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Jack the Ripper Finally Caught, Maybe

"The Illustrated Police News" on display during the exhibition "Jack the Ripper and the East End" at the Museum in Docklands, London, Wednesday, May 14, 2008.

"The Illustrated Police News" on display during the exhibition "Jack the Ripper and the East End" at the Museum in Docklands, London, Wednesday, May 14, 2008.

After more than a century, one of world’s most infamous killers is finally caught. Maybe. Perhaps.

A British writer says he has uncovered the true identity of Jack the Ripper. The writer calls himself an armchair detective. For those who do not know about Jack the Ripper, he is one of history's most terrible serial killers – a person who kills again and again. “Jack” terrorized a poor part of London in the year 1888.

Here are more details – or in this case, evidence. All you armchair detectives listening at home can play Sherlock Holmes and come to your own judgment.

Few killers in history have become as well-known as Jack the Ripper. His murders were rare in their violence. And for 126 years, police have been unable to put a name to the crimes.

What is the new evidence?

That is why it made international news recently when writer and armchair detective Russell Edwards named the man he says is Jack the Ripper. Mr. Edwards says new DNA evidence points the finger of guilt at one man, a Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski.

Tests of DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid – are often used today for identification purposes. Russell Edwards says experts used bloodstains taken from a never-cleaned shawl, or long scarf, of Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim. The victim is a woman named Catherine Eddowes. Her shawl reportedly was found by her body. These experts compared the DNA from this blood to that of a living descendant, a living relative, of Aaron Kosminski.

Mr. Edwards is not the only one to have suspected Mr. Kosminski. In 1888, London police also suspected him. But no witness stepped forward to give police the evidence they needed. So, he walked free.

Mr. Kosminski worked as a barber, a hair-cutter, in London. He surely knew how to use a sharp-edged blade. He died of gangrene from a leg wound in an insane asylum, a hospital for the mentally ill.

But the killer named “Jack the Ripper” lives on. Stories about his notorious, or infamous, killings have appeared in many books, newspaper articles and movies.

The stories led Russell Edwards to investigate the murders. He decided to write about them after seeing a movie about the Ripper called From Hell. Johnny Depp and Heather Graham starred in the 2001 film.

From Hell movie trailer

The era of Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper’s murders took place in 1888 in an area of London’s East End called Whitechapel. The known victims were five sex workers. But some believe he was responsible for many other killings in that area at that time.

In 1888, Whitechapel was a poor part of town where many traded sex for money. And that is who Jack-the-Ripper targeted. His victims were poor female prostitutes who drank too much. He murdered them violently, cutting their throats and cutting up their bodies. In most of the killings, he even removed internal organs.

Everyone agrees that Jack the Ripper was a terrible man. But not everyone believes that Aaron Kosminski was really Jack the Ripper.

Some other armchair detectives do not buy the accusation against Kosminski. They do not believe it. They say the DNA found on the shawl is not believable evidence. They say too much time has passed and too many hands have touched it. And Aaron Kosminski is no longer around to defend himself.

But for at least one armchair detective, this mystery can finally be buried.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Kenneth Schwartz reported this story for VOA. Anna Matteo wrote it for Learning English. Jerilyn Watson edited it.


Words in this Story

armchair detective(expression) a term used to describe who a person who does not personally visit a crime scene or interview witnesses. They instead, investigate by reading about it.

evidence - (n.) material that is presented to a court of law to help find the truth about something

prostitute(n.) a person, usually a woman, who engages in sexual intercourse especially for money

gangrene – (n.,) ( medical) the decay of flesh that occurs in a part of the body that no longer has blood flowing to it

asylum(n.) a hospital where people who are mentally ill are cared for especially for long periods of time; a mental hospital

notorious(adj.) well-known for something bad

Now it’s your turn to use these Words in the News. In the comments section, write a sentence using one of these words and we will provide feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.

Or tell us, are you an armchair detective? Do you like mysteries? Do you think that evidence that is more than 126 years old would "hold up" in court?

Let us know in our comment section.

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