“Naming Jack the Ripper,” is a fascinating read

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You think finding someone criminally culpable for the death of Freddie Gray, in Baltimore, Maryland, in the spring of 2015, was difficult?

Well try solving the blood-stained and grotesque murders, in 1888, of five prostitutes in and around the hellish slum k/a “Whitechapel,” located in the “East End” of London. Over the years there have been a lot of police investigations, theories and speculation, for sure, about those sordid crimes. Who was, really, the demented perpetrator? Up until now there is no definitive answer to that query.

The deranged serial killer of these five unfortunate women is known to history as “Jack the Ripper.”

A recent book, “Naming Jack the Ripper,” by author Russell Edwards, an Englishman, believes he has the final solution to this long-standing mystery. More about his intriguing tome, which features the latest in the arena of scientific DNA evidence, in just a moment.

The website, casebook.org, is an excellent authority on Jack the Ripper. It names 34 suspects as the potential murderer. But then it quickly adds that more “than 500 individuals,” have been put forward as suspects; some with little or no evidence to support those claims.

One of those suspected in the killings (can you believe this?) was a British Royal – Prince Albert Victor. He was known as “Prince Eddy.” He was the grandson of Queen Victoria. The Prince had a reputation as a womanizer and for frequenting prostitutes, and subsequently contracted gonorrhea. Around this time there were 62 brothels and 1,200 women working as prostitutes in the impoverished East End of London. I’m no big fan of the Royals, but talk about a stretch. Trying to nail Prince Eddy as the Ripper is way over the top.

There have been, according to casebook.org, close to 100 non-fiction books on this subject: movies galore and at least five documentaries. One of the films, “From Hell,” (2001), featuring actor Johnny Depp, is relevant to this book review. In the film Depp played a police inspector who was investigating Jack the Ripper.

The author just happened to see the Depp’s flick. It sparked his interest in the case. Edwards, a successful entrepreneur, felt a “deep affinity” for the East End. He knew that there was “a key” to answering the mystery of the Whitechapel murders by thinking about them in a “fresh way.” Edwards put his detective cap on and began looking for “something that had been missed.”

Since this is a family-oriented publication, I won’t go into too much detail about the ritualistic style, the M.O. of the five killings. All the victims were “mutilated,” their organs were taken out as “souvenirs,” with a heavy “sexualized theme to the mutilations,” wrote Edwards. The Ripper always “struck at night;” and, the victims, all street prostitutes and also heavily addicted to alcohol, were specifically “targeted” by the crazed predator.

For one of the five murders, victim #3, Elizabeth Stride, there was an eyewitness. His name was Israel Schwartz. He was able to identify a Polish Jew, Aaron Kosminski, as the man that he saw with Stride just before her body was found. Kosminski was then 23-years old, working as a hairdresser/barber and resided in a neighborhood only blocks from where the crimes had occurred.

Stride’s throat had been slashed. Schwartz, a Hungarian Jew, however, refused to give evidence against Kosminski. By the time he made his positive I.D., on July 12, 1890, the prime suspect was housed in the “Mile End Workhouse” under government control. He was even allowed to return home. The I.D. lacked legal efficacy since it wasn’t done in a “line-up!” The cops however put him on a 24/7 watch. Just a few months later however, Kosminski, at age 26, was confined on Feb. 6, 1891 to a mental institution by his family. He was declared “insane.” He eventually died there in 1919. There were no more Ripper-like killings after Kosminski was taken off the streets of Whitechapel.

Prior to the publication of Edward’s book, another author, Robert House, an American, put his two cents into the mix. His book is entitled: “Jack the Ripper and the Case for Scotland Yard’s Prime Suspect.” House fingered Kosminski as the killer too. His book underscored, as does Edward’s, that Scotland Yard’s then top cops thought Kosminski was the murderer. But – now this is important; they also felt that they “couldn’t prove it in court!”

Feeling that someone is guilty and thus deserving of punishment is never enough. The bottom line is: where is the proof?

Enter the science of DNA!

Cutting to the chase, this is where my hat goes off to author Edwards. He located a shawl that was found at the scene of Ripper murder victim #4 – Catherine Eddowes. Edwards then hired a renowned DNA expert with international credentials to examine it. Finally, after much effort, he located descendants of both Eddowes and Kosminski in order to extract DNA from them. Conclusion: the expert’s analysis showed a match. The DNA from Eddowes and Kosminski were both found on the shawl!

Hold off on the cheering! Before the ink was dry on Edwards’ book DNA experts were taking strong exceptions to his expert’s findings. In addition, there is a huge problem with respect to the “chain of custody” of this key evidence and it’s obvious contamination. The shawl is over 128 years old.

Do you remember the O.J. Simpson case and all the brouhaha about “contamination” of the evidence found at the scene of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman?

In any event, Edwards’ book will clearly not be the last word on the Ripper case. It is however a darn good summer read; well written and researched, but in places a little too chatty about the author himself. I’m giving it three out of five stars.