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Jack the Sickert

Wanna read a bad book? Borrow a copy of Patricia Cornwell’s Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed.

I like Cornwell enough to have read all (?) of her Scarpetta series even though I’ve been disappointed by each of them; often they have a good set-up but resolve the situation by the literary equivalent of running people over with trucks. Portrait of a Killer, though, pretty much just stinks.

In it, she “solves” the mystery of the Ripper murders. The killer was the artist Walter Sickert. Her evidence isn’t just inconclusive, it’s annoying. And her certainty — “Case Closed” — exhibits a character flaw that makes me feel uncomfortable in her authorial presence.

Her evidence? [SPOILER ALERT]

A few of the hundreds of letters supposedly sent by the Ripper to the press and police came from the same commercial paper mill as some letters from Sickert.

The mitochondrial DNA left on some of the Ripper letters is of the same type as some left on envelopes containing letters from Sickert; Cornwall says that 1% of the population has that particular type of DNA, although I’ve read that experts say that it could be as high as 10%.

Some of Sickert’s artwork portrays violence and murder. Some show a dark circle around women’s necks…although in the one example I’ve seen, it looks a lot like a necklace to me.

Sickert isn’t known to have been elsewhere during the time of the murders.

I’m no historian and I’m not a Ripper buff, so I can’t evaluate the facts she presents. (For that, see the first two links below.) But her methodology worries me. If a letter supposedly by the Ripper is written in a different hand, it’s because Sickert was an artist. If a witness reports seeing a man at the scene who looked different than Sickert, it’s because Sickert was an actor. If Ripper letters use the phrase “Ha ha,” it must be because Sickert studied under Whistler who used to laugh “Ha ha.” (No, I’m not making this up.) If there are misspellings in a letter, it’s because Sickert was taunting the police; if there aren’t, it’s because Sickert was taunting the police.

Worse, the book is badly written all the way down to the sentence level. The constructions are awkward at the “This is the reason that…” level. The paragraphs are redundant. Entire chapters are superfluous. It is not a good book.

Case closed.


Links

Patricia Cornwell and Walter Sickert: A Primer
By Stephen P. Ryder

A substantial book review by Joe Nickell in the Skeptical Inquirer

An account of a lecture Cornwall gave on the topic

ABC News’ puff piece about Diane Sawyer’s interview with Cornwall

21 Responses to “Jack the Sickert”

  1. I’ve just finished “Portrait of a Killer” I’m pretty much in agreement that this book is a load of old tosh. Cornwell starts the book with the assumption that “The Ripper” and Sickert are one and the same, and then expands on this by “proving” that the Ripper letters were written by Sickert. An examination of “The Yorkshire Ripper” case in which thirteen women were murdered in the 1980′s would show that the police were tracing the man who recorded the taunting audio cassettes claiming to be the killer. In fact the killer was caught more by good luck than good management and the tapes were later shown to be a hoax by a person unknown. A very unsound book!

  2. For more information on how making an assumption that letters about a murder are from the killer, follow the link to view some details about the “Yorkshire Ripper” case…

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/northeast/series2/sunderlandjack_ripper_crime.shtml

  3. I’m halfway through this book and started to think it was sounding like a load of crap. Glad to hear that someone else thought so. And superfluous? Geez, it’s like the publisher told her to draw it out for another 100 pages or so. Yeah. This book is a load. Just wish I borrowed it instead of bought it…

  4. I actually liked it

  5. I am finding this book to be a complete eye opener.
    There are so many obvious traits that leads us to the
    obvious. Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper as well
    as a Mr. Nemo ( a nobody). The man was obsessed with being in the limelight. He was ahead of a century in his thinking. And he achieved the spotlight he intended. What kind of personality draws violence and abuse towards women as a child. Then later persues it as an adult because he is able to act it out. Come on
    people, Wake up! This is absolutely incredible! I admire Patricia Cornwell for having the confidence to follow this 114 year old mystery. There was even something wrong with Sickert’s artwork when he was an apprentice to the famous artist Whistler. Check out the drawings in the book! That work is not normal. And it would not be exceptable in that time period. As an artist myself I understand anatomy and the human body. So does every artist that has studied the arts. That is why it is conclusive that Sickert the artist knew exactly where all of the bodily organs were. The personality trait of a psycho is mapped out right in front of us. Compare other modern day versions. It is absolutely frightening!

  6. Hi there. I just finished this book and am astounded at the numer of people all over the web who are prepared to write off her research as nonesense. While I’m not 100 percent convinced the way the author says she is, I find she does an excellent job.

    In attacking her work most people simplify her arguments. They say she only matches one letter between S. and R. This is not true. She matches many letters. People say that she makes her assumption because he painted a few violent paintigs and drew prostitutes, while the truth is that she makes numerous connections between Sickert and the Ripper, including artwork, artwork comparisons, handwriting comparisons, life history and psychological profile, lifestyle, DNA, and most damning of all, numerous connections between the letters, which, according to one top authority, may not only share a watermark ,but have come from the same batch.

    It is not a perfect book. I do find it weak towards the end. But to attack her as providing too little evidence is ludicrous. She provides a mountain of it. Perhaps it is the defensive art crowd who dont like Sickert’s name dragged down. Or perhaps it is defensive Brits who don’t like seeing an American doing a more professional and thorough investigation on the Ripper than they have ever done themselves.

    100 percent maybe not. But a great job.

    Tom

  7. Obviously this case will never be officially closed, but I am satisfied that Cornwell’s meticulous analysis of existing evidence proves convincing. Resolution of these horrific crimes is also Justice served 115 years late for those butchered Women. Roll in your grave Sir, because “The Boss” is a Woman and I think she has caught you. I see you for what you really are, a pathetic crippled psychopath.

  8. I am so pleased that someone else thinks this book is as big a bag o’ shite as I do. It’s so badly written and the “evidence” for Sickert being the ripper so thin – I thought maybe I’d missed something clever – obviously not.

    I’m going to write a book proving that the Elehant Man was actually the ripper – I bet I could make it more plausible than Ms.Cornwell’s bucket of pish.

  9. Oh – one other thing – It’s very basic but the dubious first victim was called Martha Tabram not Tabran as Ms.Cornwell calls her – how meticulous is that?

  10. Correct, the victim married a man named Henry Samuel Tabram, not Tabran. But, as Tabran is a common Irish first and last name, Martha is incorrectly referred to as Martha Tabran in the contemporary notes.

    Cornwell should have used the name Tabram.

    Big whoopie, a typo.

    It’s still a case made 100 times better than anyone else’s.

  11. Mina, interesting. But I think your case would be stronger if: 1) You replied to the criticism in the first two links I posted; 2) You didn’t imply that those who disagree with you and Cornwall lack critical thinking skills.

  12. Mina – getting a victims name wrong is hardly a typo – and certainly doesn’t say a lot for the “meticulous” research which Ms.Cornwell is at pains to let us all know about.

  13. I have to say after reading this book I can only take it an interesting theory to add to a list of thousands. I may not have the literary forte that some here do, but I must say from the perspective of an artist the lines she has drawn between Sickert’s art work and it similarity to the killings is weak. She omits works of his that have no connection to the killings; she discounts almost an entire body of completed paintings.

    I enjoyed the book as a good tale, but beyond that I think her investigative work was done with blinders on and no concept of art history in the least.

  14. In her arguments, the author makes extensive use of a rule of inference known to logicians as “Modus Moron”, that is : if p then q, q, hence p.

    There’s also a lot of “Sickert would have done this and that”, which, a few pages later becomes “Sickert did this and that”… and then “It is irrefutable that Sickert did this and that”

    Ha!

  15. Has anyone ever considered another artist? Philip Wilson Steer. He was an associate of Sickert. Born the same year, died the same year. Both corresponded and belonged to the same artist’s club . Both associated with Rothenstein and Whistler.

    I believe that Steer was familiar with Devon in which another murder had been committed.

  16. Dear Forum,
    Have any of you seen the recent information which I have posted on the following website: abovetopsecret.com./forum.Secret Societies under the title Sickert’s Secret-
    Astonishing New Evidence.
    If nothing else it will certainly get you thinking that when all said and done,maybe Cornwell is correct. However,despite her wealth and contacts, she failed to see the truth.
    Not I!
    Jackdaw.

  17. Patricia Cornwell is right i have absolute proof as to her theory the family motto of one the many suspects is “TIME WILL REVEAL ALL” that time is very near for some of you above be prepared to eat your words

  18. I think it is difficult to come by a more comprehensive examination of the evidence than Ms Cornwall gives. I mean, the case is well over 100 years old, and there are a few bits of very compelling data to support her argument.

    I think the critics and naysayers of Cornwall’s arguments have not done a better job of proving their points. The other suspects in the case just cannot be linked to the crime. At least with Sickert we have a small dash of DNA that matches the Ripper letters.

    Those calling the book a “load of tosh” are seriously disrespecting the work Ms Cornwall has done, using the more sophisticated profiling techniques of the modern era. I feel if authorities in London in 1888 had the same techniques the Ripper would have been caught in no time.

    The Ripper is NOT one of our more sophisticated serial killers, after all. His MO was pretty consistent, his hunting ground limited, his choice of victim was limited.

    I agree with Ms Cornwall. Sickert was most likely Jack the Ripper. After reading the research of other “ripperologists” I found they have provided less than half the case that Ms Cornwall has presented, and no other suspect has such compelling evidence.

  19. All you morons who think that Cornwell has put together an airtight case against Sickert – read this:

    http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2843/is_2_27/ai_98252936

  20. Just because Ms. Cornwell spent millions and was embraced by Scotland Yard doesn’t mean that her’s is the definitive answer. She fell prey to every writer’s mistake when reviewing this case. She started with a suspect and made the facts fit her conclusions. Scrofula could be anywhere, but she located it in Sickert’s genitalia to bolster her case when there is NO report saying it was there. That’s just one of her “leaps.”

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