Testing For Jack The Ripper

“Jack The Ripper” is arguably the most famous criminal — and certainly the most famous uncaught criminal — in world history.  The Ripper was a bloody serial killer who slit the throats and then horribly mutilated the bodies of prostitutes in the foggy Whitechapel district of London in the late 1800s.  His brutal murders were prominently reported in lurid detail in the London press of the day and terrified people throughout the world.

Now an amateur sleuth has published a book that contends that DNA evidence reveals that Jack the Ripper was a Polish immigrant barber named Aaron Kosminski, and a number of news organizations are reporting those findings as fact.  Should they?

Not so fast.  How do you use DNA evidence to conclusively prove who committed terrible murders more than 100 years ago — decades before DNA was even identified by Watson and Crick, much less before DNA tests were developed and DNA samples collected?  In this case, the conclusions are based on a single scarf that purportedly is linked to one of the Ripper’s victims named Catherine Eddowes.  The DNA test showed that bloodstains on the scarf were linked to distant relatives of Eddowes, while another DNA signature from another substance on the scarf is linked to the distant relatives of Kosminski.

But there are obvious problems.  Some people question whether the scarf really has any connection to Eddowes, and in any case it hasn’t been held in scientific isolation all these years; instead, it’s been subject to potential contamination.  And an even bigger problem is that the kind of DNA recovered from the scarf is not nuclear DNA, which scientists believe is unique to one human being, but rather mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down from mothers to children and can be shared by large groups of people.  The mitochondrial DNA linked to Kosminski is a common subtype — which means that the finger doesn’t point just at Kosminski.

For all of these reasons, Ripperologists are skeptical of this latest claim to have solved some of history’s greatest unsolved crimes.  Was Aaron Kosminski in fact the brutal Jack the Ripper?  I think we’ll never know.

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The Presumed Adventures Of Bibleman

Last week I was getting into my car at a public parking lot.  The person in the neighboring space had parked too close, so I had to squeeze into the front seat past the door.  As I did so, I looked down inside their car and saw a magazine called Bibleman, with a stern looking guy in a superhero costume on the cover, in the back seat.

Bibleman?

IMG_2914It turns out that there was a kids’ video series called Bibleman that was produced for a number of years.  I never saw it or heard of it, but it’s obviously a more recent effort to get kids interested in the Bible; the modern successor to those boring Davy and Goliath TV shows and Bible Illustrated comic books.  But I found myself wondering:  what does Bibleman do?

Given Bibleman’s outfit, he is obviously a fighting hero.  If he draws upon the Old Testament, he could go around armed with a sling and some smooth stones, or perhaps a staff that allows him to part the water when necessary.  The Old Testament was full of smiting and suffering and turning people into pillars of salt, so Bibleman beating the snot out of evildoers would fit right in.  (And, if Bibleman ever got to the Song of Solomon, he might have even more diverse and interesting adventures.)

Of course, no good hero can be without supervillains to defeat against all odds.  I’m guessing that Bibleman’s arch-nemeses were Mr. Sin and Foul Temptress, both of whom were agents of Satan — who was never seen but who clearly was always pulling the strings behind the scenes as part of some dimly perceived master plan.  Mr. Sin would find people during their moments of sloth and weakness and sweet-talk them into straying from the path of righteousness, and Foul Temptress, using her Forbidden Fruit ray, would try to entice the faithful into listening to rock ‘n roll or wearing immodest clothing.  And, given the unalterable norms for fighting heroes, did Bibleman have a youthful sidekick — perhaps Commandment Boy?