Patricia Cornwell reopens Jack the Ripper case

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Patricia Cornwell, author of "Ripper."

Ripper
The Secret Life of Walter Sickert
By Patricia Cornwell
Thomas & Mercer. 570 pp. $29.99

Reviewed by David Martindale

Fifteen years ago, famed crime writer Patricia Cornwell "closed" the most infamous cold case in the history of crime.

The best-selling novelist, venturing into the true-crime arena with 2002's Portrait of a Killer, accused William Sickert, an acclaimed English artist, of committing the notorious Whitechapel murders of the late 1880s.

The book's subtitle said it without equivocation: Jack the Ripper Case Closed.

But Cornwell never actually ended the investigation. She and a team of experts (whose specialties range from forensic analysis to art history) continued to build a circumstantial case. New findings and conclusions are revealed in the current book, Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert.

"The new book continues to galvanize my theory that Sickert was Jack the Ripper," the author says. "I am more convinced now than I ever was.

"We have a lot of very interesting things to consider, including very good evidence that he wrote at least some of the Ripper's confessional letters to the police and press."

Sickert, who died in 1942, was never accused of the gruesome serial slayings during his lifetime.

Ripper is essentially the original book, but updated throughout, with eight new chapters.

There's also a fascinating new section titled "How It All Began and Never Ended." In it, Cornwell reveals her personal story of investigation and writing. It reads like an eerie ghost story. She literally felt as though an unseen paranormal force tried to sabotage her efforts.

"There are odd accidents and mishaps, one bad thing after another," Cornwell writes, citing one freakish event after another. "From the very beginning, this project has had bad karma."

This review originally appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.