Over the past month I’ve had a lot of radio interviews about a new book, Naming Jack the Ripper, by Russell Edwards. Edwards, it seems, purchased a shawl in 2007 at auction. Family legend claimed this shawl was found at the scene of Ripper’s fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes. A man named Amos Simpson, a constable at the scene, after asking permission of the authorities present, picked up the shawl and took it home to his wife. The good woman, horrified at the blood-soaked piece of material, put it away in a trunk in the attic. And so it sat for over a hundred years, passed down with the story of its gristly origins. In 1991, the family donated it to the Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum. Without proof of its provenance, the shawl once again languished in storage. In 2001, the family took it back and, by 2007, were ready to sell.
After purchasing the shawl, amateur sleuth Russell Edwards tracked down the descendants of both Catherine Eddowes and one of the suspects: Aaron Kosminsky, a Polish barber. He collected DNA from both, had the shawl tested, and had a perfect match. Case solved after 126 years.
Or was it?
Let’s go back and revisit the crime scene. On September 30, 1888, at approximately 1:45 AM, PC Edward Walkins discovers Catherine Eddowes’ body in Mitre Square near the Whitechapel section of London. The arriving Detective Inspector as well as the Metropolitan Police immediately ordered a door-to-door search. Evidence collected at the crime scene included such items as a button, thimble, and six pieces of soap. According to Casebook.org, below is a partial list of her possessions inventoried at the scene:
· 2 small blue bags made of bed ticking
· 2 short black clay pipes
· 1 tin box containing tea
· 1 tin matchbox, empty
No mention of a more than 6 foot long by two foot wide silk shawl. I’m to believe that everything down to a button was collected, but not this shawl?
So, did the conversation at the scene go like this?
Simpson: “Er, Inspector, I was wondering if I might have a word with you?”
Inspector: “Yes, what is it? I’m busy.”
Simpson: “See that pretty shawl? The one lying in the woman’s blood next to her body?”
Inspector: “Yes. Obviously not hers. Must have been left here by Jack the Ripper. What about it?”
Simpson: “Even though it’s the only evidence we have of the Ripper, and could be an important lead in the case, could I have it? My wife’s a dressmaker and would love to have that.”
Inspector: “Sure. Take it. I’m sure we’ll find something else in the way of evidence.”
What an incredibly lame story. As a plot for a novel, I’d be laughed out of my critique group. No shawl was found at the scene. Nor was there any record of any “Amos Simpson.”
Let’s ignore this fictional origins of the shawl. We’re still left with the irrefutable DNA evidence. Russell Edwards tells us that he collected the DNA evidence from the descendant of Catherine Eddowes … wait … stop right there … HE collected the evidence? So Edwards has in his possession both the DNA and the shawl? And it’s a perfect match…?
What about the DNA of Aaron Kosminsky, the Polish barber named as a possible suspect in the Ripper murders? Edwards said he also collected the DNA from … an unnamed person. Yes, we are to take his word for it that this … person … is a descendant. Once again, Edwards was the one collecting the DNA. And once again, it’s a perfect match to … what’s-her-name.
Edwards created a work a fiction, starting with the premise of “what would happen if a shawl from the Ripper murders were tested for DNA….” He should have run his idea past a good critique partner or two. He will sell a boatload of books. But only this one story. Once folks start to really think about the premise, and put it together, he’ll never be able to “sell” anyone again on any amazing “finds” he will have in the future.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Fine artist, forensic artist, author.