Thanks to Phil Krause for advising us of this interesting article
Scientists have greeted with skepticism (and in some cases derision) the claim that Jack the Ripper has been identified from DNA as an immigrant Polish barber named Aaron Kosminski. It was reassuring to see, for a change, that a good deal of the media coverage reflected that. Is it possible that defense attorneys on TV have taught people — including reporters — to look at claims for evidence more dispassionately?
Jack the Ripper, of course, is the near-mythical late-19th Century London serial killer, never firmly identified. He is believed to have brutally murdered and mutilated at least five women in 1888, perhaps as many as 11 all told. I say “he” because that seems most likely — the mutilation featured removing bits of a uterus and vagina — even though one of the many candidates endorsed by amateur detectives over the years was a woman. At the heart of the skepticism is provenance. When judging the worth of a piece of information, consider from whence it came.
First, consider the provenance of the announcement of the new theory. Even though purportedly based on DNA, the hypothesis did not appear in, say, The Lancet or the British Medical Journal. Instead it was published in the Daily Mail, first among those classic London rags that purvey (and sometimes invent) gossip: gossip about the royal family, gossip about movie stars, gossip about politicians — the more salacious the better. Appearance in the Daily Mail is immediate cause for skepticism.
Next, consider the site where the DNA evidence was found: A bloodstained shawl that maybe perhaps belonged to one of the victims. Also, the tale of its recovery is, um, remarkable: the scarf is supposed to have been given to one of the policemen working on the Ripper case more than 125 years ago, which is certainly odd, and then given by him as a gift to his wife, which is even odder.
Was ever a husband so clueless — or hostile? The wife, said to have been quite reasonably horror-struck, stuck the bloody thing away. It remained in storage for more than a century before being auctioned off by one of the happy couple’s descendants. More here Has Jack the Ripper been identified from DNA?