Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed (Anglais) Relié – 1 novembre 2002
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was a carnival of wondrous things to do for as little as pennies
if one could spare a few.
The bells of Windsor’s Parish Church and St. George’s Chapel rang
throughout the day. Ships were dressed in flags, and royal salutes boomed
from 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 Frederick
II lying in state and, of course, the ever-popular Chamber of Horrors.
Other delicious horrors awaited those who could afford theater tickets
and were in the mood for a morality play or just a good old-fashioned
fright. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was playing to sold-out houses. The famous
American actor Richard Mansfield was brilliant as Jekyll and Hyde
C H A P T E R O N E
M R . N O B O D Y
at Henry Irving’s Lyceum, and the Opera Comique had its version, too,
although poorly reviewed and in the midst of a scandal because the theater
had 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 overflowing
with Sheffield plates, gold, jewelry, used military uniforms. If one wanted
to pretend to be a soldier on this relaxed but rowdy day, he could do so
with little expense and no questions asked. Or one could impersonate a
copper by renting an authentic Metropolitan Police uniform from Angel’s
Theatrical Costumes in Camden Town, scarcely a two-mile stroll from
where the handsome Walter Richard Sickert lived.
Twenty-eight-year-old Sickert had given up his obscure acting career
for the higher calling of art. He was a painter, an etcher, a student of
James McNeill Whistler, and a disciple of Edgar Degas. Young Sickert
was himself a work of art: slender, with a strong upper body from swimming,
a perfectly angled nose and jaw, thick wavy blond hair, and blue
eyes that were as inscrutable and penetrating as his secret thoughts and
piercing mind. One might almost have called him pretty, except for his
mouth, which could narrow into a hard, cruel line. His precise height is
unknown, but a friend of his described him as a little above average. Photographs
and several items of clothing donated to the Tate Gallery
Archive in the 1980s suggest he was probably five foot eight or nine.
Sickert was fluent in German, English, French, and Italian. He knew
Latin well enough to teach it to friends, and he was well acquainted with
Danish and Greek and possibly knew a smattering of Spanish and Portuguese.
He was said to read the classics in their original languages, but
he didn’t always finish a book once he started it. It wasn’t uncommon to
find dozens of novels strewn about, opened to the last page that had
snagged his interest. Mostly, Sickert was addicted to newspapers,
tabloids, and journals.
Until his death in 1942, his studios and studies looked like a recycling
center for just about every bit of newsprint to roll off the European
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presses. One might ask how any hard-working person could find time to
go through four, five, six, ten newspapers a day, but Sickert had a
method. He didn’t bother with what didn’t interest him, whether it was
politics, economics, world affairs, wars, or people. Nothing mattered to
Sickert unless it somehow affected Sickert.
He usually preferred to read about the latest entertainment to come
to town, to scrutinize art critiques, to turn quickly to any story about
crime, and to search for his own name if there was any reason it might
be in print on a given day. He was fond of letters to the editor, especially
ones he wrote and signed with a pseudonym. Sickert relished knowing
what other people were doing, especially in the privacy of their own notalways-
so-tidy Victorian lives. “Write, write, write!” he would beg his
friends. “Tell me in detail all sorts of things, things that have amused you
and 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 somehow
managed to hobnob with the major celebrities of the day: Henry Irving
and 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 know
many of them, and no onefamous or otherwiseever really knew him.
Not even his first wife, Ellen, who would turn forty in less than two
weeks. Sickert may not have given much thought to his wife’s birthday
on this bank holiday, but it was extremely unlikely he had forgotten it.
He was much admired for his amazing memory. Throughout his life
he would amuse dinner guests by performing long passages of musicals
and plays, dressed for the parts, his recitations flawless. Sickert would
not have forgotten that Ellen’s birthday was August 18th and a very easy
occasion to ruin. Maybe he would “forget.” Maybe he would vanish into
one of his secret rented hovels that he called studios. Maybe he would
take Ellen to a romantic café in Soho and leave her alone at the table
while he dashed off to a music hall and then stayed out the rest of the
night. Ellen loved Sickert all her sad life, despite his cold heart, his patho-
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logical lying, his self-centeredness, and his habit of disappearing for
dayseven weekswithout 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 life
and was just as comfortable moving about unnoticed in the deep shadows
of isolated streets as he was in the midst of throbbing crowds. He
had 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 unrecognized
by his neighbors and family.
Throughout his long and celebrated life, he was notorious for constantly
changing 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 and
friend Jacques-Emile Blanche, a “Proteus.” Sickert’s “genius for camouflage
in dress, in the fashion of wearing his hair, and in his manner of
speaking rival Fregoli’s,” Blanche recalled. In a portrait Wilson Steer
painted of Sickert in 1890, Sickert sports a phony-looking mustache that
resembles 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, Walter
Sickert, 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 RDSt
Sickert did not write his memoirs, keep a diary or calendar, or date
most of his letters or works of art, so it is difficult to know where he was
or what he was doing on or during any given day, week, month, or even
year. 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 on
notes he scribbled on music-hall sketches, he was in London just two days
earlier, on August 4th.
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Whistler would be getting married in London five days later, on August
11th. Although Sickert hadn’t been invited to the small, intimate
wedding, he wasn’t the sort to miss iteven if he had to spy on it.
The great painter James McNeill Whistler had fallen deeply in love
with the “remarkably pretty” Beatrice Godwin, who was to occupy the
most prominent position in his life and entirely change the course of it.
Likewise, Whistler occupied one of the most prominent positions in Sickert’s
life 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 aspiring
and extraordinarily gifted young man. By the time of Whistler’s
engagement their friendship had cooled, but Sickert could not have been
prepared for what must have seemed a shockingly unexpected and complete
abandonment by the Master he idolized, envied, and hated.
Whistler and his new bride planned to honeymoon and travel the rest of
the year in France, where they hoped to reside permanently.
The anticipated connubial bliss of the flamboyant artistic genius and
egocentric James McNeill Whistler must have been disconcerting to his
former errand boy–apprentice. One of Sickert’s many roles was the irresistible
womanizer, but offstage he was nothing of the sort. Sickert was
dependent on women and loathed them. They were intellectually inferior
and useless except as caretakers or objects to manipulate, especially for
art or money. Women were a dangerous reminder of an infuriating and
humiliating secret that Sickert carried not only to the grave but beyond
it, because cremated bodies reveal no tales of the flesh, even if they are
exhumed. Sickert was born with a deformity of his penis requiring surgeries
when he was a toddler that would have left him disfigured if not
mutilated. He probably was incapable of an erection. He may not have
had enough of a penis left for penetration, and it is quite possible he had
to 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 Murders
papers at the Corporation of London Records Office, “possibly
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had his privy member destroyed& he is now revenging himself on the
sex by these atrocities.” The letter is written in purple pencil and enigmatically
signed “Scotus,” which could be the Latin for Scotsman.
“Scotch” can mean a shallow incision or to cut. Scotus could also be a
strange and erudite reference to Johannes Scotus Eriugena, a ninthcentury
theologian and teacher of grammar and dialectics.
For Walter Sickert to imagine Whistler in love and enjoying a sexual
relationship with a woman might well have been the catalyst that made
Sickert 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 in
thought but in boyhood sketches that depicted women being abducted,
tied up, and stabbed.
The psychology of a violent, remorseless murderer is not defined by
connecting dots. There are no facile explanations or infallible sequences
of cause and effect. But the compass of human nature can point a certain
way, and Sickert’s feelings could only have been inflamed by
Whistler’s marrying the widow of architect and archaeologist Edward
Godwin, the man who had lived with actress Ellen Terry and fathered
The sensuously beautiful Ellen Terry was one of the most famous actresses
of the Victorian era, and Sickert was fixated on her. As a teenager,
he had stalked her and her acting partner, Henry Irving. Now Whistler
had links to not one but both objects of Sickert’s obsessions, and these
three stars in Sickert’s universe formed a constellation that did not include
him. 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 that
during his life would never be linked to him, a name that soon enough
would be far better known than those of Whistler, Irving, and Terry.
The actualization of Jack the Ripper’s violent fantasies began on the
carefree bank holiday of August 6, 1888, when he slipped out of the
wings to make his debut in a series of ghastly performances that were destined
to become the most celebrated so-called murder mystery in history.
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It is widely and incorrectly believed that his violent spree ended as
abruptly as it began, that he struck out of nowhere and then vanished
from the scene.
Decades passed, then fifty years, then a hundred, and his bloody sexual
crimes have become anemic and impotent. They are puzzles, mystery
weekends, games, and “Ripper Walks” that end with pints in the Ten
Bells pub. Saucy Jack, as the Ripper sometimes called himself, has starred
in moody movies featuring famous actors and special effects and spates
of what the Ripper said he craved: blood, blood, blood. His butcheries
no longer inspire fright, rage, or even pity as his victims moulder quietly,
some of them in unmarked graves.
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Présentation de l'éditeur
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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Of course Cornwell claim that the artist William Sickert was Jack the Ripper is open to debate. We need to remember that EVERYTHING involving this case is open to debate. One of the initial decisions you have to make in trying to reason out the real identity of the Ripper is to determine who his victims were. Even the acceptance of the canonical five (Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddows, and Mary Kelly) is a basic assumption that is easily called into question. Stride and Eddows were both killed the same night; Strides body was not mutilated, the assumption being the killer was interrupted. The horrible mutilation to Eddows' face is assumed to be because the Ripper was enraged that he had been interrupted in his first killing. But what if Eddows had not been killed? Would we still assume Stride was a victim of the Ripper? If Eddows had been the sole victim that night what motivation would we have ascribed to her mutilation? Any and all assumptions made to deduce the Ripper's identity are debatable.
For most people familiar with this case the most astounding part of Cornwell's case against Sickert is the argument that he wrote MOST of the Ripper letters. The assumption has always been that only one or two of the letters might have been real, so Cornwell is making a radical argument in this regard. Ultimately this is the strongest part of Cornwell's case, especially given her repeated observation that these letters are confessions as far as the law is concerned. Given the prolific number of letters Sickert wrote to newspapers in his life, it would not be farfetched that he would do the same thing as the Ripper.
The other key part of Cornwell's argument is the psychological profile of Sickert. The problem is that this is more of a premise in the book than a cogently laid out argument, with bits and pieces scattered throughout the book. I think the problem is more organizational than argumentation and I would have appreciated a more clinical presentation of the profile.
The weakest part of Cornwell's case is also her strongest. Cornwell dredges up everything from Sickert's life and work that she can use to pin these crimes on the artist (e.g., suggesting an unopened letter by his first wife given to her sister contained suspicions Sickert was the Ripper) and there will be times when you think she is pushing it. But the sheer volume of accusations is such that you have to be open to the possibility that some of them are valid. From an argumentative standpoint, she does not have to be right on ALL of these accusations to prove her point; she only needs to be right on some of them.
One of the things that makes me think Cornwell might be right are the argument raised against her thesis. Cornwell repeatedly points out that she does not have "hard" proof of Sickert's guilt, so pointing out the inconclusiveness of her DNA matches is irrelevant. Yes, there is evidence that Sickert was in France during some of the killings, but Cornwell deals specifically with the problems of that evidence (Sickert claimed to be in France with friends who were no longer there, etc.). To be fair, it is hard to make substantial arguments against Cornwell's case in the context of a review limited to 1000 words, but you still have to deal with the specific points she raises. In the end Cornwell rests her case on an accumulation of coincidences sufficient enough to have Scotland Yard's Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve and an expert on the Jack the Ripper crimes to endorse her conclusion by saying he would be happy to put the case before the crown prosecutor.
One of the other things that works against "Portrait of a Killer" is that Cornwell uses more of a disjointed narrative structure than an argumentative one. The six murders that Cornwell ascribes to Jack the Ripper serve as a basic chronology for the book, but interwoven are chapters devoted to various parts of Walter Sickert's life that are unstuck in time. At one point I was convinced that maybe an editor had decided to rearrange these chapters and that I might be able to put all of them in a more traditional chronological order. With each of the murders Cornwell provides the main details and then talks about the limitations of forensic medicine at that time in contrast to what could be done today. "Portrait of a Killer" would work better if it were divided into a section that looks at the murders and then another making the case against Sickert.
The book is illustrated with tinted autopsy pictures of the Ripper's five canonical victims, including one of the horrible human wreckage of Mary Kelly. Cornwell uses these images, not only as a way of remembering the victims, but usually with the additional goal of showing how they are reflected in Sickert's artwork. Certainly the book would have been enhanced by more reproductions of the various works by Sickert that Cornwell alludes to in making her case. As it is, the key examples here have to do with the Ripper letters, the Lizard House guest book, and sketches known to be by Sickert.
Despite the presentational problems, "Portrait of a Killer" is going to be required reading for Ripperologists, all of whom will make of it what they will. Just be sure to read it before you dismiss it (or diss it). This is not something akin to the creative fantasy of Alan Moore's "From Hell."
Tout d'abord, il faut savoir qu'elle n'a pas choisi cet homme au hasard: il faisait partie des hommes suspectés à l'époque d'être Jack l'éventreur...elle a jugé que les autres suspects ne pouvaient pas avoir commis ces crimes donc, elle s'est acharnée sur lui.
Ce livre est très long à lire car elle développe des éléments de la vie de Sickert pendant de longues pages alors qu'elle n'a aucune preuve tangible.
Et tout le problème est là. En effet, Patricia Cornwell ne mène pas une enquête donc l'issue serait l'inculpation du célèbre peintre, mais multiplie des recoupements discutables pour justifier sa conviction. Malgré les six millions de dollars investis en tests ADN et autres, l'auteur ne parvient pas à me convaincre, et l'impression générale est bien celle d'une vérité (peu probable) parmi tant d'autres ...
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Unfortunately, I feel that instead of doing the research first and making her conclusion based on that research, instead she came to her conclusion and built the research around it. Her psychological "profiling" seems completely fabricated. She takes quotes completely out of context. She refers to artwork and paintings of Sickert's that she doesn't include. The whole book seems like an essay that she had a word count to complete, and she's filling in with alot of fluff because she doesn't have enough meat or real evidence to make her case.As far as the much-ballyhooed DNA evidence, even that wouldn't hold up in court, much less the court of my armchair. Even if it conclusively proved that Sickert's DNA was on a letter that was signed "Jack the Ripper" that couldn't possibly prove that the letter writer was also the murderer.
I'm very disappointed in the book as I thought it would have a much more scholarly feel to it. Probably only dedicated collectors of all things Ripper will want to read this as it probably does, at the very least, bring a few new things to light.
Throughout the book, Cornwell's talents as a best-selling fiction writer are evident. Her descriptions of 19th century culture and forensic technology are extraordinarily vivid, with a rich, story-like detail throughout. Biographical sketches, the biting taunts of the Ripper letters, and eye-witness accounts are impressively presented and bring to life the circumstances surrounding the crimes. But little is offered that will supplant a host of other theories on the actual identity of Ripper. Cornwell's logic is faulty and at times self-contradicting. Oversights are common and alternative scenarios that point away from Sickert are either unmentioned or ignored. Contrary evidence is manipulated until it somehow points back to Sickert, and the validity of every point hinges on a profane number of conjectures and speculations, few of which are supported by a single scrap of evidence.
It seems to me it did not take highly touted forensic skills to rummage through history's dustbin. Do so in a very disjointed way; throw out a few rehashed random facts and theories, and then add a few of your own -- like Walter Sickle's paintings and a concocted theory about his missing testicle or "penile or anal fistula" -- and then like magic claim them to be the holy grail and the missing link to the Ripper's murders.
To her credit, Ms. Cornwell does go through the motions of building a circumstantial case. She draws on paper watermarks, on graphology and handwriting analysis, mitochondrial DNA analysis, and then delves quite extensively into Walter Sickert's eccentricities.
However, this all seems to have come together in a contrived way. Sickert had been waiting in the wings all along to save the storyline. Suddenly, Sickert was trotted out just as the story was about to fall apart due to lack of any semblance of convergence. It all came together so quickly, and in such a disconnected way it left the reader the impression it had been done as a last ditched plot-saving desperate act to find a neat ending -- as a way of pulling together almost by fiat, so many disparate threads that could never come together otherwise.
Maybe I was expecting too much to think that with newer forensic techniques there would be a neater more conventionally linear scientific convergence of the existing evidence. In this version, there was no convergence at all. We simply were led down one primrose path after another: all to dead-ends; and then suddenly, as if a bolt from the blue, in walks old "one nut" Walter Sickert and his paintings to save the day for Ms. Cornwell's story and presumably her reputation.