to say if the real murderer wrote this letter and indeed, many police officials later stated confidently that the letter was a journalistic hoax. Nonetheless, on publication the name stuck and unfortunately inspired a welter of copycats.
The ‘Dear Boss’ letter now sits in the collection of the National Archives in Kew, along with around 260 other surviving Ripper letters (all in different handwriting!) that had been acquired by the Metropolitan Police in 1888 and a few years after. But how this most notorious letter ended up at the National Archives is an interesting story in its own right.
It had apparently gone missing from the Scotland Yard files prior to 1928 and was later believed to be in the possession of Gerald Donner, the grandson of former CID Assistant Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten. After Donner’s death in 1968, the letter went missing again but would resurface two decades later under most extraordinary circumstances.
In November 1987, an envelope, sent anonymously from Croydon, arrived at Scotland Yard; in it were Dr Thomas Bond’s post-mortem report on Ripper victim Mary Kelly, some material relating to a few other criminal cases and the ‘Dear Boss’ Letter! No one has ever determined who sent this package with its fascinating contents, despite forensic testing being carried out. These Ripper-related documents were soon reunited with the material on the case which by that time had been moved from Scotland Yard to the National Archives.
Owing to its ‘iconic’ status, the letter and the other Ripper material is not generally available to members of the general public to view, although serious authors and researchers and TV companies have been granted access over the years.
It was displayed at the ‘Jack the Ripper and the East End’ exhibition, held at the Museum in Docklands between May and November 2008 and has occasionally been displayed at other events including Ripper conferences in Britain.
On the Jack the Ripper tour, you can handle a colour facsimile of the letter and read the whole chilling content for yourself!