After our initial blog post on the history of the shawl, here is a brief review of the new book by Russell Edwards by our own Ripper-vision expert Jon Lee Rees.
In 2007 Russell Edwards purchases a shawl at auction supposedly found at the scene of the fourth Jack the Ripper murder, Catherine Eddowes. Edwards sets out to prove the shawl genuine and through various pieces of research determines with a high probability that it is Eastern European in origin and dates to before 1870. He embarks on the DNA testing route and matches DNA from the bloodstains to the mitochondrial DNA of a descendent of Catherine Eddowes. He also matches mitochondrial DNA from what they believe to be a semen stain, to a descendent of Aaron Kosminski. The DNA profile also indicates the contributor was a dark haired man of Eastern European or Russian Jewish ancestry.
The shawl came from the family of Metropolitan PC Amos Simpson (who was an acting sergeant stationed in 1888), who claim he took it from the scene of Catherine Eddowes murder. Simpson was a Met officer stationed in Islington, with no record of being seconded to Whitechapel for the Ripper investigation. The Eddowes murder took part in the City (which had and still has its own independent police force), so what business did Simpson have there and why would they let him walk off unnoticed with a potential piece of evidence?
In his book, Edwards first addresses this as Simpson being stationed in Whitechapel, and our not having any surviving record of either the secondment or that he, along with other officers, answered the whistle calls and crossed over into City territory on the discovery of the body. He also discusses the possibility that, as claimed by Simpson’s descendants, he was on special duties in the City, related to tracking down Fenians (Irish Republicans). In my opinion, neither of these theories make sense and also do not explain why he was able to, or inclined to take the shawl home.
Edwards also addresses the issue of the shawl not being mentioned on any eyewitness account of Eddowes nor pawned by her for money the day she died, as being because it did not in fact belong to Catherine Eddowes, but to Aaron Kosminski who brought it along to the crime scene to leave as a clue (he had already established the Polish origin of the garment). The Michaelmas daisies are a hint to the date of the next crime as Michaelmas in the Eastern Orthodox Church is celebrated on 29th September, the day before the Eddowes murder, but in the English Church it was celebrated on 8th November, the day before Mary Kelly’s murder. The reason it never appeared on any official list is because Amos Simpson pinched it before her possessions could be itemised, but the newspaper that reported the Michaelmas skirt must have had a reporter on the scene who saw the shawl but mistook it for a skirt.
To me, all of the above is ridiculous and a prime example of people trying to bend facts to make it fit a theory. But now, to examine the science.
For the DNA testing Edwards enlisted the assistance of Dr Jari Louhelainen, an expert on DNA and Forensics (it should be noted that Dr Louhelainen offered to do the testing free of charge on the condition he could write a peer-reviewed journal article on the results as he was curious how much he could find on such an old sample) who determined that the stains on the shawl was high velocity blood spatter consistent with Eddowes neck wound. Another stain he determined was most likely semen due to the way it fluoresced under UV light, but could not be definitive as a sperm expert could not find traces of sperm on the stain. It did however contain epithelial samples, most likely from the urethra. Using a revolutionary technique Louhelainen developed called “vacuuming” they managed to extract DNA from the weave of the shawl (not from the surface as the previous inconclusive tests had attempted). He also used the revolutionary technique of a laser microscope (normally used in cancer research to isolate cancer cells from healthy ones for testing) to isolate cells from the semen stain. Comparing the mtDNA extracted from both samples he concluded a highly likely match to a descendent of Catherine Eddowes and a relative of Aaron Kosminski.
So have they solved the case? In short, I don’t know. The provenance of the shawl is still highly problematic and needs resolving. The scientific analysis I will reserve full judgement on until I see the results of a peer-reviewed journal article (which apparently is forthcoming as part of the agreement between Edwards and Dr Louhelainen). But it does currently look like a promising line of enquiry and will surely cause debate and discussion.
The book itself contains some basic factual errors. For example, Edwards consistently refers to H Division as being Stepney (which it was at the time of the formation of the Metropolitan Police) when in 1888, it was Whitechapel. The book is more than just an outline of a theory and supporting evidence for Edwards; it comes across as a cathartic exercise. It is obviously a very personal for him, and he details his “journey” through gathering evidence alongside his “journey” through life – his business concerns, pregnancies, miscarriages, IVF treatments, etc. Finally, Edwards almost seems to think he was guided by “destiny” in “solving” the case. To me, this raises concerns, as emotion can outweigh the evidence.
In summary, a fascinating read (if not a little annoying in parts) but one that causes more questions than it answers.