Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper -- Case Closed

Paperback | October 28, 2003

byPatricia Cornwell

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Now updated with new material that brings the killer's picture into clearer focus.

In the fall of 1888, all of London was held in the grip of unspeakable terror.  An elusive madman calling himself Jack the Ripper was brutally butchering women in the slums of London’s East End.  Police seemed powerless to stop the killer, who delighted in taunting them and whose crimes were clearly escalating in violence from victim to victim.  And then the Ripper’s violent spree seemingly ended as abruptly as it had begun.  He had struck out of nowhere and then vanished from the scene.  Decades passed, then fifty years, then a hundred, and the Ripper’s bloody sexual crimes became anemic and impotent fodder for puzzles, mystery weekends, crime conventions, and so-called “Ripper Walks” that end with pints of ale in the pubs of Whitechapel.  But to number-one New York Times bestselling novelist Patricia Cornwell, the Ripper murders are not cute little mysteries to be transformed into parlor games or movies but rather a series of terrible crimes that no one should get away with, even after death.  Now Cornwell applies her trademark skills for meticulous research and scientific expertise to dig deeper into the Ripper case than any detective before her—and reveal the true identity of this fabled Victorian killer.

In Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed, Cornwell combines the rigorous discipline of twenty-first century police investigation with forensic techniques undreamed of during the late Victorian era to solve one of the most infamous and difficult serial murder cases in history.  Drawing on unparalleled access to original Ripper evidence, documents, and records, as well as archival, academic, and law-enforcement resources, FBI profilers, and top forensic scientists, Cornwell reveals that Jack the Ripper was none other than a respected painter of his day, an artist now collected by some of the world’s finest museums: Walter Richard Sickert.

It has been said of Cornwell that no one depicts the human capability for evil better than she.   Adding layer after layer of circumstantial evidence to the physical evidence discovered by modern forensic science and expert minds, Cornwell shows that Sickert, who died peacefully in his bed in 1942, at the age of 81, was not only one of Great Britain’s greatest painters but also a serial killer, a damaged diabolical man driven by megalomania and hate.  She exposes Sickert as the author of the infamous Ripper letters that were written to the Metropolitan Police and the press.  Her detailed analysis of his paintings shows that his art continually depicted his horrific mutilation of his victims, and her examination of this man’s birth defects, the consequent genital surgical interventions, and their effects on his upbringing present a casebook example of how a psychopathic killer is created.

New information and startling revelations detailed in Portrait of a Killer include:

- How a year-long battery of more than 100 DNA tests—on samples drawn by Cornwell’s forensics team in September 2001 from original Ripper letters and Sickert documents—yielded the first shadows of the 75- to 114 year-old genetic evid...

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Now updated with new material that brings the killer's picture into clearer focus.In the fall of 1888, all of London was held in the grip of unspeakable terror.  An elusive madman calling himself Jack the Ripper was brutally butchering women in the slums of London’s East End.  Police seemed powerless to stop the killer, who delighted ...

Patricia Cornwell is an award-winning novelist whose books have consistently appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. Cornwell was born in Florida in 1956. When she was nine years old, her mother tried to give her and her two brothers to evangelist Billy Graham and his wife to care for. For a while the children lived with missio...

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Format:PaperbackPublished:October 28, 2003Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0425192733

ISBN - 13:9780425192733

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Monday, August 6, 1888, was a bank holiday in London. The citywas a carnival of wondrous things to do for as little as penniesif one could spare a few.The bells of Windsor’s Parish Church and St. George’s Chapel rangthroughout the day. Ships were dressed in flags, and royal salutes boomedfrom cannons to celebrate the Duke of Edinburgh’s forty-fourth birthday.The Crystal Palace offered a dazzling spectrum of special programs:organ recitals, military band concerts, a “monster display of fireworks,”a grand fairy ballet, ventriloquists, and “world famous minstrel performances.”Madame Tussaud’s featured a special wax model of FrederickII lying in state and, of course, the ever-popular Chamber of Horrors.Other delicious horrors awaited those who could afford theater ticketsand were in the mood for a morality play or just a good old-fashionedfright. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was playing to sold-out houses. The famousAmerican actor Richard Mansfield was brilliant as Jekyll and Hyde__C H A P T E R O N EM R . N O B O D Yat Henry Irving’s Lyceum, and the Opera Comique had its version, too,although poorly reviewed and in the midst of a scandal because the theaterhad adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel without permission.On this bank holiday there were horse and cattle shows; special“cheap rates” on trains; and the bazaars in Covent Garden overflowingwith Sheffield plates, gold, jewelry, used military uniforms. If one wantedto pretend to be a soldier on this relaxed but rowdy day, he could do sowith little expense and no questions asked. Or one could impersonate acopper by renting an authentic Metropolitan Police uniform from Angel’sTheatrical Costumes in Camden Town, scarcely a two-mile stroll fromwhere the handsome Walter Richard Sickert lived.Twenty-eight-year-old Sickert had given up his obscure acting careerfor the higher calling of art. He was a painter, an etcher, a student ofJames McNeill Whistler, and a disciple of Edgar Degas. Young Sickertwas himself a work of art: slender, with a strong upper body from swimming,a perfectly angled nose and jaw, thick wavy blond hair, and blueeyes that were as inscrutable and penetrating as his secret thoughts andpiercing mind. One might almost have called him pretty, except for hismouth, which could narrow into a hard, cruel line. His precise height isunknown, but a friend of his described him as a little above average. Photographsand several items of clothing donated to the Tate GalleryArchive in the 1980s suggest he was probably five foot eight or nine.Sickert was fluent in German, English, French, and Italian. He knewLatin well enough to teach it to friends, and he was well acquainted withDanish and Greek and possibly knew a smattering of Spanish and Portuguese.He was said to read the classics in their original languages, buthe didn’t always finish a book once he started it. It wasn’t uncommon tofind dozens of novels strewn about, opened to the last page that hadsnagged his interest. Mostly, Sickert was addicted to newspapers,tabloids, and journals.Until his death in 1942, his studios and studies looked like a recyclingcenter for just about every bit of newsprint to roll off the EuropeanP A T R I C I A C O R N W E L L[ 2 ]presses. One might ask how any hard-working person could find time togo through four, five, six, ten newspapers a day, but Sickert had amethod. He didn’t bother with what didn’t interest him, whether it waspolitics, economics, world affairs, wars, or people. Nothing mattered toSickert unless it somehow affected Sickert.He usually preferred to read about the latest entertainment to cometo town, to scrutinize art critiques, to turn quickly to any story aboutcrime, and to search for his own name if there was any reason it mightbe in print on a given day. He was fond of letters to the editor, especiallyones he wrote and signed with a pseudonym. Sickert relished knowingwhat other people were doing, especially in the privacy of their own notalways-so-tidy Victorian lives. “Write, write, write!” he would beg hisfriends. “Tell me in detail all sorts of things, things that have amused youand how and when and where, and all sorts of gossip about every one.”Sickert despised the upper class, but he was a star stalker. He somehowmanaged to hobnob with the major celebrities of the day: Henry Irvingand Ellen Terry, Aubrey Beardsley, Henry James, Max Beerbohm,Oscar Wilde, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Rodin, André Gide, Édouard Dujardin,Proust, Members of Parliament. But he did not necessarily knowmany of them, and no one—famous or otherwise—ever really knew him.Not even his first wife, Ellen, who would turn forty in less than twoweeks. Sickert may not have given much thought to his wife’s birthdayon this bank holiday, but it was extremely unlikely he had forgotten it.He was much admired for his amazing memory. Throughout his lifehe would amuse dinner guests by performing long passages of musicalsand plays, dressed for the parts, his recitations flawless. Sickert wouldnot have forgotten that Ellen’s birthday was August 18th and a very easyoccasion to ruin. Maybe he would “forget.” Maybe he would vanish intoone of his secret rented hovels that he called studios. Maybe he wouldtake Ellen to a romantic café in Soho and leave her alone at the tablewhile he dashed off to a music hall and then stayed out the rest of thenight. Ellen loved Sickert all her sad life, despite his cold heart, his patho-P O R T R A I T O F A K I L L E R[ 3 ]logical lying, his self-centeredness, and his habit of disappearing fordays—even weeks—without warning or explanation.Walter Sickert was an actor by nature more than by virtue of employment.He lived on the center stage of his secret, fantasy-driven lifeand was just as comfortable moving about unnoticed in the deep shadowsof isolated streets as he was in the midst of throbbing crowds. Hehad a great range of voice and was a master of greasepaint and wardrobe.So gifted at disguise was he that as a boy he often went about unrecognizedby his neighbors and family.Throughout his long and celebrated life, he was notorious for constantlychanging his appearance with a variety of beards and mustaches,for his bizarre dress that in some cases constituted costumes, for his hairstyles—including shaving his head. He was, wrote French artist andfriend Jacques-Emile Blanche, a “Proteus.” Sickert’s “genius for camouflagein dress, in the fashion of wearing his hair, and in his manner ofspeaking rival Fregoli’s,” Blanche recalled. In a portrait Wilson Steerpainted of Sickert in 1890, Sickert sports a phony-looking mustache thatresembles a squirrel’s tail pasted above his mouth.He also had a penchant for changing his name. His acting career,paintings, etchings, drawings, and prolific letters to colleagues, friends,and newspapers reveal many personas: Mr. Nemo (Latin for “Mr. Nobody”),An Enthusiast, A Whistlerite, Your Art Critic, An Outsider, WalterSickert, Sickert, Walter R. Sickert, Richard Sickert, W. R. Sickert,W.S., R.S., S., Dick, W. St., Rd. Sickert LL.D., R.St. A.R.A., and RDStA.R.A.Sickert did not write his memoirs, keep a diary or calendar, or datemost of his letters or works of art, so it is difficult to know where he wasor what he was doing on or during any given day, week, month, or evenyear. I could find no record of his whereabouts or activities on August 6,1888, but there is no reason to suspect he was not in London. Based onnotes he scribbled on music-hall sketches, he was in London just two daysearlier, on August 4th.P A T R I C I A C O R N W E L L[ 4 ]Whistler would be getting married in London five days later, on August11th. Although Sickert hadn’t been invited to the small, intimatewedding, he wasn’t the sort to miss it—even if he had to spy on it.The great painter James McNeill Whistler had fallen deeply in lovewith the “remarkably pretty” Beatrice Godwin, who was to occupy themost prominent position in his life and entirely change the course of it.Likewise, Whistler occupied one of the most prominent positions in Sickert’slife and had entirely changed the course of it. “Nice boy, Walter,”Whistler used to say in the early 1880s when he was still fond of the aspiringand extraordinarily gifted young man. By the time of Whistler’sengagement their friendship had cooled, but Sickert could not have beenprepared for what must have seemed a shockingly unexpected and completeabandonment by the Master he idolized, envied, and hated.Whistler and his new bride planned to honeymoon and travel the rest ofthe year in France, where they hoped to reside permanently.The anticipated connubial bliss of the flamboyant artistic genius andegocentric James McNeill Whistler must have been disconcerting to hisformer errand boy–apprentice. One of Sickert’s many roles was the irresistiblewomanizer, but offstage he was nothing of the sort. Sickert wasdependent on women and loathed them. They were intellectually inferiorand useless except as caretakers or objects to manipulate, especially forart or money. Women were a dangerous reminder of an infuriating andhumiliating secret that Sickert carried not only to the grave but beyondit, because cremated bodies reveal no tales of the flesh, even if they areexhumed. Sickert was born with a deformity of his penis requiring surgerieswhen he was a toddler that would have left him disfigured if notmutilated. He probably was incapable of an erection. He may not havehad enough of a penis left for penetration, and it is quite possible he hadto squat like a woman to urinate.“My theory of the crimes is that the criminal has been badly disfigured,”says an October 4, 1888, letter filed with the Whitechapel Murderspapers at the Corporation of London Records Office, “—possiblyP O R T R A I T O F A K I L L E R[ 5 ]had his privy member destroyed—& he is now revenging himself on thesex by these atrocities.” The letter is written in purple pencil and enigmaticallysigned “Scotus,” which could be the Latin for Scotsman.“Scotch” can mean a shallow incision or to cut. Scotus could also be astrange and erudite reference to Johannes Scotus Eriugena, a ninthcenturytheologian and teacher of grammar and dialectics.For Walter Sickert to imagine Whistler in love and enjoying a sexualrelationship with a woman might well have been the catalyst that madeSickert one of the most dangerous and confounding killers of all time.He began to act out what he had scripted most of his life, not only inthought but in boyhood sketches that depicted women being abducted,tied up, and stabbed.The psychology of a violent, remorseless murderer is not defined byconnecting dots. There are no facile explanations or infallible sequencesof cause and effect. But the compass of human nature can point a certainway, and Sickert’s feelings could only have been inflamed byWhistler’s marrying the widow of architect and archaeologist EdwardGodwin, the man who had lived with actress Ellen Terry and fatheredher children.The sensuously beautiful Ellen Terry was one of the most famous actressesof the Victorian era, and Sickert was fixated on her. As a teenager,he had stalked her and her acting partner, Henry Irving. Now Whistlerhad links to not one but both objects of Sickert’s obsessions, and thesethree stars in Sickert’s universe formed a constellation that did not includehim. The stars cared nothing about him. He was truly Mr. Nemo.But in the late summer of 1888 he gave himself a new stage name thatduring his life would never be linked to him, a name that soon enoughwould be far better known than those of Whistler, Irving, and Terry.The actualization of Jack the Ripper’s violent fantasies began on thecarefree bank holiday of August 6, 1888, when he slipped out of thewings to make his debut in a series of ghastly performances that were destinedto become the most celebrated so-called murder mystery in history.P A T R I C I A C O R N W E L L[ 6 ]It is widely and incorrectly believed that his violent spree ended asabruptly as it began, that he struck out of nowhere and then vanishedfrom the scene.Decades passed, then fifty years, then a hundred, and his bloody sexualcrimes have become anemic and impotent. They are puzzles, mysteryweekends, games, and “Ripper Walks” that end with pints in the TenBells pub. Saucy Jack, as the Ripper sometimes called himself, has starredin moody movies featuring famous actors and special effects and spatesof what the Ripper said he craved: blood, blood, blood. His butcheriesno longer inspire fright, rage, or even pity as his victims moulder quietly,some of them in unmarked graves.P O R T R A I T O F A K I L L E R[ 7 ]

Table of Contents

Chapter One: MR. NOBODY 1

Chapter Two: THE TOUR 8

Chapter Three: THE UNFORTUNATES 16


Chapter Five: A GLORIOUS BOY 41




Chapter Nine: THE DARK LANTERN 98


Chapter Eleven: SUMMER NIGHT 120


Chapter Thirteen: HUE AND CRY 141


Chapter Fourteen: CROCHET WORK AND FLOWERS 154

Chapter Fifteen: A PAINTED LETTER 175

Chapter Sixteen: STYGIAN BLACKNESS 193

Chapter Seventeen: THE STREETS UNTIL DAWN 205

Chapter Eighteen: A SHINY BLACK BAG 219

Chapter Nineteen: THESE CHARACTERS ABOUT 229

Chapter Twenty: BEYOND IDENTITY 241

Chapter Twenty-One: A GREAT JOKE 253


Chapter Twenty-Three: THE GUEST BOOK 277

Chapter Twenty-Four: IN A HORSE-BIN 289

Chapter Twenty-Five: THREE KEYS 300

Chapter Twenty-Six: THE DAUGHTERS OF COBDEN 316

Chapter Twenty-Seven: THE DARKEST NIGHT IN THE DAY 331

Chapter Twenty-Eight: FURTHER FROM THE GRAVE 352



Editorial Reviews

"A PRODIGIOUS PIECE OF WORK... a fine true-crime thriller."