Author Patricia Cornwell has spent millions of dollars to try and discover the identity of the Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper. Above is a cartoon from Punch magazine back in the 1880s – from my archive of old publications – that mocks the efforts of the authorities to apprehend this vicious killer. The Ripper eviscerated his victims who were mainly prostitutes on the streets of London.
Patricia is pointing the finger at the impressionist painter Walter Sickert. In her new book Ripper, she leaves the reader in no doubt that the case is now closed. But it needs to be said that this is not the first book I’ve read on the Ripper that claims to have the definitive and final answer to this perplexing case.
So, what is her evidence against Sickert – and who was he anyway?
Sickert was a painter in late Victorian London who liked to capture the lives of those at the bottom of society. He pursued similar themes to the French painter Degas and was not averse to depicting ladies of easy virtue without their clothes on. Patricia has bought about 32 of his paintings and claims there are clues in his works that point to him being the serial killer. Alan Moore also featured Sickert in his Ripper related work of comic book fiction From Hell.
Patricia has been pursuing this line of argument for at least fifteen years now – and annoyed a lot of Sickert fans along the way. One of her theories is that a defect in his penis and inability to sire children with various women led him to become a killer. She also believes that the usual list of Jack the Ripper’s victims is too short and Sickert killed more women.
There have been no shortage of candidates for the true identity of Jack the Ripper:
- Duke of Clarence – this theory runs that he secretly married a Catholic shop assistant
who had a love child. Queen Victoria, the prime minister, the Freemasons and the police then conspired together to murder anybody who had known about this affair
- Thomas Barnardo, founder of the Doctor Barnardo homes – religious zealot who decided to clear the streets of fallen women? This view was advanced in a book by author Donald McCormick
- Or how about the theory that Jack was in fact Jill the Ripper – a female whore slayer? That idea even circulated at the time of the killings
If you’ve read Ripper, please share your views here or any other views – I’m all ears!