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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Knowing Jack

Since this is the weekend, perhaps I may be forgiven for dashing off some late-breaking news about Jack the Ripper. A number of news stories have reported that a certain shawl, associated with Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes, contains blood and semen stains which permit DNA identification of one Aaron Kosminski as the killer. We now have further information about this shawl business, which this blog has discussed in previous posts. (See here and here.)

Kosminksi was a mentally ill Jewish immigrant from Russia (born in Poland) who was confined to an asylum not long after the final Ripper murder. At the time, some London policemen considered him a good suspect, although Inspector Abberline (in charge of the Ripper investigation) did not believe that Kosminski was the killer.

The man who owns the shawl, and who claims to have proven the case against Kosminski, is one Russell Edwards. A reader has directed my attention to an interview with Edwards on Jim Harold's Paranormal Podcast. (Harold put Edwards on his show even though these claims have nothing to do with the paranormal.)

Edwards makes an excellent impression. Soft-spoken, modest, and intelligent, he provides reasonable answers to some of the issues raised by critics. For example, he says that a policeman did not (as previously reported) secretly snatch up the shawl at the crime scene. Rather, this policeman got permission to take the item as a souvenir after Eddowes was given an autopsy.

Unfortunately, the Harold/Edwards interview brings up a couple of problems.

1. Russell Edwards says that the shawl is expensive and of Russian manufacture. Catherine Eddowes was desperately poor and would have sold any expensive item that happened to come into her possession. Edwards therefore reasons that the shawl belonged to Kosminski, an immigrant who had lived in Russia.

My response: Why would Kosminski carry anything like this shawl? A number of witnesses saw a man with Eddowes shortly before her murder. None of these witnesses reported that the gentleman was carrying or wearing a large, brightly-colored shawl, of the sort that only a lady would wear.

The murderer took Eddowes' white apron and deposited it at the scene of the "Goulston Street graffiti." Why would the killer leave a shawl while taking an apron? True, Kosminki was not sane -- but does that fact suffice to explain this bizarre "clothing exchange"?

2. Edwards says that a witness named Israel Schwartz identified Kosminki as the man seen with that night's previous victim, Elizabeth Stride. (Stride and Eddowes were killed on the same night.)

Schwartz, a Hungarian immigrant who spoke very little English, is a well-known and much discussed witness. Using an interpreter, he gave a statement to both the police and to a newspaper. He did indeed see someone -- perhaps two men -- with Stride fifteen minutes before her murder.

(The Schwartz/Ripper encounter was recreated -- more or less accurately! -- in the film version of From Hell.)

No previous writer has ever presented any evidence that Schwartz identified Kosminki. In all previous accounts, Schwartz spoke only of a man he did not know.

Russell Edwards says that Schwartz did finger Kosminski but refused to offer official testimony against a fellow Jew. Where is the documentary evidence for this claim? If such a document exists, how could it have escaped the attention of all "Ripperologists" before Edwards?

Not only that. It is well-known that the man with Stride shouted "Lipski" at Schwartz. According to a number of writers, "Lipski" was an all-purpose anti-Semitic insult which enjoyed a brief vogue in lower-class London, following the execution of a Jew by that name.

Kosminki was himself Jewish. My question: Would one Jew use an anti-Semitic insult to refer to another?

In modern America, as everyone knows, young black men have been known to use a certain "verboten" term when addressing each other familiarly. But I don't think that London's Jews spoke to each other in this fashion back in 1888. I may be wrong.

As always, we must take into consideration the fact Aaron Kosminski suffered from a serious mental illness, and therefore may have behaved in inexplicable ways.

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