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Archive for September, 2014

What are the implications of DNA Evidence linking Aaron Kosminski to a Jack the Ripper Murder?

Posted by Harbinger451 on September 8, 2014

Ripperology 101 CategoryPotentially momentous news in the field of Ripperology broke on Sunday the 7th of September, 2014, in the Mail on Sunday – Jack the Ripper has been identified using DNA evidence found on a shawl apparently connected to the murder of Catherine Eddowes on Sunday the 30th of September, 1888. The article claims the DNA of two individuals were found on the shawl – the first was that of Catherine Eddowes herself and the second was that of one Aaron Kosminski – a long time suspect in the Whitechapel Murders. The Mail on Sunday exclusive would have you believe that’s the end of it – case closed, Aaron Kosminski WAS Jack the Ripper – you can read the article HERE.

Eddowes Catherine Mitre Square

Contemporary sketch showing PC Edward Watkins discovering the body of Catherine Eddowes

If only it were as simple as that. Unfortunately there are some very big IFs and BUTs with regards to this news. For a more level-headed and skeptical view of the evidence read the article that appeared in The Independent the following day, HERE, and you’ll see that things aren’t quite so cut and dried. Many scientists are already pointing out problems with the evidence and the science used, perhaps best expressed in the words of Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, the man who invented the DNA fingerprint technique. “An interesting but remarkable claim that needs to be subjected to peer review, with detailed analysis of the provenance of the shawl and the nature of the claimed DNA match with the perpetrator’s descendants and its power of discrimination; no actual evidence has yet been provided.” Essentially the DNA evidence needs to be subjected to proper peer review and the tests (preferably blind) repeated under greater scrutiny and in a number of independent labs.

If the DNA evidence proves to be valid – what of the shady and mysterious provenance of the shawl itself?

Contemporary sketch of Catherine Eddowes

Contemporary sketch of Catherine Eddowes

If the DNA evidence is confirmed as correct it provides a link between Catherine Eddowes, Aaron Kosminski and the shawl – what does this mean? The shawl itself has a very mysterious history that begs the question – who did it belong to and why was it (apparently) left at the murder scene. The provenance of the shawl is largely hear-say. Allegedly found beside Catherine Eddowes body when her murder was discovered – though it is not listed among official descriptions of her apparel and possessions nor in any contemporary description of the crime scene itself. The surprisingly large shawl is presently in two sections – the first measuring 73.5in by 25.5in and the second 24in by 19in – it is mostly blue and dark brown, with a delicate  pattern of Michaelmas daisies in red, ochre and gold at either end. The closest item to this in the official descriptions is the skirt that Eddowes was wearing – a dark green chintz skirt with a brown button on the waistband and patterned with Michaelmas daisies and golden lilies – but it’s not a match so how did the shawl become associated with the Catherine Eddowes murder?

Russell Edwards himself admits that a good provenance for the shawl is non-existent – “It was said to have been found next to the body of one of the Ripper’s victims, Catherine Eddowes, and soaked in her blood. 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.” That ancestor was Acting Police Sergeant Amos Simpson and he apparently asked his superiors if he could take the heavily blood stained shawl home for his wife. I can’t be the only one who would find this behavior strange in a police officer… and why would his superiors agree to it? It’s all very odd – and I’m a big believer in the saying that if something doesn’t make sense then it probably isn’t true. See HERE for an assessment of Amos Simpson’s remarkable claim.

Sketch of Aaron Kosminski

Sketch of Aaron Kosminski

The shawl was kept in the police man’s family – apparently stored away and remaining unwashed – for generations, apart from a 10 year stint between 1991 and 2001 at the Black Museum where it was never exhibited (due to a lack of provenance), until it was auctioned off in March 2007. It’s unlikely impoverished ‘unfortunate’ Catherine Eddowes owned such an expensive shawl so Russel Edwards reasons that the killer must have brought it to the scene… but just as likely in my opinion is that the shawl was at the scene before either Catherine Eddowes or her killer arrived there – perhaps coincidentally dropped or dumped earlier that night by some unconnected person right where the horrific murder was about to unfold.

Despite all that – if the DNA evidence IS proved – doesn’t it still provide a connection between victim Eddowes and suspect Kosminski?

Yes it does – but the nature of that connection is entirely up for debate.

The shawl allegedly has the blood of Catherine Eddowes (or more accurately the blood of a descendant of her female forebears potentially going back generations) soaked into it – Eddowes was famously one of the canonical five Jack the Ripper victims and one of the possibly up-to eleven Whitechapel Murder victims. She was the second victim to be killed in the so-called ‘Double Event’ in the early hours of September the 30th, 1888. You can read more about Catherine Eddowes’ murder HERE. Whoever killed her probably killed four or more of the other victims – he was almost definitely the individual known as Jack the Ripper.

The shawl also allegedly holds the semen of Aaron Kosminski (or the semen of a descendant of his female forebears potentially going back generations) – he has been suspected of being Jack the Ripper ever since the later murders happened. In 1894 Sir Melville Macnaghten, Assistant Chief Constable of the Met Police, named a suspected Polish Jew as “Kosminski” (see HERE) and Donald Swanson, Chief Inspector, CID, Scotland Yard from 1887, also named a Kosminski in his famous Marginalia notes (HERE). Aaron Kosminski was an immigrant Polish Jew who came to London in the early 1880s and members of his family settled in the Whitechapel area. By the time of the Whitechapel Murder scare it seems he was living between 3 Sion Square & 16 Greenfield Street with his sisters and their families – minutes away from Whitechapel High Street and close to the epicenter of the Whitechapel killing spree. There is a good assessment of the non-DNA evidence for Kosminski being Jack the Ripper HERE.

So the big questions are – How, where and when did that DNA evidence get on this shawl? (We don’t know) – and – Did both the blood and the semen evidence get on the shawl at the same time and in the same place? (We don’t know). It seems likely that the DNA evidence from both individuals found their way onto the shawl during the murder itself – but we have no way of being able to say that with 100% certainty… and that leaves the doors open for doubt and speculation.

There has been a long history of extraordinary claims with regards to the identity of Jack the Ripper and, to quote Carl Sagan – “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This DNA evidence has yet to be proven extraordinary and it must be stated that although Mitochondrial DNA evidence (as used in this case) is great when it forensically excludes an individual – it is not so good when used to include an individual… it could potentially include numerous other individuals too (see HERE). Jack the Ripper suspects and claims have come and gone, and – for the moment – they will continue to do so. Ripperology is not dead… yet.

Read more about Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders at Ripperology 101 where the investigation continues as the site expands – looking at the Victims, the Suspects, the Witnesses, the Investigators, the Trophies & Clues, the Weapons & MO, the Letters, the Theories and much, much more.

Also – our upcoming eBook – ABYSS: A Chronicle of the Whitechapel Murders & the Origins of Jack the Ripper – will be released soon… watch this space.

And: check out our digital newspaper – The Ripperology Gazette – a free, daily online ‘newspaper’ that correlates and presents all the latest news, updates, chatter and trends concerning the field of Ripperology, along with all things Ripper-related in fiction, film, games and even music. It explores the mystery of the 1888 Whitechapel murders and the origins and legacy of Jack the Ripper by featuring the most popular stories that are trending on the Twitter and Facebook social networks each day. Subscribe to never miss out on the latest Ripper-related news.

Brought to your attention by Harbinger451 and The Ripperologist (@Ripperology101).

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