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Research may have identified Jack the Ripper

Research may have identified Jack the Ripper

Crucial DNA testing of a Victorian shawl, undertaken by a University of Leeds expert, may have helped solve the enduring riddle of the identity of Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper.

The killer, who preyed on prostitutes in London’s East End in 1888, is widely believed to have at least five victims, but his identity has confounded professionals and amateur sleuths alike.  

Now a shawl, supposedly present at the scene of the murder of Jack the Ripper’s fourth murder, Catherine Eddowes, in September 1888, holds a vital DNA clue to the killer’s apparent identity. 

The shawl, owned by businessman Russell Edwards, who bought it at auction in 2007, was tested by Dr David Miller, of the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds. He said: “I was able to identify body cells that were consistent with the presence of seminal fluid on the shawl and which enabled us to match DNA with the descendants of one of the suspected killers, Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski. 

“This, together with work undertaken by experts at Liverpool John Moores University, has allowed us to identify Kosminski as the alleged murderer.” 

As well as studying the cells' DNA, the team at Liverpool John Moores University also studied a blood stain that was on the shawl. Seven small segments of mitochondrial DNA, passed down through the direct female line, were isolated from the blood stains and matched with the DNA of Karen Miller, a direct descendant of Catherine Eddowes. This confirmed the presence of Eddowes’ blood on the item of clothing. 

In addition to identifying DNA on the shawl, a further investigation was made by experts into the provenance of the shawl. The blue dye on it was tested using nuclear magnetic resonance techniques, which found that the shawl was Russian and predates the murders.

This backed up Edwards’s theory that the shawl, which was of particularly fine quality, belonged to Kosminski and not Eddowes.

Kosminski was on the list of credible suspects at the time of the Ripper murders, and has been ever since.  In the mid-1890s, Kosminski was taken in by the police to be identified by a witness who had seen him attacking one of the victims. A positive identification was made but the witness refused to give incriminating evidence. The police had little option but to release Kosminski into the care of his family.

A new book by Edwards, Naming Jack The Ripper, has just been published.

Additional information

Dr David Miller is available for interview. Please call Ben Jones in the University of Leeds press office on 0113 343 8059 or email B.P.Jones@leeds.ac.uk

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