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Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed [Hardcover]

Patricia Cornwell
2.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (487 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 11 2002
The number-one New York Times-bestselling novelist Patricia Cornwell is known the world over for her brilliant storytelling, the courage of her characters, and the state-of-the-art forensic methods they employ.

In this headline-making new work of nonfiction, Cornwell turns her trademark skills for meticulous research and scientific expertise on one of the most chilling cases of serial murder in the history of crime-the slayings of Jack the Ripper that terrorized 1880s London. With the masterful intuition into the criminal mind that has informed her novels, Cornwell digs deeper into the case than any detective before her-and reveals the true identity of this elusive madman.

Enlisting the help of forensic experts, Cornwell examines all the physical evidence available: thousands of documents and reports, fingerprints, crime-scene photographs, original etchings and paintings, items of clothing, artists' paraphernalia, and traces of DNA. Her unavoidable conclusion: 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.

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From Publishers Weekly

Jack the Ripper was renowned artist Walter Sickert (1860-1942) according to Cornwell, in case anyone hasn't yet heard. The evidence Cornwell accumulates toward that conclusion in this brilliant, personal, gripping book is very strong, and will persuade many. In May 2001, Cornwell took a tour of Scotland Yard that interested her in the Ripper case, and in Sickert as a suspect. A look at Sickert's "violent" paintings sealed her interest, and she became determined to apply, for the first time ever, modern investigatory and forensic techniques to the crimes that horrified London more than 100 years ago. The book's narrative is complex, as Cornwell details her emotional involvement in the case; re-creates life in Victorian times, particularly in the late 1880s, and especially the cruel existence of the London poor; offers expertly observed scenarios of how, based on the evidence, the killings occurred and the subsequent investigations were conducted; explains what was found by the team of experts she hired; and gives a psycho-biography of Sickert. The book is filled with newsworthy revelations, including the successful use of DNA analysis to establish a link between an envelope mailed by the Ripper and two envelopes used by Sickert. There are also powerful comparisons made between Sickert's drawing style and that of the Ripper; between words and turns of phrases used by both men; and much other circumstantial evidence. Also newsworthy is Cornwell's conclusion that Sickert continued to kill long after the Ripper supposedly lay down his blade, reaping dozens of victims over his long life. Compassionate, intense, superbly argued, fluidly written and impossible to put down, this is the finest and most important true-crime book to date of the 21st century. Main selection of the BOMC, Literary Guild, Mystery Guild and Doubleday Book Club.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Can truth be stranger than Cornwell's fiction? Here, the best-selling novelist claims to uncover the identity of Jack the Ripper.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars A good historical summary, but no proof Jan. 2 2003
I agree with many of the other posters here. Cornwell has attacked the reputation of Sickert in this book, providing circumstantial evidence that in no way proves Sickert was indeed Jack the Ripper.
She interchanges "Sickert" for "Jack the Ripper" in a weak attempt at trying to fool the reader to believe the two were indeed the same person. She consistently uses "proof" such as "there is no way to prove otherwise" when accusing Sickert of being in the vicinity of the murders when they occur. She accuses that because he sketches women's body parts that he is fantasising in his sketches about dismembering their bodies. She says Sickert liked to take long walks, just as the Ripper supposedly did. She tries, rather weakly, to attribute every Ripper letter sent to the police, and even every letter written to the newspapers, to Sickert, simply because there is no proof that he is not responsible. And, Sickert used chalk, as the Ripper supposedly did after one of the murders. You could probably replace Sickert with at least 1,000 other individuals living at the time and come up with the same "proof."
Cornwell's writing style is very disjointed and jumps around from place to place and from time to time, which makes it difficult to put together timelines. Her tone is almost stream-of-consciousness, in that she seems to be discussing one aspect of the murders, then suddenly changes direction because she suddenly thinks of something else.
I'm sure the author put a lot of effort into gathering the information for this book, but perhaps she should stick to fiction and not accuse the dead and defenseless of one of the most infamous crimes in history.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing pseudo-science Dec 29 2002
Patricia Cornwell utilizes 300 pages or her new book to convince us of her belief that artist Walter Sickert was the infamous "Jack the Ripper." She is absolute in her conviction and has stated publicly that she is willing to "stake her career" on her findings. As a trained scientist and clinician, I would argue that Ms. Cornwell's findings are entirely unconvincing and that the majority of her conclusions are based on speculation.
Although she makes an admirable attempt to link DNA in correspondence written by Sickert with DNA in letters purportedly written by "the Ripper," the results are not conclusive or exclusionary. She is forced to give this evidence (which had it been conclusive would have been very strong) short shrift in her text and builds her case by speculating on Sickert's psychological make-up, his behavior, and his whereabouts. Indeed, the amount of guessing she engages in is so extravagant that I found myself putting the book down and laughing at times. Just a few examples:
1. Speculating that Sickert was deformed, sexually impotent and hated women (and murdered them)due to a fistula of his penis. The speculation of psychological problems related to a physical condition might be acceptable, if she had convincing evidence that the physical condition existed, which she does not.
2. That most of the letters purportedly written to the press and police by Jack the Ripper were legitimate AND written by Sickert. First, it is extremely unlikely that the Ripper cases, which received so much press at the time, would not result in a multitude of false letters and correspondence. To think otherwise is absurd. Second, the penmanship and literacy of the letters varies greatly.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not convincing Dec 9 2002
I was interested in this book because of the prime suspect, Walter Sickert. Sickert was a genuinely good and important English artist and I was surprised that he is considered "the Ripper" by Cornwell. She makes a fun, readable case but that doesn't mean it's convincing if you look at other viewpoints. I find her psychology rather silly and she seems ignorant of certain facts about 19th century artists, such as the fact they often painted prostitutes as models. In addition, her interpretation of Sickert's artwork wouldn't be taken seriously by any Art Historian and is highly subjective. Nevertheless, I found it pretty entertaining reading and I hope it will make people take a look at Sickert's actual artwork, which is pretty good.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read Nov. 13 2002
To start with, this book is very good. It tells you who, when, and where the whole time. Cornwell always let you know what she was thinking and wrote her side of the story and never left anything out. If she was unsure, she would say she was. She never led me down the wrong track. I'm a big fan of her and so is my mother.
This book had it all. The only reason I didn't give it a perfect 5 stars is because she sometimes started talking in so much detail about something that I felt like I was in school again. It was a good read. I would suggest this book to adults, not children.
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By Anthony
Patricia Cornwell claims to have spent [money]of her own fortune researching this book. In the end, one wonders if it were worth it. Ms. Cornwell provides a tenuous link between Walter Sickert and one or two "Ripper letters" in the guise of a matching mtDNA sequence, but all that tells us is that Sickert can not be eliminated from the percentage of the population (ranging from 1% ro 10%) that could have written those letters. Considering the fact that the letters that provided mtDNA matches are all considered to be definite hoaxes, Cornwell's theory falls apart like a house of cards.
Cornwell should certainly be praised for taking the initiative to fund modern forensic research on the few remaining scraps of Ripperana, but in the end, the results should have been more critically examined. Instead, it appears as though Cornwell decided who the Ripper was first, and then scrambled to find evidence to support it. When DNA matching fell short, she relied on watermark and handwriting analysis, as well as comparisons between drawings on the letters and those in Sickert's sketchbooks. All of this is meaningless, of course, as the Ripper letters she uses are all considered hoaxes. She also fails to discuss the possibility that Sickert was in France at the time of most, if not all of the murders. There is ample evidence that suggests this.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Jack the Ripper, Case closed
The book was in disappointing condition. It indicated it was in good condition but the spine was not attached. Read more
Published on Dec 24 2011 by Patricia Winterflood
2.0 out of 5 stars Ludicrous
It would be unfair to describe Ms Cornwell's Jack the Ripper theory as being the most ridiculous to date. Read more
Published on Aug. 6 2010 by C. J. Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars Quintessential Classic Ripper
"If you want the quintessential classic Ripper novel you have to go no further then Patricia Cornwell's 'non-fiction account'. Read more
Published on Nov. 15 2008 by S. Moore
1.0 out of 5 stars Still open
One of the most insidious phrases in the English language is: "It's obvious that..." Nasty little phrase. Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2007 by E. A Solinas
1.0 out of 5 stars Absolute tosh: says more about Cornwell than Sickert
I can't think of another character assassination that is as unfounded as this, based as it is on pure conjecture and highly selective and inconclusive 'evidence'. Read more
Published on July 12 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Rambling and Premature, and That's Being Generous
I am a fan of Cornwell. I find her to be an intelligent woman, an interesting interview, and a talented author... Read more
Published on July 10 2004 by Orangeman
3.0 out of 5 stars Case closed? Not quite but....
She's presented us with a very strong theory of who Jack the Ripper was.
The only things she has conclusively proved are: 1: that Walter Richard Sickert wrote some of the... Read more
Published on July 9 2004 by A. White
2.0 out of 5 stars Histories Mysteries
Apparently congrats are in order! Yes, while British authorities and serial killer devotees have struggled for many years with the mystery of the true identity of Jack the Ripper... Read more
Published on July 7 2004 by douglas barton
5.0 out of 5 stars Portrait Of A Killer
I rather enjoyed this audio, even though it has suffered much backlash. I would hope that people would be as dedicated to solving a mystery killer crime as this author. Read more
Published on July 3 2004 by K. Weems
1.0 out of 5 stars Really a poor effort.
I wondered why Cornwell included a very odd section about her frustration and depression when writing this book. Read more
Published on July 1 2004
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