I’ve responded several times on Facebook, and I thought I’d flesh out my response (for lack of a better phrase) here, and tell you exactly why I don’t think the newest revelations mean much of anything.
1) The media source that first broke the news that the Ripper mystery was “solved” wasn’t a scientific journal, or a scientific periodical, or well, anything with a reputation for good science.
The Daily Mail, in the UK, just isn’t a publication known for science. It’s a little hard to swallow that this is the outlet chosen by a well-respected scientist to expose such major find. It makes me wonder if the Daily Mail funded the scientific testing. I have no information regarding this, but if they did, it’s another concern about the authenticity of the finding.
2) But the shawl where they got the samples came from the scene!
Someone says that it did. There’s a really bad chain of custody here. Some dude bought the shawl at an auction, and got a letter from someone that claims to be descended from a police officer on scene, who claimed to have brought it home to his wife, who was a dressmaker. Ew. I mean, I like to sew. If my husband brought me a bloody semen stained shawl as a gift, I think I’d throw up, and then seriously rethink my life choices. (lol he knows better!) The claim is that the shawl was never touched, went into storage, and then was sold at auction.
It’s interesting that the Ripper Museum itself refused to display it because they did not think the chain of custody proved anything…it was too muddled.
And a police officer, even then, removing potential evidence from a crime scene, does not bode well for the credibility of the story as to where it came from. It’s true that science wasn’t what it is now. It’s true that the local constabulary wasn’t as well trained as they are now. But removing anything from a scene with an ongoing investigation doesn’t make the guy look like a credible source.
3) But it’s not like you’re going to court with it now! Who needs chain of custody if you don’t have to convict someone?
Well, see, the thing is, that random evidence kept in someone’s attic isn’t exactly preserved well. Hot and cold fluctuations can degrade biological evidence. And a modern evidence locker has a system for who has access to the room and could tamper with the evidence. Crime Labs know how to preserve evidence to get reliable results.
It’s hard to believe that a sample could survive an unpredictable temperature change over 126 years and not be degraded. It’s hard to believe that a usable sample, much less two distinct samples, could be retrieved and that enough material would exit to be able to be tested.
You know what else bothers me? THAT THE DUDE IN ALL THE PHOTOS IS HOLDING UP THE SHAWL WITH HIS FREAKING BARE HANDS!! If it’s evidence, and someone might want to replicate your results, because, you know, SCIENCE, you are potentially contaminating your evidence with your own hands.
4) But they said it’s a 100% match!
NOPE. Even in paternity testing positive results are NOT 100%. It’s generally 99.something percent. Courts generally consider a positive when it’s over 99%. That’s pretty darn certain. It’s figured within a statistical certainty that something is a positive result. And the results generally tell you the statistical probability that it’s the same dude, with a 1 in (a number generally bigger than the world’s population) possibility of someone else matching. And that’s with a lot more certain technique than they used in this case.
DNA testing on blood, semen, saliva, etc., from the crime labs? Very similar results. I’ve yet to see a lab do a DNA test and say 100%. It’s generally 99.93 percent, or 99.97 percent, or something like that. And that’s in ten years of working with law enforcement and three working with paternity test results. Rounding up does not give me faith in the science of the thing, because if nothing else, science is more precise in their specific results than that.
5) EVEN IF it’s the actual shawl from the crime scene, and EVEN IF the genetic material did survive unscathed, and even if the Daily Mail is acting from the purest of scientific intentions, and EVEN IF they really did match the genetic material, IT DOESN’T PROVE WHO WAS HOLDING THE KNIFE!
Reports about Kosminski state that he was a woman hating paranoid schizophrenic with a known tendency toward “self-abuse”. That’s Victorian-era talk for masturbation. And for it to be known, that means he’s doing it where people see it…in public. So you have a man with a delusional mental illness who hates women and likes to masturbate in public leaving a semen stain on a shawl belonging to a known prostitute.
I can think of lots of ways that it got there other than that he killed her and none of those ways involve a bloody knife or other cutting instrument.
6) But that proves that they met that night!
Nope. No it doesn’t. It proves that at some point he left a genetic sample on her. It proves that she left blood on the shawl, likely at the time of her death, but even that’s not certain. Matching DNA does NOT prove WHEN something happened without other evidence to establish a timeline.
Here’s a better example. Let’s say that the police come to your house and test your pillow for saliva (Please don’t ask me why…that’s beyond this example). You might be a habitual drooler in your sleep, and they know that. The police want to prove that you slept at home last night. You, however, have just come back from a work conference in another city, and slept the night before at a hotel. You didn’t have time to wash your home pillowcase before you left. Does the drool found on your pillow prove that you slept at home? No. The crime lab isn’t able to say when you left the drool unless the pillow was still wet when it came in. And you can prove that you didn’t drool on it that night when you show your hotel receipt from the night before in another city. If they tested the hotel pillow (if it hadn’t already been washed), in conjunction with your receipt, they could prove when you slept at the hotel. The sample from your own pillowcase only proves that at some point since you washed it last, you slept at home and drooled on the pillow. The time that you washed it last? Another piece of evidence that helps prove a timeline, but it doesn’t narrow it down to one specific night, unless you wash your pillowcase every single day.
SO WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? CAN THEY EVER PROVE WHO IT WAS?
Never say never, but the likelihood of having forensic evidence that is a smoking gun (or in this case, a bloody knife), that can be reliably tested and conclusively determined is unlikely. It very well could be that Kosminski could be Jack the Ripper. It seems he was on the hit parade list for likely suspects back in the day, and police began tailing him. The murders stopped shortly thereafter. Is this definitive proof? Nope. Just like the shawl just means that Kosminski had contact with Eddowes at some point before she died, and left a rather disgusting sample. Cleanliness standards at the time weren’t all that high, so it’s likely that she hadn’t washed the shawl for a while.
So, is it cool? Sure. Does it prove anything? Not to me. I’m not a criminologist. I’m not a geneticist. I do, however, have lots of years in court dealing with forensic and genetic testing results. And this is not anywhere near enough to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt.
One thought on “Jack the Ripper “SOLVED” or NOT”
I wondered how they could “know” from such old evidence with such tenuous connections to a very muddied 19th century investigation. Thanks for the clear and interesting write-up, Addie!