Jack the Ripper Solved? Nope.

The other day I spent some of my morning playing around on the Book of Face when it seemed everyone was going bonkers.  Not only had the OSU Buckeyes lost but apparently someone figured out who Jack the Ripper was.  And they used SCIENCE to figure it out!  Wow!  Needless to say I was very excited. As a history nut and a science junkie I couldn’t wait to see how they did it.  And then I read the news about it and became sad.

“With the Vigilance Committee in the East End: A Suspicious Character” from The Illustrated London News, 13 October 1888 Wikipedia

I would like to start out stating that I am NOT a Ripperologist.  I didn’t even know that was a word until learning about it watching the show Whitechapel.  Why am I stating this right off the bat?  Because it seems part of the marketing campaign for this book has included an automatic jab at anyone who will dissent in its findings.  Claiming that Ripperologists will not accept the conclusions because they have a financial stake in the matter.  I’d wager that they are actually seeing a nice influx of income at the moment thanks to this book.  Regardless of their perspective on its conclusions.

The basics are this: DNA was found on a scarf which had belonged to Miss Eddowes, the 4th apparent victim of Jack the Ripper.  According to the news reports and this video, her DNA from blood and organ fluids was found as well as his DNA.  **I may have missed it but it seems to be implied that his DNA was recovered from semen stains?**  These were traced to modern descendents and relatives of the individuals to confirm not only the identity of Eddowes but also of a man named Aaron Kosminski.  Mr. Kosminski had been considered a suspect at the time but was not held or tried.  Many people were considered suspects at the time.  The presence of his DNA is touted as “proof” that he killed this woman, and therefore is Jack the Ripper.  I have a few thoughts about this…

Miss Eddowes, the 4th victim of Jack the Ripper http://www.casebook.org/victims/eddowes.html

They used Mitochondrial DNA for their work and this is great for molecular analysis.  It doesn’t change much over time (i.e. little genetic variation) which is why it’s been so useful for looking into our ancestral roots.  That’s great!  You can look at the mtDNA and figure out who is related to who.  .

But here’s where I would like to address a few concerns.  Let’s break down a few of my problems with what I’ve read about the matter thus far:

DNA degrades over time.  The DNA that would have been available for analysis was likely in poor shape.  Yes, there are methods of analyses which allow for testing of older and degraded samples, but it can increase the amount of error observed.  DNA from far older sources has been used to great effect in other fields such as archaeology, but this is always a point that never seems to be brought up.

It’s a big assumption that the presence of his alleged DNA on the scarf is only indicative that he came into contact with the scarf.  How do we know it occurred during the time of the killing?  Did they know each other?  Those who are more familiar with Ripper lore than I may know some answers to these questions.

Chain of custody issues aside, it’s difficult to make a solid determination and certainly not possible to “prove” that Aaron Kosminski murdered this woman.  We certainly cannot conclude that, even if he did murder Miss Eddowes, that he also murdered the other women as well.

Mr. Kosminski may have been admitted to a “string of lunatic asylums” but this is hardly evidence against him.  Admitting criteria were far different back then.  Someone with a trisomy disorder (Down Syndrome, etc) would have been held.

Granted, I have not read the actual book as it has yet to be released and many of my doubts and concerns may very well be addressed within its pages.  However, I do proceed with a large amount of skepticism.

Don’t get me wrong.  I find this fascinating and I look forward to checking the book out from the library when it is released.  This sort of thing really excites me and I just absolutely love it.  But, as I’ve learned over the years, by bringing science to the pop culture realm, we lose sight of some of the basic scientific principles we operate by.

 

Decomposition Study: Day 2

When I left work last night (about 6:00pm) I took some updated photos and posted them. This morning after pulling in I took a look and snapped a pic of our groundhog.

You can definitely see a change in the size of the little guy within this first day. She’s quite bloated and there is evidence of bacterial action. The bloat is caused by the exponential increase in the amount of bacteria normally found in the body. Just like humans, this groundhog, once it ceased to breathe and circulate blood through its body, was no longer keeping the bacteria and fungi at a standard level. Now, they’re just reproducing like crazy, causing gasses to form. Sometimes these gasses can cause weak areas of the body and places that have been damaged to rupture and internal organs and fluids will push themselves out (see below image of the pig) but normally these gasses will escape through natural openings on the body like the mouth and anus. When I moved this little groundhog boy did I get a whiff!!!

Day 1 Full Body 11:00am

Day 1 Full Body
11:00am

Day 2: Full Body 9:00am

Day 2: Full Body
9:00am

From an undergraduate research project.  Day 2, gasses have caused a perforation through a weakened spot on the abdomen of this pig.  Intestines have pushed through.

From an undergraduate research project. Day 2, gasses have caused a perforation through a weakened spot on the abdomen of this pig. Intestines have pushed through.

You can see in the below image a group of Blow/Bottle Flies (Calliphoridae: Diptera) congregating around the snout. Yesterdays image taken about 8 hours after placement shows some bubbling of fluids and gas in the nose. Today’s image, almost 27 hours after placement, shows the bubbling continues with maggots (fly larvae) on the other side.

Day 2: 27 hours after placement. Adult blow flies congregate around the nose.  Maggots in foreground.  1rst instar blow fly larvae.

Day 2: 27 hours after placement. Adult blow flies congregate around the nose. Maggots in foreground. 1rst instar blow fly larvae.

Day 2: 27 hours after placement. Adult blow flies congregate

Day 2: 27 hours after placement. Adult blow flies congregate

I also have found more egg laying locations including in the lip (below – as expected) and on the underside of the body at the point of interface with the soil.

Day 2: 27 hours after placement. Eggs under the lip and snot-blood bubbles in the nose.

Day 2: 27 hours after placement. Eggs under the lip and snot-blood bubbles in the nose.

Soil Temp: 90F
Interface Temp: 80F
Mouth Temp: 100F
Calliphoridae: 10+ adults; 50+ larvae; 100+ eggs
Staphylinidae: 1 adults

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