Reading Matters

Will Cornwell get ripped for new ‘Ripper’?

Patricia Cornwell’s lastest book is so heavy I put it on the scales. Yep. Two pounds. Two pounds worth of evidence that the 19th century London artist Walter Stickert was the real Jack the Ripper.

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Jack the Ripper, and I spend even less time thinking about Walter Stickert. So I can’t say this information startles me. But I am impressed with Cornwell’s ferocious tenacity and with the time and energy she’s fueled into “Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert.”

Probaby most people know that Cornwell has written the famously successful series of mystery novels starring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, that she graduated from Davidson College and started her career as a reporter at the Charlotte Observer.

What you may not know – unless you know her personally – is that Cornwell doesn’t ever give up. Ever. Case in point: In 2002, she wrote another book about Jack the Ripper – “Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed,” for which she was rather savagely ripped. One critic suggested that the only way she could repair the damage was to “stay with the case.”

And that she has done. Stayed and stayed and stayed and stayed.

When she called this week to talk about the book, she said she had a moral obligation to finish what she’d started in investigating the evidence that might prove that Sickert was the Ripper. She had no idea that the project would take 17 years, cost a whopping amount of money and take up “half my career.”

After all that effort, I asked her how sure she was that Sickert was indeed the Ripper.

“I’m 100 percent sure that Walter Sickert created the case and created the name Jack the Ripper,” she said. “And I would say that I’m 95 percent sure that Sickert committed the murders himself.”

But she says she reserves a five percent possibility that Sickert did not commit the murders but was instead merely the author of the whole spectacle.

When we’re talking murder, that five percent seems like an excessive amount of wiggle room to me.

But Cornwell says she’s not concerned.

“Sometimes if you tell the truth,” she says, “people aren’t going to be nice about it. I say it upfront: I did not solve this case. I simply worked it, and now I’m showing the truth of it. The experts solved it, the people who did the scientific analysis, the ripper experts, those people get the credit.”

Case closed: All 32 ounces of it.