Don’t believe the hype: We may never know the identity of Jack the Ripper
Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2019-03-19
Enlarge / Fictional Victorian physician John Stephenson (David Warner) is Jack the Ripper in the 1979 film Time After Time. A new scientific paper claiming to have identified the real Ripper might as well be speculative fiction, say geneticists. (credit: YouTube/Warner Bros.)
A new DNA analysis of stains on a silk shawl that may have belonged to one of Jack the Ripper's victims concluded that the killer was a Polish barber named Aaron Kosminski, according to a paper published last week in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. But other scientists are already calling into question the paper's bombshell conclusions—and they're not exactly mincing words.
Finally putting to rest the identity of one of history's most notorious killers would indeed be very big news, especially for true-crime buffs who have followed the Ripper saga for years (so-called "Ripperologists"). The problem is, we've been here many times before. This is just the latest claim to have "proof" of Jack the Ripper's true identity, and while it has all the trappings of solid science, the analysis doesn't hold up under closer scrutiny. Several geneticists have already spoken out on Twitter and to Science magazine to point out, as Kristina Killgrove writes at Forbes, that "the research is neither new nor scientifically accurate."
On August 31, 1888, police discovered the body of Mary Ann Nichols in Bucks Row in London's Whitechapel district. Her throat had been cut and her abdomen ripped open. Over the next few months, a serial killer who came to be known as Jack the Ripper would use the same method to kill four women: Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. And then, as abruptly as they began, the murders stopped. (These are the "canonical five." Other murders sometimes attributed to the Ripper are inconclusive.)