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Overwhelming Evidence For the Identity of Jack the Ripper - Forensics and the Portrait of a Killer

Updated on October 27, 2013

Industry and Dreams. Voices Cry, "Don't Solve the Case!"

Many people enjoy the mystery of the unknown Saucy Jack and the Whitechapel murders of the late 1800s. A segment of these individuals make up a fan base, actually. They enjoy discussing the case, collecting memorabilia - even serial killer trading cards, watching the related films and TV productions, touring Whitechapel, reading fiction and non-fiction accounts, and even writing their own novels. Many of these last are often pastiche of Sherlock Holmes or other great detectives.

Jack the Ripper, then, is a money-making industry.

Comparatively, millions enjoyed the romance and mystery of the Moon and Mars in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and The Martian Chronicles, until we sent ships and men and rovers up - and found nothing but rocks, dust, and perhaps some bacterial fossils and a trickle of water. We lost our dreams of other civilizations and advanced cities "up there" close to Earth. If the Ripper case is solves, we've lost that imaginative stimulus as well. Some don't want that, And I can't fault them for wanting something to occupy their fancies. However, we are likely to lose this romance shortly.

Unfortunately, other types do not want the case of Jack the Ripper solved, because they want to be the ones themselves to solve it. Professional and amateur jealousies could lead to a novel or film of their own. Related to that, there are thoughts that the 1880s London press stoked the fires of imagination by embroidering and whip stitching together the facts of separate and unrelated murders committed by different perpetrators, thereby creating a mythical Frankenstein called Saucy Jack. Were the letters and postcard from Jack created by London reporters to gain newspaper circulation? At least one published book, by Andrew Know, looks at this theory in depth.

Thus, we have three lines of thought: 1) we know who Jack was, 2) we don't know who he was, 3) he never was.


By Forbes Winslow, 1889
By Forbes Winslow, 1889 | Source

Forensics Speak

Among the writings of the years 1990 - 2012 that concern the Whitechapel murders, a standout is one that digs out DNA evidence at the hands of a former forensic scientist and mortuary assistant with credible and substantial experience. Criticized heavily by individuals that would rather be credited with a solution to a long standing case, Patricia Cornwell accumulated an impressive psychological and criminal profile of a serial killer that could be Jack the Ripper.

Ms. Cornwall's Case Closed is the most convincing to me up to the 2009 book written by another of my favorites, M.J. Trow. A full-time historian and professor of same, he dedicated three years in depth research to the Saucy Jack case and another year to researching a potential suspect not uncovered by anyone else. His book is called Jack the Ripper: Quest for a Killer. A foundation toward this work includes two other of his works: the fictional Lestrade and the Ripper (fiction really lets you investigate all angles imo) and non-fiction The Many Faces of Jack the Ripper. Interestingly, book stores and websites tell me that readers that purchase either the Cornwall book or Quest for a Killer most often by the other as well.

In the end, though, Patricia Cornwell looks at DNA evidence, the final word in the 2010s for proof. DNA evidence in the Jack the Ripper Case is not conclusive, but it is condemning.

Such DNA evidence reveals that saliva from the backs of postage stamps affixed to letters written by Walter Sickert is 99% likely to be the same as that on stamps used by Jack the Ripper. Mitochondrial DNA matches at least 2 Ripper letters with 2 Sickert letters. An identical set of sequences, found in less than 1% of the total world population (now 7 billion), are actually found on more than one of the letters written by both Sickert and the serial killer. This is evidence that is hard to dismiss, even if not (100%) conclusive.

What Convinces Me?

If you watch the series House, MD you are familiar with the forensics like thoroughness with which House and his team-of-the-week exhaust both all causative possibilities and their current patient. They level everything to bedrock and are still sometimes stumped, until intuition flashes and puzzle pieces fall together.

Ms. Cornwell and Mr. Trow each use forensics, both in conimnation with other science and history, yet with unique styles. I respect both styles well and from personal research experience, even more so. Forensics cases are much like fitting together a puzzle of many pieces -- The processes can be complex, need to be precise, and yield solutions that are convincing. Either author could be correct. One Interesting difference is that M.J. Trow shows us how Jack slayed 7 victims rather than 5 and that one of the now-famous littany of victims was not killed by trhe Ripper at all.

Images and DNA

DNA evidence and a reconstructed psychological profile from infancy upward lead Patricia Cornwell to highlight the artist Walter Sickert as the serial killer of Whitechapel. The man was born with deformed genitalia, was mutilated by early related surgeries, and physically and psychologically abused by his father. His father, in turn, had also been abused and had drawn disturbing images of victims in the process of murder. My experiences in helping and advocating victims and perpetrators of abuse over several years leads me to agree with Ms. Cornwell's conclusions. Several images done by Sickert are disturbing.

Aside from DNA evidence, portions of TV documentaries have agreed with the gist of Ms. Cornwell's findings. Specifically, a greater amount of the artist's works were shown on screen than included in the Cornwell book, although the author purchased several of the paintings to study. One particular painting is that of a woman in a stiff posture, unmoving and wearing a kind of necklace. The painted image is very much like that of a mortuary photo of the victim Catherine Eddowes - uncannily so.

Sickert painted and drew other images, included in the book, that look very like additional Whitechapel corpses, especially for characteristics such as slashed faces and throats and the position of cuts. Ms. Cornwell writes that only those who witnessed these killings could have painted such likenesses, because the mortuary photographs were extremely difficult to access. She feels that Sickert did not see the photos.

Living In the Same Room

This history is strange and not well proved.

Sickert painted a canvas with the murky image of a man standing at a window of a room in which he said Jack the Ripper had lodged in London. How he obtained that specific information is questionable, since it was from the landlady, who said the lodger was a was a multiple killer.

Sickert was living in this same room himself and he called his painting Jack the Ripper's Bedroom. Some sources suggest that Sickert was obsessed with Jack the Ripper, while others posit that he was a slick self-promoter with a story behind every painting, riding Jack's gruesome popularity in the press for income.

Critics of Ms. Cornwell's Case Closed have been constructive, destructive, and some may even have made up or imagined other evidence. Still, the psychological reconstruction of Walter Sickert is believable, as is the DNA evidence. I think either Cornwell's or Trow's final conclusions are correct.

However, researchers know that an analysis can go forward along correct procedures and still yield incorrect results. Both Cornwell's and Trow's evidence and conclusions have become the subjects of doctoral dissertations that have dissected and severely sliced their works in light of what the students feel is evidence for other Ripper identities. As the understanding and use of DNA evidence becomes more sophisticated, we may or may not extract the correct answer in the future.


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      For those who asked, Patricia Cornwell worked as an investigative reporter who covered crime for The Charlotte Observer, and as a technical writer and computer analyst in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, along with additional work with the Richmond VA Police Department.

      Some Internet posts by individuals that do not like her history of mental health treatment, political views, friendship with the Billy Graham family, and personal life have called her a low level clerk, hoping that readers will believe the denigration.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Your article is very informative. I'm particularly impressed that you identified the type of DNA (mitochondrial as opposed to nuclear) which some theorists on the subject seem to miss. I've read both Cornwell and Trow's books. Trow seems to take a common sense approach to the mystery and I like the fact that he doesn't name a specific suspect. Patricia Cornwell is a well known author and forensic expert and frankly I'd have been more convinced of her theory if she hadn't implied that she "visited" Millers Court where Mary Kelly was murdered (which was demolished in 1928). I've also read Donald Rumblow, Robin O'dell, Stewart Evans, Keith Skinner, Stephen Knight and James Tully. All have their own theories and some of them have attacked each others theories but speaking only for myself I tend to be more impressed with authors who don't specifically name a solitary suspect.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      There are a lot of tourist attractions surrounding Jack's history, aren't there?

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      7 years ago from The High Seas

      Interesting. Lots of controversy over Jack's identity. My grandmother, a Londoner, was obsessed with him so I grew up around a lot of Ripper lore.

    • qeyler profile image


      8 years ago

      quite interesting I enjoyed reading it.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Very interesting and I see that about three authors have very convincing theories on the Ripper.

    • conradofontanilla profile image


      8 years ago from Philippines

      I read a rule in fiction writing. A puzzle is solved but a mystery remains to be so.

      In my Hub on Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe (non-fiction) I think the mystery is: who put the materials that exploded? For the pantheist to solve: the hydrogen that started the explosion came out of nothing? And an American astronomer wrote: if the mass of the universe were intact, the universe would collapse to nothing. Voted up and interesting.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks very much for all the new comments!

      Even more possibilities for the identity of Jack the Ripper are emerging; or I am hearing them for the first time - there are a number of Blogs and discussion boards talking about them. I need to take time to analyze MJ Trow's book and make up my mind before I review his newest writing. It's exciting, despite all the arguments to wade through.

    • Arlynne16 profile image


      8 years ago from Florida, USA

      Whoah! does Jack the Ripper really exist? You know I'm always fascinated by topics like this. I love mystery. The evidence included above was amazing. Those are very detailed.

    • profile image 

      8 years ago

      PC is a great read in any of her books and your Hub is right up there with the interesting angle. There was much thought put into the hub - so voted up and interesting


    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Very interesting and well explained on hand of the DNA. Makes great sense. Thank you, Patty.

    • melbel profile image


      8 years ago from Midwest, USA

      Wow, this is really interesting. I don't know much about Jack the Ripper, have seen a few ripper-esque movies, but this hub definitely gets me in a Jack-the-Ripper-Wikipedia-browsing mood. :P

    • cjv123 profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      I read Patricia Cornwell's book awhile back. I found it fascinating stuff! As your Hub was. Very interesting and you brought in some points I hadn't thought of - there are those who don't EVER want it solved as it's big money. Never thought of that angle. Excellent Hub!

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image


      8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Oatty - Enjoyed the update, My wife was born in Hackney not all that far from Whitechapel, so the Saucy Jack stories were a family hobby. Up and Awesome.

    • elucidator profile image


      8 years ago from SoCal

      Thanks again Patty for good work. This has peaked my interest in something I have glossed over many times.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Flora - No problem at all! I'll go to Paradise7 next. I love to read :)

      Maren Morgan M-T -- Yes, phantom perps, anyone?

      POP - I am so glad you visited. I hope everyone visits your running serial of breakfast Hubs and political reporting.

      dahoglund - Thanks for visiting! The mystery may prove better than the reality of it all.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Interesting hub. I guess I am among the curious but have no real strong need to know who the Ripper was.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      8 years ago

      sorry-I didn't realize until my comment was published that I wrote down the wrong user name. Paradise 7, not princess7. sigh. Sorry to confuse you!

    • breakfastpop profile image


      8 years ago

      You are amazing. What an intriguing piece. Up and awesome.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Ah, the press! Voted up.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Hi Flora - I'll read those Hubs and also your review if you do it. Sounds intriguing.

      sholland10 - That tour sounds very stimulating as well as chilling. They probably have details about the case not in print, along with related gossip and speculation of the times. Thanks for sharing!

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      8 years ago

      Patty-Princesa7 included her in in a two part series on Hollywood Ghosts. I'm reading up a book on The black Dahlia with the idea of doing a review.

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 

      8 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      So interesting. My daughter and I got to go to London a few years ago. We took the guided Jack the Ripper tour at night. It was quite chilling. The guide spoke of a doctor and the Prince of England at that time, both having medical knowledge of how to make some of the horrendous cuts. She did mention another man of interest, and I need to look at my journal to see if she gave a name, but is sounds like Sickert. Great hub!!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      great information.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      FloraBreenRobison - It's a person not in the usual lists of suspects and I'll be reviewing the book soon. I know little of the Black Dahlia, so will be reading your material on that one!

      Thanks for commenting, jenubouka and holyjeans30. I appreciate you reading my Hub.

    • holyjeans30 profile image

      Amy D. 

      8 years ago from Mostly in My Own Little World

      What a Great Hub. I definitely should read more lol. I've always been intrigued by the shows on Jack the Ripper.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great piece on Jack, just think of all the unsolved mysterious that can be solved now a days with the new technology.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      8 years ago

      So you are saying Trow names someone we have never heard of before, or are you saying he named someone we have heard of but not as a suspect?

      Although I am fascinated by the case because it is unsolved, I have never been one who doesn't want unsolved cases to remain so. I would love the Black Dahlia case solved, for example. I think I would remain fascinated.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      The Fashionista -- Thanks for coming by and commenting! It was Trow that got me really interested in the Whitechapel case after I read his smart, delightful and witty fiction "LeStrade and the Ripper." Now I am very interested.

      I will look at the Maguire book soon and thanks for the suggestion.

    • profile image

      The Fastionista 

      8 years ago

      Really interesting read, and I love your deductive skills! One of the most fascinating criminals in history, of course, so it makes sense what you say about certain people not wanting the case solved. It'd be nice to know definitively what happened though. Have you read "Lost" by Gregory Maguire? Touches on Jack as well. Thanks for a great hub - voted up and interesting!


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