Who is Jack?
Between 1888 and 1891, there were 11 brutal murders in the Whitechapel district of London, England. Five of those have been canonically attributed to the Whitechapel Murderer, also known as the Leather Apron, or famously, Jack the Ripper. The names of his victims are Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine "Kate" Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.
"The Five," as they are known colloquially, were believed to be connected to each other by investigators because the killer in these cases had a consistent and progressing Modus Operandi. Each victim suffered a deep cut to their throat and bodily mutilation. The brutality progressively increased with murder, except in Elizabeth Stride's case where police believe her attacker was interrupted.
The Whitechapel community was unstable at the time of the murders due to a quickly growing population and economic difficulties. The area was rife with gang activity, and it was difficult to ascertain how many murders were committed by the serial killer and how many they could attribute to others. Violence toward sex workers was especially prevalent.
Police were desperate for leads, and much effort was made into finding witnesses or trapping the killer. The descriptions they received were often contradictory or vague. For instance, while one bystander described the killer as unkempt, another said he was well-dressed. While there were a few likely suspects, the Ripper was never brought to justice.
The investigators searched for a man with knowledge of anatomy due to the nature of the victims' mutilation. Their interest focused on butchers, slaughterers, and physicians. Montague Druitt, a teacher who piqued their interest, was interested in surgery. He also disappeared after the last murder and was later found dead.
Micheal Ostrag was a doctor from Russia and a known criminal with homicidal tendencies. He was later committed to an asylum after the last murder because of his dangerous behavior. His removal from society could explain why the murders ended when they did, as it is unlikely the Ripper would have stopped. Painter Walter Sickert and Doctor Sir William Gull were also suspected at various times.
Aaron Kosminski was a Polish immigrant with a known hatred of women, especially those who worked as prostitutes. He was a barber and just 23 at the time of the murder. Like, Ostrag, he was committed to an asylum after attacking a woman with a knife. While some experts are still torn as to whether this Kosminski was the one named in the Whitechapel Police Docket, new evidence has come to light over a century later implicating him in the crimes.
The Bloody Silk Shawl
A study conducted by Jari Louhelainen and David Miller and published in 2019 claims to have solved the mystery of the Whitechapel murders and pinpoints Aaron Kosminski as the killer. Acting Sergeant Amos Simpson allegedly retrieved the shawl near the body of Catherine Eddowes and passed it down to his descendants. It was eventually bought by Russel Edwards, a Ripper enthusiast, and amateur sleuth, who ordered DNA testing.
In 2014, he published the results in his book, Naming Jack the Ripper. Critics, at the time, were frustrated that the methods were not made public and couldn't be adequately reproduced.
Louhelainen and Miller determined that the scarf was stained with blood and semen, and they collected some samples. They also tracked down living relatives of Eddowes and Kosminski to collect samples for comparison. The study used mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down only from mother to child. The blood was deemed a match with Eddowes, and the semen was a match for Kosminski.
Ripperologists (experts on Ripper history), historians, and geneticists have found several problems with the study. One issue in Louhelainen and Miller's research is that they used mitochondrial DNA. Because many people can share the same sequence, experts say, it is most useful in ruling a suspect out, not definitively stating that someone is guilty.
There is also some question as to whether the shawl belonged to Eddowes at all. Her case would have been out of Simpson's jurisdiction, so, likely, he wasn't part of the investigation into her murder at all. So, how would he have come into possession of the evidence?
Further, the shawl is over a century old and was not in police custody at the time of testing, and there was no clear chain of evidence. It is possible that it could have been fabricated. More likely, it could have become contaminated throughout the years.
Letters From Hell
On September 25th, 1888, Central News Agency received a letter from the killer, in which he named himself Jack the Ripper for the first time. As it was later called, the "Dear Boss" letter was the first in a series of letters from the murderer taunting authorities.
In her 2002 true crime novel, Portrait of a Killer, Patricia Cornwell claimed to know the letters' author and pointed the finger at Artist Walter Sickert. She had mitochondrial DNA compared between the letters sent to news organizations and letters believed to be sent by Sickert. They were a match.
However, there are a few problems with her theory, including that most, if not all, of the letters sent by Jack the Ripper, are considered to be hoaxes. This fact brings up the distinct possibility that Sickert was part of the hoax if he did actually write any of the letters. Lastly, we need to remember that mitochondrial DNA can only rule a person out but does not help prove the suspect is guilty.
While the shawl, letters, and their recent DNA testing are fascinating pieces of Ripper history, this evidence by no means brings an end to the mystery. It is difficult to know if either man had anything to do with the murders or if they simply shared mitochondrial DNA sequences with him. One hundred years later, all we have are scant DNA remnants, contradictory witness reports, and five women whose lives were ended too horribly and too soon. The investigation continues without end.
About the Creator
I'm a writer, native to the Western U.S. I enjoy writing fiction and articles on a variety of topics. I'm also a photographer, dog mom, and nature enthusiast.
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