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Kosminski has always been one of the three most credible suspects. He is often described as having been a hairdresser in Whitechapel, the occupation written on his admission papers to the workhouse in 1890. What is certain is he was seriously mentally ill, probably a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered auditory hallucinations and described as a misogynist prone to ‘self-abuse’ – a euphemism for masturbation.
McCormack said police did not have enough evidence to convict Kosminski, despite identification by a witness, but kept him under 24-hour surveillance until he was committed to mental asylums for the rest of his life. I became convinced Kosminski was our man, and I was excited at the prospect of proving it. I felt sure that modern science would be able to produce real evidence from the stains on the shawl. After a few false starts, I found a scientist I hoped could help.
Jari used the same extraction method on the semen traces on the shawl, warning that the likelihood of sperm lasting all that time was very slim. He enlisted the help of Dr David Miller, a world expert on the subject, and in 2012 they made another incredible breakthrough when they found surviving cells. They were from the epithelium, a type of tissue which coats organs. In this case, it was likely to have come from the urethra during ejaculation.
Kosminski was 23 when the murders took place, and living with his two brothers and a sister in Greenfield Street, just 200 yards from where the third victim, Elizabeth Stride, was killed. As a key suspect, his life story has long been known, but I also researched his family. Eventually, we tracked down a young woman whose identity I am protecting – a British descendant of Kosminski’s sister, Matilda, who would share his mitochondrial DNA. She provided me with swabs from the inside of her mouth.
Amplifying and sequencing the DNA from the cells found on the shawl took months of painstaking, innovative work. By that point, my excitement had reached fever-pitch. And when the email finally arrived telling me Jari had found a perfect match, I was overwhelmed. Seven years after I bought the shawl, we had nailed Aaron Kosminski.
As a scientist, Jari is naturally cautious, unwilling to let his imagination run away without testing every minute element, but even he declared the finding ‘one hell of a masterpiece’. I celebrated by visiting the East End, wandering the streets where Kosminski lived, worked and committed his despicable crimes, feeling a sense of euphoria but also disbelief that we had unmasked the Ripper.