Best-selling lesbian crime novelist Patricia Cornwell thinks she may have uncovered Jack the Ripper's DNA and that it could be a match for a British artist who liked to paint morbid scenes of violence against women. In an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper--Case Closed, published in the November issue of Vanity Fair, Cornwell said that the Ripper's DNA could be a match with the DNA of Walter Sickert, an artist who used prostitutes as models and who painted scenes similar to the murders committed by the Ripper, a serial killer who terrorized London in the 1880s.
Cornwell said she discovered that a letter Jack the Ripper claims to have written from Manchester on November 22, 1888, was on the same watermark stationery used by Walter and Ellen Sickert after their marriage three years earlier. Walter Sickert, who died in 1942, was cremated, and no DNA of his exists except on some letters and envelopes that had stamps he had licked. They were compared with the DNA of the Ripper from taunting letters he sent authorities. Cornwell said that of 55 samples tested, two had a sequence of numbers that came from only one person: one sequence belonged to the American artist James Whistler, under whom the German-born Sickert studied, and the other to the person who left DNA on a stamp of a Ripper letter sent to Thomas Openshaw, curator of the London Hospital Museum.
The Whistler sequence had nothing in common with any Ripper letter or any non-Whistler item tested. But the other sequence is found in five samples: the front stamp of the Openshaw envelope; an Ellen Sickert envelope (which could have been handled by her husband); the envelope from a Walter Sickert letter; a stamp from a Walter Sickert envelope; and a Ripper envelope with a stain that tests positive for blood. Cornwell said that some of Sickert's paintings bear a chilling resemblance to photographs of Jack the Ripper's victims and that some of the Ripper's letters contained phrases used by Whistler that were often mocked by his student Sickert.