Is this man Jack the Ripper?
December 7, 2001 4:18 AM   Subscribe

Is this man Jack the Ripper? [via] On the same day that forensic doubts about Albert DeSalvo's role as the Boston Strangler threaten to reopen that question, we had an episode of "Primetime Thursday", where crime writer Patricia Cornwell (who spent 4 million dollars in the effort) tells Diane Sawyer she has closed the book on indentifying Jack the Ripper. Although her guess is among the usual gang of suspects, she claimed to have indisputable and decisive new evidence.
posted by RavinDave (11 comments total)
It's curious. There have certainly been more ruthless murderers. Why do ones like "The Boston Strangler" and "Jack the Ripper" stay in our thoughts and work their way into our folklore?

I don't find Patricia Cornwell particularly persuasive (her strongest piece of concrete evidence appears to be that her suspect, Walter Richard Sickert: 1860 - 1942 (artist friend of Whistler and Degas) used the same stationary that the Ripper used on one occassion), nor was her conclusion original (Jean Overton Fuller fingered him in "Sickert and the Ripper Crimes", Mandrake, 1990), but I was intrigued by the speculation. Particularly since Hollywood recently offered a different scenario with Sickert still prominent (though "From Hell" opted for a Freemason conspiracy angle. Curious about the current state of things, I went hunting for links and found some interesting stuff.

No one can doubt that Sickert, a post-impressionist painter, did seem to have artistic tastes that sometimes leaned to the macabre and he was roundly condemned for being pornographic at one time. He is said to have painted sometimes from crime illustrations. His painting "La Hollandaise" (The Dutch Girl) is said to contain the face of Ripper victim Mary Kelly (or a death's head, or both). Sickert's "Camden Town Murder" series was said to show the mutilated corpse of Mary Kelly. (Warning: THIS link is a graphic Scotland Yard photo of the actual body. And there's a curious drawing called: "He Killed His Father in a Fight" that seems to demonstrate that maybe Walt had a few issues. Of course, Degas also frequently used women of low repute for his models and loved to render them in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions that some have claimed exposed a bit of a misogynistic streak. On the other hand, Degas didn't appear to know most of the principle characters of the Ripper saga -- Sickert did. (There is another school of thought that said Sickert had knowledge of royal involvement in the killings). The paintings aren't meant to be the only evidence (or even good evidence) -- I can't lay out all the various theories in a few deft lines. I just thought some of you who caught the show might want to follow up a big.

(If interested you can also submit questions to an ABC chat with Cornwell, scheduled for noon Friday, ET).
posted by RavinDave at 4:21 AM on December 7, 2001

It is odd that so many people (Cornwall being the latest) are drawn to the Ripper Case.

I recall reading about it when Philip Jose Farmer had a character investigate and he came up with another suspect, one that seems to be back in vogue.

What I find to be odder is that I am one of those people drawn to the case too.
posted by Dagobert at 6:30 AM on December 7, 2001

"Cornwell noted that the painting features a wooden bedstead, just as in the Kelly murder." Truly chilling evidence.

Now, if you were to find the killer after 113 years, wouldn't it HAVE to be someone famous, or at least in the public eye? It would be a lot harder to link the murders to an average joe , unless that average joe was a suspect at the time, and evidence was collected then.
posted by Doug at 6:54 AM on December 7, 2001

Hhehhe -- Also: The Ripper was right-handed. So was Sickert. Click here [X] for spooky music.

Still, the Jack the Ripper Casebook site is worth a glance.
posted by RavinDave at 7:30 AM on December 7, 2001

I've always been partial to the James Maybrick school of whodunnit, myself.

Shirley Harrison's two books are quite interesting. Yes, certainly, its possible that the diary that is the core of Ms. Harrison's book is a hoax. But I'd need to see some better evidence than this before I'd choose to side against the evidence presented in the books.
posted by anastasiav at 8:53 AM on December 7, 2001

Exercising my psychic powers, I'm predicting that Cornwell's book will, for the first time ever, reveal: a new definition of "indisputable and decisive."
posted by sacre_bleu at 9:10 AM on December 7, 2001

The original From Hell graphic novel provided a much more comprehensive explanation than did the movie. As per usual. Of course, Alan Moore admits he took his theory pretty much part-and-parcel from a book by Stephen Knight.

Anyway, call me a sentimentalist, but Sir William Withey Gull will always be Jack the Ripper to me. "Come along, Notley."

Although admittedly, after watching In Search of Jack the Ripper ("with Leonard Nimoy kickin' out the jams"), I was fairly certain that Saucy Jack was the Duke of Clarence. Perhaps I am merely taken in too easily by any theory which comes my way.

And what is the significance of the Vincent Van Gogh connection? Hmmm?
posted by Hildago at 10:40 AM on December 7, 2001

her novels

People, she's a fiction writer making claims that no one can prove or disprove one way or another. "I'll look bad if someone can prove me wrong...?" I hope she was smirking when she said that, I would have been. No one will ever solve the Ripper murders definitively, because their isn't enough concrete evidence and the case is over a century cold. Even if the Duke of Clarence's diary was found that said "I am Jack the Ripper!" on every page in whore's blood, there'd still be someone arguing the point for some other English fop with boner trouble.

But her publicist? A genius.
posted by UncleFes at 12:18 PM on December 7, 2001

Cornwell will impress me when she reveals the identity of the Zodiac Killer. Until then, she's another publicity hungry book seller.
posted by Mack Twain at 10:06 PM on December 7, 2001

In depth article from The Guardian which carefully looks at both sides of the issue...without destroying any more canvases...
posted by feelinglistless at 4:01 PM on December 8, 2001

feelinglistless: Thanx for the link! I was curious to read a UK source on this. If it comes out that Cornwell did actually destroy a painting in pursuit of this wild goose (as mentioned in the article), this is very distressing news.

It almost seems like she jumped into this and panicked when her 4 million dollar investment yielded no significant evidence. That she is trying to make a watermark, a few macabre paintings and a subjective crime profile serve as "decisive" evidence reeks of desparation. (To be fair, the TV version of her theory was, by necessity, abbreviated -- I'll be curious to see her ideas fully laid out in her upcoming book, though it appears that many of her initial ideas have already been crushed by commentaries I've read).

By the way, discussion of Cornwell is heating up at the Jack the Ripper Casebook site and well worth a look.
posted by RavinDave at 12:10 AM on December 9, 2001

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