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 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 thought 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 AARON KOSMINSKI A SUSPECT?
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-granddaughter 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 descendant of the Aaron Kosminski although he may have been her uncle.
Russell Edwards managed to track down a descendant 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 descendant 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 to 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.