The story of Jack the Ripper is a dark, tragic one. Believed to be responsible for least five East London murders in 1888, the deranged serial killer targeted prostitutes, whose throats he slashed and whose organs he often removed. Police never arrested him, and his identity has long been subject of speculation and theories.
Russell Edwards, a longtime Ripperologist, as those obsessed with studying the unsolved case are known, has published Naming Jack The Ripper, a book that claims to offer DNA evidence that the 19th century killer was Aaron Kosminski, a 25-year-old Jewish immigrant from Poland.
Kosminski’s family fled Poland in the early 1880s, escaping Tsarist pogroms, and settled in London. Kosminski, a barber, is said to have been a suspect at the time, and was ultimately institutionalized. He reportedly died in a mental hospital in Hertfordshire in 1919, at age 53.
Edwards’ argument rests on DNA samples found on a shawl he bought at an auction that reportedly belonged to Catherine Eddowes, one of the victims, linking Kosminski to her murder. DNA tests of stains on the shawl, he claims, revealed Eddowes blood and Kosminski’s semen.
I’m no Ripperologist, but Edwards’ discovery all these years later seems a bit too tidy. While the DNA angle is compelling and scientific-sounding, I’m reluctant to believe that testing any piece of evidence from 1888 could yield conclusive results.
Since the victims and the suspects are long gone, Edwards’ book exists to edify a modern audience with interest in the case. Perhaps I just worry how a sensational ‘find’ like this will play out in contemporary London, where rising anti-Semitism already has British Jewry fearful.
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Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.