The deranged serial killer of these five unfortunate women is known to history as “Jack the Ripper.”
There have been, according to casebook.org, close to 100 nonfiction 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 of age, working as a hairdresser/barber and residing in a neighborhood only blocks from where all of the crimes 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 lineup! 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 deserved to be punished, 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.