DNA Reveals the Identity of Jack the Ripper?

A wanted poster for Jack the Ripper, who was also known as Leather Apron.  Image courtesy of the British Museum
A wanted poster for Jack the Ripper, who was also known as Leather Apron.
Image courtesy of the British Museum

In the late 1800s, Victorian England was mesmerized and horrified by a series of brutal killings in the crowded and impoverished Whitechapel district. The serial killer, who became known as “Jack the Ripper”, had murdered and mutilated at least five women, many of whom worked as prostitutes in the slums around London. None of these murders were ever solved, and Jack the Ripper was never identified, although investigators interviewed more than 2,000 people and named more than 100 suspects. Now, 126 years after the murders, a British author, who coincidentally has just published a book on the subject, is claiming that DNA analysis has revealed the identity of the notorious killer. DNA is often thought to be the “gold standard” of human identification techniques, so why is there so much skepticism surrounding this identification?
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Update: Is It the Blood of Louis XVI?

Statue of King Henry IV at Pont Neuf in Paris
Statue of King Henry IV at Pont Neuf in Paris

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote about the ill-fated Louis XVI, the French king who was famously beheaded along with his wife, Marie-Antoinette, during the French Revolution in 1793. Witnesses to the execution dipped handkerchiefs in the king’s blood and kept them as souvenirs of the common people’s rebellion. In 2010, scientists published the presumptive DNA profile of the king, obtained from one of these bloody handkerchiefs (1). Shortly after this profile was published, doubters surfaced, arguing that scientists could not say with certainty that the blood was that of Louis XVI. Clearly, more work was needed to identify the source of the blood. Recently, additional work was published (2,3). The most recent data (3) were presented at the 2013 International Symposium on Human Identification; these newest data cast doubt on the identification of the remains of not one king, but two.

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King Richard III Identified

Richard IIIBy now, you’ve seen the headlines. The bones that scientists found buried under a car park in Leicester, England, have been identified as those of the last Plantagenet king of England: Richard III. For those of you who might be new to this story, archaeologists identified and excavated the most likely burial spot for Richard III, under a car park near the Leicester City Council building, and unearthed a human skeleton with skeletal abnormalities similar to those of Richard III. Geneticists were called in to perform DNA analysis to determine if these bones were those of the English king. The DNA findings were just recently released. Now that scientists can say beyond a reasonable doubt that these bones belong to Richard III, we are learning new things about the ancient king. Continue reading “King Richard III Identified”

Identifying the Victims of John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy was a notorious serial killer who sexually assaulted and murdered 33 boys and young men in the 1970s in Chicago, Illinois. The killing spree stopped only when he was arrested in 1978 after the parents of his last victim contacted police with critical information that implicated Gacy in the boy’s disappearance. He was tried, convicted and in 1994 executed for his crimes. Of the 33 victims that police found buried in and around his home, only 25 could be identified, leaving eight victims nameless and eight families to wonder if their missing loved one died at the hands of this evil man. When all available means of identification were exhausted, these eight sets of remains were buried but not forgotten.

In 2011, these remains were exhumed and the victim’s DNA analyzed to try to provide clues as to their identity.

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