Skip to content

Finnish geneticist helps identify Jack the Ripper

A British newspaper claims that ground-breaking DNA testing proves beyond doubt that the enigmatic Victorian serial killer was Polish-born hairdresser Aaron Kosminski. The forensic techniques that led to the breakthrough were developed and carried out by Finnish scientist Dr Jari Louhelainen. However fellow scientists and Jack the Ripper experts have come forward to question the validity of the methods behind the discovery.

The Illustrated London Newsissa 13. lokakuuta 1888 julkaistu Aaron Kosminskia esittävä piirros. Image: Wikimedia Commons

A Finnish scientist has used revolutionary forensic techniques to prove the identity of Jack the Ripper, a British newspaper claimed on Sunday.

Dr Jari Louhelainen, an expert in analysing historical genetic evidence from crime scenes, was approached by self-proclaimed “armchair detective” Russell Edwards to help solve a murder mystery that has baffled criminologists for over 100 years.

Louhelainen and Edwards claim that DNA testing now proves beyond reasonable doubt that Jack the Ripper, accused of a string of brutal murders in Victorian east London, was Polish-born hairdresser Aaron Kosminski.

The DNA breakthrough, which was revealed in UK newspaper the Daily Mail and will be set out in a forthcoming book, was made on the basis of samples taken from a blood-stained shawl believed to belong to one of the Ripper’s victims, Catherine Eddowes.

Edwards, 48, bought the shawl at auction and took it to Louhelainen, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, who agreed to conduct the forensic tests in his spare time.

“When Russell Edwards first approached me in 2011, I wasn’t aware of the massive levels of interest in the Ripper case, as I’m a scientist originally from Finland,” the Daily Mail reports Louhelainen as saying. “But by early this year, when I realised we were on the verge of making a big discovery, working on the shawl had taken over my life, occupying me from early in the morning until late at night.”

Perfect match

Using cutting-edge techniques he developed himself, Louhelainen was able to extract 126-year-old DNA from the fabric of the shawl and compare it to DNA from living relatives of Eddowes and Kosminski. The result showed a perfect match.

Louhelainen told the Mail he is satisfied that the tests – the technology for which was not available even five years ago – prove “as far as we possibly can” that Kosminski was the murderer. He added that he is excited and proud of the achievement.

Doubts remain

However, other experts and Ripper enthusiasts began to express doubt over the claims on Sunday, with many pointing out that Kosminski has already long been regarded as the most likely perpetrator of the killings.

Richard Cobb, who organises Jack the Ripper conventions and tours, told the Times (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that DNA on the shawl had been contaminated over many years, calling into question the reliability of any samples taken from the fabric.

Meanwhile the man who invented DNA fingerprinting, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, said the fact that Louhelainen's study has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal means it is impossible to verify the claims.

Professor Jeffreys told the UK's Independent (siirryt toiseen palveluun) newspaper that more information is needed, including: "detailed analysis of the provenance of the shawl and the nature of the claimed DNA match with the perpetrator's descendants and its power of discrimination; no actual evidence has yet been provided.”

Mentally ill

Jack the Ripper is believed to have been responsible for the murders of at least five prostitutes in London’s Whitechapel district in 1888. The identity of the killer has been hotly disputed by countless theorists ever since.

Aaron Kosminski, aged 23 at the time of the murders, was among the police's six key suspects for the crimes. He was described as severely mentally ill, and although the police found insufficient evidence to convict him of the killings, Kosminski was subsequently confined to a mental asylum, where he died aged 53.

Read the Daily Mail's account of the discovery here (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

8 Sep: This article was updated with responses to the claims from other experts and Jack the Ripper enthusiasts.

Latest: paketissa on 10 artikkelia