Recently, genetic tests done on a silk shawl revealed the identity of notorious – and probably, the most famous – serial killer, Jack the Ripper.
A groundbreaking feat, considering the tons of theories and suspects speculated throughout a century concerning the murderer and his/her motives.
Let’s find out more on how the mystery behind the name of this killer was solved.
Into the Mind of the Ripper
The Whitechapel district in London, August 31, 1888 – these are the key details that marked the beginning of the Ripper murder lore. An overcrowded and impoverished area which housed more than a thousand prostitutes, Whitechapel caught the attention of the public when a dead woman was found in one of the district’s back streets.
What made this woman’s death horrifying was the manner she was killed. The victim, Mary Ann Nichols, was violently mutilated, with her throat slashed open and abdomen gouged apart. From then on, several murders followed suit.
With the authorities connecting the dots, a modus operandi (M.O.) among several of the Whitechapel murders was established:
- The victims were all women
- The victims were all prostitutes
- The murders were done late at night or the very early hours of the morning
- The murders were done close to or on the weekends
- The victims’ bodies had organs removed
- The victims’ throats were slashed open
- The murderer was believed to have lowered victims to the ground, with their heads tilted to his/her left.
The authorities have also received letters from the killer. Received by the London Central News Agency and signed “Jack the Ripper”, the letters resulted in hysteria (and obsession on the case) that spread like wildfire across the country.
There is one letter though, that may have been written by the Ripper. George Lusk, task leader of the vigilance committee in Whitechapel, received a package on October of the same year. Inside the parcel was half of a kidney purportedly removed from one of the murder victims.
Although it may be impossible to trace if the kidney indeed belonged to a victim, the act only added more fuel to the fire on the killings in the district.
Murders in Whitechapel and The Autumn of Terror Victims
Even before August 31, 1888, two murders had been reported in Whitechapel. Both prostitutes as well, many investigators insist that these two victims weren’t killed by Jack the Ripper. The two killings, when observed, followed a different set of M.O. Of course, links on supposed Ripper killings and these two victims shouldn’t be discounted at all.
- Emma Elizabeth Smith – attacked near a Whitechapel junction on April 3, 1888, Smith died the following day due to peritonitis. A medical examination on Smith’s body discovered that the prostitute had a ruptured vagina, mainly because of a blunt object inserted into it. Before her death, Smith revealed that she was attacked by several men. Investigators believe that a criminal gang assaulted Smith.
- Martha Tabram – died due to multiple (39) stabbing, authorities concluded that Tabram’s death isn’t connected to the Ripper killings (stabbing vs slashing M.O.).
The Canonical Five
The next five victims followed the M.O. disclosed by the authorities that time. Although more murders occurred after the autumn of terror (August to November of 1888) that these five women died, an 1894 police report categorically stated that Jack the Ripper only had five victims.
- Mary Ann Nichols – the August 31, 1888 death, Nichol’s body was discovered during the early hours of the mentioned date. Initial investigation on the murder revealed that the prostitute had been death for less than an hour during the body’s discovery.
- Annie Chapman – discovered September 8, 1888, the mutilated body of the prostitute had her abdomen entirely gouged open. Chapman’s intestines, ripped out from the inside, dangled on her right shoulder. An autopsy done on Chapman’s corpse discovered that parts of her vagina have been removed. Chapman’s death resulted to further panic across London – which resulted to attacks on the police force and anti-Semitic campaigns (some individuals believe that the murders are Jewish rituals). This prostitute’s death also led to the creation of the vigilance committee in Whitechapel.
- Elizabeth Stride – considered the first victim of a “double event” that occurred on September 30, 1888, Stride was discovered with her throat cut in Dutfield’s Yard (near Whitechapel Berner Street). Stride had no mutilations, which resulted to mixed murder theories:
- That another murderer killed Stride
- That Jack the Ripper was interrupted, and had no time to finish his M.O.
- Catherine Eddowes – on the same September day, Eddowes’ body was discovered in Mitre Square (which was just a few minutes’ walk away from the first murder event). Eddowes’ death followed the Jack the Ripper M.O. – throat slashed, disembowelment, missing body parts. It was claimed in the parcel that George Lusk received that the kidney belonged to Eddowes. Also, Eddowes’ scene of the crime had several key items that investigators during that time catalogued – which may prove to be essential to the century-long mystery/lore on the Ripper identity.
- Mary Jane Kelly – perhaps the most gruesome death among the canonical five, Kelly’s heavily mutilated body was discovered on November 9, 1888. Kelly died where she lived (a room she rented) and was only discovered when the landlord opened the door to collect payment. The damage done on the prostitute’s body was so terrible, that almost all organs in Kelly’s abdomen have been emptied. Additionally, Kelly’s face and breasts have been hacked.
Throughout the years, suspects and theories on the Jack the Ripper case have been tossed around. Even in popular culture, just the persona of the Ripper has been used to symbolize the idea of hatred and death. Focusing more on probable identities, here are two individuals whom officers at that time deemed to be the man behind the Ripper murders:
- J. Druitt – considered to be the prime suspect by then Chief Constable, Sir Melville Macnaghten, Druitt was a teacher that drowned himself a month after the Kelly murder. However, details of the supposed teacher were stated to be wrong. Macnaghten’s colleagues claimed that the chief constable’s assumption was inadequate.
- Aaron Kosminiski – a Polish hairdresser, Kosminiski was actually a prime suspect among leading investigators of the Ripper case, Robert Anderson and Donald Swanson. In fact, a report submitted by Anderson stated that authorities sent Kosminiski to an insane asylum right after the autumn of terror murders. However, and similar to Macnaghte, Anderson’s colleagues did not support this claim. Other officers claimed that Kosminiski may have been misidentified with another lunatic in the asylum who had the same name.
The DNA Reveal
Come 2014, and the DNA extracted from a shawl found in the Eddowes’ crime scene, showed that all signs pointed out to the latter suspect mentioned above. The DNA extraction/study, commissioned by British writer, Russell Edwards, proved that the Polish barber was, in fact, the killer. The doctor who oversaw the DNA test, Dr. Jari Louhelainen, revealed that results showed a 100% Kosminski match.
Conducting another trial on the shawl just this year, Liverpool John Moores University scientists published their DNA results in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. The 2019 test revealed (and confirms) the DNA extracted matches with descendants from the Kosminski line.
So, the barber definitely did it. And, just as much as the Ripper seemed to be careful (or lucky, depending on how one sees it) on each scene of the crime, all it took to point everything towards the suspect was a simple silk shawl. What’s your take on this?