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History Goes BOINK

Two separate history items today.

* A book is getting ready to hit shelves that claims new forensic evidence (including a fresh DNA analysis) proves that Aaron Kosminski was Jack the Ripper.

I don't really have a horse in this race, as I don't have a "pet suspect" in whom I'm invested, but Kosminski as the culprit certainly would not be surprising to me. There are very good reasons to be skeptical about this book's claims, however. Until I've had a chance to read this book critically, I'll be minding the reviews and keeping a close eye on the (already twelve-page) discussion unfolding about it at the Casebook.org forum.

- Incidentally, the best book I've read thus far on Kosminski as a suspect is Robert House's 2010 Jack the Ripper and the Case for Scotland Yard's Prime Suspect.

- In addition, Kosminski's asylum records will be opened to researchers in 2019, which should yield some new insights.


* In unrelated news, the University of Oklahoma Libraries is inviting members of the public to help transcribe U.S. Civil War documents. Join University Libraries in commemorating the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War by transcribing a Civil War diary and letters. Your transcriptions will make these manuscripts more accessible to researchers everywhere! Click here for more information.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 7th, 2014 03:06 pm (UTC)
Wow! I don't know if DNA evidence from an ancestor this far removed can really prove beyond a "reasonable doubt" (as the Mail says) that Kosminski was the killer, but if the scarf is genuine, this does seem like a huge indicator. I always thought it was someone living in the neighborhood, but haven't given it enough study to have a more considered opinion. Interesting!
Sep. 8th, 2014 08:48 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think you've put your finger on two of the big "ifs" of this assertion: whether or not the DNA evidence can offer as specific a result as is being claimed, and whether or not the shawl really is the original one from the crime scene. It sounds like a lot of the experts are skeptical. Then again, no one's had the chance to look at the book yet! I'm anxious to hear/see/read more.

Interesting, indeed!
Sep. 7th, 2014 04:14 pm (UTC)
I'm waiting to hear what some of the big hitters in Ripper History say, particularly Donald Rumblelow who is an ex-police officer and curator of the Black Museum. It seems a bit too good to be true and I wan't more on the provenance of the shawl and on the DNA testing process. I know Kozminsky was at least one officer's chief suspect but I'm still cautious in believing this. It's like you don't want to *actually* know who he was.
Sep. 8th, 2014 08:58 pm (UTC)
Great point - I want to hear Rumbelow's take, too! And Paul Begg's! I've seen a few familiar names like Stewart P. Evans weighing in with your exact concerns: the provenance of the shawl (which does seem very suspicious) and the specificity of the claims that can be made from the DNA testing.

Even if this did turn out to be persuasive evidence (though, like you say, it does seem almost too good to be true), there would still be other mysteries left to unravel, such as which victims exactly were the Ripper's. (Stride? Tabram? Mackenzie? Coles? Brown?) How one would go about finding a definitive solution to these, however, is more than I could say.

I'm waffling between wanting to read the book ASAP and wanting to hold back until the first thorough reviews come in by the experts.
Sep. 8th, 2014 09:33 pm (UTC)
Also, it was raining very heavily on the night of the Eddowes murder which seems to make it unlikely that there would be anything found on a shawl from that muder scene. I remain incredibly sceptical.
Sep. 8th, 2014 12:09 am (UTC)
Will be interested to hear your thoughts after you've read the book!
Sep. 8th, 2014 08:50 pm (UTC)

So far it looks like most of the respected names in the field are skeptical on two major counts, in particular: whether or not the DNA evidence can offer as specific a result as is being claimed, and whether or not the shawl really is the original one from the crime scene. (The provenance does seem mighty suspicious.) But of course no one's had the chance to look at the book yet! I'm anxious to learn more.
Sep. 10th, 2014 11:35 am (UTC)
Not really related, but I thought this might interest you.

Sep. 12th, 2014 01:23 pm (UTC)
Oooh! You bet I'm interested. Thanks so much!!!
Sep. 12th, 2014 06:42 pm (UTC)
I heard the Finnish scientist who did the DNA testing being interviewed on Radio 4 yesterday. He basically said that his evidence is not as definitive as Edwards claims it to be. He says the Kozminsky identification came from mitochondrial DNA which is not reliable. There's a link to the podcast here if you're interested...

Sep. 12th, 2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, fantastic! I'm going to go there right now. Thanks so much for the link. I really appreciate it! The more I read, the more problematic these claims seem to be. It speaks volumes if the scientist involved questions how reliable/definitive the test results are!
Sep. 12th, 2014 07:34 pm (UTC)
I'm assuming the BBC podcasts are downloadable worldwide. If not let me know...
Sep. 12th, 2014 07:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks! It downloaded for me without a problem. I'm putting it on my iPod now.
Sep. 12th, 2014 08:00 pm (UTC)
Be interested to hear what you think...
Sep. 12th, 2014 08:34 pm (UTC)
Wow - that's incredibly damning, I think. "Doesn't contradict" isn't in the same universe as "positively identifies," is it, as far as claims go? One of the issues I'd been eager to hear about was whether or not they were able to test the specimen against samples from family members of any of the other lead suspects in order to rule those suspects out. The interview reveals that this kind of testing was never undertaken. And if I understand it correctly, the touted "genomic DNA" breakthrough was only used to establish hair/eye color? Yikes.

It's a shame that sensationalism won the day here and "fast-tracked" both these tests and this book, because it sounds like there are some genuinely fascinating aspects to the investigation that the scientist undertook (especially on the Eddowes side of things), and a peer-reviewed, scientific paper on this could've been a real step forward. Now, of course, more sober and balanced claims will look like a retreat instead of a gift.

It sounds as though he's well aware this was mishandled, doesn't it? Or am I reading to much into what he said? His repetition of the position that this book is about the author's "personal journey" was rather painful.
Sep. 12th, 2014 09:50 pm (UTC)
I only got to hear the tail-end of the interview but he certainly seemed to be distancing himself from Edward's claims. He seems to be annoyed at the way the findings were rushed out without peer review and somewhat sensationlised! It certainly seems less 'definitive' than it did when the story first appeared. I need to listen to the whole podcast. Now my essay's done I might have time!
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )