Since 1888, so-called Ripperologists and the wider true crime loving public have been trying to discover the identity of Jack the Ripper – the killer who murdered several women that year in London’s east end. Suspects have included royalty, Freemasons, psychopaths, and Americans. But one of the more intriguing candidates has been the painter Walter Sickert (1860-1942).
The 1907 Camden Town Murder
In 1907, the Camden Town Murder was something of a national obsession. A girl, Emily Dimmock, was killed as she slept in her bedroom on St Paul’s Road in the north London district of Camden. An artist, Robert Wood, was put on trial for the murder and acquitted. One witness who knew Emily, wondered why the police hadn’t apprehended a man known as “Scottie” who lived with her, “threatened her, thrashed her, and obtained money from her”.
Wood was often seen with Emily in the Rising Sun pub. He conducted himself with so much dignity in court – on trial for his life as the punishment was hanging – that crowds gathered outside demonstrating in support of him. He was found not guilty.
Emily was often described as being a “prostitute”. Quite rightly, this assumption that all women living on a low income a century ago must have been on the game has been challenged in recent years. She was a young girl living precariously and Scottie may have been using her looks to make easy money. But we don’t know for absolute certain.
Walter Sickert and The Camden Town Murder
The following year, 1908. the famous, post-Impressionist artist Walter Sickert produced four paintings with the group title: The Camden Town Murder. He lived in the area himself and was clearly affected by the crime. But was art imitating true life a little too closely?
The paintings portrayed a woman lying on a bed, though not always dead. Sickert’s interest in the Dimmock murder, and the Jack the Ripper slayings, have led some to conjecture that he was actually Jack the Ripper. Sickert is implicated as the Ripper in Patricia Cornwell’s 2003 blockbuster Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed. Of course many critics and Sickert fans counter that just because an artist portrays a dreadful crime, doesn’t mean he or she is the perpetrator.
In 2017, Cornwell returned to her argument with another book, Ripper – The Secret Life of Walter Sickert. By her own admission, there’s little evidence for Sickert’s whereabouts at the time of the Ripper killings with some claiming he was in France. Cornwell’s case rests on the belief that if Sickert was alive today, he would be diagnosed as a narcissist and psychopath and that as a child he had corrective surgery on his penis, which traumatised him for life. The main difference with the 2017 book compared to the 2003 offering was the reference to DNA.
FIND OUT MORE: What did Victorians think of Jack the Ripper?
Sickert implicated in the 1970s – though not as Jack the Ripper
The 1970s was a golden era for conspiracy theories. And the Sickert/Ripper connection got an airing in 1976 courtesy of the book, Jack the Ripper – The Final Solution by Stephen Knight (1951-1985). Knight grew up and went to school very close to where I lived as a child and teenager. Sadly he died of a brain tumour aged just 33.
His book was a post-Watergate Jack the Ripper theory! Because in this story, Sickert is a kind of Deep Throat who is involved in an establishment plot to cover up the secret marriage between Prince Albert Victor (1864-1892), son of the future King Edward VII and grandson of Queen Victoria, and a working-class girl, Annie Elizabeth Crook. She was one of Sickert’s models and Sickert’s studio was on Cleveland Street.
The murders of the women in the Whitechapel district of London are a smokescreen to confuse the public. Seems a little excessive to my mind but there you go! In addition, Clarence is involved with a homosexual brothel in central London. He truly had a voracious and varied sexual appetite. The brothel did exist and knowledge of it went public in 1889 causing a massive scandal and resulting in top people being revealed as homosexual – including an equerry to the Prince of Wales.
Note that Sickert’s studio is on the same street as the brothel. The man wielding the knife to eviscerate the Ripper victims is the Queen’s physician, Sir William Gull. And lots of top people are involved in the cover-up from the Freemasons to the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury. For the record, Salisbury was undoubtedly involved in covering up the homosexual brothel scandal but Jack the Ripper…well, the jury is out.
Infuriatingly, there is a reference in Knight’s book to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic forgery written by Russia’s Tsarist secret police in the early 20th century and used to stoke hatred against Jewish people. This is used to support the Masonic theory. It’s also unfortunate that Knight’s book is called the “final solution”. Seriously, did his publisher not think about this just thirty years after the defeat of the Nazis?
If the plot of Knight’s book seems a bit familiar…well, his story formed the basis for the graphic novel, From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, which in turn was a heavy influence on the 2001 movie of the same name with Johnny Depp. Sickert features in the Moore novel rescuing the love child of Annie and the Duke of Clarence.
Jean Overton Fuller and the Walter Sickert as Ripper theory
The first author to definitively point an accusing finger at Walter Sickert as being Jack the Ripper was Jean Overton Fuller (1915-2009) whose 1990 book was published with the enormous title: Sickert and the Ripper crimes: An investigation into the relationship between the Whitechapel murders of 1888 and the English tonal painter Walter Richard Sickert. Not exactly catchy!
Fuller was a fascinating figure. A friend of Noor Inayat Khan, the British spy who helped the French Resistance in World War Two but was tragically executed by the Nazis at Dachau concentration camp. Fuller investigated her friend’s death and this gave her a passion for looking into mysteries of the past. She was also an occultist, joining the Theosophical Society, leading the Astrological Lodge of London and writing a biography of the Russian mystic Madame Blavatsky. Fuller also hung out with friends of the notorious Aleister Crowley.
Her mother, Violet, was an artist and contemporary of Sickert. From this connection, Jean developed her theory on him being the Ripper. A riff then taken up by Cornwell a decade later.