Jack the Ripper, Johnny Depp, Tim Burton and us – the men who solved the 126-year-old murder mystery on how their lives have changed
Meet the Merseyside men who unmasked Jack The Ripper
“I’d like Johnny Depp to play me in the film of our story, but he would need to cut his hair – and maybe he’d need to Skype me at Liverpool John Moores University so he could work on my Finnish accent!”
This is a sentence Dr Jari Louhelainen – the senior lecturer in molecular biology at JMU whose brilliant scientific detective work helped unmask the identity of Jack The Ripper, thereby solving a 126-year mystery – never thought he would utter.
His partner in crime detection – Birkenhead-born and raised, and now London-based property developer Russell Edwards, author of Naming Jack the Ripper (Sidgwick & Jackson, £16.99) – loves the Johnny Depp line, but says: “I always thought Meat Loaf could play Jari!”
And who could play you? “I’ve not thought about it, though it would be great if Daniel Craig, who, like me, was brought up in Wirral, could play the man we proved was the Ripper – the Polish suspect Aaron Kosminski.”
But the story is also very much about the two men who ended more than a century of fevered speculation, so come on, with Meat Loaf or Depp playing Jari, who should play you? “It would have to be someone intense because of how intense I got over the last few years – maybe Robert Downey Jr, who, of course, played Sherlock Holmes, or, perhaps even better, Benedict Cumberbatch!”
And who knows, these dreams may come true (though maybe not the Meat Loaf one), because Russell, 48, says: “There are negotiations going on with a Hollywood director, though I can’t say who. Back in the summer, we had talked about it being perfect for Tim Burton, because he’s done dark films like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (starring Johnny Depp!) but it’s not him. It is an A list director, though.
“We have been offered some amazing things, and there are also 17 different companies wanting to make documentaries.”
And while Russell is still trying to take in the incredible amount of interest, it’s absolutely stunned Jari, who says: “My life has suddenly taken a new direction. After 25 years of doing research for limited audiences, I now find myself in a situation where – after all the countless TV, radio and Press interviews we’ve done – some 800 million people in countries including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Israel have seen the story which involves this particular research.”
The 52-year-old adds: “That’s a fair percentage of the world’s population!”
He then laughs – and I think it might be a nervous, “What the hell is going on?” laugh.
Having been brought up in Finland and only lived in the UK since 2000, when he took up a position with Cancer Research UK in Leeds, Jari knew relatively little about the Jack the Ripper case: “I hadn’t watched any films or documentaries about it, but now I feel like I’m part of the story – and that’s quite scary in a way because of all this media exposure.”
For Jari, who has worked at JMU for eight years, the incredible journey began in 2011 when Russell and a member of an Australian documentary film production company (the latter was looking at another suspect) arrived on his doorstep.
The good doctor explains: “A former student of mine, Clint Hampson, an Australian who had been doing a PhD in forensic science at JMU, told them that if one person could do the scientific work required it was me.”
This work involved the intricate study of the shawl which had been found by the body of the fourth of the five Ripper victims, Catherine Eddowes, and bought (for a large but undisclosed sum) at auction in 2007 by author-to-be Russell, after he had spotted a story about it in our sister paper the Daily Mirror.
Russell’s interest in the story began in 2001, when he watched the film From Hell (loosely-based on the novel of the same name about the Jack the Ripper murders and starring Johnny Depp).
At the time he was living in the East End, close to the murder scenes, and he recalls: “I became an armchair detective and started playing ‘Hunt the Ripper’, trying to find out something new – but there was nothing new.”
Then, however, six years later, came the auction – though it would be another four years before Jari and Russell were brought together, in 2011.
Russell won’t reveal how much he paid for the shawl, and stresses: “There have been so many costs since I bought it and the total I’ve spent on this investigation must be about £750,000.”
But hopefully he can recoup much, if not all, of that now Hollywood’s finest are on the case!
Russell laughs, but is quite serious when he says: “What we have now, with the shawl and Jari’s genetic brilliance in discovering what was on it, is priceless – we have found Jack the Ripper.
“Me and Jari are very much like brothers now. We’ve been through so much in the lead-up to the book coming out and now we’re riding the crest of an amazing wave of media interest together. We had the information for months before the book came out and the hardest thing was keeping quiet when I wanted to shout about it from the rooftops.”
For his part, forensic expert Jari says he remained detached from all the major developments, because he remained detached from the facts of the case: “Russell kept saying ‘This is something the whole world will be really interested in’ – but I still couldn’t see it. Russell calls me ‘a scientist living in a cocoon’, and that’s what I am!”
Jari remained unaware of the power of the Ripper story until he became part of it – and he’s still reeling: “And my students didn’t really know about what I’d been up to and were as stunned as anyone, saying ‘Oh look, that’s my supervisor on the telly!’”
But that could just be the start of it . . . next it could be: “Blimey, there’s Johnny Depp playing that bloke from John Moores University!”
Unless, of course, Meat Loaf lands the role.