It seems like Jack the Ripper is back in the news again in a rather big way, which is jolly nice for me as, like Russell Edwards, who is responsible for the latest furore, I also have a book to promote. I wasn’t actually planning to blog about this but I’ve had so many people (seriously, my phone hasn’t stopped pinging at me since the article first appeared in the Daily Hate Mail) asking me what my thoughts are about this new development that I thought I’d better put it here so I have somewhere to direct them. I’m a bit lazy like that, you see.
Anyway, when I heard last week that some sort of DNA ‘breakthrough’ had occurred, my thoughts immediately jumped, as they will do, to the shawl that was allegedly found beside Catherine Eddowes when her body was found in Mitre Square in 1888. This shawl has been well known in Ripper researcher circles for a long, long time (since at least the mid nineties in fact) and has always been considered to have quite dodgy provenance, based only on oral family tradition of a police officer stealing it from the scene to give to his wife. It wasn’t listed among Catherine Eddowes’ belongings (perhaps understandably if it was stolen from the crime scene and never made it to the mortuary, although the body was not left alone by the City Police for an instant from the moment of its discovery) and the police officer himself, one Amos Simpson, had no known connection with the case and was stationed in Islington with Metropolitan Police rather than with the City Police, upon whose patch Eddowes was found murdered or even H Division, stationed in nearby Whitechapel (unlike my own ancestor Sergeant David Lee, who was in H Division in 1888 but sadly didn’t nick any bits of evidence from any of the Ripper crime scenes as he didn’t know that his future descendant would need to promote a book at some point), although no policemen of any Metropolitan divisions were on the scene that night.
I don’t actually know very much about DNA profiling or forensics or any of that sort of thing so can’t really comment on the veracity of that whole side of things although I know that plenty of the leading Ripper researchers, including Stewart Evans, are also expressing their doubts much more advisedly and have pointed out that past DNA tests on the shawl have proved inconclusive. All I WILL say is that with the provenance of the article itself being so doubtful, and certainly I don’t think I know any respected Ripper researchers who think it is the real deal, and allowing for the fact that it hasn’t exactly been kept in an air tight box and treated with enormous care since that night in autumn 1888, I’m more than a bit sceptical about Mr Edwards’ claims and also reminded of the tremendous fuss and furore that surrounded the ‘discovery’ of the alleged Maybrick Diary about a dozen years ago, not to mention Patricia Cornwell’s ongoing vendetta against Walter Sickert or, God help us all, the infamous Freemasons and Royal Baby conspiracy of Knight’s Final Solution. Ahem.
On the other hand, my interest in the Ripper case has never been of a whodunnit nature. The sleuthing aspect doesn’t really interest me and, unlike many of my fellow researchers, I don’t have a pet suspect (and if I DID then it probably wouldn’t be Kosminski, although I have suggested in the past that for logistical and geographical reasons, he may have been responsible for the murder of Elizabeth Stride but not the other canonical victims) so there is no vested interest for me in either supporting or scotching the latest theory. It doesn’t actually matter to me either way. For me, the Ripper case is an interesting piece of social history and a chance to really scratch the surface of the Victorian London and see what lies beneath. Unmasking the Ripper is not something I have ever had ambitions to do, but I am, on the other hand, pretty keen to make the names and lives of his victims better known and understood. Even if the case was absolutely and definitely closed today, then I think we would still need to talk about the social history aspect of the murders, because even the most cursory look at the terrible conditions endured by the women preyed on by the so called Ripper, many of whom were on the streets due to the breakdown of marriage, lack of opportunities and estrangement from their families, serves as a reminder of why we need a welfare state to protect and support the vulnerable people in our own society.
In summary therefore: it’s an interesting development that certainly gives rise to plenty of questions (how did the DNA of both Eddowes and Kosminski end up on the shawl if it isn’t actually legit?) and debate but I remain, at the moment, rather unconvinced and am certainly not considering completely rewriting my novel to make Kosminski the killer. Although at this rate, I reckon that every man (and woman and child and vampire and werewolf…) in London will have been unmasked as the Ripper before too long anyway so why bother?
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