British newspaper The Daily Mail published an article claiming that Russell Edwards was able to identify murderer Jack the Ripper thanks to DNA evidence retrieved from a shawl found at one of the victims' place.

The article emphasizes the advanced scientific techniques involved in the DNA sequencing of the 126 year old samples and boldly claims:

DNA evidence has now shown beyond reasonable doubt which one of six key suspects commonly cited in connection with the Ripper’s reign of terror was the actual killer

Are the techniques and processes decribed in the article reliable enough to establish the killer's identity with 100% confidence?

  • 3
    I think most of the doubts in this story will be not about DNA identification per se, but rather about what has been analysed, and how the results should be interpreted...
    – P_S
    Sep 20, 2014 at 8:23
  • 4
    SGU answered this last week. The answer is no, this hasn't been proven. Even assuming the DNA analysis is accurate, there are alternate hypotheses for how it arrived on the shawl. To Sebastian: the answer is no, they haven't identified Jack the Ripper.
    – user22201
    Sep 20, 2014 at 19:22
  • 1
    Would you mind sharing the answer here?
    – Sébastien
    Sep 20, 2014 at 19:23
  • 1
    The answer to this question must be no, as there is no such thing as a test with 100% accuracy. Even the most modern DNA analysis of fresh samples can not provide 100% certainty. Nobody with a reputation to lose would claim otherwise.
    – Twinkles
    Sep 22, 2014 at 9:52
  • 5
    The main point that the SGU made was that there was not much doubt if the suspect had sexual contact with the victim (prostitute). Therefor even if you ignore everything else, finding his DNA in semen at the crime seen is meaningless
    – Andrey
    Sep 22, 2014 at 14:33

1 Answer 1


The book 'Naming Jack the Ripper' was published in 2014 by Russell Edwards, a businessman who bought a silk shawl in 2007 on the understanding that it was the same piece of cloth allegedly found next to Eddowes alleged to be killed by the serial killer Jack the Ripper. Edwards commissioned Dr Louhelainen, a molecular biologist at Liverpool John Moores University, to carry out a forensic analysis of the shawl, including the extraction of any DNA samples that may be present within the cloth, which had been supposedly stored unwashed all this time by the family of the London policeman who had acquired the artefact. According to a detailed analysis of DNA extracted from the silk shawl allegedly found at the scene of one of Jack The Ripper murders by Dr Jari Louhelainen, a world-renowned expert in analysing genetic evidence from historical crime scenes, the claim was that a 23-year-old Polish immigrant barber Aaron Kosminski was "definitely, categorically and absolutely" the man who carried out the atrocities in 1888.

However, 'The Independent', a British paper, reports that the scientist, Jari Louhelainen, is said to have made an "error of nomenclature" when using a DNA database to calculate the chances of a genetic match. If true, it would mean his calculations were wrong and that virtually anyone could have left the DNA that he insisted came from the Ripper's victim.

"The apparent error, first noticed by crime enthusiasts in Australia blogging on the casebook.org website, has been highlighted by four experts with intimate knowledge of DNA analysis – including Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, the inventor of genetic fingerprinting – who found that Dr Louhelainen made a basic mistake in analysing the DNA extracted from a shawl supposedly found near the badly disfigured body of Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes."

"Dr Louhelainen appears to have made a basic error in calculating the frequency estimate. There are currently about 34,617 entries in the GMI database, and the figure would have been nearer to 29,000 when Dr Louhelainen carried out his research some time ago. So failing to find a match for a non-existent mutation should have given a frequency of about 1/29,000 – an error suggesting that he had placed a decimal point in the wrong place. "The random match probability of a sequence only seen once [as claimed for the shawl] is therefore roughly 1/34,617. With a database of this size, it is impossible to arrive at an estimate as low as 1/290,000," Professor Jeffreys said."

"Experts with detailed knowledge of the GMI's mtDNA database claimed that Dr Louhelainen made an "error of nomenclature" because the mutation in question should be written as "315.1C" and not "314.1C". Had Dr Louhelainen done this, and followed standard forensic practice, he would have discovered the mutation was not rare at all but shared by more than 99 per cent of people of European descent."

"If the match frequency really is 90 per cent 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," Professor Jeffreys said."

"Other scientists echoed Professor Jeffreys' concerns, including Mannis van Oven, professor of forensic molecular biology at Rotterdam's Erasmus University, Professor Walther Parson of the Institute of Legal Medicine in Innsbruck, and Hansi Weissensteiner, also at Innsbruck and one of the scientists behind the computer algorithm used by Dr Louhelainen to search the mtDNA database. They say the error means no DNA connection can be made between Kosminski and Eddowes. Any suggestion therefore that the Ripper and Kosminski are the same person appears to be based on conjecture and supposition – as it has been ever since the police first identified Kosminksi as a possible suspect more than a century ago."

Crime enthusiast Stephen Ryder, writing in casebook.org, said that Mr. Edwards' claims must be taken with a heavy dose of salt until they have been independently verified and published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal due to Problem #1: The shawl has no provenance linking it to Catherine Eddowes, problem #2: The vagaries of mitochondrial DNA evidence and problem #3: Issues of contamination.

The Publishers Sidgwick & Jackson of the book 'Naming Jack the Ripper' said that “the author stands by his conclusions” and they are “investigating the reported error in scientific nomenclature.” They added that “However, this does not change the DNA profiling match and the probability of the match calculated from the rest of the data. The conclusion reached in the book, that Aaron Kosminski was Jack the Ripper, relies on much more than this one figure."

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