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April 3: Jack the Ripper

April 2, 2015

640px-Wanted_posterThe first of eleven unsolved murders of women by “Jack the Ripper” occurred in the impoverished Whitechapel District of the East End of London on this date in 1888. Two Jews have been leading suspects in the “Ripper” murders: Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jew who worked as a hairdresser in Whitechapel and died in an insane asylum in 1919; and David Cohen, whose incarceration in another insane asylum in December 1888 occurred about one month after the last of the murders. In 1910, Sir Robert Anderson, assistant police commissioner at the time of the killings, claimed in his memoir that Kosminski had been identified by the “only person who had ever had a good view of the murderer,” but that no prosecution was possible because both the witness and the culprit were Jews, and Jews were not willing to offer testimony against fellow Jews. However, in another memoir, Sir Henry Smith, the acting police commissioner at the time of the murders, dismissed Anderson’s claim, which he called a “reckless accusation” against Jews. In 2014, Dr. Jari Louhelainen, an expert in historic DNA analysis, announced that his study of mitochondrial DNA extracted from a bloody shawl supposedly found with victim Catherine Eddowes revealed a match with the DNA of female descendants of Kosminski’s sister. The shawl’s provenance and usability has been widely questioned, however. Kosminski, moreover, was a native Yiddish speaker, possibly with limited English, which would have made it difficult for him to lure his victims into the dark alleyways where they were killed. As for David Cohen, he was a violent inmate said to be suffering from syphilis and to have possibly killed prostitutes in revenge for his infection. There is no substantial evidence, however, to link him to the murders.

“[W]hen the Whitechapel murders confronted the East End of London with a new type of crime, unprecedented in its barbarity, the gentile population were only too willing to blame the murders on the immigrant community. Spurred on by press xenophobia they came to the conclusion that an Englishman could not be responsible, and were more than happy to seek vengeance against the community that had already become their scapegoats for virtually all the other ills that blighted their every day lives.” —Jack the Ripper 1888