Catherine Eddowes
30th September 1888

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Catherine Eddowes

The body of Catherine Eddowes n the mortuary following her post-mortem. The extent of the injuries she suffered can be seen most clearly about her face and lower abdomen (the stitching further her chest and neck resulted from the autopsy procedures)

The Ripper - having been apparently interrupted in his attempts to mutilate Elizabeth Stride - accosted poor, luckless Catherine somewhere around Mitre Square. Somewhere in the secluded gloom in the corner of the square, the killer choked the life from her before eviscerating her corpse. Her intestines were pulled from her abdominal cavity and thrown over her shoulder. The contents of her pockets - rings, linen and an empty tin - laid between her feet. Sleeping in the rooms overlooking the square were a night watchman and a police officer. Neither were woken.

Post Mortem

Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown attended both the crime scene and the post mortem. Describing the murder scene, he said:

The body was on its back, the head turned to left shoulder. The arms by the side of the body as if they had fallen there. Both palms upwards, the fingers slightly bent. A thimble was lying off the finger on the right side. The clothes drawn up above the abdomen. The thighs were naked. Left leg extended in a line with the body. The abdomen was exposed. Right leg bent at the thigh and knee.

The bonnet was at the back of the head—great disfigurement of the face. The throat cut. Across below the throat was a neckerchief. ... The intestines were drawn out to a large extent and placed over the right shoulder—they were smeared over with some feculent matter. A piece of about two feet was quite detached from the body and placed between the body and the left arm, apparently by design. The lobe and auricle of the right ear were cut obliquely through. There was a quantity of clotted blood on the pavement on the left side of the neck round the shoulder and upper part of the arm, and fluid blood-coloured serum which had flowed under the neck to the right shoulder, the pavement sloping in that direction.

Body was quite warm. No death stiffening had taken place. She must have been dead most likely within the half hour. We looked for superficial bruises and saw none. No blood on the skin of the abdomen or secretion of any kind on the thighs. No spurting of blood on the bricks or pavement around. No marks of blood below the middle of the body. Several buttons were found in the clotted blood after the body was removed. There was no blood on the front of the clothes. There were no traces of recent connection

The 'From Hell' Letter

Two weeks after Eddowes' murder, a small cardboard box and a letter were delivered to George Lusk. Lusk had acquired some level of public recognition as the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee - a body of volunteers who roamed the streets of Whitechapel at night in an attempt to either drive off or capture the killer, as well as offering a reward for his capture.

The letter itself was barely intelligible and might have joined the many hundreds of other letters purporting to be from the killer at the bottom of the police priorities list were it not for the contents of the accompanying box. Inside was part of a human kidney.

Opinion has been divided ever since as to whether the kidney was simply part of an elaborate (and sick) prank played by medical students or whether it was actually part of Eddowes' kidney - part of which had indeed been removed by her killer.

At this remove it is impossible to ascertain, but given the nature of the circumstances surrounding the letter it is the one communication most commonly believed to have been sent by the Whitechapel fiend.

The "Shawl"

British businessman Russell Edwards claimed in September 2014 to be in possession of Catherine Eddowes' shawl. Not only that, he claimed that DNA analysis carried out at Liverpool John Moores university had successfully proven that this shawl was indeed Eddowes, contained arterial blood and - most sensationally - DNA of one of the contemporary suspects: Aaron Kosminski.

Edwards thus joins a long line of people believing that they have laid the Ripper by the heels - and an even longer line of people using their proof to peddle a sensational new book.

At first blush, the theory would seem to be sound, but there are many problems that will be apparent to serious students of the case.

  1. The Provenance
    The Shawl claimed by Edwards to have belonged to Eddowes has a long and murky history. Once held at the police's Black Museum in London, it was said to have come into the possession of the museum through the descendants of a London policeman called Amos Simpson. How he came to be in possession of the item is subject to two different strands of family folklore. One holds that he was 'given' the shawl by simply asking for it. Another version of the story holds that he actually found Eddowes' body and took the shawl.

    Neither case seems very likely in the light of logic. Simpson was indeed a policeman, but was based at N Division in Islington. While this area abuts The City of London (where Eddowes was murdered) there would have been no reason for Simpson to have been in the area at the time. In fact, the timeline of known events for that night leaves almost no window for Simpson to have found the body before anyone else. This version also relies on Simpson engaging in a massive neglect of his duties by simply picking up a vital piece of evidence and leaving the scene of a murder freshly committed by the world's most wanted man. 

    The second scenario too is riddled with problems. In this version of the story, Simpson asked for the shawl as a gift 'for his wife'. Officials cheerfully handed it over to him, he gave it to his grateful wife, who then passed it down the generations in pristine condition - never so much as washing this bloodstained piece of cloth.

    At the risk of making sweeping gender generalisations, I know of few women who would be delighted to receive a bloodstained shawl as a gift, and fewer still who wouldn't quietly dispose of it or at the very least do their utmost to remove any stains of that kind.

  2. The DNA Analysis
    DNA analysis is routinely presented as being the holy grail of criminal detection. Indeed it has helped to solve crimes decades after they were committed (for example, the identity of 'Wearside Jack' - the Yorkshire Ripper hoaxer). However, this relies on a watertight chain of evidence and proper storage of the item.

    As we have seen, whichever version of the shawl's provenance you choose to believe, it has been handled by hundreds of people over the intervening 126 years - and even spent decades in a museum of other crime artifacts. Even the publicity photographs for Edwards' book show him holding the shawl aloft without even the precaution of gloves.

    If this were a proper police investigation, all these facts would immediately invalidate the artifact as a piece of evidence.

    Secondly, after 126 years, full copy DNA analysis is almost impossible as DNA degrades over time. Recovering strands of evidential quality DNA stretches the bounds of credulity so it is worth noting that the claims rest on mitochondrial DNA matches. Mitochondrial DNA is inherently less solid as evidence than full copy DNA. It can prove matrilinear heritage only - i.e. a shared common female ancestry.

    As such, it is mainly used by genealogists and those who study family trees or scientists who investigate large-scale population movements over time.

    The DNA tests therefore come with heavy caveats: the degraded nature of the DNA, the chance of contamination, and the "novel" techniques used to extract DNA all should set alarm bells ringing.

See also: folklore

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