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Geneticist Explains Why A Study Making The Rounds That Supposedly Reveals The Identity Of Jack The Ripper Is ‘Bad Science’ In Must-Read Thread

GeorgePeters/Getty images; @AdamRutherford/Twitter

We’ve finally done it. After decades of professional and amateur sleuths pouring over every available bit of evidence and running through the scenario and suspects, the identity of the serial killer known as “Jack the Ripper” has been uncovered.

And it was all thanks to a 150-year-old shawl that had DNA evidence linking the murders to a 23-year-old barber!

Hold on. DNA? From the 19th century?

If that idea gave you pause, you’re not the only one.

Geneticist Dr. Adam Rutherford had some words about this finding.

The paper in question can be found here, and details how the researchers extracted the DNA from the shawl and matched it to their supposed suspect for the Ripper.

However, there’s a number of issues in calling this definitive.

Dr. Rutherford starts by saying he asked the author of the paper if the technique were applied to a modern murder, would the evidence hold up in court?

The author said no.

Well, the shawl is still important right?


The shawl is itself a hotly debated piece of evidence. Even if it can be proven to be the same one at a murder scene, the shawl has not been exactly handled with the same kind of attention most evidence would get today.

The modern owner of the shawl himself has been photographed holding it with his bare hands.

There is a significant likelihood of contamination.

The paper and much of the news reporting on this study have not talked about how usable the evidence on the shawl is to identify Jack the Ripper.

Modern day forensics require samples to be as uncontaminated as possible, and even then, can come back inconclusive. The fact this shawl is so old, dubious in origin, and has been handled by bare minimum, modern people with their hands throws the findings into question.

Or, as Dr. Rutherford suggests, make them not even worth discussing.

DNA evidence used properly is one of the best methods we have to link people to locations, but it is very possible to get wrong as well. Outside of contamination, making assumptions about where the DNA sample came from can also lead us down the wrong path.

Dr. Rutherford’s analysis struck a chord, as people chimed in with their thoughts on the matter.

The Whitechapel murders are a horrendous black mark on history that intrigues people to this day. But in the end, we have to remember that it wasn’t some supernatural serial killer that was important, but the loss of five innocent lives, targeted by the mere virtue of society pushing them to the outskirts.


Ben Acosta

Written by Ben Acosta

Ben Acosta is an Arizona-based fiction author and freelance writer. In his free time, he critiques media and acts in local stage productions.