– Walter Sickert

While Walter Sickert had been implicated in the Ripper murders before the publication of crime novelist Patricia Cornwell’s book (in two previous publications), it was Cornwell’s book that has given the Sickert theory the most publicity, most notably due to the supposed DNA link between Sickert and one of the Ripper letters.

So, what of this DNA link?  Well, ultimately, it proves nothing.  All it boils down to is that Sickert may have written one of the letters that most assuredly did not come from the killer known as Jack the Ripper.  I say may because all Cornwell could say was that the Ripper letter and a letter written by Sickert share mitochondrial DNA (non-nuclear DNA that is inherited from the mother).  Unlike nuclear DNA, mtDNA is not specific to one individual, rather a group of people related along maternal lines, and thus is a lot less definite when trying to establish a forensic link.  Furthermore, there’s no proof that Sickert actually licked the stamps/envelope used when sending the letters (although it’s safe to say he probably did), and so there’s always the faint possibility that the mtDNA Cornwell was able to retrieve from the Sickert letters and use as reference mtDNA wasn’t even Sickert’s.  But even if it was, and even if the mtDNA found on those envelopes matched the mtDNA found on one of the Ripper letters, it still doesn’t prove that Sickert wrote the letter, only that he might have written it (as could others who share the same mtDNA).  But let’s say for the sake of argument that Sickert did write the Ripper letter in question, again, what does that prove?  That he was like the hundreds of other crack-pots and attention-seekers who wrote countless letters to the press and police.  Because it’s agreed upon by most Ripper experts (and I share the same opinion) that none of the letters were actually written by the killer.

Cornwell’s other main arguments for Sickert being the Ripper were: his paintings reveal knowledge and guilt of the Whitechapel murders, and that an operation he had when he was young left him with a deformed and malfunctioning penis – a condition that a serial killer such as the Ripper may have been suffering from.  While she’s right in assuming that the Ripper may have been sexually deficient, and this rage was likely part of his murderous pathology, it’s never been proven that Walter Sickert did have such a problem (all evidence suggests he was in fact quite the ladies man and had numerous affairs), and it’s been said that his operation was rectal, not penile.

Lastly, with regards to his paintings.  I for one think it laughable that a woman who makes her living writing about ghastly murders (particularly serial murder), who clearly has an interest and fascination with the macabre herself, should use another artist’s own fascination with death and murder as an indicator of his guilt.  Hell, if every artist – be they painter, writer, director, special effects artist, or sculpture – who showed an interest in the macabre were thought to be serial killers, then half the population would be behind bars.  The Jack the Ripper murders are still influencing artists of all types one hundred and twenty years after the fact; is it that far-fetched to think that an artist living during the time period of the murders would take an interest in them, and use them as inspiration for some of his paintings (just like he did with the Camden Town murder)?

There’s nothing linking Sickert to the murders, and any attempt is simply clutching at straws.  Sickert looked nothing like the various witness descriptions (he was tall and thin, whereas most of the descriptions have the suspect as short and stout), and he lived until 1942 – long after the final murder.

Candidacy of Walter Sickert: ** (out of 5)

Published on November 7, 2010 at 11:14 am  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Indeed. Having a successful and creative artistic outlet is generally not a precursor to serial killing.

    • That is true. Thanks for stopping by, Anthony.

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