Once upon a time, Steve Bissette was creating a horror anthology called Taboo. Originally self-published, it got picked up by Tundra. Alongside a number of great stories, including one of my favourites, Through The Habitrails by Jeff Nicholson, were two stories written by Alan Moore. Lost Girls, with his future wife Melinda Gebbie, and From Hell with Eddie Campbell.
From Hell would leave the anthology as a series of volumes, later collected, telling the story of Jack The Ripper using one of the most ludicrous theories of the day, that he was the Royal physician, Sir William Gull. Moore and Campbell constructed a narrative to support this theory as well as exploring the legacy of the murders in Whitechapel on society, the media and crime through the twentieth century, espousing the idea that Jack the Ripper gave birth to the twentieth century.
Moore and Campbell sold the rights to From Hell as a movie starring Johnny Depp which was quickly shunted into becoming a whodunnit rather than the whydunnit of the original. It wasn’t that well received, least of all by people who read the original comic book. But it helped sell a few thousand more copies of the comic, now published by Top Shelf.
One person who saw the movie was London businessman Russell Edwards. Who became fascinated by the story and had more money than sense – enough to buy the was able to buy a shawl believed to have been found at the scene of one of the murders. He employed a DNA specialist to identify mitochondrial DNA still on the shawl, matched to the victim Catherine Eddowes, thanks to a blood sample from her great grand daughter to confirm the provenance of the shawl.
But there was more on the shawl than her blood.
One of the suspects of the murders was Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jew who had escaped the Russian pogroms with his family. They were able to find surviving cells of ejaculate on the shawl and compared midochondrial data from a sample from a descendant of Kosminski’s sister. And got a match.
A hairdresser in London, Kosminski was committed to mental asylums and died in Leavesden Asylum from gangrene at the age of 53, in 1919. A prime suspect of the police, he was kept under surveillance until his committal, but not enough evidence was available to even attempt a conviction.
When the news first came to light, there was doubt thrown upon it.
But now genetic researchers from Liverpool John Moores University carrying out a new study have shared their findings in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, is a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. They write: ‘We describe for the first time systematic, molecular level analysis of the only surviving physical evidence linked to the Jack the Ripper murders. Finding both matching profiles in the same piece of evidence enhances the statistical probability of its overall identification and reinforces the claim that the shawl is authentic.’
Alan Moore wrote a comic book that looke at the murders, but also society’s fascination with them, and a subsequent epilogue, The Dance Of The Gull-Catchers looked more specifically at Ripperologists, their actions and motivation. And doing so talked about why who Jack the Ripper was doesn’t matter.
It does seem ridiculous but, as a result of writing a comic about the murders, we may have come the closest to an actual solution we are ever going to get…