Although my preceding post on Jack the Ripper wasn't terribly popular, I nevertheless want to write down what I have learned. Best to do so now, while the facts are fresh in my mind.
According to a flurry of recent news articles, DNA evidence has finally cracked the Jack the Ripper case. We are told that a shawl which belonged to Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes (the second victim on the night of the "double event") has retained the semen stains of one Aaron Kosminksi, an unhinged, thuggish Polish immigrant. Kosminski was considered a strong suspect at the time. He remains so today.
Casebook, the premiere internet site for Ripperologists, has published an excellent "Primer"
on this alleged new DNA evidence. I will deal with some of that material and add a few observations of my own.
The shawl -- if it is
a shawl (some say that it looks more like an Edwardian-era table covering) -- is very problematical. It cannot be traced reliably to Eddowes. It was not seen by witnesses who encountered her on the night of her murder. It was not seen at the crime scene. It was not among her effects at the time of her death.
Oral tradition says that it was found by a policeman named Amos Simpson. Simpson did exist, but he cannot be placed anywhere near the scene; his business was in another part of the city. In fact, his name does not appear in any official document related to the Eddowes murder.
The chronology is important:
At 1:35 AM, three witnesses saw Catherine Eddowes talking to a man whom most researchers presume to be her killer. The witnesses were Joseph Lawende, Joseph Levy, and Harry Harris. Lawende was the only one of the three to provide details -- or rather, he was the only one to do so on the record. Although Lawende did not get a good look at the face of either Eddowes or the man with her, he was able to describe what Eddowes wore. Lawende was later brought into the morgue, where he identified Eddowes by the clothing. At no time did he mention a shawl of any kind.
Five minutes after this sighting, at 1:40 AM, a constable named Harvey passed very close to the spot in Mitre Square where the body was found. He neither saw nor heard anything out of the ordinary.
A mere five minutes after that
, at 1:45 AM, a constable named Watkins found the mutilated body of Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square. Watkins rushed to a nearby warehouse (always remaining within line of sight of the body) and got the help of a workman. A whistle was blown. Many policemen hurried to the site; Amos Simpson was not among them.
It seems that the killer did his work in a very brief period of time, between 1:40 and 1:45. I cannot believe that Simpson (who had no reason to be anywhere near the place) came on the scene shortly before 1:45 and stole an important piece of evidence without raising an alarm about the body. Even the world's worst policeman would not do such a thing.
Again: According to the witness Lawende, Eddowes was not wearing a shawl
Is that shawl really a shawl? As noted in my previous post, the shawl appeared in a rather good 2005 Australian documentary
about the Ripper case. To your left, you can see a frame capture from that documentary. I have compared it to a painting which carefully reconstructs what Eddowes wore that night.
As you study the frame capture, please keep in mind that the scene takes place in a modern laboratory with blue-ish lighting. The "shawl" is actually a dark green material imprinted with a floral pattern. Interestingly, it resembles the dress Eddowes wore.
Is it possible that Simpson actually stole the dress after the body was brought into the morgue?
Could someone have cut out a section of the dress and made a shawl out of it?
The idea seems absurd. But how else can that piece of material be linked to the crime?
On a related note:
Although I remain doubtful about this alleged DNA evidence against him, Kosminski remains an excellent Ripper candidate.
One of the three witnesses, as mentioned, was a butcher named Joseph Levy, who refused to give details. At the time, newspapers said that he acted strangely and seemed to be hiding something.
Many years later, Robert Anderson (who had been Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police) wrote in a book that he knew for a fact that the Ripper was a Polish Jew who had been identified by "one of his own people," who refused to testify against him. For various reasons, we now know that Anderson's "Polish Jew" was Kosminski, whom the police placed under watch.
Who was Anderson's witness? I think it was Levy.
Sergeant Robert Sager of the City Police later wrote that the police believed that the Ripper was a man who worked on Butcher's Row, Aldgate. Levy plied his trade in the same place.
In recent times, Ripper researcher Paul Begg has discovered that Levy had once helped an immigrant named Martin Kosminki come to England. Although there is no proof that Martin and Aaron were related, a relationship seems very possible, since there were few Kosminkis in the country at the time.
Aaron Kosminki was born in Poland in 1864. Apparently, when he was quite young, his family moved to a Jewish ghetto in Russia, where they suffered through pogroms. The family immigrated to Britain in the late 1870s.
Aaron appears to have been schizophrenic: He experienced hallucinations, his behavior was very bizarre, and he is said to have attacked his sister with a knife. In 1890, authorities placed him in a "workhouse infirmary." The next year, he was placed in an insane asylum, and remained incarcerated until his death in 1915.
A family named Kosminski lived at 76 Goulston Street, not far from the scene of the Eddowes crime. Although this family cannot be definitively linked to Aaron Kosminski, Anderson said that his suspect lived close to the Eddowes crime scene.
At 2:55 AM, roughly an hour after the Eddowes murder, a large piece of her bloodied white apron was found in Goulston street. Above it was the famous "graffiti" message freshly scrawled in white chalk on black bricks: "The Juwes are the men that shall not be blamed for nothing." We cannot be sure of the exact wording and spelling because Police Commissioner Charles Warren erased the message around sunrise, apparently fearing that it would stoke anti-Semitism.
How do we know that whoever wrote the message also left the bloodied cloth? Because neither the message nor the apron were seen by a constable who passed by the area at 2:20 AM.
Of all the popular Ripper candidates, Kosminski seems to me the likeliest to have left that message, if only because he was (to put the matter bluntly) both Jewish and insane. One could argue that the message reflects a memory of the pogroms his family is said to have survived when he was a boy. Russian pogroms were often instigated by false rumors that Jews were committing bloody crimes against gentiles.
In sum: Kosminki remains a likely Ripper suspect. Yet the shawl DNA evidence seems -- at this writing -- to be very questionable. Perhaps further details will answer those questions.
I still have a hard time believing Aaron Kosminski to be the killer -- if only because he was, by all reports, a barely functional psychotic brute. One would think that only a cunning and intelligent person could have gotten away with these crimes. I've seen no indications that Abberline ever considered Kosminski a likely suspect.
(Yes, I know that my readers come here for political writings. In the future, I promise to squelch my interest in this mystery.)