Sunday, 7 September 2014

Jack the Ripper Identified by DNA? Not Bloody Likely!

Today several of my friends forwarded an article entitled, The Ripper Unmasked: DNA Identify Britain's Most Notorious Criminal to me and asked what my thoughts were. I have researched the Ripper murders in the past for a number of projects and at first glance my thoughts were skeptical.

After all, there have been many such claims over the years. In 1976 there was the novel Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, where Stephen Knight accuses Victorian painter Walter Sickert as the Ripper, acting as part of a Royal Conspiracy. Knight's conclusions have been disproved by many experts. Knight fudged much of his evidence, but then was too caught up in the success of the book to retract his information. Then in 1992 there were the James Maybrick (a Victorian cotton merchant) diaries that were published as The Diary of Jack the Ripper. Though the debate continues, it is believed to be a hoax. Recently in 2002, Patricia Cornwell revisited the idea of Walter Sickert as the suspect in her book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed. The pieces of evidence that she presented had already been dismissed as hoaxes in the past. So I did not have high hopes for this latest revelation that DNA has proven the Ripper's identity.

First and foremost, let's look at the source of the new DNA evidence. Russell Edwards claims to have purchased the blood soaked shawl at an auction house in 2007, a full 119 years after the Ripper murders took place. If it is indeed real, that's quite a find that it had not been washed in over a century. (Though the photograph in the article shows an extremely well-preserved item of contrasting cloth with fold-lines in it. I would have imagined that any remnants of century-old blood would have damaged it more over time.) Still, I try to keep an open mind. Stranger things have been found. The shawl was said to be in two sections, "mostly blue and dark brown, with a delicate pattern of Michaelmas daisies – red, ochre and gold – at either end."  Describes a typical Victorian pattern so it sounded plausible from the era.

The article went on to state: "It was said to have been found next to the body of one of the Ripper’s victims, Catherine Eddowes, and soaked in her blood. There was no evidence for its provenance, although after the auction I obtained a letter from its previous owner who claimed his ancestor had been a police officer present at the murder scene and had taken it from there."

Wait! What? Here we have Russell Edwards admit plainly, "There was no evidence for its provenance" so Edwards had no proof it was authentic when he bought it. However, after he paid for it he received a letter from the shawl's previous owner "who claimed his ancestor had been a police officer present at the murder scene and had taken it from there."

Really? This is the evidence of authenticity? A simple letter in which the shawl's previous owner claims his ancestor had been an officer present at the murder scene? Red flags went up on this paragraph. In any investigation today, the chain of evidence is key. We have evidence bags and each time the evidence is handled it is signed by the investigating officer, the coroner, the lawyers, etc.
In The Ripper's time, they made hand drawings and kept notes and lists.

Well, I happen to have many of these hand drawings, notes and lists, as they appear in several publications.

Let us examine who was at the scene of the crime. Police Constable Edward Watkins discovered Catherine Eddowes' body in Mitre Square at 1:45am on September 30, 1888 and Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown, the London police surgeon who was called in to the murder scene, arrived at 2:00am. Inspector Collard arrived a few minutes later, and Detective Constables Halse, Marriott, and Outram searched the surrounding area.
Edwards claims that "Acting Sergeant Amos Simpson, asked his superiors if he could take it home to give to his wife."  However, there was no Amos Simpson at the scene of the crime.

Now let's look at what was at the crime scene. The notes taken by Police Constable Edward Watkins and Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown, who were the first to arrive, indicate that at the time of her murder Catherine Eddowes had:

Black straw bonnet trimmed in green and black velvet with black beads. Black strings, worn tied to the head.
Black cloth jacket trimmed around the collar and cuffs with imitation fur and around the pockets in black silk braid and fur. Large metal buttons.
Dark green chintz skirt, 3 flounces, brown button on waistband. 
Man's white vest, matching buttons down front.
Brown linsey bodice, black velvet collar with brown buttons down front
Grey stuff petticoat with white waistband
Very old green alpaca skirt (worn as undergarment)
Very old ragged blue skirt with red flounces, light twill lining (worn as undergarment)
White calico chemise
No drawers or stays
Pair of men's lace up boots, mohair laces. Right boot repaired with red thread
1 piece of red gauze silk worn as a neckerchief
1 large white pocket handkerchief
1 large white cotton handkerchief with red and white bird's eye border
2 unbleached calico pockets, tape strings
1 blue stripe bed ticking pocket
Brown ribbed knee stockings, darned at the feet with white cotton

2 small blue bags made of bed ticking
2 short black clay pipes
1 tin box containing tea
1 tin box containing sugar
1 tin matchbox, empty
12 pieces white rag, some slightly bloodstained
1 piece coarse linen, white
1 piece of blue and white shirting, 3 cornered
1 piece red flannel with pins and needles
6 pieces soap
1 small tooth comb
1 white handle table knife
1 metal teaspoon
1 red leather cigarette case with white metal fittings
1 ball hemp
1 piece of old white apron with repair
Several buttons and a thimble
Mustard tin containing two pawn tickets, One in the name of Emily Birrell, 52 White's Row, dated August 31, 9d for a man's flannel shirt. The other is in the name of Jane Kelly of 6 Dorset Street and dated September 28, 2S for a pair of men's boots. Both addresses are false.
Printed handbill and according to a press report- a printed card for 'Frank Carter,305,Bethnal Green Road
Portion of a pair of spectacles
1 red mitten

As you can see it is a very detailed list from the crime scene and there is no mention of any kind of shawl at all.

So I have trouble accepting any of Russell Edwards' theories, when the authenticity of his evidence is in question and does not appear to be from the very crime scene he claims.

Catherine Eddowes - Crime Scene Sketch from Scotland Yard Files

Alexander Galant was the historical researcher for the New York Times Best Seller 'Dracula the Un-Dead' (in which the Ripper murders were woven into the back story) and author of the award-winning historical thriller Depth of Deception (A Titanic Murder Mystery).

Alexander has a fictional Ripper novel in the works.