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Portrait of a Killer

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3.44 of 5 stars 3.44  ·  rating details  ·  27,198 ratings  ·  1,137 reviews
Using the firsthand expertise she has gained through writing the Dr Kay Scarpetta novels, Patricia Cornwell has used the demanding methods of modern forensic investigation to re-examine the contemporaneous evidence in the Jack the Ripper murders.

Length: 12 hours 44 minutes
Audiobook
Published May 1st 2012 by AudioGo (first published 2002)
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Jennifer No, he wasn't mentioned in Patricia Cornwell's book. Cornwell names Walter Sickert as the suspect, also supposedly based on DNA evidence.

What we have…more
No, he wasn't mentioned in Patricia Cornwell's book. Cornwell names Walter Sickert as the suspect, also supposedly based on DNA evidence.

What we have in both cases is confusion over what DNA constitutes as a form of evidence. Within the past several years, there has been a phenomenon called the 'CSI effect' that has been documented in academic literature. To summarize briefly, what this means is that audiences who have been brought up on crime shows like CSI have been trained to expect that every crime can be solved through forensic evidence, and that such evidence indubitably exists and can be collected. Although the nature of this effect is, as always, contested, there is some evidence to suggest that jurors have increasingly warped understandings of forensic evidence, and that this has had a measurable impact on criminal trials when they feel that this burden of proof has not been met.

DNA evidence is not in any way 100% infallible, even in cases where it is collected almost immediately and stored appropriately with a proper chain of custody. This is not one of those times. The item of clothing in question was one that has been handed down Eddowes' family for generations in the 126 years; Edwards and Louhelainen are proposing that the public accept that in this time this piece of material was not contaminated, which is, of course, absurd given its status as a family heirloom (he's also asking us to suggest it's never been cleaned or washed in the many decades). Given that Eddowes' maternal descendents have handled it (and there is documentation to this effect), it's not particularly surprising that there's mtDNA indicating... that a female in her family handled the item. As for the semen stain, if we accept that the item was not contaminated (which it was), all it might possibly tell us is that someone with Kosminski's mtDNA had contact with the item in some way. Given that many hundreds of thousands of people that may share this mtDNA, this is essentially meaningless. There's no way to justifiably make the leap that it is Kosminski's DNA. The evidence here cannot be pinpointed to a certain time, and certainly cannot be isolated to a specific person.

It's also worth noting that none of this supposed evidence was conducted in a remotely academically rigorous way, and has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Instead, Edwards (who has a book to sell) chose the Daily Mail as his venue of publication. This does not suggest academic robustness. It's also worth noting that it is contested that the shawl was even Eddowes', as it does not appear in a police document of her personal effects. All we know, then, is that it's a piece of clothing with some DNA on it, which means... nothing.

Effectively, this supposed development is meaningless, and will disappear in time like Cornwell's argument did. The only remotely notable thing about this argument is that it is novel; soon this novelty will fade. It's astoundingly irresponsible of news media to report this as if it were irrefutable proof that Kosminski was the murderer, but news media have done a great deal worse. (less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Stacey
For weeks, I attempted to finish Patricia Cornwell's "Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed" I haven't written a real book review, (or even been inclined to write one,) since High School English Lit., but this book frustrated me enough to write one.

I've heard from many people what a wonderful piece of forensic investigation it is, how interesting, and that it seems the most plausible answer to the question of "whodunit."

It must be confessed, that though I ordinarily like Patricia Co
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Angie
This was not what I expected. I thought it would be a sort of historical re-cap of the Jack the Ripper killings with Cornwell revealing the person that she thought to be the killer, with evidence to substantiate her opinion. I did not expect to be lectured over and over and beaten over the head with her opinion on the identity of the killer.

From what I've read, Cornwell went a little bonky in the head with trying to prove that her guy was the one, spending millions of dollars to acquire paintin
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Chris
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sezin Koehler
What a phenomenal and utterly disturbing book. I learned:

1) The identity of Jack The Ripper, with 98% certainty, is the British artist Walter Sickert, proven by intense forensic analysis.

2) He not only killed the prostitutes for which he is best known, but possibly 40+ others, including children, men and non-prostitute women, some of whom he hacked to pieces and possibly ate.

3) 1888 London was an absolute shithole and why anyone would have wanted to live in those conditions is beyond me.

4) Scotl
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Anthony


I started reading Patricia Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed while I was down in Florida, and finally finished it the day before yesterday. I remember reading reviews of the book when it first came out a few years ago, and never picking the book up. I found it by chance in the stacks at my godmother's house, and decided to give it a try.

It's not that I'm not interested in Jack the Ripper. When I was in high school, I could be counted on to track down just about any bo
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Rebecca Huston
I have to say, I know I am in the minority when I say that I find this argument for artist Walter Sickert to be the Ripper rather convincing. Not everyone is going to agree, and that's ok -- I feel that the truth behind the Ripper killings in 1888 London will remain a mystery for all time. There just isn't enough data out there on the killings to point the finger at one particular person.

All that said, what makes this book so interesting is how Cornwell draws out the pathology of a sociopath. W
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G.R.

I decided to read Patricia Cornwell's book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed because I have an interest in Walter Sickert. I continued to read the book, despite the fact that it was by far the most absurd book I've ever read, because I assumed at the turn of every page that it couldn't get any sillier. At some point, I thought, Cornwell would have to present solid evidence that connected Walter Sickert to the Ripper murders. After all, you can't go around accusing people of mur
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Erin
Patricia Cornwell has more money than sense. I can't believe that she spent a million dollars of her own money to research the true identity of Jack the Ripper.....and, despite the title, she has come away with little to no proof - she relies a great deal on mitochondrial DNA evidence that she admits is inconclusive, and paintings done by Sickert years after the fact. Sickert seems to have been an ass, and perhaps he was the Ripper, but Cornwall has done nothing in this book that would allow her ...more
Carla
Patricia Cornwell apresenta na obra “Jack, o Estripador – Retrato de um Assassino”, o que eu considero ser apenas “mais uma” teoria acerca da identidade de Jack, o Estripador.
Não apreciei a estrutura narrativa do livro que pretende ser um “documento” em que se deslinda a identidade do homem que cometeu a série de assassínios brutais no East End de Londres (e possivelmente noutros locais) a partir de 1888… As ideias, os factos, as asserções por vezes não têm grande ligação entre si, sendo introd
...more
Jenifer
I liked this book because Patricia Cornwall presented quite a stirring case for her argument that the killer was a rather famous artist named Walter Sickert. She compared pictures painted by the artist with photos from the crime scene and of the victims, postmortem, and the similarities gave me shivers! She created this protrait of Sickert with such passion, convinced she really has solved this case, that I couldn't help but get excited, too. It didn't hurt that I read it the week leading up to ...more
Bérénice
Dec 11, 2008 Bérénice rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
(copied from my amazon review)
If a prosecutor went to court and presented a case against Walter Sickert with the evidence the author gives us in this book, the judge would laugh hysterically and require of the prosecutor to chose another profession.

So let's see what are some of the evidence that would make Sickert the killer. He knew a guy who was american and laughed with a "ha ha". In the ripper letters, the ripper writes "ha ha", so he's gotta be Sickert! Or because Sickert occasionally wrot
...more
Kph
so, patricia cornwell has solved the ripper case. she's convinced she has; and she doesn't tire to try to convince you, too. which makes portrait of a killer an extremely annoying read. you'll be forced to wade through plenty of the brackwater of standard bourgeois reaction to anything and anybody involved with prostitution (hey compassion - hey contempt!), the standard true-crime-solved insight about the psychological mechanism (yes, singular: one mechanism, and one mechanism only) that produc ...more
Donna
Jul 05, 2007 Donna rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History and true crime fans
It's interesting to observe how "common knowledge" sometimes lags behind real knowledge. Just the other day, I heard someone on television say what I've heard all my life: that the true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been discovered.

Not true. Patricia Cornwell figured out who he was, made her case compellingly, and closed the file in 2002. The only mystery left in my mind is how some people can read the book and not be convinced. It should not be surprising that the murderer turned out t
...more
GoldGato
Oy.

I'm one of those folks who is forever entranced by the Jack the Ripper saga. Victorian crime in the grimy, fogbound, poverty-ridden streets of London. I've even done the walking tour. So, I picked up this volume with high anticipation.

Oy.

Prior to this, I had never read a Patricia Cornwell book, so I was not a follower of her mystery books. Safe to say, after making it through this "expose" of the Ripper, I won't be reading any other Cornwell books. She could have made her case fairly quickly
...more
Michelle
Jul 28, 2007 Michelle rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: truecrime
I admit to having a great interest in the Jack the Ripper case and have for many years. I was interested to see what Cornwell could come up with as to who could have done the killing. I was thoroughly disappointed with this book. It was basically filled with Cornwell's guesses that she put out as facts. What really set me off was that part of the book where she was walking down the street with her editor (I think) and says, "I know who did it." From then on, I had a feeling I wasn't going to enj ...more
Erika
Finally I found out who Jack the Ripper was! For the longest time I thought if I ever wanted to know the true identity of Jack the Ripper I would have to go under cover as a man and join the Freemasons to learn all their secrets, since I heard on the Jack the Ripper tour I went on in like 1999 that the only people who really know who Jack the Ripper was are the Freemasons. Needless to say, reading this book has proved a lot easier than my previous plan. Thanks Patricia Cornwell!
Shauna
Possibly the most horribly "researched" book I've ever read. Case closed, my ass.
J.W. Thompson
I am constantly supprised by the range of Cornwell's writing. I am a loyal fan of her books and this one took me by surprise. It has been on my to read book shelf for a while as I pursue my own writing career. I finally read it and was shocked as to why no one else had put this together. I think she really found the real idenity of Jack The Ripper, so many years after the crimes occured. My hat is off to Cornwell for her research and writing skills. While many may still disagree with her conclus ...more
Kelly
Man, I had this whole summer of reading books I thought I'd love but didn't (Da Vinci Code, Under the Banner of Heaven, and this). So I wasn't quite as disappointed with this one as the other two, but it's not good. I love Patricia Cornwell's mysteries (although they're definitely guilty pleasures), and I love stories about Jack the Ripper (or really anything that takes place in London). But geez, you can't name a book "Case Closed" and then present such a shoddy case. I really hope PC sticks wi ...more
Alyss
After months, I finally buckled and put this one down... I should have taken it into the yard and shot it... It literally was that bad...
Cherryonion
I had to give up on this one after just over 100 pages. I didn't like the writing style and I was quite bored. The story didn't really follow any kind of timeline or logical progression, it was all over the place. I was also disappointed because I expected it to be more scientific, with actual facts, but it seems to be what the author's personal opinions are based on very circumstantial evidence. She herself admits on numerous occassions that there was no evidence to back up whatever she was tal ...more
Jef Cozza
Cornwell presents a compelling case arguing that Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper. But, as the author admits, she still leaves a few stones unturned. In particular, her use of DNA evidence is highly suggestive, but I would have liked to see her pursue this angle to a (hopefully) more conclusive end prior to publishing her book.

Likewise, her analysis of the Ripper letters and comparison with Sickert's own writing style is definitely suggestive, but she stops short of "Closing the Case." Given
...more
Julia Simpson-Urrutia
I thought this book and the research that went into it was both fascinating and convincing. The objections of other critics struck me as childish: some complain that it is boring (plowing through circumstantial and direct evidence CAN be boring, ask any detective) and others pouted about having a "great" artist framed as a killer. I got the distinct impression many who slammed the book did not read all of it.

Cornwell is a very good writer. I felt she carefully balanced her presentation of the ne
...more
Carol Littlejohn
I don't read Patricia Cornwell's books because I'm not a fan of murder fiction. I prefer nonfiction to fiction. However, this book is a nonfiction book about Jack the Ripper, a serial killer in Victorian London during the 1880's. Cornwell believes the killer is painter/actor Walter Richard Sickert. She gives enough evidence to convince the reader, including DNA evidence. As an aside: I read this book many years ago (and have just reread it), and I remember coming across Sickert's name in another ...more
Susan
I cannot claim to be a Ripperologist, but I have read a fair number of books about the Ripper murders and none so arrogant and uninformative as this. Before I say any more, let me just say that I enjoy Patricia Cornwell's novels, she's a good writer, so I am simply unable to decide what on earth made her write this. In the beginning of this book, the author states that she became interested in the Ripper murders on a visit to London and was soon convinced that the artist Walter Sickert was respo ...more
Aoife
Disclaimer: I've only read about half so if you're able to give convincing reasons why my rating is absolutely unjustified and the second half will get so much better I will try to read the second half, too. Until then let my just say:

Oh what a pile of pretentious crap.

I honestly don't know where to start with my rage because while reading there wasn't a single moment where I didn't feel the need to throw this book against a wall.
It's probably best to start with the biggest issue, concerning thi
...more
Lauren
I picked up this book at a used bookstore for like $1 in 2007 and really, I'm embarrassed to admit that I really didn't know much about Jack the Ripper until I read the book. And by "not much," I mean I thought it was a fiction book. After all, I was buying a bunch of other Cornwell novels so why would I think that she had delved into non-fiction? Egh, lesson learned (and now there are also smartphones so if I find myself in a used bookstore confronted with a book that I'm not sure is fiction or ...more
Droid
Cornwell sets out to villainize her suspect by every means possible, like a dog at a bone. Pity there's no meat.

Case closed? I think not! The lack of evidence is blatantly transparent, whole bouquets of straws are mercilessly snatched at and I was left feeling rather the angry. Bluntly put, the title is a lie. Cornwell convinced me that she uncovered enough evidence to convict the man who wrote the infamous ripper letters, but provided not one single shred of concrete proof that it was the same
...more
Heather
Method of investigation is interesting and the speculation intriguing but like other theorists, no resolution.
Ayana Prende
Yeah, I'm not sure.

Parts of the book, I enjoyed - if that's the right word to use. I'm morbidly fascinated with Jack the Ripper (I don't know whether that makes me sick, but my hunch is it's normal for us to be captivated by the perverse, shocking and heinous), so anything to do with him, his murders and that era in London is interesting to me. However, that's just about where my interest in the book begins and ends.

I understand, Cornwell is sure she has her man and is unshakeable on that point
...more
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Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper 6 45 Jul 23, 2013 08:11PM  
Patricia on the used shelves much? 5 44 Sep 28, 2012 12:30PM  
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1025097
Patricia Cornwell sold her first novel, Postmortem, while working as a computer analyst at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia. At her first signing, held during a lunch break from the morgue, Patricia sold no copies of Postmortem and fielded exactly one question – an elderly woman asked her where she could find the cookbooks.

Postmortem would go on to win the Edgar, Cre
...more
More about Patricia Cornwell...
Postmortem (Kay Scarpetta, #1) Cruel & Unusual (Kay Scarpetta, #4) The Body Farm (Kay Scarpetta, #5) Body of Evidence (Kay Scarpetta, #2) Point of Origin (Kay Scarpetta, #9)

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