A new study suggests that Jack the Ripper, the infamous serial killer who terrorized London more than 130 years ago, may finally be identified through DNA testing.
However, some experts doubt that the evidence is strong enough to provide a definitive answer.
Who Was Jack The Ripper?
Jack The Ripper was a serial killer who killed at least five women in London's Whitechapel district between Aug. 7 and Sept. 10, 1888. The killings gained notoriety from the press due to the suspect's penchant for mutilating the bodies of his victims.
Despite an exhaustive investigation, police and local authorities were never able to capture or even identify the culprit. This gave rise to numerous public speculations on who the real Jack the Ripper was over the years.
In an article featured in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, researchers at Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom conducted genetic tests on a DNA sample long-thought to have belonged to the Ripper himself.
The DNA was taken from a stained silk shawl found right next to the body of Catherine Eddowes, one of the victims of Jack's killing spree. The shawl had traces of blood and semen, the latter of which is thought to be from the suspect.
Genetic evidence point to a 23-year-old Polish barber named Aaron Kosminski as the notorious Jack the Ripper. This was confirmed after comparing fragments of mitochondrial DNA taken from the shawl with those taken from Eddowes and Kosminski's living descendants.
Investigators identified Kosminski as their prime suspect in the killings in 1888. However, they did not have enough proof to solve the case.
The DNA testing suggests that the Ripper had brown eyes and brown hair. This matches evidence from eyewitness reports.
While the researchers admit such characteristics are not unique, they note that blue eyes are now more common compared to brown among English people.
The researchers believe their new study provides "the most systematic and most advanced genetic analysis to date regarding the Jack the Ripper murders."
Criticisms About The Jack The Ripper Study
This is not the first time DNA evidence have pointed to Kosminski as the most probable suspect in the Jack the Ripper killings.
Jari Louhelainen, a biochemist at LJMU and one of the coauthors of the current study, first conducted testing on the suspect's DNA years earlier. He obtained the samples after receiving the stained shawl from an author named Russell Edwards, who bought it in 2007.
Louhelainen's did not open his findings for peer review at the time. He said that he wanted the fuss about the discovery to die down first before he submitted the results.
In 2014, Louhelainen published a book titled Naming Jack the Ripper, where he discussed the findings of his study. He was criticized by geneticists for not releasing enough technical details about his analysis.
This time, Louhelainen teamed up with fellow scientist David Miller to conduct further testings on the DNA samples. Miller is an expert on sperm and reproduction at the University of Leeds.
However, critics are still not convinced about the merit of the study. They pointed out that Louhelainen and Miller failed to mention the specific genetic variants they identified and compared between DNA samples.
The researchers instead published a graphic that featured a series of colored boxes. They claimed that the shawl and modern DNA sequences matched where the boxes on the graphic overlap.
Louhelainen and Miller claimed that the Data Protection Act prevents them from releasing the genetic sequences taken from Eddowes and Kosminski's living relatives.
They said they opted to use the graphic to make it easier for nonscientists and "those interested in true crime" to understand the results.