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Has mtDNA identified Jack the Ripper?

“Ripperology” is quite a confused subject and at least a dozen suspects have been conclusively “identified as the Whitechapel fiend. Nevertheless, this article and the book detailed within, if taken at face value, uses the scientific techniques that identified Richard III, Jesse James, Nicholas II and others to claim to solve the East London riddle once and for all.

The critical case is that of the fourth definite, or “canonical”, victim: Catherine Eddowes, who was slain in the early hours of Sunday 30 September 1988 and found in Mitre Square, about an hour after the discovery of Elizabeth Stride. Eddowes’ apron, found nearby, is the first exhibit here and the second is a silk shawl (below left), apparently found by her body and heavily bloodstained. Russell Edwards, who wrote the article in question, located the shawl at an auction in Bury St. Edmunds in 2001 and contacted Jari Louhelainen, a senior biology lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and crime buff.

Jack the Ripper suspect Aaron Kosminski

First, they traced Eddowes’ great-great-great granddaughter and the multiple-great-niece of leading suspect Aaron Kosminsky (right), who was, in September 1888, a 23 year-old Polish Jewish hairdresser in East London that month, later to die in a lunatic asylum in Colney Hatch, where he was admitted in 1891. Importantly, both of these living relatives were related strictly through the female line and the mtDNA of both matched the blood on the apron and semen on parts of the shawl, thus seemingly demonstrating beyond peradventure that their respective Victorian relatives had both left bodily fluids on them.

Sadly, Edwards and Louhelainen’s research is yet, five years after publication, to be peer reviewed. If it were, we would need look no further for “Jack” as Kosminski briefly entered a workhouse in 1890 and was committed to Colney Hatch (left) the following February.

Here, however, is the counter-argument, quoting Paul Begg and Dr. Turi King, disputing the connection between Eddowes and the shawl, the genealogy and the significance of the DNA match. In summary, Kosminski cannot be eliminated by Edwards and Louhelainen’s research, nor can he yet be identified as “Jack” with forensic certainty. This BBC documentary points towards him in other ways.

Richard III’s Prehistoric Foremother?

Recently I came across this fascinating blogpost by an archaeologist called Katharina, who was working on a Bronze Age burial site in Austria. The skeletons her team excavated have recently been DNA tested–and one of them carried the maternal haplogroup J1c2, which is part of the group to which Richard belonged.

Richard’s Bronze Age foremother?

Now there are differences in their DNA sequences; Richard has a rare mutation, making his exact group J1c2c3. So far, only about a dozen people from all worldwide testing sites have been found to carry this exact mutation. None as far as I know, have been found in continental Europe, so it looks as if the rare mutation occurred recently in his maternal line–either with Cecily Neville, his mother, Joan Beaufort, grandmother, Katherine Swynford, his great-grandmother, or Katherine’s mother, who was a migrant to England.

Haplogroup J, called ‘Jasmine’ by geneticist Bryan Sykes, is thought to be one of the last female haplogroups to enter Europe, first appearing in the Near East around Syria. It is a ‘sister’ to Mtdna haplogroup T, with both  groups having split off from  a foremother carrying the Haplogroup JT, which is not commonly found in Europe but still can be  found in the Near and Middle East. (I am Haplogroup T2b4 ,’Tara’, by the way, so part of the ‘sister’ group.) J and T are both considered, in particular,  hallmarks of the Neolithic revolution (agriculture)  in Europe and maybe even associated with the spread of Indo-European languages, although there were probably some earlier people with these haplogroup in the Mesolithic as well.  Today J and T are considered mid-size DNA groups, with about 12% of Europeans carrying some form of J and 9% carrying T.

All the people with haplogroup J will share a common maternal ancestor with Richard at some point…but it might be well be a 100 generations ago or even earlier! Obviously there are different clades of each haplogroup, each with different mutations, which show where the groups split and diversified, and hence some people with MTdna J will be closer  matches to Richard than others, the closest being those who have that elusive ‘3’, who all seem to come from Richard’s close family. (I myself am in the same maternal group as the last Tsar of Russia but my mutations are quite different to his; I’m more closely related to the outlaw Jesse James! And Ozzy Osborne! Still, they are all my relatives on some kind of  remote level, though!)

It’s quite fascinating to be able to look into the deepest past and see where we all came from, and how interrelated we really all are.



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