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Has the Jack the Ripper mystery finally been solved?

Mirror logo Mirror 10/03/2017 Tom Bryant
Credits: Hulton Archive © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Hulton Archive

After an investigation that has cost her millions, author Patricia Cornwell believes she has settled the Jack the Ripper mystery once and for all.

And she is certain the finger of blame points squarely at Walter Sickert, a renowned British Impressionist painter.

Patricia, 60, says: “You can’t raise the Titanic for free. I spent about $7million [£5.7million] overall in my investigation, including employing some of the best and brightest experts in the world.

“A lot of people couldn’t have done what I have because they wouldn’t have the money. I am trying to do the right thing. If someone proves me wrong, bring it.”

She first came up with the theory about Sickert 15 years ago and stated her case in her 2002 book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed.

Credits: Patricia Cornwell © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Patricia Cornwell

It caused indignation in the art world and she says former Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve even warned her she would be “hated for doing it”.

She says: “That was quite sobering and I didn’t handle it well. I was very defensive. I felt ambushed.

“I am a relentless person. Most people who know me will unfortunately say that. I wear people out pretty quickly. But I was determined to prove my case and I believe I’ve done it.”

And she says the proof is in her new book Ripper : The Secret Life of Walter Sickert. 

Sickert was born in Germany, but settled in England with his family at the age of six. He married three times and died in Bath in 1942, at the age of 81.

Patricia believes the artist, who once painted Winston Churchill’s portrait, is the only credible suspect for the murders of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly – and maybe up to 15 more victims – in the late 1880s.

Here, Patricia reveals her case file of evidence which she believes finally nails the true identity of the Ripper.

Chilling paintings

Sickert’s painting Putana a Casa shows a prostitute with bizarre black brush strokes on her face, which are eerily similar to the savage cuts on the postmortem picture of Catherine Eddowes’ face.

Sickert’s 1906 painting Le Journal shows a woman wearing a tight necklace, with her heard thrown back and mouth open.

Credits: Patricia Cornwell © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Patricia Cornwell

Credits: Patricia Cornwell © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Patricia Cornwell

It is strikingly similar to the photo of Eddowes with her neck cut open. And Sickert’s Nuit d’ete – or summer night – evokes Mary Kelly’s death bed scene.

Patricia says: “You can never convict anyone of a crime based on a painting. But Sickert’s paintings are chilling in their resemblance to the photos of the victims.”

She says a Sickert painting is even hanging in Scotland Yard. It depicts a frightened-looking woman with a “weird” band around her neck.

Patricia says: “It is Impressionism – or something else more sinister.

"I had his paintings hanging in my library in Greenwich, Connecticut, and every time I walked past them, it became too much. I donated about 100 of his paintings and drawings to Harvard and Yale.”

Strange doodles

Credits: LONDON METROPOLITAN ARCHIVES, CITY OF LONDON © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: LONDON METROPOLITAN ARCHIVES, CITY OF LONDON

Both Sickert and the Ripper’s letters had strange doodles and characters among the text.

On a postcard mailed to James Fraser, the commissioner of the City of London police, the Ripper drew a cartoon head with a cut-throat.

Credits: HOUGHTON LIBRARY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: HOUGHTON LIBRARY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY It was just after the murder of Annie Chapman, who had her throat and abdomen slit.

Patricia says: “The cartoon face resembles a Sickert doodle on a letter he wrote in 1893 to the artist William Rothenstein.”

The wall of silence

Patricia believes Sickert is still being protected by shadowy figures even today.

She says: “I have people who will not allow me to quote from archival sources because their ancestor said something that was incriminating about him.”

She also recalls an episode which she believes suggests she was being monitored.

“I flew to London after Cornwall and immigration officers said we entered the country illegally as we never cleared Customs in Cornwall.

“I said we did as there was a man in military uniform who looked at our passports. They didn’t have anyone that fitting that description.”

The Ripper guestbook

During her probe, Patricia flew to Cornwall to stay at the Lizard guesthouse, now the Top House Inn.

Sickert had links to the area and the hotel was frequented in the Ripper era by artists, writers and even MPs.

The author believes a guestbook from the 1880s was vandalised by someone whose drawing style was similar to Sickert’s sketches and the Ripper’s letters.

Credits: www.alamy.com © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: www.alamy.com

Doodles are eerily similar in both the guestbook and the Ripper letters. One part of the guestbook is even signed Jack the Ripper, Whitechapel.

Patricia says: “I stayed up until 3am with the wind howling around me reading the guestbook.

“I couldn’t believe it. I saw this guy’s hands all over this book. I gave the guesthouse owner £10,000 for the book. I thought she was going to have a heart attack.

"Then when it turned out to be so good, I gave her another £10,000. It was an amazing find. It’s now in the New York public library.”

The childhood op

An operation for a penis fistula may have left Sickert psychologically scarred.

Patricia says: “Charles Dickens had one and said it was the most painful ever. You you can imagine a little boy with no anaesthesia.”

She says it could have caused “sexual dysfunction”, and adds: “The question is what this did to him psychologically.”

Letter watermarks

Credits: LONDON METROPOLITAN ARCHIVES, CITY OF LONDON/PATRICIA CORNWELL COLLECTION © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: LONDON METROPOLITAN ARCHIVES, CITY OF LONDON/PATRICIA CORNWELL COLLECTION

Patricia’s analysis matched paper used by Sickert to some of the letters the Ripper sent to the police. Three Sickert letters and two Ripper ones came from a paper run of just 24 sheets.

She says both the Ripper and Sickert were “compulsive letter writers”. She says: “The letters weren’t taken very seriously at the time – there was no mention of watermarks.

Credits: THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES UK/PATRICIA CORNWELL COLLECTION © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES UK/PATRICIA CORNWELL COLLECTION

“It’s astonishing that no-one back then noticed that there was anything unusual.”

A Ripper letter postmarked October 31, 1888, had the same watermark – Gurney Ivory Laid – as several Sickert letters.

Illegitimate son

Patricia backs up the claims of the late picture-framer Joseph Gorman, who insisted he was Sickert’s illegitimate son and said the artist had confessed gory details about the Ripper to him.

While Gorman was dismissed as a fantasist, Patricia says she has evidence he inherited Sickert’s publishing royalties following the artist’s death in 1942.

She found evidence in Joseph’s papers of a £154.88 payment made to him by a publisher for a collection of Sickert’s writings.

Music hall sketches

After Sickert was raised as a suspect, the art world rallied round to claim he had an alibi as he was in France around the time of the murders.

But Patricia found dated sketches that placed him in London music halls at the time of at least three of the killings.

She says: “His music hall sketches are dated August, September, November. Mary Kelly, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes... he was in a 24-hour striking zone of them.

“He certainly wasn’t in France. It’s flat out not true.”

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