Sunday, 4 September 2011

Is this REALLY the face of Jack the Ripper?

I have observed with a growing sense of alarm,  the highly selective processes employed by those who create forensic reconstructions of faces.  

On 30th August 2011, on the eve of the broadcast of episode four of the TV program National Treasures Live, the BBC published an article about the recent forensic reconstruction of the face of a man thought by some to have been Jack the Ripper. 

The article, written by Dr Xanthe Mallett of the University of Dundee, with additional reporting by Megan Lane, describes the investigations and conclusions of Ripper expert Trevor Marriott, a former homicide squad detective. 

Of the 200 suspects for the gruesome series of murders committed in 1888, one of the most likely is Carl Feigenbaum, a German merchant seaman whose ship was in port at the time of each murder, and who was executed in the United States in 1896 for the murder of his landlady, having confessed to suffering from frequent bouts of insanity in which her felt an uncontrollable urge to kill women.   Feigenbaum's lawyer believed him to be Jack the Ripper.  

There is a fairly detailed police description of Feigenbaum, including, for the benefit no doubt of the executioner, a description of his neck.  Trevor Marriott has used this description to create an "e-fit", a image of what the face of Feigenbaum might have looked like.  There is no known photograph of him, and all the evidence of his appearance comes from the description.  

The description is as follows: 

Age 54. Complexion med[ium]. Eyes grey. Hair dark brown. Stature 5ft 4 1/2. Weight 126 [pounds, 57kg]. Medium sized head, hat 6 7/8 or 7. Shoes 8.  Hair grows thin on top of head. Small slim neck. Eyes small and deep-set. Eyebrows curved. Forehead high and heavily arched. Nose large, red and has raw pimples. Teeth poor + nearly all gone on left sides.  Anchor in india ink on right hand at base of thumb and first finger. Round scar or birthmark on right leg below left knee. 

And here is the "likeness" that has been produced from it. 

The following are my observations and serious concerns: 

1.  The representation of Carl Feigenbaum obviously  uses as its basis a generic "German" face.  

 However, Feigenbaum is a Jewish name, and (not surprisingly) the majority of Feigenbaums who appeared when I conducted a Google image search had faces which were long rather than short and broad.  Some of those Feigenbaums had VERY long faces.  

Although Carl Feigenbaum's religion is given as Catholic, his father's line is almost certainly Jewish.   And as the Nazis went to very great lengths to point out,  there are generally discernible physiognomic differences between an ethnic German and an ethnic Jew.   In this case, the wrong model has been used as the basis for the reconstruction. 

2. The weight given for Feigenbaum is at the lighter end of normal.  In the US at the present time his weight would put him in the 5th percentile for height.  (But this probably doesn't reflect the situation in 1898).  Regardless of this, Feigenbaum was a slight man, not a beefy one.  

3. The description states that Feigenbaum had a ''small slim neck".  This reinforces the fact that he was of slight build.  However the forensic reconstruction gives the man a neck the same width as his wide jaw.  

4. Feigenbaum is described as having DARK brown hair.  While the website picture is black and white, it is still clear that the man in the reconstruction has LIGHT hair, the colour which hairdressers designate as "blonde", "ash blonde" or "dark blonde" but certainly not fitting the description "dark brown".  

5. The hair is described as "the hair grows thin on top of head".  In other words, Feigenbaum's hair was NOTICEABLY thinning on top.  In the reconstruction, the hair may be a little thinner, but not to the extent that would be used to describe a distinguishing characteristic of a man.  If the description says "thin", then the thinness must be clearly apparent.  

6. The size of the "curved" eyebrows is minimised.  They are the sort of fairish eyebrows one would expect on a blonde German, but not someone who had "dark brown" hair. 

7.  The forehead is indeed shown large in the reconstruction, but again, it is a forehead  that fits with the "Aryan" Arnold Schwartzenegger image of a Germanic person,  not a large "heavily arched" forehead. 
8.  The eyes are small in the reconstruction, but not "deep set"  as they are described.  The eyes conform to a "German" model, not to those of a person of Jewish descent.

9.  The nose in the reconstruction is largish, in the context of a Germanic face where noses are often rather short.  It is not the sort of nose that would be described as "large" if it was on a somewhat narrower and longer face.  The redness and pimples are not apparent at all. 

10.  The size of the nose is countered by the fact that (through the use of a broad Germanic template) the top lip is represented as long by comparison to the other features.  In fact, if the nose is proportionally  "large" then the upper lip will generally appear short by comparison, and may in fact be shorter than average. 

11.  The shape of the mouth is very well defined around the outer rim.  This is a characteristic which (if it exists in the first place) diminishes with age.  Since the mouth is not remarked on in the description, ( which is fairly careful) we can probably presume that it was a very ordinary sort of mouth for a 54 year old man.   

12. There is little or no indication in the reconstruction that this man has missing teeth.  The left side of his face would be noticeably thinner and more hollow than the right. If he has retained teeth on the right side (which the description indicates) then the process of chewing would have made the muscles stronger on the right, and the jaw somewhat collapsed on the left.  The forensic artist has slightly tilted the mouth upward on the left side,  contrary to the evidence that the mouth would be inclined to droop on the left, as a result of the loss of teeth. 

13.  The chin of the reconstruction has been given a cleft.  This isn't in the description, and since cleft chins occur in a minority, rather than a majority of people, depicting this individual with a cleft chin, in the absence of written evidence, is much more likely to be wrong than right.  

14. Feigenbaum was 54 and has been at sea.  The face in the reconstruction is that of a 54 year old who has lived his life in a 20th century environment of controlled temperatures.  He needs to look like someone who has weathered a few storms. 

My concerns in this matter go far beyond the question of what Carl Feigenbaum looked like, and whether or not he was Jack the Ripper.  Feigenbaum has been executed for his crimes, and any error made 100 years later can have little effect, even upon his reputation.  

However, I have observed with a growing sense of alarm,  the highly selective processes employed by those who create reconstructions.  

There was recently an attempt to "recreate the appearance of Jesus".  I will publish my analysis of this as a separate blog.   The main point to be made here is that the scientists doing the "reconstruction" made a series of choices, some of which were made in the light of strongly conflicting evidence, for example given a long skull and a short skull, they selected the short one; give a portrait with pale skin and a portrait with dark skin they selected the dark one.  In other words, the final image which was nothing like the traditional image of Jesus would have been very like the traditional image of Jesus is the scientists had chosen the other option in each case. 

So when forensic scientists, through a series of personal selections, and a series of choices to ignore valuable evidence,  present a completely false image of a famous person,  one begins to worry. 

Forensic science has chosen to present a highly questionable image of Jesus to the world.   
Forensic science has now presented an undoubtedly false image of one of history's most notorious murderers to the world.  

In both these cases the faces and the stories of their "recreation" have been blathered all over the media!  

What next?    No.....

The question really is:  WHO next?  Whose image do forensic scientists next get horribly horribly wrong?  

Will it be some black lad from Birmingham on a rape charge?  Will it be some Moslem kid from Manchester on a GBH?  Will it be some Eastern European immigrant on an abduction?  

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