JACK THE RIPPER: Art, mirror images, fascination and mania
In 1883, Sickert met Degas in Paris and was then deeply impressed by him and his art. Like Degas, Sickert depicts entertainment venues and portrays prostitutes, and like the virtuoso Frenchman, Sickert used unexpected angles, bold cuts, and paid attention to subtle light shifts and reflections.
However, if Degas in his painting seems to find himself in the middle of life, Sickert, who quite often was overtaken by depressions, seem to express a feeling of exclusion, paired with a negative view of humanity. Sickert used to state that he regarded humanity as divided between "caretakers and patients".
In addition, Cornwell ignores several characteristics of Sickert's art. She states, for example, that “this artist never painted anything he had not seen”, when he actually used to paint with the help of photographs, postcards and newspaper clippings. Well aware of the fact that public interest was aroused by scandals and crime, Sickert often used ostentatious titles for his painting, alluding to gruesome crimes and sensational news.
When I several years ago read Cornwell's book about Jack the Ripper, I found it to be quiet good, especially her depictions of the misery in the East End and the unrestrained violence against and contempt for the prostitutes of that time.
However, I found that she went too far in her apparently meticulous analysis of Walter Sickert’s assumed character, misled as she was by preconceived notions. Her mistakes are manifold, not least her superficially easy-going analysis of Sickert's peculiar art, which actually is far from being the reflection of a mass murderer’s delusions and/or bad conscience. Likewise, the results of the surveys conducted by generously paid graphologists and DNA experts are not particularly convincing. First, it is uncertain whether any of the carefully researched Ripper Letters, which are filed with Scotland Yard, were actually written by the serial killer. Secondly, Cornwell’s conclusions that the traces of human DNA on two postage stamps correspond to the DNA on stamps found among Sickert’s preserved correspondence. The mitochondrial DNA present on the stamps can be found among one to ten percent of England’s population, i.e. at least tens of thousands of individuals. The same goes for the paper on which several of the Ripper letters were written, although being identical to the one Sickert used this specific stationary was the one most commonly used in England at the time when the letters were written.
Despite this and several other spurious observations, Cornwell stubbornly continues to insist that she is one hundred percent sure that Walter Sickert was identical with the elusive Jack the Ripper, declaring that:
Because if somebody literally proves me wrong not only will I feel horrible about it, but I will look terrible and I will lose my good reputation. […] If it turns out that something indisputably proved that this notorious killer was someone other than Walter Richard Sickert, I would be the first to offer congratulations and retract my accusations.
Unsolved murders often lead to complicated conspiracy theories and if they appear to be politically motivated, those looking for a solution can easily get lost in a labyrinth where unrelated, but sometimes not entirely improbable facts interfere with the investigations, until a quite preposterous pattern emerges.
Just think of the thicket that grew up around the Kennedy – and the Swedish Palme murders, where Occam’s razor rarely has been used: “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity,” or “the simplest explanation is usually the best one.” Even if 36 years has passed since the Swedish Prime Minister was shot down in open street and the murderer has not yet been convincingly identified, speculations and crack-pot ideas remain endemic.
Personally, I believe in the theory that it was the US citizen Francis Tumbelty who was identical with Jack the Ripper. He was a famous quack with a lugubrious collection of female body parts in his New York home. Tumbelty had traveled extensively throughout the United States and Canada and also visited England. As a shameless and big-lying self-promoter he sold worthless herbal medicines and even performed surgery. Tumbelty became known for reckless dithyrambs against women, especially prostitutes, whom he hated after his failed marriage to a woman who eventually turned out to be a prostitute.
In 1996, former Detective Commissioners Stewart Evans and Paul Gainey published Jack the Ripper: First American Serial Killer, in which they presented evidence that Tumbelty had resided in a Whitechapel guest house during the short period that Jack the Ripper ravaged the East End. He was arrested on suspicion of “gross indecency”, which at the time was the term for “illegal homosexual activity”. Scotland Yard had Tumblety on its list of suspected Jack the Rippers and when he was released on a bail of £ 300, the quack did under false name escape to France, from where he four days later boarded a ship destined for the US. Scotland Yard immediately requested that Tomblety be extradited, but US authorities refused on the grounds that there was no evidence of Tomblety' s involvement in the Whitechapel murders and the crime for which he had been detained in London was not grounds for extradition from the United States. The American authorities completely ignored the fact that Jack the Ripper’s bloody progress ceased completely when Tumblety left London.
Most experts critique of Patricia Cornwell's bestseller Portrait of a Murderer was quite ruthless. An example is Caleb Carr’s review in The New York Times:
Patrica Cornwell also had a difficult childhood. In an interview, she claimed that her interest in brutal murders and forensic techniques was based on childhood experiences:“It’s because I grew up with terrible fear. I grew up in such a frightening manner."