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Jack the Ripper Unearthed in South Africa

February 18, 2008 09:12 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
“The Fox and the Flies” is receiving excellent reviews from the serious press. The book argues that the notorious Ripper was a Polish émigré called Joseph Lis.

30-Second Summary

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Joseph Lis, a known rapist who was probably executed sometime around 1918, came to the attention of author Charles van Onselen through an old newspaper article found in the Johannesburg Public Library.

Van Onselen spent the next 30-odd years compiling his case against Lis, which is now published as "The Fox and the Flies."

Lis stands accused of the murder and mutilation of five female prostitutes in the East End neighborhood of Whitechapel, London, in 1888: the crimes attributed to Jack the Ripper.

While the Ripper was not the first serial killer in history, Casebook—a Web site devoted to the case—says that the rise of the press gave him the notoriety he holds today.

“Every day the activities of the Ripper were chronicled in the newspapers as were the results of the inquiries and the actions taken by the police,” Casebook writes. “It was the press coverage that made this series of murders a ‘new thing.’”

Joseph Lis was born in Poland in 1868, and later changed his name to Joseph Silver. According to van Onselen, Joseph Silver’s misogyny, criminal record and movements all point to his being Jack the Ripper.

London Review of Books
writer Charles Nicholl says that the links van Onselen establishes are “tenuous and speculative, but perhaps tenuous and speculative are as good as we are going to get in a 120-year-old case that from the outset generated so many conflicting accounts and theories.”

Mystery writer Patricia Cornwell spent millions of dollars trying to prove that British painter Walter Sickert was the Ripper. She claimed that DNA found on Sickert’s belongings matched that discovered on letters apparently written by Jack the Ripper.

Casebook disputes Cornwell’s argument, noting that kind of DNA used can only narrow possible matches to a segment of the population, not an individual person.

Headline Link: ‘Who Was He?’

Background: Jack the Ripper

Opinion & Analysis: Circumstantial evidence or DNA?

Related Links: Books on Jack the Ripper

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