But skeptics say that even if some of his paintings resemble photographs of the victims, that hardly means Sickert was the killer. They explain that he could have seen some of these police photos and then consciously or unconsciously used them in his work.
Although five murders, from Aug. 31 to Nov. 9, 1888, are officially blamed on the Ripper, Cornwell and others believe the Ripper may have been responsible for more, including the murder of a prostitute near Sickert’s studio in the Camden Town section of London in 1907.
Harvard owns a drawing of one of “The Camden Town Murder” works. Its original title was “What Shall We Do About the Rent?” Sickert changed the title after the murder. It features a naked woman lying on a bed with a clothed man sitting on the edge of the bed looking down on his clasped hands.
In her book, Cornwell says Sickert was allowed to view the crime scene shortly after it was discovered, and that’s where he made several sketches of the murdered woman. She questions whether it was a coincidence that he happened to walk by at just the right time to ask police on the scene if he could enter the home, or if he carefully planned it, knowing when the woman would be murdered and when her body would be found.
Cornwell was not the first person to accuse Sickert of being Jack the Ripper. In 1990, Jean Overton Fuller accused Sickert in her book “Sickert and the Ripper Crimes.” And in 1976 Stephen Knight wrote a book called “Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution” that claimed Sickert was part of an elaborate royal conspiracy involving Queen Victoria’s grandson Prince Albert Victor.
Marriott, the Ripper investigator, said Sickert’s “status as a suspect is poorly deserved.” He added that over the years there have been more than 200 Ripper suspects with many of the more popular ones having strong advocates in the small circle of hard-core Ripper enthusiasts.
Many of these hard-core enthusiasts frequent a 17-year-old website called Casebook, where they have been arguing and voting on who they believe is the top suspect for years. Currently Sickert is listed as the number three suspect among 22, behind James Maybrick and Francis Tumblety. “Casebook is mainly a forum that is frequented by what I would call hard-line Ripper researchers who over the years have become fixated with their own individual suspects with their own particular take on the case and those people are not prepared to accept new facts,” Marriott said.
After his investigations, Marriott said he doesn’t believe there is a single Jack the Ripper. He believes several people acting alone most likely committed the murders and that some may have been copycat killings. He added that he believes Jack the Ripper was the creation of a sensational press.
In fact, it’s widely accepted that the name of Jack the Ripper came from a newspaper editor who sent one of the phony letters to police claiming to be the murderer. During the murder spree the police received hundreds of letters from people claiming to be the murderer. Cornwell claims that her research shows that at least one of those letters may have come from Sickert, but the DNA tests and paper-matching analysis she conducted weren’t conclusive.
Marriott, in his 2005 book, “Jack the Ripper, The 21st Century Investigation,” brought to light a relatively new suspect, Carl Feigenbaum, a sailor who was electrocuted at Sing Sing prison in New York in 1896 for the Ripper-like murder of his landlady. In an interview he gave to the New York Advertiser shortly after the execution, Feigenbaum’s lawyer said he believed his client was the Ripper, according to Marriott.
Like all the other theories floating out there, however, it’s never been proven. As long as it remains unsolved, the legend will grow.
“This Jack the Ripper mystery for some,” Marriott said, “has become a cottage industry.”
Mark Micheli can be reached at email@example.com.