The Daily Mail, a news organization synonymous with rigorous fact checking that rivals the journalistic integrity evidenced by newspapermen during Jack the Ripper’s heyday, this morning “revealed” the Ripper to be one Aaron Kosminsky, a Polish Jew with serious mental health issues who ended his life in an asylum. I have to comment on this article partly because it’s kind of in my wheelhouse (I’m the author of the fictional but heavily researched Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson), but mainly because I find the article itself to be of interest when it comes to sciencing, and how to science, and ways we should do science good.
Aaron Kosminsky, first of all, is a compelling choice when it comes to Ripper suspects, let’s make no bones about that. He was an immigrant fleeing the anti-Semitic pogroms taking place in his homeland, a series of brutally violent instances of organized plunder and rape and pillaging and general barbarism against the Ashkenazi. When these folks arrived in the UK, they were about as popular with the locals as smallpox, and were thus forced to live in neighborhoods like Whitechapel. It’s a solid conjecture that Kosminkski had, let’s call it a non-idyllic childhood, waaaay more pillaging and and such than you’d see in your average Hallmark film, and these upsets may have exacerbated his mental illness.
Regarding the article, though: Ripperologist Russell Edwards bought a shawl in 2007 associated with the Ripper killings:
It was March 2007, in an auction house in Bury St. Edmunds, that I first saw the blood-soaked shawl…It was said to have been found next to the body of one of the Ripper’s victims, Catherine Eddowes, and soaked in her blood. There was no evidence for its provenance, although after the auction I obtained a letter from its previous owner who claimed his ancestor had been a police officer present at the murder scene and had taken it from there.
OK, I’m just gonna stop you right there.
So we have a shawl, which may or may not be from the crime scene of Catherine Eddowes. This shawl, which might have been at the crime scene, or might have been in New Zealand, or on Caprica, was swiped by a naughty police officer instead of being reported. Carry on, sir:
Incredibly, it was stowed without ever being washed and was handed down from David’s great-grandmother, Mary Simpson, to his mother, Eliza Smith, and then his mother, Eliza Mills, later Hayes.
That IS incredible, now you mention it, but then again who hasn’t found that extra special pizza slice at the back of the fridge? And if it was meant to be a Ripper relic, then why would you wash the thing?
The Shawl Which May Have Been At The Crime Scene But Might Also Alternatively Have Been In Abu Dhabi At The Time had traces of DNA on it, according to Dr. Jari Louhelainen, a doctor with standards so high that he prefers to publish his work in the Daily Mail than in scientific journals. This gentleman, for I assume him to be a gentleman, found traces of blood and semen on the shawl (since he apparently works on cold cases for Interpol when he’s bored, we can probably lend a skeptical but open-minded ear when he says the dark stains were “not just blood, but consistent with arterial blood spatter caused by slashing”). Eddowes died of hemorrhage from the left common carotid artery. Well and good. Here is a contemporary illustration of her:
Next the dynamic crimesolving duo claims that they tracked down descendants of Kosminski and Eddowes, some of whom shall remain nameless due to privacy concerns, checked their pedigrees, and proved conclusively due to a bad as hell super-sciencing technique that Dr. Louhelainen himself invented for science, called “vacuuming,” that Kosminski’s semen and Eddowes’s blood were on the Shawl That Might Have Been From The Planet Krypton.
(Pause for slow clap for dudes who win at science.)
Let’s list a few things we don’t know here, shall we?
—Where the shawl came from. Period. At all. From the forests of Endor, to George McFly’s 1955 locker tucked in with his gym shorts, WE DON’T KNOW.
—What the bloody hell vacuuming is. (This was not published in a science journal, again).
—Whether the blood on the shawl was sprayed there on the identical night, at approximately the same time, as Eddowes was murdered. Because trust me, there was a lot of jizz flying around Whitechapel. Whitechapel was in a “cloudy with strong chance of jizz showers” weather pattern all year round.
—Whose semen it was. The article claims that Kosminky was at the time living with two brothers, and mitochrondrial DNA for any of those men would have been a positive. What we know is that somewhere, this one time, a man jizzed on a shawl.
—Whose shawl it was. If the shawl belonged to Kosminski and he was wearing it on the night of September 29th-30th and that was Eddowes’s blood that sprayed him when her throat was cut (this was the cause of death—her other injuries were inflicted postmortem) and he indulged in ritualized sexual release, yeah, that’s pretty compelling evidence.
If The Shawl Which Might Have Been Found Near Eddowes’s Corpse Or Else Dunno Maybe Papua New Guinea belonged to Eddowes, on the other hand, then we have a classic case of sordid but entirely circumstantial evidence—the trout in the milk, as Sherlock Holmes once quotes. If it was Eddowes’s shawl, then OF COURSE it got blood on it, and anyone’s semen found on the artifact at any time throughout its long history as a wanking aid would have been suspected.
Curiously, Russell Edwards says “I reasoned that it made no sense for Eddowes to have owned the expensive shawl herself.”
There’s so much ridiculous here that I almost can’t, but here goes:
—just because it was expensive for you doesn’t mean it was expensive for her
—people bought secondhand clothes and traded them with the speed of greased lightning
Additionally, there were Michaelmas daisies decorating the jizz Swiffer, another aspect Edwards thinks points to Kosminsky. Catherine Eddowes, at the time of her death, was wearing a dark green chintz skirt with three flounces, patterned with Michaelmas daisies, and that doesn’t mean it was her shawl since the patterns match, because I know how to science, but damn, dude.
Again, Kosminsky was a compelling suspect. He once attacked his sister with a knife, was prone to “self-abuse” (read: wanking), lived in the prime geographic area, and died incarcerated at Leavesden Asylum for Imbeciles, which might —if he was the Ripper—explain why the murders stopped. But let’s try to do the best sciencing we can when it comes to the deaths of these innocent women. They were already used as fodder to sell newspapers during the Victorian Era—let’s just try to be certain we aren’t leaping back on that bandwagon.
Read more about Aaron Kosminsky.
Read more about Catherine Eddowes including autopsy report and photographs (graphic).
Read more about the fact that night was a double murder, not addressed by Edwards.
Link to my Ripper novel, Dust and Shadow, if you’d prefer the case to be solved by Sherlock Holmes.