A Review of “Naming Jack the Ripper“ by Russell Edwards
My first feeling when I saw the news in September 2014 about Russell Edwards “solving” the Jack the Ripper case was a sick sense of disappointment. Inside I think most of us are averse to the idea of the Ripper case closing. There’s obviously a whole industry and subculture built around the case remaining shrouded in mystique.
Also, I had just finished Philip Sugden’s The Complete History of Jack the Ripper days before, and had been greatly impressed by the comprehensive and objective nature of his research. Sugden argues against Kosminski’s being the Ripper due to his “catatonia” and perceived incompetence, and favors Detective Abberline’s pet suspect, George Chapman. Coming off of 500-some pages of detailed history, my view was decidedly colored.
A few months, passed, and I felt open enough to tackle Edwards’ emphatic statements.
“He is no longer just a suspect. We can hold him, finally, to account for his terrible deeds. My search is over: Aaron Kosminski is Jack the Ripper.”
Before going any further, I’d direct you to the Whitechapel Jack editorial written directly after Edwards’ public revelation. Here, you’ll find a comprehensive summary of how Edwards and Louhelainen came to their scientific findings related to the Eddowes shawl (in layman’s terms).
Edwards front loads his book with autobiographical information, including his own contentious family history and his past as a homeless teen and young adult. He even goes into very personal family traumas including multiple miscarriages. Much of this seems irrelevant, and an over-share for someone trying to become an authority on the Ripper murders. I’ll allow that we live in an age where vulnerability and openness in writing draws an audience. If anything, though, including himself so heavily as a character in this work was tiresome and detracted from his credibility.
It becomes clear right away that Edwards is obsessively attached to discovering the Ripper’s identity. He recounts many sleepless nights during Louhelainen’s tests and investigations into the mtDNA found on the Eddowes shawl. The book’s narrative is colored by a passion bordering on desperation. On the other hand, I have no doubt about his sincerity and belief in his cause (he certainly seems to have spent enough money pursuing it).
As a centerpiece to the argument, the shawl itself is problematic. Even a DNA sample recovered from a crime scene today that has been contaminated is inadmissible in a criminal case. This shawl is so old and has passed through so many hands that, even though it’s a very interesting piece of the puzzle, I can’t completely buy into it. He does a very comprehensive job detailing its history and possible origins though, which is worth reading even if there is reasonable doubt.
Edwards was able to change my mind about one thing that had nothing to do with DNA evidence, and that was Kosminksi’s viability as a suspect. My main objection was the Sugden-colored view of Kosminski as “catatonic” during his time in the Stepney and Leavesden asylums. Edwards, however, includes excerpts from records of Kosminski’s stay at Colney Hatch Asylum and later Leavesden Asylum, where he later died.
1893 Jan 18: Chronic Mania: intelligence impaired; at times noisy, excited & incoherent, unoccupied, habits cleanly; health fair. Wm Seward
After reading through these and other records, I can agree with the armchair diagnosis that Kosminski exhibited signs of schizophrenia, and perhaps even schizoaffective bipolar disorder. That means he would have swung between catatonic depressive episodes and delusional periods of mania, in which plausibly he could have committed the murders. Combined with my own amateur studies of modern serial killers, I no longer have a hard time believing someone so mentally deranged could pull off these murders without being caught.
It remains to be seen how long Edwards will be a superstar among Ripper theorists, and how much long-term traction his CSI-style discovery will gain. To draw more people to his side, though, it’d be in his best interest to get a second opinion. Due to the age and hazy history of his evidence, he’s also going to have to make peace with the fact that many will maintain their reservations (and that they have a right to them)
karla kirkpatrick says
doubt it was cosminski his looks and the composite aren’t the same nor of hh holmes very different to me sorry my thoughts.
And I doubt the veracity of your conclusion, since you can’t even spell the name “Kosminski” correctly…
Maitai11 – did you feel better after making that childish comment? Who cares if ‘karla’ spelt Kosminski with a c instead of a K, it’s not as though nobody can tell who’s being referred to, is it?
I think Kosminski may have been responsible for one or maybe more of the victims but he wasn’t responsible for all of them I think there was another person doing the same acts as Kosminski at the same time Kosminski couldn’t be implicated as this would bring unwanted attention to the other person and the powers that be wanted the case brushed aside for some reason why the big cover up after 130 years they still won’t release the files they know who jack was so why the big secret?
I once had Kosminski in my top 5 list of suspects but I have since eliminated him.
The evidence in the shawl was mitochondrial DNA, not autosomal DNA. mtDNA gets handed down from mother to child without changing. It’s possible JtR has the same mtDNA haplogroup as Kosminski but that doesn’t mean Kosminski was the killer. Because that DNA is handed down unchanged through generations there are millions of people at any one time who have the same mtDNA sequence as unlike autosomal DNA it isn’t unique to any one person. The haplogroup in question is T2B4 which isn’t terribly uncommon; Jesse James also had T2B4 mt haplogroup but nobody would claim he was Jack the Ripper. The last Tsar in Russia had T2B4 also- does that mean this author should try claiming that the Russian royals were Jack the Ripper? No obviously not. You can’t rely on a haplogroup- either mtDNA or Y chr DNA in the case of males to render a definitive identity.