Cold Case Heating Up

(October 24th, 2014) Those who thought that after 126 years, modern science would finally reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper, will have to wait a little longer. A small error absolves a Polish emigrant from the brutish crimes, for now.

Who killed Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly between August 31st and November 9th, 1888. Jack the Ripper, I hear you say. This is true but who is behind the pseudonym and thus, behind these brutal murders? Already back in the day, suspects were aplenty. Amongst them Montague John Druitt, a barrister from London, Seweryn Kloswoski, a Polish-born barber, Francis Tumblety, a US-American quack doctor and Aaron Kosminski.

Kosminski, the Poland-native with paranoid psychosis, recently climbed to the top of the suspect list. Commissioned by author Russell Edwards, medical geneticist, Jari Louhelainen, from the University of Liverpool, conducted DNA analyses based on blood and semen stains on a shawl owned by Catherine Eddowes. His results suggest that, in actual fact, the emigrant hairdresser ended the life of the five prostitutes.

In The Mail, Louhelainen writes, “To extract DNA samples from the stains on the shawl, I used a technique I developed myself, which I call ‘vacuuming’ – to pull the original genetic material from the depths of the cloth.” Using whole genome amplification, Louhelainen next profiled the DNA from the shawl and compared it to one of Kosminski’s descendents. “The first strand of DNA showed a 99.2 per cent match (…). On testing the second strand, we achieved a perfect 100 per cent match. (…) 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. (…) Now that it’s over, I’m excited and proud of what we’ve achieved, and satisfied that we have established, as far as we possibly can, that Aaron Kosminski is the culprit.”

As convinced about their conviction as Louhelainen and Edwards might seem, others, notably Sir Alec Jeffreys, developer of the genetic fingerprinting technique, aren’t. In particular, they criticise possible contamination, disputable origins of the shawl and a nomenclature error. Louhelainen had identified a rare mutation called 314.4C, which occurs at a frequency of 1/290,000. But, according to The Independent, geneticists think that it’s more likely 315.5C, a rather common mutation. “If the match frequency really is 90 per cent plus, and not 1/290,000, then obviously there is no significance whatsoever in the match between the shawl and Eddowes' descendant, and the same match would have been seen with almost anyone who had handled the shawl over the years," Jeffreys said.

So, it seems that the hunt for the real Jack the Ripper is still on. Who will be the next prime suspect?

Kathleen Gransalke

Picture: Illustrated London News (1888)

Last Changes: 12.03.2014