Russell Edwards, a businessman with no medical or law enforcement experience, devoted decades of his life to figuring out the identity of Jack the Ripper. After purchasing a shawl that was found next to the corpse of Catherine Eddowes, one of the notorious serial killer’s victims, Edwards worked with scientist Jari Louhelainen to analyze DNA that was found on it and compare it to the DNA of Eddowes’s descendants and longtime Ripper suspect Aaron Kosminski. In his book Naming Jack The Ripper, Edwards claims that both Eddowes and Kosminski’s DNA was found on the shawl, proving: “He is no longer just a suspect. We can hold him, finally, to account for his terrible deeds. My search is over: Aaron Kosminski is Jack the Ripper.”
However, not everyone has accepted his findings. British newspaper The Independent asserted that Louhelainen made a major error, misidentifying a mutation in both Eddowes and her descendant’s DNA as extremely rare when in fact it’s present in over 90 percent of Europeans.
In an exclusive interview, Edwards defends his research. “Number one, may I just say that [article] was incorrect. And number two, it was one piece of a huge puzzle and that wasn’t the significant piece... It had no influence on the fact that we actually solved the mystery through the semen [on the shawl] and we had the match with the blood of the descendant. [The Eddowes DNA match] was an extra.”
Edwards explained the process that Louhelainen used to come to his conclusions: “On the reverse, on the inside of the shawl, is a blue square and it looks like it was wiped off. There are two very clear blue clots on there. If you do a big C with your hands, the clots are about that size and it looks like blood. I’m not a scientist, but it just looks like blood. And those white dots were blood spatter. Jari tested that and we got the DNA.”
Edwards then struggled to find a female descendant of Eddowes. “It could have very well been that there wasn’t a direct descendant in the female line and we would have never been able to do anything. But lucky enough for me, there was a program called Find My Past and Karen Miller, Eddowes’s great–great-great granddaughter, was on the [show] and she was a direct descendant on the female line and it was a massive revelation, a massive Christmas moment if you like.”
Edwards then had to persuade a complete stranger to give him a sample of her DNA. “The daunting thing for me was to actually approach her and explain what we were doing, explain the process and if there was any possibility of [procuring] the DNA [sample]. It was excruciatingly [difficult] for me because I didn’t want her to put the phone down as [had happened] so many times asking for other people’s help... I made it very clear that I was a married man with children and that I wasn’t some weird guy with a room covered in Ripper pictures and she was very happy to cooperate.”
The big breakthrough came when Louhelainen discovered traces of semen on the shawl. “He said that there were stains on there that looked like they could be semen stains because they fluoresced the same color. So he managed to extract these samples from those semen stains..." He was also able to persuade a descendant of Kosminski to donate her DNA. “I found the descendants of his sister, which was on the female line. We found a 100 percent match with her; it was just phenomenal.”
Edwards theorizes that the shawl belonged to Kosminski, not Eddowes, who was an impoverished prostitute. “What sort of made the whole thing fit together was when we analyzed the shawl and the dye analysis of the shawl, the origin of the shawl is Russian. We know he came from Poland, which was under Russian rule. We knew that Catherine Eddowes wouldn’t have been able to afford a garment of such quality. So we managed to piece together [that] it was left at the murder scene by the Ripper, which means that the significance of the semen on the shawl was that it was deposited by him and not just an average customer of the prostitute.”
So is the science sound? According to Donna Cline, the technical advisor for the forensics-driven television show Bones, when analyzing very old DNA sample, “It depends on how viable your material is,” but it is possible to find conclusive data. However, even if both Kosminski’s and Eddowes’s DNA is on the shawl, there’s no way to prove that both the blood and the semen came from the crime scene. For example, it’s possible that Kosminski was one of Eddowes’s johns who gave her the shawl and someone else killed her. Said Cline, “There’s no proof about their relationship.”
Edwards takes the backlash to his research in stride. "There are so many people that still want this to be a myth. There are so many people that still don’t want this to be solved and whenever anybody comes up with a theory, people just try and completely stomp it out of existence, but with this one they can’t. We have done the scientific research in the correct manner. We know we've got this murderer..."
Edwards added that Louhelainen plans to submit his findings for peer review by other scientists. “That’s exactly what Jari’s on the case to do now. We’ve conclusively done it, but we want to show the world we’ve got nothing to hide.”