Last month a new book called Naming Jack the Ripper claimed that the serial killer who targeted London prostitutes in the late 19th century was a 25-year-old Polish Jew named Aaron Kosminski. The book’s author, Russell Edwards—a self-described Ripperologist—supported his theory with purported DNA evidence: a shawl with Kosminski’s semen and a victim’s blood was sold at auction, and was later analyzed by Edwards.
However, Sir Alec Jeffreys, a pioneer of DNA fingerprinting (and therefore a bit more knowledgeable on the matter than Edwards), recently came out against Edwards’ finding. He suggested that the genetic trait Edwards used to identify Kosminski was misidentified, and is in fact a much more common genetic mutation that can’t be used to isolate Kosminski as the definitive suspect. Furthermore, the type of DNA that Edwards analyzed has a much higher match rate in the general population than nuclear DNA, which would mean a rather large sample of the population could have fit the genetic profile that Edwards used to pinpoint Kosminski.
Other objections to Kosminski as a suspect have been raised before. One book, The Cases That Haunt Us, written by a former FBI profiler suggested that Kosminski’s personality fit the profile of a killer who wouldn’t have been able to keep quiet about his crimes, especially as Kosminski died in an asylum more than two decades after the murders.
Some other Ripper suspect favorites were important figures at the time, among them Prince Albert Victor and Lewis Carroll. Many other Eastern European Jews were considered suspects, along with Kosminski.
While there’s been a very, very long tradition of blaming national tragedies on ‘The Jews,’ in this case Edwards’ work is evidently beyond boilerplate scapegoating: it’s just bad detective work.
Alexander Aciman is a writer living in New York. His work has appeared in, among other publications, The New York Times, Vox, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic.