More than 130 years after he terrorized London in the late 1880s, one of the most notorious serial killers of all time has finally been “unmasked,” thanks to DNA evidence.
At least, that’s according to a new book entitled Naming Jack the Ripper, which claims to have definitive evidence that a Polish émigré named Aaron Kosminski was the infamous murderer who in 1888 brutally killed and mutilated at least five women in the Whitechapel district of London.
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Russell Edwards, the businessman and self-described “armchair detective” who wrote the book, says he solved the mystery of Jack the Ripper with a crucial piece of forensic evidence he bought at auction a few years ago: a bloodstained shawl said to have come from the murder scene of Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes, a prostitute whose maimed body was found in the early hours of Sept. 30, 1888.
According to Edwards, per an excerpt of the book published by the Daily Mail, the shawl is believed to have been taken from the crime scene by a police officer named Amos Simpson, who had asked his superiors if he could take it home to his dressmaker wife. She, however, refused to use the bloodstained garment, and the shawl was kept, unwashed, by Simpson and passed down to his descendants. Edwards bought it at an auction in 2007.
“I've got the only piece of forensic evidence in the whole history of the case,” Edwards told the Independent.
After purchasing the shawl, Edwards enlisted the help of forensics expert Dr. Jari Louhelainen, a senior lecturer in molecular biology at Liverpool John Moores University. Louhelainen analyzed the shawl in 2011 and found not just blood on it, but also semen.
That revelation was “heart-stopping," Edwards wrote in his book, according to the Daily Mail.
Over the next several months, Louhelainen was reportedly able to isolate DNA from the blood and semen.
“To be honest, I was mostly interested in the science. I wanted to know if something like this [was] possible to do from such a limited amount of genetic material,” Louhelainen told the Liverpool Echo, adding that he knew little about Jack the Ripper before Edwards approached him.
The blood sample that Louhelainen analyzed was eventually matched with the DNA of one of Eddowes' direct descendants, Edwards says, while the semen sample was matched to the DNA of a descendent of Aaron Kosminski's.
Kosminski, a hairdresser who died in an insane asylum in 1919, had been a suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders. This new evidence, Edwards says, is proof that he was indeed the killer.
“We have definitively solved the mystery of who Jack the Ripper was,” Edwards told the Independent. "Only non-believers that want to perpetuate the myth will doubt. This is it now -- we have unmasked him."
Despite Edwards' confidence, some in the scientific community have cast doubt on his claim.
As the Agence France-Presse reported, Louhelainen’s research has “not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, meaning the claims cannot be independently verified or the methodology scrutinized.”
Alec Jeffreys, the so-called "godfather of DNA" credited with inventing the DNA fingerprinting technique, told the Independent that while the book's claim is certainly "interesting," it "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."