Demasking Jack: the mystery of the Ripper
Scientists claim to identify Jack, but will we ever know for sure?
People love mysteries, we always have. It’s weird, considering how much we love information, too; we do nothing but consume it through the internet, in the form of articles, videos, and podcasts. Yet, we can get very obsessed with a missing piece of information, with a story without a proper ending. And for some reason, we are deeply and disturbingly interested in true crime as well, and above all, in serial killers. And there is one in particular who won’t stop haunting our nightmares…
The year is 1888. Summer’s almost over: just one day until September. There is a chill in the air. And there is a murderer on the loose.
Mary Ann Nichols, Polly, for her friends, was an amateur sex worker and professional alcoholic. On the night of the 31st of August, she was successful at both, as her occupation provided her with enough money to get very drunk. In that state, happy and drunk, was she seen alive for the last time. According to her friend, Emily Holland, around half past two Polly was ready to call it a night, just heading to make the money for a night in the nearby lodge house, as she spent every penny she made previously on drinks.
In the early morning hours, a little before 4 a.m., Polly’s mutilated body had been found on Buck’s Row, in the Whitechapel Area. Though London, especially that neighbourhood with its narrow, unlit passageways and closures was not a safe place in those days (just that year, two other women had died in the area), this murder was something else. It wasn’t a simple holdup gone wrong or an angry husband seeking retribution: it was cold-blooded and professional murder.
Polly Nichols was the first of Jack the Ripper’s five victims.
Countless books and movies, even comic books were born to react to this dark figure, this shadow whose name was never known. Over the years he was depicted as a vampire, as a woman, as a time traveller, as royalty, as an insane man and as a sociopath. For over 130 years, we had no idea of his identity and that only helped his dark legend to grow. We had nothing but guesses and theories. That might be the very reason for the obsession with him to this day: the missing information, the last piece of the puzzle, the missing last chapter of the story.
We know he was a serial killer. We know his victims, and we know that after being interrupted while cutting open his fifth victim, he has never surfaced again. We assume he was a learned man, a doctor, or perhaps a butcher, as his terrible acts on the victims show somebody with experience using a knife, somebody who knows how to cut open a body. We have a good idea of his mental health, too, as it takes a special kind of ill to do what he did.
But we don’t know who Jack the Ripper was. We don’t know who held the knife, whose face was the last those unfortunate women had seen— a mystery lighting up people’s imaginations for well over a century now.
And as it is sometimes, the mystery grew so big that when someone seemed to have solved it, the world decided not to take notice. A series of brutal and unsolved murders on the cobble-stoned streets of foggy ol’ London, that’s chilling. That’s a story to tell. A lunatic who cut open five women then his identity got revealed: not so much. But, even though it’s too late for justice or any kind of retribution, the fact remains: we know who Jack the Ripper was. We have known for years now. Or so forensic scientists claim.
In 2019, a paper was published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, stating that using the DNA sample from the semen they found the fourth victim’s shawl, they were able to identify markers that, compared to the DNA of a late descendant of the suspected killers of the time, revealed the truth. Though similar research had been conducted in the past (with a similar result, no less), this is the first time a peer-reviewed paper was published on the topic.
The process, at least, on the surface, was fairly simple. They acquired the DNA sample, tracked down the living relatives of the victim and of the suspected killers, and named the one whose DNA matched the most with the sample.
Aaron Kosminski, then 23, a Polish barber had been named Jack the Ripper, for not the first time in history. Kosminski was a prime suspect at the time, as he perfectly matched the description that the only reliable eyewitness gave about Jack. His involvement was never proved, but his DNA on the victim’s clothes at least put him on the crime scene.
Only, like Jack’s other victims, Cathrine Eddowes was also a sex worker. The sperm on her shawl could be an occupational hazard and might not be strong evidence, as it only proves that she and Kosminski had indeed known each other, however briefly.
The DNA sample with the eyewitness’ testimony and the fact that Kosminski was a barber, a professional who not only cut hair but performed minor surgeries as well in the old days, paints a dire picture. The profile fits, especially as Kosminski had shown violent tendencies before: he had been arrested and hospitalised in a mental health institute for threatening his own sister, with a knife, Jack’s weapon of choice, of all things.
Would that be enough to charge Kosminski with the murders? Maybe, but as long as there is the thinnest shadow of doubt over Jack’s identity, there always will be new theories, new suspects, and new stories about this menacing figure, staring at us from the depth of history.
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