One of the biggest unsolved mysteries, at least until now, was who Jack the Ripper was. Several movies, books (both fictional and non), documentaries, and fan theorists have devoted themselves to putting a name to the face of one of the most notorious serial killers in history. Some speculated that he was a highly skilled surgeon while others suggested that he was a wealthy man who simply hated women; after all, who else could afford grapes at this time? (Grapes were often used to lure the women away so that Jack could murder them). Some suggested that he was born to a prostitute who didn’t want him so he spent his life exacting revenge on them.
However, it was speculation and fan theories until yesterday when it Jack the Ripper’s true identity was confirmed to the world. Thanks for DNA evidence as well as some seriously scholarly work that’s been published, we’re finally able to know for sure who Jack the Ripper was. Both researchers and forensic scientists have come forward with their findings. According to them, we finally know exactly who the notorious serial killer who terrorized the streets of London in the 1800s was.
Jack the Ripper’s identity was published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences and is all thanks to a forensic investigation. So who was he? Well Jack the Ripper was (drum roll please) Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski.
Who was Aaron Kosminski?
Aaron Kosminski was a Polish immigrant who was just 23 years old at the time he was murdering women in the streets. He worked as a barber and was actually one of the prime suspects at the time of the murders. Over 100 years ago, police were fairly convinced that he was responsible for the murders. However, he slipped through their hands when he was committed to an insane asylum in 1891; just 3 years after the last Ripper murder.
At the time, Kosminski was described as a “Polish Jew” by police. He was also only referred to by his last name or by the Polish Jew moniker. As he was in the same asylum at the same time as another person matching the description, there seems to have been a mix-up. During Kosminski’s stay in the insane asylum, there was another person there close in age. This man’s name was Aaron or David Cohen, but it’s suspected that his real name was something along the lines of Nathan Kaminsky. This man was an incredibly violent patient and police had the two men mixed up.
However, Aaron Kosminski didn’t get off completely scott free. At the asylum, Kosminski died of a gangrene infection.
How did they figure it out?
In 2014, British businessman and Ripper enthusiast Russell Edwards accused him in his book: Naming Jack the Ripper. While the book was definitely met with scrutiny, it also reignited curiosity within investigators and those who were obsessed with Jack the Ripper. It would be this book that would prompt forensic scientists to look once more at the DNA left behind at the crime scene in hopes of finally putting a name to Jack the Ripper with confidence.
As mentioned earlier, DNA evidence pinned Aaron Kosminski as Jack the Ripper. But how exactly did they get ahold of his DNA in the first place to confirm this? Well, the evidence was collected from a bloody shawl that was left at one of the crime scenes. This shawl has been meticulously maintained and preserved by the police since the 1800s. As such, the DNA was still in tact.
The shawl formerly belonged to the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper: Catherine Eddowes. Tragically, she was killed by the Ripper in September of 1888. Since then, her shawl has been carefully preserved. It has never been washed and it was been kept safe over the years by the descendants of the policemen who firsts stumbled upon it. In 2007, the shawl was purchased at auction by Russell Edwards. Edwards was the one who originally accused Aaron Kosminski in his book.
Like the police, Edwards too great care of the shawl. He protected it, left it unwashed, and maintained it. When scientists came forward to ask for permission to collect DNA from the shawl, Edwards was more than happy to oblige. Scientists collected fresh DNA tests from the item and ran multiple lab tests.
According to their findings, it is considered to be a “statistical probability” that the Polish barber was indeed Jack the Ripper. They won’t confirm his identity 100% as there is always room for error, but the “statistical probability” pretty much confirms that Aaron Kosminski was indeed Jack the Ripper.
The researchers responsible for the breakthrough were quick to publish their findings. They chose the Journal of Forensic Sciences as the place to finally reveal Jack the Ripper’s identity. In the journal they wrote, “for the first time, we describe both the molecular level and systemic analysis of the shawl. This is currently the only physical evidence that has survive the years that has been unquestionably linked to the murders committed by Jack the Ripper.”
“We found matching profiles in the shawl. This definitely adds credit to our results. It also increases the statistical probability of the identification and of course it further supports the notion that the shawl is in fact authentic. After all, people have doubted the authenticity of the shawl for as long as it’s been in possession. However with this evidence, we are able to say without a shadow of a doubt that it was involved in one of the Jack the Ripper crime scenes.”
Using bits of mitochondrial DNA (DNA that is inherited from the mother) from the silk shawl and samples from relatives of Kosminski that are living, researchers were able to come up with a direct match. The study also focused on descriptions of the killer’s appearance to further reinforce the claims. “Brown hair and brown eyes” were repeatedly assigned to Jack the Ripper’s description. They were also given by the crime’s only reliable witness.
Mr. Kosminski was also assumed as being Jack the Ripper about 5 years ago by Dr. Jari Louhelainen. Dr. Louhelainen also studied the same shawl and with DNA evidence, came to the same conclusion as Edwards and later forensic scientists. With so much evidence supporting the claim that a barber was in fact Jack the Ripper, it seems that we’ve finally put this mystery to bed.
There’s still doubt
Despite the overwhelming evidence and tests conducted, there are still those out there who have their doubts regarding the findings.
Many suggest that the shawl may have become contaminated over the years. “We don’t know how well the police protected the shawl in the 1800s. They could have mishandled it and it could have easily come in contact with other DNA,” is the common suggestion. The shawl was also given by Edwards to Louhelainen for study. Edwards is at best an “armchair detective” according to those who doubt the shawl’s authenticity. “This is to say that he’s making wild claims without much evidence to support his findings. He could have also mishandled the shawl or manipulated the DNA in order to further support his book’s theory.”
However, the shawl is the best piece of evidence that we have and given the fact that the DNA actually does match both descendants of Catherine Eddoes (the former owner) and Aaron Kosminski says a lot. While people suggest the DNA could have been manipulated in his favor, we don’t know how Edwards or Louhelainen would have access to Kosminski’s evidence in order to “plant” it. So as far as we’re concerned, Aaron Kosminski is Jack the Ripper.
Unsurprisingly, there were a number of suspects when it came to Jack the Ripper. As mentioned earlier, there are tons of theories and speculations floating around. Just about everyone has been accused by someone it seems. With the identity of Jack the Ripper finally put to rest, we can let go of these old suspects. However, we thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at some of the other suspects that police and others believed were Jack the Ripper in order to see how different they were from Aaron Kosminski.
Seweryn Klosowski (aka George Chapman)
Klosowski was also a barber at the time of the murders. He resided in Whitechapel and was actually of the favored suspects by police. In the 1890s, Klosowski changed his name to Chapman and was hung in 1903 for the deaths of three of his wives. He was dismissed as being Jack the Ripper because he poisoned his wives; that definitely wasn’t the Ripper’s M.O.
In 2002, Patricia Cornwell, a best selling crime novelist, came forward. She believed that she might have stumbled across the Ripper’s DNA and believed it to be a perfect match for Sickert. Sickert was a German-born artist who lived in Britain. He was notorious for painting scenes of incredible violence against women. Sickert was also accused by Donald McCormik in 1959 in his book The Identity of Jack the Ripper. Sickert also had a fascination with Jack the Ripper and supposedly stayed in rooms where Ripper had lodged himself. However, Sickert was in France at the time the Ripper murders were occurring.
John Pizer (Leather Apron)
John Pizer was another Polish Jew who called Whitechapel his home. The bootmaker was arrested in 1888 after the murders of Annie Chapman and Mary Ann Nichols. Pizer was referred to as Leather Apron and was believed to have been responsible for assaulting a number of prostitutes in the area. Many people suspected that Pizer was Jack the Ripper, but alibis for two of the murders cleared his name. He also received a payout from one of the media sources that labeled him as Ripper.
Why did he do it?
Next to Jack the Ripper’s name, one of the biggest unsolved mysteries regarding the case is what was his motive? Just like before, there are a ton of fan theories and speculations regarding the motive behind Jack the Ripper’s killings.
In the 1800s, Jack the Ripper left London paralyzed in fear and over the course of his years, killed at least five women (though the number is suspected to be much higher) and left their bodies completely mutilated. The mutilation was done meticulously and strangely leading many to believe that Jack had an extensive knowledge in regards to human anatomy. His identity remained hidden for years and only now has been revealed.
Letters were also sent to the London Metropolitan Police Service, or Scotland Yard, by the killer or someone posing as Jack the Ripper. In these letters, the killer taunted police. He offered clues as to the next murders he intended to commit and described his murders in graphic detail. This is also where the Jack the Ripper moniker comes from. In one of the letters, he signed it as Jack the Ripper. Current speculation suggests that the letter may have been a hoax, but it was published nonetheless around the time of the crimes.
Despite now knowing the killer’s true identity, there is no motive. There is definitely speculation and suggestion, but no definitive answer as to why Kosminski not only brutally killed women, but why he targeted prostitutes. There very easily could be something hidden in the man’s history that would answer this question, but since little is known about him, this might remain an unsolved mystery forever.
The “Whitechapel Butcher”
Jack the Ripper was often referred to as the “Whitechapel Butcher” since most of his crimes took place in London’s East End, or Whitechapel as it was called. This area was either loved or loved by citizens; there was no in between. Many skilled immigrants who were primarily Russian or Jewish, called this area home and came with hopes of starting businesses and a new life for themselves. However, the district was prone to crime and violence and many of the residents lived in squalor.
Prostitution was one of those things that was largely overlooked unless it caused a disturbance. Thousands of brothels as well as houses that offered all manners of sexual services operated throughout London. However, they were most prevalent in Whitechapel.
During the time, anything that happened to the prostitutes was rarely reported in the news. Even if death occurred, it was often swept under the rug because it was “a dangerous profession”. These women were often at risk of physical attacks so it wasn’t surprising when one simply didn’t show up for work or was found dead.
It was here that Jack the Ripper called home and these women that were the targets of his unbridled fury. Unlike previous crimes committed against women of the night, these were incredibly violent and sadistic in nature. Because of the butchery, the press was quick to pick up the story and citizens whispered about it.
The Ripper used a knife to kill the women but he didn’t stop there; he used the knife to only mutilate them, but to disembowel them as well. He’d often removed organs, sometimes leaving them behind and other times taking them with him. Whether he kept his gruesome souvenirs is also up for debate. His favorite organs to remove were the uterus and the kidneys, but he did remove other ones.
Do you think they solved the case?
Do you think that the mystery surrounding Jack the Ripper’s identity has finally been lifted, or are you siding with the skeptics? No judgments either way, we’d just like to know your thoughts on the piece! We also want to know whether or not you’re surprised by the fact that Jack the Ripper was a barber. Personally speaking, we expected him to be a surgeon of sorts given the brutality and precision of the crimes.