SCIENCE
10/23/2014 01:48 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2015

Scientists Say Proof Of Jack The Ripper's Identity Is Fatally Flawed

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Last month the author of a new book entitled Naming Jack The Ripper said he had irrefutable evidence that the notorious serial killer who terrorized London in the late 1880s was a Polish émigré named Aaron Kosminski.

The author, Russell Edwards, went so far as to say that "only non-believers that want to perpetuate the myth will doubt his contention."

Doubt, however, is exactly what's surrounding Edwards’ claim, which has been called into question by a scathing follow-up report published this week by The Independent.

Edwards had enlisted the help of forensics expert Dr. Jari Louhelainen, a senior lecturer in molecular biology at Liverpool John Moores University, to analyze a bloodstained shawl that purportedly had been retrieved from the murder scene of Catherine Eddowes, one of Jack the Ripper’s victims.

Louhelainen reportedly extracted fragments of mitochondrial DNA from the fabric, later matching these with DNA taken from living descendants of both Eddowes and Kosminski. But The Independent says Louhelainen may have erred in the way he matched the DNA samples.

Louhelainen said the DNA from the shawl and from one of Eddowes' descendants contained 314.1C, a mutation that is found in only 1 in 290,000 people in the general population. But several scientists who contributed to the Independent story -- including Dr. Alec Jeffreys, the British geneticist credited with inventing DNA fingerprinting -- said Louhelainen was wrong. The mutation wasn't 314.1C, they said, but 315.1C -- a mutation shared by more than 99 percent of people of European descent.

“If the match frequency really is 90 percent plus, and not 1/290,000, then obviously there is no significance whatsoever in the match between the shawl and Eddowes' descendant, and the same match would have been seen with almost anyone who had handled the shawl over the years,” Jeffreys told the Independent.

And so the Jack the Ripper saga continues.

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