Who was Jack the Ripper?


Who was Jack the Ripper?

An investigation into Jack the Ripper:

Did Aaron Kosminski commit the 1888 Whitechapel Murders?

Section A: Identification and Evaluation of Sources

This investigation will analyse the question, “Did Aaron Kosminski commit the 1888 Whitechapel murders?”. The first source selected is “The Macnaughten Memorandum”, due to Macnaughten’s extensive access to the case. The second source selected is the book “Naming Jack the Ripper”, which is dedicated to proving Kosminski’s guilt through modern methods.

Source A: Assistant Chief Constable of Scotland Yard’s CID, Sir Melville Macnaughten’s “The Macnaughten Memorandum”2 was published Feb. 1894 in London.

Macnaughten’s purpose for writing his memorandum was to exonerate Thomas Cutbush, who was being named as a suspect by a newspaper. Instead he accused three suspects and provided specific details about the victims. This is the first historic source suspecting Kosminski. Unlimited access to all CID case files allowed him to form his hypothesis based on primary evidence. His memorandum is particularly unique as the original case files were eventually destroyed. Many police officers were heavily involved in the investigation of the case and took a narrower perspective the longer it remained unsolved. Joining the CID in June 18893, after the investigations, gave Macnaughten a less biased point of view and allowed for a fresh look at the case. Unfortunately, he did not have access to the crime scenes at the time of the murders, limiting his investigation to photographs and primary accounts. Additionally, Macnaughten illustrates anti-Semitic feelings by referring to Kosminski as a “Polish Jew”, leading one to question if this accusation is based on ethnic prejudice5.

Source B: Edwards, Russell. “Naming Jack the Ripper: New Crime Scene Evidence, a Stunning Forensic Breakthrough, the Killer Revealed”6. London: Pan Macmillan, 2014.

Edwards provides an analysis of Kosminski as a suspect through modern diagnostic techniques, such as DNA analysis of a bloodstained shawl from a crime scene that he bought at an auction for $4.75 million in 2007. Which he performed NMR tests on in attempts to identify its origin and connect it to the Ripper case. Additionally, Edwards creates a connection between the shawl and the dates of two of the murders through the historical context of the Michaelmas Feast. Obsessed with the Ripper case, Edwards spent more than seven years and invested a substantial amount of money to prove his Kosminski theory. His personal investment shows his enthusiasm for the case; however, this is a limitation as it leads to him being biased towards his findings. As a businessman, Edwards has the means to execute his investigation, but not being a historian implies that he doesn’t have the training to evaluate the evidence fully leading the divisive and questionable Hallie Rubenhold to claim: “[T]here is no historical evidence, [...]. This is history at its worst”.


Section B: Investigation

The Whitechapel murders occurred in the Whitechapel district of London between August and November 1888, most are attributed to Jack the Ripper. All victims were female prostitutes, brutally murdered through knife attacks late at night. Although the number of victims is debated, five of nine murders at the time are agreed upon and known as the “Canonical 5”. Four of the five murders had their abdominal organs removed post mortem by the suspect. Despite Scotland Yard’s investigation, the Ripper was able to elude capture and his identity remains unknown. Scotland Yard’s inefficacy to deal with a serial killer at the time highlights the inability of the police to understand these “dangerous predators”.

Edwards’ recent publication, supporting past theories, states that one man has been named the Ripper: Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jewish barber, who moved to Whitechapel in 1882 with his brother Woolf Kosminski. This investigation will evaluate witness reports, profiling techniques, and DNA analysis surrounding Kosminski as the Ripper and argue that Edwards, although compelling occasionally, ultimately fails to convince.
For any investigation, witness reports are crucial for consideration. These reports were Macnaughten’s basis of investigation. On September 30th, a night of a double murder, two witness reports were given, describing both victims with a man. Israel Schwartz claimed to have seen an assault on Elizabeth Stride near Dutfield’s Yard. He describes the man as around 30 years old, 5’5", fair dark hair, small brown mustache, wearing a dark jacket, and a black cap with a peak. Another witness, Joseph Lawende, saw a man with Eddowes near Mitre Square and describes the man as around 30 years old, 5’7’’, fair moustache, medium build, wearing a loose dress jacket, and grey cloth cap with a peak.
The similarities between both reports point to Kosminski, as supported by Chief Inspector Donald Swanson and Assistant Commissioner Robert Anderson writing in 1888 and Edwards in 2014. However, there are slight differences, which could be attributed to the dark conditions of the identification. Two years later, Anderson and Swanson claimed a witness positively identify Kosminski as the Ripper, however discovering Kosminski is Jewish, the witness refused to testify against a fellow Jew. Moreover, considering the normality that was anti-Semitism during this time period, it is understandable that the witness wouldn’t want to testify against another Jew out of solidarity. Furthermore, the similarities of the reports establish compelling and plausible evidence, but the claims of a positive identification are however weak. These reports could be the only reason that Macnaughten even suggested Kosminski as a suspect, thus limiting the source.

Whereas Macnaughten’s focus is limited, Edwards additionally highlights the first psychological criminal profile, created by Dr. Thomas Bond as part of the investigation. Bond analysed the first four murders and produced a profile the day of the fifth murder. His technique, whilst dated, is still useful as Bond evaluated the methods used by the Ripper, creating a profile that happens to directly apply to Kosminski. Firstly, the Ripper was “subject to periodical attacks of homicidal mania”; this behaviour can be seen through Kosminski’s sudden knife attack on his sister, which landed him in Colney Hatch Asylum, where he was later diagnosed with schizoaffective bipolar disorder due to aural hallucinations, which told him to perform violently. Furthermore, the Ripper is said to have a “brooding condition of mind”  and is supported through Kosminski’s diagnosis of experiencing both catatonic depressive episodes and delusional periods of mania. Moreover, Bond profiled a “neatly and respectively dressed” man, supporting the witness reports, which recounts Kosminski suitable attire, thus supporting this profiled aspect. Additionally, the suspect was theorized to be “[w]ithout regular occupation, but [with] a small income/pension” , reinforced by Kosminski’s declination to work at a workhouse, even though he was “able-bodied” as asylum records show. The fact that he lived with his brother, thus relying on his income, further supports Bond's final aspect that the suspect is “[l]iving among respectable persons who know about his state of mind” , which is striking, given Kosminski’s living arrangement.


Map of Whitechapel, 1888 with the victim’s crime scenes marked; Red dot: Sion Square

 One aspect that modern criminal profiles include, that Bond lacked, is geographical profiling, by studying the locationsof the crimes and predicts a plausible living area of the serialkiller. A principal of geographical profiling states that serial killers will maintain a buffer zone between their houses and themurders, while not expanding outside of a certain radius. Criminologist David Wilson recently applied geographic profiling (Kosminski’sresidence) to evaluate Kosminski and found he fits the profile. Kosminski lived in the heart of Whitechapel and was in the suspected area. Each murder happened within 1/2mi from Sion square35, further supporting suspicions towards Kosminski by explaining his ability to elude the police, due to his knowledge of the area.

However, what made Edwards unique was his ability to create a connection between a shawl, found at the Catherine Eddowes’ crime scene, and the dates of two murders. Putting the shawl into historical context, in 2014, Edwards explained that the Michaelmas daisy pattern on the shawl symbolize the feast of Michaelmas, which was a well-known festival during Victorian times on September 29th and November 8th, the dates of the double and last murder. Furthermore, last year the shawl’s origin was analyzed by a nuclear magnetic resonance test. Dr. Fyaz Ismail determined the shawl being of Russian-Polish origin from the blue dye on the fabric. This implies the owner was presumably also of Russian-Polish descent, supporting Edwards’ theory and negating the theory that the shawl was Eddowes’, moreover she was said to be poor and unlikely to have been able to afford this shawl. Thus, leading to the shawl allegedly belonging to the Ripper rather than Eddowes.

 Edwards goes beyond any previous investigations by including DNA testing on the shawl, which had blood and a seminal-like substance on it. The DNA test was originally performed in 2014 by Dr. Jari Louhelainen and connections to Eddowes’ blood and Kosminski’s semen were found, however, Kosminski’s results was disputed. The test was redone in 2020, which appears to confirm Kosminski’s connection to the shawl again through a mitochondrial DNA test. In 2020, Dr. Louhelainen and Dr. Miller published their paper describing their findings, where they found a living relative of Kosminski and compared the mitochondria of the descendent to the substance on the shawl41. According to Louhelainen, “the first strand of DNA showed a 99.2% match”, and the second strand “achieved a perfect 100% match”. Therefore, demonstrating the connection between the shawl and Kosminski. Further analysis discovered the suspect had brown eyes and dark hair, matching the witness statement given by Schwartz and Lawende.
Nevertheless, there are consequential problems with the testing conducted by Edwards’ team. First, Sgt. Simpson of Scotland Yard had taken the Shawl from the crime scene to give to his mother, which was passed down until it was auctioned off to Edwards. This means the shawl was contaminated, already discrediting any DNA evidence found. Additionally, the test in 2014 was invalidated as the scientist mislabeled the chromosome as 314.1C (uncommon), instead of the proper label of 315.1C (common). The mislabeled chromosome incorrectly supported Edwards’ hypothesis of Kosminski. Moreover, Dr. Turi King negates the 2020 analysis paper, because it does not include any scientific data. Furthermore, a paper by Dr. Hansi Weissensteiner highlights that mitochondrial DNA analysis is only useful for excluding suspects and proving that two samples aren’t related rather than showing a relation. Finally disputing the 2020 paper authors’ claim that under the Data Protection Act the data cannot be published, Dr. Walther Parson counters that “mitochondrial DNA poses no risk to privacy and the authors should’ve included them”. Therefore, these scientists invalidate this DNA analysis done by either 2014 and 2020 paper. It can be concluded that Kosminski is not confirmed as the Ripper through DNA, rather it shows that he is just a valid suspect.
Apropos to Edwards’ Michaelmas theory, it is strange that being Jewish, Kosminski would own this shawl, given that it had Christian symbolism. It begs the question: What would Kosminksi be doing with a Christian shawl? Which raises the question: was it his shawl at all? Hence, bringing Edwards and the shawl’s credibility into doubt. Looking at all the remaining supporting arguments, none of them are foolproof and would not hold up in court.
Whilst there is strong supported circumstantial evidence, such as the eyewitness testimony, geographical and psychological profiling, and the shawls origin, to support Kosminski’s guilt. If this case were presented in court the evidence would be deemed as having a feeble and unreliable connection to Kosminski and Edwards’ claims would not stand scrutiny, especially his DNA analysis. With the evidence presented in this IA, Kosminski wouldn’t be found guilty in a court of law.

Section C: Reflection
When I started researching the Ripper, I was intrigued by the number of theories, however I quickly became overwhelmed and then dismayed after discovering that the victims are being ignored. There is so much focus on discovering his identity that the victims are subsequently being dehumanized. The objectification of these women is appalling as they are being analyzed through a looking glass. History’s focus is often on the destroyer, thus immortalizing the Ripper’s actions to the extent that literature is sympathetic towards him, such as “Dust and Shadow” and “I, Ripper”. Personally, I find this is a notable case of the “me too” movement as these victims are being ignored for the pleasure of deciphering an unsolvable puzzle.
Another discovery I made, specifically from the “Macnaughten Memorandum”, was the heavily apparent anti-Semitism of the time. Since my suspect is a Polish Jew, for every speculation made against him from the 1800s, it had to be considered whether they were accusing him due to his ethnicity or through evidence surrounding the case. Even though calling Kosminski a “Polish Jew” is factually correct, once the historical context was understood, it shows the prevalent anti-Semitism.
Furthermore, this investigation has taught me that technology can lead us astray. It was interesting to find that within this entire case, the weakest evidence I had was the DNA test, which is ironic considering the DNA test originally interested me in Kosminski. Many historians, even with scientific data, refuse to acknowledge Edwards’ findings and opt to use theoretical evidence.
Finally, I questioned, whether this Ripper topic was history and not just criminology. However, I created the historical connection while researching; I used methods of research and evaluation of a historian to understand the individual evidence. Historical context and understanding the time period is crucial to being able to even consider answering this question. Nevertheless, the methods of a historian are easily transferable to other expertise, such as criminology.



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NOTE: I later wrote to the producers at Casebook, the preeminent authority on the Whitechapel murders, the following email:

 I discovered your site after a colleague referred me to the podcast series featuring Hallie Rubenhold. I teach history here outside Dachau and one of my seniors last year wrote her research paper on Aaron Kosminski as a suspect; our school library as a result now contains a number of books devoted to the Whitechapel Murders. I was intrigued by the revisionist approach but, listening to the opening episode, was taken aback by the vitriol directed at this site and Ripperologists in general. I then started listening to Rippercast beginning with the review of her book during my hourly cycle to work. Halfway through the critique of her work as an historian I was struck by the fact that so many of the arguments were those I'd raised in my class the week before concerning David Irving. I'm not just an history teacher- I'm also accredited with the nearby memorial site at Dachau and have worked with Holocaust survivors and devote time refuting Holocaust denial. I spent this lesson referring to Richard J. Evans's book outlining how Irving twists, manipulates and fabricates sources in much the same way Rubenhold appears to have done. Then, sure enough, one of the guests (I should know his name by now) brought up the very book, quoting the same passage I myself quoted in class!