In the end, it may have taken a Johnny Depp movie, a shawl and a DNA test to solve the mystery behind one of the most notorious serial killing sprees in London: Who was Jack the Ripper?
British businessman and noted "Ripperologist" Russell Edwards claims to have finally and conclusively identified the serial killer as Aaron Kosminski, a Polish immigrant and barber.
Kosminski has long been one of the more credible suspects in the five gruesome murders of women in the London's East End in 1888. Born in central Poland on Sept. 11, 1865, he moved with his family moved to east London in the early 1880s, and lived near the murder scenes, according to Agence France Presse.
He ended up in a workhouse the year after the murders and was described as destitute; a year later, he was discharged but eventually ended up in an insane asylum -- he was thought to have been "seriously mentally ill," Edwards writes -- where he died from gangrene in 1919. A witness had identified Kosminski as the murderer at the time.
Edwards said his interest in Jack the Ripper began after he watched "From Hell," a 2001 film about the murders that starred Depp as a clairvoyant police inspector.
In 2007, Edwards bought a shawl that had been discovered at the scene of the murder of Catherine Eddowes, the fourth Ripper victim. Before Edwards bought it, the shawl belonged to the relative of a police official who had been allowed to take it home to his dressmaker wife, Edwards writes. "Incredibly, it was stowed without ever being washed," and handed down in the family, he said.
When Edwards bought the shawl, he subjected it to DNA testing, which confirmed that the blood on it belonged to Eddowes. A UV light showed semen on the fabric. That DNA was compared to that of a Kosminski descendant, Edwards writes.
The identity of Jack the Ripper has eluded Brits for over a century and obsessed everyone from serious academics to armchair detectives. Queen Victoria's grandson Prince Albert Victor was thought to be a suspect at one point, but it turned out he wasn't near the murders at the time. Other suspects have included Mary Pearcey ("Jill the Ripper"), who had been convicted of murdering her lover's wife; in 2006, an Australian scientist, pointing to DNA results, suggested the killer may have been a woman.
Historian Mei Trow had previously identified mortuary attendant Robert Mann as Jack the Ripper, using "psychological and geographical profiling," the Daily Mail wrote in 2009. The murder victims' bodies would have been delivered to the mortuary where Mann worked, where he was suspected to have "admire[d] his handiwork."
In claiming that Jack the Ripper was definitely, most assuredly Aaron Kosminski, Edwards has generated serious skepticism; as Agence France-Presse points out, the findings haven't been subjected to the methodology required for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
And the man who invented the DNA finger-printing technique, Alec Jefferys, called for greater scrutiny, telling The Independent it was "n interesting but remarkable claim that needs to be subjected to peer review, with detailed analysis of the provenance of the shawl and the nature of the claimed DNA match with the perpetrator's descendants and its power of discrimination; no actual evidence has yet been provided."
No matter who Jack the Ripper was, he remains one of the least liked figures in British history: Several years ago, in a BBC History Magazine survey, Jack the Ripper was voted the worst Briton of the last 1,000 years.