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Jack the Ripper's identity may finally be known, thanks to DNA

NBC News logo NBC News 3/18/2019 Farnoush Amiri
a person in a dark room: Image: A projection is displayed during the "Jack the Ripper and the East End" exhibition at Museum in Docklands, London, in 2008. © Carl De Souza Image: A projection is displayed during the "Jack the Ripper and the East End" exhibition at Museum in Docklands, London, in 2008.

The identity of Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer from the late 1800s in England, may finally be known.

A DNA forensic investigation published this month by two British researchers in the Journal of Forensic Science identifies Aaron Kosminski, a 23-year-old Polish barber and prime suspect at the time, as the likely killer.

The "semen stains match the sequences of one of the main police suspects, Aaron Kosminski," said the study authored by Jari Louhelainen of Liverpool John Moores University and David Miller of the University of Leeds.

The murderer dubbed Jack the Ripper killed at least five women from August to November 1888 in the Whitechapel district of London.

The study's authors conducted genetic testing of blood and semen on a shawl found near the body of Catherine Eddowes, the killer's fourth victim, whose badly mutilated body was discovered on Sept. 30, 1888.

The brutal murders and the mystery behind the killer's identity and motive inspired countless novels, films and theories over the past 130 years.

Kosminski, who apparently vanished after the murders, has previously been named as a possible suspect, but his guilt has been a matter of debate and never confirmed.

a close up of a person: Image: A contemporary sketch of Jewish emigre Aaron Kosminski, who author Russell Edwards claims in his new book was the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper © Evans Skinner Archive Image: A contemporary sketch of Jewish emigre Aaron Kosminski, who author Russell Edwards claims in his new book was the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper

The researchers said they have been analyzing the silk shawl for the past eight years and that to their knowledge "the shawl referred to in this paper is the only piece of physical evidence known to be associated with these murders."

Through analysis of fragments of the victim and suspect's mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down solely from one's mother, researchers were able to compare that with samples taken from living descendants of Eddowes and Kosminski.

The paper also states that the suspect's "observable" characteristics, derived from DNA, match the only eyewitness account to the murders, which law enforcement had ruled "considerably reliable."

The study said its findings represent the first "systematic, molecular level analysis of the only surviving physical evidence linked to the Jack the Ripper murders."

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