An “error of nomenclature” – those were the words used to dismiss claims made last year by British businessman Russell Edwards that he had solved the mystery of Jack the Ripper’s identity once and for all. But Dr Jari Louhelainen, the scientist Edwards recruited to help him ID the Ripper, stands by his work, telling Techly, “we have nothing to hide!”
In September 2014, Edwards announced with great fanfare – and a book to sell – that he had DNA evidence that ‘Jack’ was actually Aaron Kosminski.
Kosminski was one of the prime suspects of the day, and his incarceration coincided with the conclusion of the murderers in London’s Whitechapel accredited to the Ripper.
Edwards had purchased a piece of cloth found next to Catherine Eddowes, one of the Ripper’s five ‘canonical’ victims (some claim Jack was responsible for 11 deaths in total), with the suspicion that the cloth had in fact been placed there by the Ripper himself, a clue as to where he would next kill.
Edwards enlisted Dr Louhelainen, a historical crime-scene expert, to examine the piece of cloth. Lo and behold, Dr Louhelainen found more than just blood on the cloth – he says he also discovered semen.
The semen was found to have identifiable DNA, and by mapping it, a picture emerged of a dark-haired man of Russian Jewish ethnicity – a decent description of Kosminski, who was a Polish Jewish immigrant.
A descendant of Kominski’s sister donated a cheek swab DNA sample for comparison, and Dr Louhelainen “achieved a perfect 100 per cent match“.
But this is Ripperology we’re talking, so naturally people came out of the woodwork left, right and centre to dispute Dr Louhelainen’s work.
The big one was a piece published in The Independent, where “experts with detailed knowledge of the GMI’s mtDNA [mitochondrial DNA] database” said Dr Louhelainen had made an error, identifying the common 315.1C gene mutation as the rare 314.1C mutation.
However, when asked about this error, Dr Louhelainen told Techly this single aspect hardly disproved his work.
“The marker you are referring is one of the mitochondrial DNA haplotype markers we analysed for one of the matches,” Dr Louhelainen wrote in an email. “Unlike what The Independent claims, the DNA profiling never relies on one DNA marker. However, they ‘forgot’ to mention this.
“However, the forensic professionals of course understood that we have the full haplotypes of both victim and the suspect on a same piece of physical evidence.”
And while the experts The Independent spoke to apparently dismissed the work, plenty of others have been eager to learn more.
“I am getting requests to give talks all over the world in forensic conferences,” Dr Louhelainen said. “In September I gave five talks at EAFS [European Academy of Forensic Science] 2015… a conference with more than 1000 forensic professionals.
“So the results of our Jack The Ripper project have already been presented to [a] scientific conference to top forensic specialist in the field.”
Perhaps the best way to end any speculation as to the reliability of Dr Louhelainen’s work would be for it to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. While this has yet to occur, Dr Louhelainen says he plans on having his work reviewed.
“The peer-review process was planned when we expected the interest to tone down. That was in late October I think,” he said. “In fact, I have now been booked for forensic events until May 2016 so getting this process, which sometimes takes over a year, had to be postponed.
“It would be the first regarding Jack The Ripper anyway, as Patricia Cornwell nor the Australian professor who claimed that Jack was a woman, never submitted their work to anywhere.”
Prominent American crime-writer Cornwell published two nonfiction books – 2002’s ‘Portrait of a killer: Jack the Ripper — case closed’ and 2014’s ‘Chasing the Ripper’ – in which she fingered British painter Walter Sickert as Jack.
The Aussie professor Dr Louhelainen is referring to is Dr Ian Findlay, whose work testing DNA on letters sent by the Ripper led him to the conclusion the stamp had been licked by a woman.
The latest Ripperologist to get serious column inches is Bruce Robinson (the writer and director of cult film Withnail and I, and writer of the Oscar winning The Killing Fields), who says in his book ‘They all love Jack’ that the case of the Ripper was never solved due to a Freemason conspiracy. Robinson makes a compelling case that the true Ripper was in fact Michael Maybrick, who was a prominent composer of the day.
But Russell Edwards is still absolute that Kosminski was history’s most notorious serial killer, and is now running a tour of London called ‘The Jack the Ripper Experience’ (which, though absolutely not scientific evidence, has a five-star rating on TripAdvisor based on nearly 200 reviews).
On the tour’s website, Edwards states, “At last, science has definitively answered the biggest mystery in criminal history. Jack the Ripper was Aaron Kosminski. And I, to my own great amazement, have nailed him.”
Dr Jari Louhelainen’s speaking commitments are keeping him busy, but Techly is aiming to have an in-depth interview with the professor in the coming weeks.