There has been much speculation of late, regarding the most recent development in the Jack the Ripper saga. Scientific circles and Ripperologist groups have been abuzz with the revelation that Jack the Ripper, at long last, has been identified. This latest claim, made in the latter part of 2014, is by far the strongest candidate for ending the mystery that has eluded us for more than a century.
It came down to DNA testing in the end, conducted on a 19th-century shawl that was auctioned off to Russell Edwards in 2007. Many experts are now calling for the Ripper case to be closed. However, this recent development is not without its share of critics; some of whom are actually contesting the findings of the DNA results and citing concerns as to its validity.
This post from JTR will take a look at DNA testing and why it can’t be conclusive in proving the true identity of the Ripper after 126 years.
DNA Tests Are Subject to Human Interpretation
Arguably, the main problem with DNA testing is reliability. These tests are not 100% reliable or accurate. They have produced the wrong results on more than a few occasions, in regards to some very important court cases.
In one such case in the United Kingdom, a DNA test incorrectly concluded that a man was not the father of a child, when in fact he was the father. It was later determined that the scientists interpreted his DNA results incorrectly.
Such mistakes are not trivial. They can ruin lives. There is a growing realisation that the system is not 100% fool proof because, as humans, we are bound to make mistakes even when error-checking measures are in place.
However, that is not the issue critics are raising. Forensic experts argue that it is very easy to leave a couple of DNA cells on any object, which can be later attributed to anything. Just a simple handshake can put traces of your DNA onto the other person.
DNA Corrodes In Imperfect Conditions
DNA evidence has to be carefully preserved and protected. Objects like light, the rain, heat, and even the air can corrode it enough to make it unreliable. We know that Russell Edwards purchased the shawl at an auction in 2007, but very little is known about it before then.
There are quite a few questions marks. For example, how was the shawl kept all this time and where? How many people might have touched it? Was there any atmospheric damage to the shawl over the 100 years it remained elusive to us?
Risk of Contamination Through Human Error
A lack of preservation measures leads to the DNA becoming contaminated, which can make it very unreliable. This is why legal teams check for the ‘health’ of the DNA evidence, in addition to the evidence itself, to determine whether such results can be admissible in court.
Apart from the natural elements mentioned earlier, such as the air, light and the rain, human error can seriously impact the authenticity of DNA evidence. For example, not wearing protective masks or hair caps when analysing DNA evidence poses a risk. This, in turn, raises serious concerns over the condition of the shawl over the decades.
No Independent Review and Too Many Questions
Nothing can be conclusively said about this recent revelation until it has been independently verified by a third party. As compelling as the evidence is, there are simply too many unanswered questions.
For example, why did the policeman take the shawl home instead of turning it in as evidence? Why did the family that later inherited it keep it, knowing what it was? If they didn’t know, how come they never washed the shawl, even once?
Once again we are left with circumstantial evidence that no doubt points to a likely suspect, but not with 100% assertiveness. Aaron Kosminiski could very well be the Ripper, but until something conclusive comes up in a court of law, the Ripper’s identity will remain similar to the his murders; unsolved.
For more information on the Ripper saga and to get a first-hand insight into the investigative processes applied by police during that time, be sure to take the Ripper tour next time you are in London.