The Spooky Isles’ resident Ripperologist JON REES, who holds a Masters in Forensic Psychology and Criminology, reviews the sensational new book “Naming Jack The Ripper” and says the evidence presented seems far from conclusive
No… Don’t be ridiculous.
I really have no idea…
This is how my train of thought has changed over the last couple of days since the news broke that DNA evidence on a shawl from one of the Ripper victims links it to both the victim and one of the prime contemporary suspects.
I had felt once I had read the accompanying book “Naming Jack the Ripper” by Russell Edwards I would be much better placed to comment on it, but it has just left me with more questions and yearning for more detailed information.
But here is a breakdown:
The descendants of PC Amos Simpson (who in 1888 was an Acting Sergeant) of N Division (Islington) of the Metropolitan Police claim to have in their possession a shawl belonging to the fourth Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes, which they allege Simpson took from Mitre Square on the night of her murder.
To be more accurate, they claim Simpson was responsible for transporting the body to the mortuary with another officer and he asked if he could take the blood stained shawl to give to his wife (as she was reportedly a dressmaker so may have been able to use the material).
When he brought it home, she was horrified (can’t possibly think why…) and locked it up for many years.
In the 1980s it resurfaces, and in 1991 the family loan it to the Black Museum in Scotland Yard, who do not display it as they have doubts about its provenance.
In 1999, the family request it back, DNA tests are done on the garment in 2006 as part of a TV documentary (and again in 2011) and both results are inconclusive.
In 2007, the shawl goes up for sale at auction, but fails to meet its reserve price but a buyer later privately buys the shawl from Simpson’s descendants for the reserve.
That buyer was Russell Edwards.
Edwards set up to prove theory
Edwards sets out to prove the shawl genuine and through various pieces of research determines with a high probability that it is Eastern European in origin and dates to before 1870.
He embarks on the DNA testing route and matches DNA from the bloodstains to the mitochondrial DNA of a descendant of Catherine Eddowes and mitochondrial DNA from what they believe to be a semen stain to a descendant of Aaron Kosminski.
The DNA profile also indicates the contributor was a dark haired man of Eastern European or Russian Jewish ancestry.
Immediately, I saw some problems.
Firstly, the story of the shawl’s provenance was absolutely ridiculous.
Simpson was a Met officer stationed in Islington with no record of being seconded to Whitechapel for the Ripper investigation, and the Eddowes murder took part in the City (which had and still has its own independent police force), so what business did Simpson have there and why would they let him walk off unnoticed with a potential piece of evidence?
In his book Edwards addresses this as being either Simpson being stationed in Whitechapel and we just have no surviving record of the secondment and he (along with other officers) answered the whistle calls and crossed over into City territory on the discovery of the body or, as he was told by Simpson’s descendants, he was on special duties in the City related to tracking down Fenians (Irish Republicans).
In my opinion, neither of these theories make sense and also do not explain why he was able to, or inclined to take the shawl home.
Questionable provenance of Catherine Eddowes shawl
Next, there is no record of Eddowes owning a shawl of this type (it actually resembles a table runner due to its size – 8 feet by 2 feet) and there is no mention of it in her list of possessions nor any eyewitness description from people who saw her the day she died.
It is also a nice item and worth a fair bit of money in 1888 (silk with a printed pattern of Michaelmas daisies), so would she not have pawned this and not her boots. One newspaper report does mention a skirt with a similar print, but this does not reflect her list of clothing and possessions.
Edwards explains this by saying the shawl did not belong to Catherine Eddowes, but to Aaron Kosminski who brought it along to the crime scene to leave as a clue (he had already established the Polish origin of the garment).
The Michaelmas daisies are a hint to the date of the next crime as Michaelmas in the Eastern Orthodox Church is celebrated on 29th September, the day before the Eddowes murder, but in the English Church it was celebrated on 8th November, the day before Mary Kelly’s murder.
The reason it never appeared on any official list is because Amos Simpson pinched it before her possessions could be itemised, but the newspaper who reported the Michaelmas skirt must have had a reporter on the scene who saw the shawl but mistook it for a skirt.
To me, all of the above is ridiculous and a prime example of people trying to bend facts to make it fit a theory.
But now, to examine the science.
The science of Jack the Ripper discovery
Edwards enlisted the assistance of Dr Jari Louhelainen, an expert on DNA and Forensics who determined that the stains on the shawl was high velocity blood spatter consistent with Eddowes neck wound.
Another stain he determined was most likely semen due to the way it fluoresced under UV light, but could not be definitive as a sperm expert could not find traces of sperm on the stain.
It did, however, contain epithelial samples, most likely from the urethra.
Using a revolutionary technique Louhelainen developed called “vacuuming” they managed to extract DNA from the weave of the shawl (not from the surface as the previous inconclusive tests had attempted).
He also used the revolutionary technique of a laser microscope (normally used in cancer research to isolate cancer cells from healthy ones for testing) to isolate cells from the semen stain.
Comparing the mtDNA extracted from both samples he concluded a highly-likely match to a descendant of Catherine Eddowes and a relative of Aaron Kosminski.
Did Aaron Kosminski do it?
Some scientists over the last few days have raised concern over the above as it has not been peer reviewed.
This is a new technique developed by Dr Louhelainen, so the accuracy is not formally known.
There is also the question of mtDNA not being an accurate indicator of identity as it is shared by a large percentage of the population (though apparently the genome found that matched Catherine Eddowes relative was of a rare type indicating a high likelihood).
So have they solved the case?
In short, I don’t know.
The provenance of the shawl is still highly problematic and needs resolving.
The scientific analysis I will reserve full judgement on until I see the results of a peer reviewed journal article (which apparently is forthcoming as part of the agreement between Edwards and Dr Louhelainen).
But it does currently look like a promising line of enquiry and will surely cause debate and discussion.
What do you think? Tell us in the comments below.
JON REES has a blog where he discusses all sorts of things, including crime and Jack the Ripper. Read the blog here and follow him on twitter here.