Has Patricia Cornwell solved the Jack the Ripper case?

I’ve just finished reading Patricia Cornwell’s book, Portait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed, in which she claims that Jack the Ripper was a famous artist named Walter Sickert. She points to themes of his paintings, many of which were violent or suggestive of the Ripper murders, as well as drawings and doodles on Ripper letters to the police which she claims match Sickert’s style.

Her strongest two pieces of evidence, though, are a watermark on a Ripper letter which matches Sickert’s own stationery, and some mitochondrial DNA retrieved from a stamp on a Ripper letter which matches surviving DNA samples of Sickert himself. Cornwell presents more circumstantial eveidence both in Sickert’s art and in Sickert’s personality profile, but I’m trying to be as brief as possible.

My question is this: I don’t know much about contemporary Ripperology. How has Cornwell’s theory been received by Rippperologists? Is she being taken seriously? (she does have an extensive background in forensic pathology) Have there been any serious rebuttals? Has she proven that Sickert was Jack the Ripper? (personal opinions are welcome)

Her Theory isn’t new. Sickert has been mentioned as a possible suspect many times in the past.

Her theory isn’t being considered “ground breaking” or “case solved” by most of the community. There have been several serious rebuttals of her work. Scathing ones, at that.

I can’t provide the links at present but they’re on the net and a little searching will find them. If I have time later I’ll post them.

There was limited discussion in this thread. (and a little here.)

Here is one of the links provided in the first thread, discussing Cornwell’s claims.

She’s not being taken seriously over here. A documentary on her investigation was shown a month or so ago. I watched that, and it proved nothing. There were many, many “Ripper Letters” the one’s she claimed a match on are not the ones normally reproduced and assumed to be genuine. As for the sketches on the letters - one stick man looks pretty much like another. Even if Sickert did write some of the letters, it does not make him the killer.

There was another much stronger suspect named in a previous documentary. unfortunately the name escapes me. He was a North American quack (not Neil Cream) who performed abortions, kept specimens and had a history of violence against women.

She sounds a bit nutty to me (if this article is anything to go by)

Francis Twombelty. (Various spellings of that last name.)

I saw that show as well and couldn’t believe that she felt that what she presented was even remotely adequate evidence for her degree of certainty.

[li]Themes in a series of paintings are not proof of anything. After all, artistic interpertation is utterly subjective–the viewer sees wht he/she wishes to see in the painting.[/li][li]Unless she has some serious chops as an art critic, her opinion on the style on a doodle means diddly. After all, art is taught in schools, which many people attend, & common stylistic influences exist. Remember, in Victorian times, acceptable stylistic choices were fairly narrow in art. Society did not support or greatly sanction experimental artistic styles, so it’s no great suprise that many paintings & illustrations from different artists resemble each other closely.[/li][li]Hi Opal! Watch out for the Ripper.[/li][li]I’d just love to see a watermark that was clear & sharp after 100 years. Why didn’t the cops of the era see this watermark? Watermarks & paper companies are traceable. Why wasn’t it traced 100 years ago?[/li][li]What is the provenence of her DNA samples?[/li][li]Are any of the “Ripper Letters” actually from the Ripper? Many have suggested they are a newspaperman’s hoax to sell papers.[/li][/list=1]

Thanks for the info, everyone. I suspected that she had made a circumstantial case for Sickert sending some Ripper letters but I thought she was a ways away from showing he was the killer. He may have been a hoaxer though. He had a weird sense of humor.

The watermark WASN’T that clear. it took some special technology to find it. The police at the time of the murders may have noticed the watermark, but it wouldn’t have meant anything without a match. Forensic science didn’t really exist then anyway. the police didn’t even use fingerprints yet.

Cornwell commissioned the DNA test herself. She actually tested hundreds of Ripper letters, along with letters, clothing and other personal belongings from Sickert. Cornwell reportedly spent six million dollars of her own money investigating her theory.

One of Sickert’s paintings was titled something along the lines of “A View from Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom”, which p’raps doesn’t help in viewing the work objectively.

I think she did show the pictures to some ‘proper’ art historians - from what I recall they mumbled a general acknowledgement that there were similarities, but I don’t think any of them stuck their necks out and said they were deffo the same.

i didn’t know that there were hundreds of ripper letters.

It’s not like the killings were a secret. Hearing about the murders in the news could have informed Sickert’s painting (as I’m sure it did many of his contemporaries, for that matter). it’s a huge leap to say that Sickert must have been the Ripper just because his paintings had Ripperesque themes.

Having read From Hell I have to ask, what do most Ripperologists think of Alan Moore’s Sir William Gull/conspiracy-to-protect-the-Prince theory?

To OP- No she hasn’t

Hundreds of letters attributed to the Ripper. But since there are dozens of different peoples’ handwriting involved, and most of these letters have many details in error, we can dismiss the overwhelming majority as fake, written by jerks, goofs, & bitter cranks. Walter Sickert could quite possibly been one of these cranks. After all, given the infamy of the killer, many people have been obsessed with the killings, but only one could have committed them.

Statisticaly, it is more likely that Sickert was obsessed by the Ripper, than it is that he was the Ripper.

I’m not a Ripperologist, but Moore is obviously taking the piss on some level by constructing the theory that consumes most of the others.

The interesting connection with Cornwell is that they’re drawing from the same, possibly poisoned, well. As Moore details rather entertainingly in the appendices to From Hell, the main source for the both the Sickert and royal connections is one “Joseph Sickert”, who claims/claimed (frankly, I’ve lost track) to be the illegitimate son of Walter. Inter alia he has also claims to be of royal descent himself. However, to judge from her intemperate interview on Radio Four’s Today programme recently, Cornwell is utterly dismissive of “Joseph Sickert” and his stories. Nor, as far as I can tell, does she refer to any of this stuff in her book. Fair enough - virtually everybody regards “Joseph Sickert” as a lunatic.

The problem then is, however, why regard Walter Sickart as a particular suspect at all? Well, mainly because of “Joseph Sickert.” Whom she disregards. Otherwise, it’s because he was interested in murders, as is moderately evident in the paintings, though these are nowhere near as unknown as Cornwell suggests. (There’s also the issue that he’s claimed to be the source of the story that eventually became Hitchcock’s The Lodger, but I’ve never seen any good proof of this.) So then Cornwell claims to have evidence that Sickert wrote a few of the letters to the police. And what would that show? That he had some sort of (no doubt unhealthy) interest in the murders. But we already knew that.

Proving a link between any of the other suspects and the letters would be the greatest breakthrough in the case. With Sickart it’d be interesting, but very nearly circular.

I haven’t seen it posted here yet, but this is a swifty link that is a nice repository of Ripper info (and opinions).

FWIW, my money is on Kosminski. The others seem to have a ‘romance’ factor attached to them. I.e. that dashing artist is at night a villain, etc. Kosminski just seems to fit the disorganized serial killer.

Thanks for the link, Mr. Miskatonic.
Hmmmm…Tumblety and his uterus collection looks intriguing to me, but my real guess is that was just some nobody that’s never been on the radar and probably never will be.

Unsolved mysteries are so damned frustrating.

If you read the massive appendix to From Hell, which I found far more interesting than the graphic novel itself, you’ll quickly realize that virtually all of Moore’s theories eventually go back to one book (whose name I just can’t think of this minute). But other ripperologists just dismiss that book out of hand because of what they call the huge number of impossibilities as well as mere implausibilities in it. I think, as bonzer implied, that Moore was trying to get every conspiracy theory to hang together in one, but he had to make up a million “facts” to get this to work. Sickert plays a huge role in the book, BTW.

I don’t buy the “From Hell” theory for a second. It just SOUNDS like conspiracy theory bullshit.

This website–
–has articles on the Ripper & everybody else who graduated Ghoul School with dis-honors. Give it a look.