Travel back in time to London in 1888. The city’s Whitechapel neighborhood is gripped by fear. The media is fueling ongoing anxiety with newspaper headlines that read, “Ghastly Murder in the East End” and “He Adds One More to the List…” In the last two months, five women have all been found brutally murdered and it’s believed that each one connects to an unidentified, at-large serial killer known infamously as Jack the Ripper.
Today, the identity of Jack the Ripper still remains, officially, a mystery. Author Russell Edwards, however, believes he has solved the long-standing cold case. In his new book, Naming Jack the Ripper, Edwards reveals that Aaron Kosminski, a Polish immigrant, is the man responsible for terrorizing London more than 125 years ago.
1894 Ordinance Survey map (above) of East London’s Whitechapel district, annotated with 7 murders that authorities believe connect to Jack the Ripper.
On September 30, 1888, a bloody blue and brown shawl was found lying next to the murdered Catherine Eddowes, Ripper’s fourth victim. In a gesture most people would consider bizarre, and not at all romantic, Seargent Amos Simpson reportedly took the shawl and gave it to his wife as a gift. Feeling more disturbed than wooed, Simpson’s wife took the shawl and buried it at the bottom of a box inside their home. After being passed down through Simpson’s family, the supposedly unworn and unwashed silk shawl was purchased by Russell Edwards in an auction in 2007.
Edwards recruited Dr. Jari Louhelainen, a molecular biologist from Liverpool John Moores University to examine the silk shawl. He reportedly performed a modern-day DNA analysis that has only been available for the last decade, and in doing so discovered two types of mitochondrial DNA. One matched a female descendent of Catherine Eddowes, while the other matched a female descendant of Aaron Kosminski’s sister.
Kosminski has long been considered a suspect and was at one point identified by a witness as the attacker in one of the five murders. But the witness refused to testify, and with lack of substantial evidence, Kosminski was never arrested. In 1891 however, Kosminski was admitted into an asylum after attacking his sister with a knife. It is believed today that he likely suffered from schizophrenia.
While Edwards is convinced that he has revealed the identity of Jack the Ripper, many still remain skeptical. The British newspaper The Independent refutes Edwards’ claim and points out that until Dr. Louhelainen’s work has been peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal there is no way of confirming that proper procedures were used and that the DNA was, in fact, an accurate match.
Edwards shows no sign of withdrawing his allegation however, and was recently quoted in the Independent as saying, “I’ve got the only piece of forensic evidence in the whole history of the case. I’ve spent 14 years working, and we have definitely solved the mystery of who Jack the Ripper was. Only non-believers that want to perpetuate the myth will doubt. This is it now – we have unmasked him.”
The debate will likely continue with new evidence and theories emerging, but one thing is certain. Travelers visiting England will still walk the eerie cobblestone alleyways of London’s East End, retracing the Ripper’s footsteps, visiting the scenes of his crimes, and experiencing the darker side of Britain’s Victorian era.