The Secret Life Of Walter
by Patricia Cornwell
Interviewer: Elise Cooper
The Secret Life Of Walter Sickert
is a follow up book to the one written by Patricia Cornwell
in 2002. Whether people agree with the premise or not
it is an interesting read, as a non-fiction book or
a crime novel, either way it makes for a good story.
Cornwell attempts to make the case that the Victorian
painter Walter Sickert was Jack The Ripper. With photos,
personal correspondence, and even his paintings as evidence
she plays the role as an investigator of these hideous
murders and has Sickert as the person of interest.
Elise Cooper: Even though this is a non-fiction
book you wrote it as a novel?
Patricia Cornwell: I try to be a storyteller
in everything I write. Because I started out as a journalist
I feel that a part of me is still a journalist. It never
leaves you. Whether fiction or real-life cases I try
to present the facts.
Cooper: Your first book caused some controversy
so why write a second book?
Patricia Cornwell: This is the book
I should have written the first time. I looked at the
case from the lenses of modern criminal investigations,
using the science as best I could to give us a guide.
I think there is some good empirical evidence and primary
sources such as original letters, documents, and the
original police reports.
Cooper: How would you describe Sickert?
Patricia Cornwell: A sexual violent
psychopath, and a narcissist. He never felt empathy
or guilt. Mostly what he felt was rage and jealousy.
There is no evidence he ever loved someone. He was very
calculating and compulsive.
Cooper: How did you become fascinated with
Patricia Cornwell: I happened to be
in London in the spring of 2001, and somebody said,
‘While you're here, would you like to take a tour
of Scotland Yard?’ One of their senior investigators,
who knew a lot about the Ripper crimes, started telling
me about the case. I now think that this is the most
compelling unsolved murder mystery. Because of its legend
I do not think it can ever be solved. No one will ever
be satisfied with any resolution. The mystery has become
bigger than the crime.
Cooper: What do you want to debunk about the
Patricia Cornwell: I think those who
believe it was part of a royal conspiracy came from
a bunch of formulations spun by the killer himself,
Sickert. I also think it is nonsense that the traditional
Ripper theories had him only killing those five people
I believe he killed many more victims, and continued
to kill after 1888.
Cooper: What about those who say the Ripper
had to be a doctor?
Patricia Cornwell: His killings were
not professional. He mutilated his victims so there
was no need for surgical skills. He did have some anatomy
training in art school. He had a scientific mind and
followed the latest technology advances. He was a very
smart and cunning person. He was careful and did not
leave behind biological evidence. Maybe it was not accidental
that he had himself cremated.
Cooper: On page three there is a photo where
he looks like the gangster John Dillinger. Was that
Patricia Cornwell: He was a master
of disguises. I wonder if that is how he did his dry
runs and was able to stalk his victims. Remember he
did not die until 1942 and Alfred Hitchcock made the
first Ripper movie in 1927 called The Lodger. I think
the photo was an example of him imitating what people
thought of the Ripper. This was his form of mocking
Cooper: You point out Sickert was an enigma
regarding the aristocracy. Please explain.
Patricia Cornwell: He wanted to thumb
up his nose to them; yet, he wanted to hob knob also.
He had disdain for upper class people, but appeared
to collect celebrities. He wanted to be a part of them.
There is this hypocrisy where he despised them, but
could not get enough of them. He wanted the acclaim
that the painter James McNeil Whistler had. Sickert
was treated as nothing more than Whistler’s personal
Cooper: How compelling were Sickert’s
paintings as evidence?
Patricia Cornwell: I think they were
teases in his paintings. He projected his violent fantasies
into his artwork. This painter never painted anything
he had not seen. This man was a very smart. One painting
is very reminiscent of the Mary Kelly crime scene, the
body on a bed with a figure bludgeoning her to death.
In another drawing there were a tremendous amount of
stab marks with a pencil on a woman’s chest.
Cooper: What about his personal correspondence?
Patricia Cornwell: If you compare two
Ripper letters with three Sickert letters there is a
stunning comparison. They come from the same paper mark
that consisted of only twenty-four sheets and had the
same watermark and dimensions.
Cooper: How certain are you that Sickert is
Jack The Ripper?
Patricia Cornwell: I am 95% certain.
I am 100% certain he was involved in the case. The 5%
doubt is for other considerations. The big questions
that remain: what did his wife Ellen know and what did
Whistler know? I do think they both feared him.
Cooper: What do you want readers to get out
of the book?
Patricia Cornwell: My goal is to make
it easy for readers to be entertained and to be able
to follow the story as they learn something. I hope
they have an open mind as they look at this case.
MyShelf.com and Elise want to thank Ms Cornwell
for taking the time to give this interview.
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