Was Jack the Ripper a Polish Barber?
Russell Edwards, a 48 year old businessman and self-professed ‘armchair detective’ from Barnet, North London, claims to have proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” the actual identity of Jack the Ripper. In his new book entitled, “Naming Jack the Ripper“, Edwards details how he was able to finally solve the 126 year old mystery . . . who was Jack the Ripper?
“I’ve spent 14 years working on it, and we have definitively solved the mystery of who Jack the Ripper was. Aaron Kosminski, a 23 year-old Polish immigrant who ended up dying in an asylum, was “definitely, categorically and absolutely” the man behind the grisly killing spree in 1888 in London’s East End.
The Suspect: Aaron Kosminski
Aaron Kosminski was a Polish born Jew who emigrated with his family to England in 1881. Born in 1865 in the Polish town of Klodawa, which was then part of the Russian Empire, Kosminski’s family fled to England to escape persecution by the Russian government.
Kosminski lived with his 2 brothers and 1 sister in the heart of Whitechapel, and was said to have worked as a hairdresser. His home, which was listed as being on Greenfield Street, was in the direct vicinity of where Elizabeth Stride was murdered in the early morning hours of September 30, 1888.
Kosminski, who would have been 23 years old during the time of the murders in 1888, had in 1885 been described as suffering from mental problems. For reasons unknown, Kosminski was detained by police for questioning and positive identification, but was later released due to lack of evidence needed for charges to be brought upon him. Shortly after his release, his family would have him admitted to a mental asylum.
In February of 1891, Kosminski was officially deemed of ‘unsound mind’ and was committed to the insane asylum at Colney Hatch, north London. Despite a lack of evidence and eye witness testimony, police had still kept Kosminski under surveillance until the time he was institutionalized.
Records show Kosminski was later admitted to Leavesden Asylum in 1894 where he eventually died of gangrene in 1919. Case notes indicate that his insanity took the form of auditory hallucinations, a paranoid fear of being fed by other people that drove him to pick up and eat food that had been discarded on the floor, and a refusal to wash or bathe.
Kosminski has always been considered a prime suspect in the Ripper case. He was a favored suspect amongst a number of senior officers involved in the case, most notably, Sir Robert Anderson and Sir Donald Sutherland Swanson.
In 1910, Robert Anderson wrote his memoirs entitled, “The Lighter Side of My Official Life”, and in those memoirs he stated:
“Undiscovered murders are rare in London, and the Jack the Ripper crimes do not fall into this category. I am almost tempted to disclose the identity of the murderer but no public benefit would result from such a course. In saying that he was a polish jew I am merely stating a definitely ascertained fact. I will merely add that the only person who ever had a good view of the murderer unhesitatingly identified the suspect the instant he was confronted with him, but he refused to testify.”
Anderson later gave a copy of his memoirs to former colleague and investigator on the Ripper case, Sir Donald Sutherland Swanson. This copy of the memoirs was later presented to The Daily Telegram by Swanson’s grandson. In the margin of the copy were hand-written notes by Swanson, among them the name ‘Kosminski’.
In Anderson’s memoirs he indicates that police had interviewed a man who had identified the killer, but would not testify in court. There have been only two known individuals who had reportedly encountered Jack the Ripper.
One of them was a man by the name of Israel Schwartz, a Hungarian immigrant considered to be of Jewish descent. Schwartz had allegedly happened by when Elizabeth Stride was being physically attacked on Berner Street, startling her assailant who then shouted an anti-semitic remark at Schwartz. Fearing for his safety, and worried he was being pursued by who he believed to be the attacker’s accomplice, Schwartz fled the scene.
The other man who had come forth with claims of seeing who many believed was Jack the Ripper, was cigarette salesman Joseph Lawende. Lawende, along with two of his friends, had seen a man talking with Catherine Eddowes near the entrance to Mitre Square at approximately 1:30am – shortly before her murder. Lawende gave police a rough description of the man, but said that he had not gotten more than a passing glance, and would not be able to later identify the suspect.
Swanson goes on to note in the memoirs that the witness would not testify because he was also Jewish and did not want to carry the guilt of presenting evidence responsible for the execution of a fellow Jew.
There’s been much debate over this, but it’s widely considered that Isreal Schwartz, because of his Jewish descent, was the man whom Anderson was referring to in his memoirs.
The Macnaghten Report
Although not directly involved with the investigation, Sir Melville Leslie Macnaghten was Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police at the time of the killings, and thus had access to the police records. Like most officers at the time, Macnaghten had a huge interest in the case, and as a result, wrote a confidential report in 1894.
In the report, Macnaghten states that he believed only 5 of the Whitechapel murder victims (The Canonical Five) were slain by Jack the Ripper. He also listed his 3 prime suspects, among which was a ‘Kosminksi’.
In his memorandum, Macnaghten stated:
…there were strong reasons for suspecting “Kosminski” because he “had a great hatred of women … with strong homicidal tendencies”.
Lack of Evidence
Unfortunately, there is no substantial evidence backing the suspicions of Anderson and Swanson. Several of the case files had gone missing over the years – many feel as a result of those close to the investigation taking them as ‘souvenirs’. The rest were all but destroyed along with the majority of the other City of London Police files during the Blitzkrieg of WWII. Still others feel that files were removed by individuals on the inside who wished that the case remain a mystery, although that theory mainly serves to further romanticize the legend.
What we’re left with are unverified claims, suspicions and allegations by Anderson, Swanson, Macnaghten and other senior officers – pointing to ‘Kosminski’ as someone at or near the top of their Ripper suspects list.
New Evidence in 2007
The piece of evidence used to fuel this latest investigation was a shawl which Edwards purchased in 2007 at an auction in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England. The shawl had allegedly been found next to Catherine Eddowes’s body on the night of her murder. The shawl, which had been cut into two pieces, still contained traces of of blood and . . . previously unbeknownst to Edwards . . . other genetic material.
It was this ‘genetic material’ which would enable Edwards to push his investigation into territory not yet reached – either through contemporary investigation or previous attempts at modern forensic scientific analysis.
Origin of The Ripper Shawl
It was alleged that there was a shawl laying on the ground alongside the mutilated body of Catherine Eddowes when Police Constable Watkins discovered the scene in Mitre Square at 1:45am on the 30th of September. Later that morning, acting Sergeant Amos Simpson had accompanied Catherine Eddowes’s body to the mortuary. He asked his senior officers if he might take the shawl that had been found next to her, as his wife was a dressmaker and would likely have a use for the large piece of silk. Apparently Simpson’s wife had been horrified by the garment and hid it away inside a box for many years.
The shawl, which had been stored for years, and surprisingly . . . never washed, was kept in the family and handed down through generations. It eventually found its way to David Melville-Hayes, a descendant of acting Sergeant Amos Simpson.
Hayes gave the shawl to Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum in 1991, where it was then placed in storage instead of on display due to lack of conclusive evidence proving that it did indeed belong to Eddowes or her killer. 10 years later, David reclaimed the shawl and exhibited it at the annual Jack the Ripper conference in 2001.
5 years later, in 2006, DNA testing was performed on the shawl for use in a TV documentary, but the cotton swab test was inconclusive.
When Edwards saw the advert for the shawl coming up for sale at auction, he felt he was onto something special – having noticed a clue which he thought may have slipped past other Ripperologists – proving that the shawl was connected with Jack the Ripper.
“The shawl is patterned with Michaelmas daisies. Today the Christian feast of Michaelmas is archaic, but in Victorian times it was familiar as a quarter day, when rents and debts were due.
I discovered there were two dates for it: one, September 29, in the Western Christian church and the other, November 8, in the Eastern Orthodox church. With a jolt, I realised the two dates coincided precisely with the nights of the last two murder dates. September 29 was the night on which Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were killed, and November 8 was the night of the final, most horrific of the murders, that of Mary Jane Kelly.
I reasoned that it made no sense for Eddowes to have owned the expensive shawl herself; this was a woman so poor she had pawned her shoes the day before her murder. But could the Ripper have brought the shawl with him and left it as an obscure clue about when he was planning to strike next? It was just a hunch, and far from proof of anything, but it set me off on my journey.”
It was that discovery that compelled Edwards to become the new owner of the shawl and to embark on his investigation.
Edwards claims that months of research on the shawl, and a close analysis of the dyes used on the fabric, revealed that it was originally crafted in Eastern Europe sometime in the early 19th century.
“I’ve got the only piece of forensic evidence in the whole history of the case.” -Russell Edwards
With what Edwards believed to be the Ripper’s shawl now in his possession, his next task was to recruit a scientist who could help him with his investigation. After a bit of hit and miss with other researchers, Edwards eventually connected with molecular biologist and historic DNA expert Dr. Jari Louhelainen – a lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. Louhelainen, an authority on historic genetic evidence, also lends his expertise to Interpol cold case files among other similar projects.
Armed with Dr. Louhelainen’s knowledge and expertise, Edwards claims he was able to tie both Eddowes’s and Kosminski’s DNA to the shawl. So . . . how did he do this..?!
The shawl contained some stains and discoloration, so the first step was to determine what those dark stains actually were. Dr. Louhelainen used an infrared camera to examine what appeared to be blood stains, revealing that they were not simply ordinary blood stains, but arterial blood spatter, which would have been consistent with how Eddowes had been slashed.
Click here to see mortuary photos of Catherine Eddowes
(not for the squeamish)
Upon further examination, Dr. Louhelainen discovered fluorescent stains which appeared to be semen.
In addition to the arterial blood and semen, Louhelainen also found evidence of what he believed to be spilt body parts – most notably what appeared to be a kidney cell. Given that Eddowes’s killer had removed her kidney, this bit of evidence was quite a find, helping to further the legitimacy of the shawl and its background.
To extract the genetic materials from the 126+ year old shawl, Louhelainen used a pioneering technique he developed himself, which he calls “vacuuming”. He knew that the traditional ‘cotton swab’ method would not work on evidence this old, so he needed to use an alternative method which he described as such…
“I filled a sterile pipette with a liquid ‘buffer’, a solution known to stabilise the cells and DNA, and injected it into the cloth to dissolve the material trapped in the weave of the fabric without damaging the cells, then sucked it out.”
According to Louhelainin, his method for extracting and preserving the DNA would not have been possible 5 years ago.
When analyzing the semen traces found on the shawl, Louhelainen enlisted the help of another expert – Dr. David Miller. With the help of Dr. Miller, they discovered what they believed were epithelium tissue cells, which likely would have been deposited through ejaculation.
At some point during the 3 1/2 year investigation, Edwards tracked down descendants of both Eddowes and Kosminski, each of whom agreed to provide cotton swab DNA samples of their mouth tissue. Next, it was up to Louhelainen to examine the DNA removed from the shawl – comparing it to the samples provided by the descendants of Eddowes and Kosminski.
To form a connection between the distant Eddowes and Kosminski descendants with that of the DNA found on the shawl, Louhelainen needed to establish a mitochondrial DNA match. Mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down exclusively through the female line, is much more able to stand the test of time and would be far less fragmented than genomic DNA.
The subjects used in the DNA analysis were: Karen Miller, the 3 times great-granddaughter of Catherine Eddowes, and a British descendant of Kominski’s sister Matilda – who wishes to remain anonymous.
Concerning the process of establishing the mitochondrial DNA matches, Louhelainen had this to say…
“I needed to sequence the DNA found in the stains on the shawl, which means mapping the DNA by determining the exact order of the bases in a strand. I used polymerase chain reaction, a technique which allows millions of exact copies of the DNA to be made, enough for sequencing.
When I tested the resulting DNA profiles against the DNA taken from swabs from Catherine Eddowes’s descendant, they were a match.
I used the same extraction method on the stains which had characteristics of seminal fluid. Dr David Miller found epithelial cells – which line cavities and organs – much to our surprise, as we were not expecting to find anything usable after 126 years.
Then I used a new process called whole genome amplification to copy the DNA 500 million-fold and allow it to be profiled.
Once I had the profile, I could compare it to that of the female descendant of Kosminski’s sister, who had given us a sample of her DNA swabbed from inside her mouth.
The first strand of DNA showed a 99.2 per cent match, as the analysis instrument could not determine the sequence of the missing 0.8 per cent fragment of DNA. On testing the second strand, we achieved a perfect 100 per cent match.”
Needless to say, Edwards was beside himself over the findings.
“When the email finally arrived telling me Jari had found a perfect match, I was overwhelmed. Seven years after I bought the shawl, we had nailed Aaron Kosminski.”
Russell Edwards Interview
Ripperologists who dispute Edwards’s claims and doubt the credibility of the investigation have been very outspoken – providing their own evidence against why they feel we are no closer now to knowing the true identity of the killer than we were 126 years ago.
Richard Cobb, a Ripperologist who runs conventions and conducts guided ‘Ripper Tours’, questions the integrity of the DNA evidence found on the shawl.
“The shawl has been openly handled by loads of people and been touched, breathed on, spat upon,” Mr Cobb explained. “My DNA is probably on there. What’s more, Kosminski is likely to have frequented prostitutes in the East End of London. If I examined that shawl, I’d probably find links to 150 other men from the area.”
Peter Gill, a pioneer of DNA profiling, said:
“The shawl is of dubious origin and has been handled by several people who could have shared that mitochondrial DNA profile.”
He also pointed out that Mr Edwards has been seen handling the shawl without gloves, as evidenced in various photographs.
He also went on to say…
“Normally you go for peer-review before going to the press,” he said. “This hasn’t been reviewed by the scientific community.”
Mr. Edwards and Dr. Louhelainen feel there is absolutely no doubt that they have found their man, but until careful peer examination has been performed on the investigation, the validity of the findings are in question. Plain and simple.
Rather than presenting his investigative methods and resulting evidence to members of the scientific community for scrutiny and evaluation, Edwards went straight to authoring his new book, then to media sources for promotion of said book. Russell is a businessman, and a very opportunistic one.
It’s also worth noting that Edwards runs a notable Ripper Tour and Gift Shop, which no doubt will benefit from all of this publicity – controversial or otherwise.
Regardless of what may be concluded from the evidence provided in Naming Jack the Ripper . . . one thing is for certain . . . Edwards will be profiting substantially from all of this.
Hell . . . I’ll likely be one of the individuals he will enjoy royalties from. 😉 I admit, I am curious to find out more about the shawl and the cutting-edge processes used to establish the DNA connections.
Before we wrap this up, let’s close with a few more quotes from Edwards to inspire you to delve into his new book.
“Only non-believers that want to perpetuate the myth will doubt. This is it now – we have unmasked him.”
Oh really . . ?
And let’s not leave this one out…
“I’m overwhelmed that 126 years on, I have solved the mystery.”
Easy there, Sherlock . . .
It shall be interesting to see what comes of all this once the reviews start getting posted. I’m obviously a bit skeptical about the validity of Edwards’s claims, but I am intrigued by the story behind the alleged scarf, and the methods used to ascertain the evidence. I’ll likely give his book a read.
If you’re interested, Naming Jack the Ripper is available on Amazon.com.