Aaron Kosminski

Is this illustration the only image of Jack the Ripper - or was this poor, deluded man the victim of one of history's greatest smear campaigns?

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Aaron Kosminski

All we know of Kosminski's appearance comes from the only known contemporary sketch

Timeline

In September 2014, British businessman Russell Edwards claimed to have proven that Kosminski was the Ripper by DNA analysis. This story is developing and this article will be updated accordingly. In the meantime, please read the news story.

Aaron Kosminski emigrated from Poland to England in 1882 to pursue his career as a hairdresser. By the time he died in a Leavesden Asylum for the insane in 1919, top policemen at Scotland Yard were convinced that he was none other than Jack the Ripper. Furthermore, allegedly "conclusive" DNA evidence against him was produced in September 2014.

But in what state did this supposed killer of women live? Little more than a scrap of humanity himself - guided by voices and scavenging for food from the gutter. Asylum records indicate that he had been mentally ill since at least 1885 and prior to his final incarceration at Leavesden had spent a spell of some 3 years confined in Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum. His paranoia was so great that he would not eat food given to him by other people (hence his propensity to seeking food among the litter of the London streets) and he refused to bathe. So great and deep-rooted were his problems that he spent the last 25 years of his life subsisting in the asylum, malnourished, sullen and forgotten by all except senior police officers and the medical staff who attended him.

At first blush, he seems an unlikely suspect for a serial killer. Dirty, dishevelled, malnourished and confused it is hard to imagine him possessing the physical power or mental acuity often attributed to the Ripper. At the height of the scare would he have found it easy to waylay even a prostitute in his shambolic state? Perhaps just possibly, given intoxication and desperation on the part of the women.

Against this must be weighed the fact of his near total destitution - The Ripper's killing pattern suggesting someone in regular employment - and his evident lack of guile. Whether he was truly capable of fooling a woman into thinking she was safe with him is a question that no cannot be answered, but first instincts would suggest not.

So what it is about this strange, troubled man that brought him to the attentions of the Whitechapel police?

Firstly, we must separate the Kosminski of the asylum records from his previous life. Prior to his incarceration in the asylum system, he had managed to eke out a living amongst the teeming slums of the East End.

"David Cohen/Nathan Kaminksy"

Researcher Martin Fido - who first discovered Kosminski's records - soon noted that Kosminski seemed an unlikely fit for The Ripper. He has speculated that there was confusion about Kosminski's identity and that a Nathan Kaminsky may have been a better candidate. Like Kosminski, he was committed into the asylum system after the cessation of the Ripper murders. Fido speculates that Kaminsky - who spoke only Yiddish - was admitted under the name 'David Cohen', which he maintains was a kind of 'John Doe' alias ascribed to Jews who could not speak English.

The theory is complicated and has little factual evidence to back it up, but does have a certain appeal if one believes the Jewish Madman theory.

Kosminski and Catherine Eddowes' Shawl

The sensational 2014 claim that Kosminski has been identified as the killer by DNA recovered from a shawl possessed by one of the victims must be taken with a large dose (never mind pinch) of salt.

For many years, the supposed shawl was kept at Scotland Yard's Black Museum - but even there its provenance was known to be shaky. Allegedly taken by (or given to) policeman Amos Simpson after the attack on Catherine Eddowes, the article was kept - unwashed - in the family for several decades before being given to the Black Museum. There it was held until it was auctioned and bought by Russell Edwards, who bought it in 2007 and commissioned a series of DNA tests to ascertain whether the shawl genuinely belonged to Eddowes and whether there were other DNA traces which might help to identify her killer.

More information about the shawl - and the many problem with its use as evidence - can be found here.

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