Sherlock Holmes – the greatest detective of the 19th Century; Jack the Ripper – the most notorious criminal, who was real, brutal, and never caught. These two men have been pitched against each other time and again in fiction because although the reality of Holmes feels true, his reality did not extend into this real-life and horrific case. Holmes was created in 1887 and his fame was not yet established in 1888 when, in Whitechapel, five prostitutes were killed by having their throats cut and their abdominal mutilated. A letter ‘from the criminal’ called himself Jack the Ripper, and the media latched onto the name, it being so fitting for the type of crime and Jack being so generic a name that it could indicate anyone, and the press formulated speculations, accusations, and fear around one of the most notorious criminals in British history.
Fast forward to 2014 and DNA evidence from a shawl found at the scene of one of the five murders has supposedly confirmed the identity of Jack the Ripper once and for all (well, maybe not). This has been reported in many newspapers including the Independent, The Guardian, and the Daily Fail (sorry, I mean Mail). A man called Russell Edwards, who conveniently has a book coming out called Naming Jack the Ripper, has made claims that this blood soaked shawl, conveniently never washed, has DNA evidence linking Aaron Kosminski to the murder. Kosminski was a Polish Jew immigrant, with mental health problems, living in the area at the time of the murders, and was one of the police’s prime suspects up until he was incarcerated in an asylum. Edwards believes that the shawl proves, without a doubt, the guilt of Kosminski and believes in its provenance. However, the provenance may be doubted by others as even if its place of origin is real, the shawl would have been unaffordable for a prostitute and may not have belonged to Catherine Eddows, the victim. Other doubts include that the findings and methodology have not yet been published in any scientific journal to be peer-reviewed and so the reliability of the tests and the findings have not been confirmed.
But what would Holmes have done with such a case? The theory of fingerprinting was being developed and Holmes supposedly had a test to verify blood (though this did not actually exist), but he would not have had the tests that we do now. Many a book has been written speculating and playing around with the idea of Holmes being involved in the investigation of Jack the Ripper, but did you know we have conclusive proof of how Holmes would have done it?
Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in July 1894 a response to speculation about how Holmes would have solved the case for a newspaper article entitled ‘Jack the Ripper: How Sherlock Holmes Would Have Tracked Him’. Doyle’s conclusions were drawn from the letter from Jack the Ripper that was held by the Scotland Yard Museum. It was from this that he deduced, whilst pretending to be an ‘observant man’, i.e. Holmes, that the writer was American; he was familiar with writing in his profession, and ‘Holmes’ would have published the handwriting with a reward for any sample the public could produce that was the same. This, so says Doyle, would have established the writer of the letter at the very least, and most probably have caught the man.
It’s a real same he didn’t suggest this 6 years earlier…
So we may never know the true identity of Jack the Ripper, but we can be confident that Holmes had a good excuse not to investigate the case himself and left it up to the incompetent police.
A picture of the article: