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Jack the Ripper's Genes

Well over a century after a series of grisly murders terrorized London — killings that inspired their own Ripper-tainment genre of films and books — genomic analysis may have nailed down the identity of 'Jack the Ripper.'

According to an enthusiast who owns a shawl purported to have been collected at the scene of one of the Ripper killings, genomic analysis of two mitochondrial lines has placed the shawl at the crime scene with the body of a victim, and identified her killer.

In an article published in the Daily Mail, Russell Edwards, who bought the shawl he says was found at the scene in East London where Catherine Eddowes was killed and mutilated in 1888, chronicles how he acquired the macabre artifact and enlisted a genetics researcher to prove its authenticity and identify the murderer.

The article coincides with the release of Edwards' new book, "Naming Jack the Ripper," about the quest to use the shawl to solve the Eddowes crime and identify Jack.

Edwards says the genomic analysis of DNA found on the shawl has provided proof that Eddowes' killer most likely was one of the men police have always suspected to be the ripper, a Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski.

Although he writes that his quest was scientific, Edwards and his molecular biologist partner Jari Louhelainen did not seek to publish their work in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Louhelainen, a senior lecturer in molecular biology at Liverpool John Moores University and a cold case forensics expert, also provides his account of the methods used to connect Eddowes and Kosminski to the shawl. He used a technique he calls vacuuming to get the genetic material out of the shawl. He injected a liquid buffer into the shawl cloth to dissolve materials inside the fabric weave without damaging the cells and then sucked the liquid out of the fabric. He sequenced DNA from bloodstains and a semen stain found on the shawl and tested them against swab samples taken from descendants from Eddowes and Kosminski.

To sequence the seminal fluid, Louhelainen's partner David Miller found epithelial cells and amplified the DNA to create a profile, which led to a 100 percent match.

"Because of the genome amplification technique, I was also able to ascertain the ethnic and geographical background of the DNA I extracted. It was of a type known as the haplogroup T1a1, common in people of Russian Jewish ethnicity," Louhelainen says, which fits Kosminski's ancestry.

Even though Kosminski, who was put in an insane asylum shortly after the murders were committed and died in an asylum years later, had always been a prime suspect, there are some doubts about this latest investigation as final proof that the Ripper has finally been unmasked.

"The shawl has been openly handled by loads of people and been touched, breathed on, spat upon," Richard Cobb, who runs Jack the Ripper conventions and tours, tells The Times.