Does DNA solve Jack the Ripper mystery?
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That's shawl, folksThat's shawl, folks

Does DNA solve Jack the Ripper mystery?

New book claims to present definitive proof that the notorious serial killer was a young Jewish immigrant

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Who was Jack the Ripper (London image via Shutterstock)
Who was Jack the Ripper (London image via Shutterstock)

You know those Jewish immigrant success stories that people like to boast about? Well, this isn’t one of them.

A new book claims that thanks to the latest DNA sequencing technologies, there is now a definitive answer as to the identity of the infamous Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who terrorized London’s Whitechapel district in 1888.

The book’s author, Russell Edwards claims that Jack the Ripper was Aaron Kosminski, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe—definitely not something we’re going to want to kvell about.

Kosminski had been one of the key suspects in the grisly murders of five prostitutes, but police did not have enough evidence to convict him. However they did keep Kosminski, who would have been diagnosed today as a paranoid schizophrenic, under surveillance and ended up committing him to mental asylums for the remainder of his life. He wasted away in the institutions and died from gangrene at age 53.

In an excerpt from his book, “Naming Jack the Ripper,” in Mail Online, Edwards, a businessman and amateur historical sleuth, explains that his search for the identity of the serial killer kicked in to high gear in March 2007, after he bought at auction a blood-stained shawl that was found next to the body of one of the victims, Catherine Eddowes.

The blue and brown shawl, which had been saved (and never washed) by members of the family of a policeman who had taken it from the murder scene, ended up not only being stained with Eddowes’s blood, but also with her killer’s semen.

Analysis of the shawl’s fabric and dyes indicated that it originated in Eastern Europe. Edwards, noting how expensive the shawl would have been, speculated that it did not belong to the impoverished Eddowes, but rather to the killer, who had brought it with him to the crime scene.

The fabric has a Michaelmas daisies pattern. An archaic Christian feast day, Michaelmas was still marked in Victorian days as a quarter day when rents and debts were due. Michaelmas falls on September 29 on the Western calendar, and on November 8 on the Greek Orthodox Church calendar. Eddowes and another prostitute named Elizabeth Stride were murdered on September 29. The Ripper’s next victim was killed on November 8. Edwards theorizes that Kosminski, who was 23 at the time of the killing spree, brought the shawl to the September 29 murder scene and left it there as a clue to when he would strike next.

Dr. Jari Louhelainen, a leading expert in genetic evidence from historical crime scenes and a senior lecturer in molecular biology at Liverpool John Moores University, assisted Edwards in finding the scientific evidence that links Kosminski to the Eddowes murder.

Using a technique called “vacuuming,” Louhelainen removed genetic material from the shawl without damaging it. Then he used mitochondrial DNA, passed down exclusively through a family’s female line, to prove that the bloodstain came from Eddowes and that the semen stain came from Kosminski. Female descendants of the victim and of Kosminski were located and samples of their DNA were compared to the DNA found on the shawl. Lohelainen reports that in both cases, the match was 100 percent.

“Because of the genome amplification technique, I was also able to ascertain the ethnic and geographical background of the DNA I extracted. It was of a type known as the haplogroup T1a1, common in people of Russian Jewish ethnicity. I was even able to establish that he had dark hair,” the biologist wrote.

Should this solution to the mystery prove definitive, it could prove the end of 126 years of gripping “ripperology.”

However, there remains the nagging question of how the son of a Jewish tailor who immigrated at the age of 16 to England from the Pale of Settlement was so expert on the Christian feast day of Michaelmas, its various dates and symbolic flowers.

Or was the shawl’s pattern just a coincidence?

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