By all accounts, Jack the Ripper is the most well-known serial killer pre-1900. At the time when he was committing murders in the Whitechapel section of London, the concept of a “serial killer” hadn’t even entered the collective consciousness. The idea that someone would murder someone else for reasons other than revenge, status, or financial gain was unfathomable. For this reason, he’s often considered the first-ever serial killer.
Additionally, Jack the Ripper has become an object of fascination for true crime enthusiasts because of the manner of his crimes. He was known to mutilate the corpses of his victims with surgical precision and incredible efficiency, removing kidneys and uteruses cleanly in a matter of minutes, all in dimly lit alleyways. Indeed, whoever Jack the Ripper was, he or she had a particular set of skills that allowed them to carry out their crimes in this way.
In the decades that have passed since Jack the Ripper was terrorizing Whitechapel, countless amateur sleuths have embarked on the task of revealing his or her true identity, and many potential suspects have been posited. However, as of now, no one can confirm with any certainty who the real Jack the Ripper was.
One of the most intriguing suspects, though, is a man named Walter Sickert. One piece of evidence pointing to the fact that Sickert may have been Jack the Ripper: he created a famous painting titled “Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom” that now hangs in Manchester Art Gallery.
In this article, we’ll take a look at who Walter Sickert was, his body of work as a painter, and why many people believe he may have been Jack the Ripper.
Who Was Walter Sickert?
Walter Sickert was born in Munich, Germany, in 1860 to Eleanor Louisa Henry and Oswald Sickert, a Danish painter. In 1868, their family moved to England and Oswald’s work was displayed in the National Gallery. Shortly after moving to London, Walter began attending the University College School.
Originally, Sickert had wanted to be an actor and even appeared in some small roles with Sir Henry Irving’s company. However, not long after, he began to study art under James Abbot McNeill Whistler. In 1883, he traveled to Paris and studied under French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas. These two artists would prove to be the biggest influence on Sickert’s career, and they guided him to develop his own style of Impressionism (often called Post-Impressionism) that favors very somber colorations and gritty subjects.
It wasn’t long before Sickert made a name for himself in the art community for his controversial paintings. One painting in particular, titled “Katie Lawrence at Gatti’s”, incited a massive uproar against the artist as many believed its subject to be too vulgar and tawdry for art. This would prove to be only an introduction to the sexual and violent style of Sickert’s body of work.
Why Is Walter Sickert Believed to Be Jack the Ripper?
Those who believe that Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper like to point to several aspects of his art and life as evidence. First of all, Sickert developed a fascination with middle- and lower-class urban life that inspired him to move to the Cumberland Market neighborhood of London in the 1890s and then to Camden Town in 1905. This was right around the time that many of the murders commonly attributed to Jack the Ripper occurred.
Also, during this period of his career, the subjects of many of Walter Sickert’s paintings were prostitutes, who many people believed Sickert was a client of. Since most of Jack the Ripper’s victims were believed to be involved in sex work, this certainly makes it seem as if Sickert could have been Jack the Ripper.
Sickert was also publicly fascinated with the crimes of Jack the Ripper, so much so that he painted “Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom” in 1907 after his landlady told him that he was staying in the same room that Jack the Ripper had once stayed in. It seems likely that Sickert sought out this particular room for that very reason.
Even more suspiciously, in 1908, while Sickert was still living there, a girl named Emily Dimmock was murdered in her bed in Camden Town. The murder closely resembled the modus operandi of Jack the Ripper and it dominated newspaper headlines at the time. And, not long after, Sickert unveiled a series of four paintings titled “The Camden Town Murder” depicting the crime scene. Were these paintings just an expression of Sickert’s interest in the macabre? Or were they physical representations of a firsthand memory?
The Paper Case
Another reason why people are so intrigued by Jack the Ripper is that he is believed to have written letters to the police during the killing spree. While many of these letters are believed to have been hoaxes, it’s also believed that several of them were written by the real Jack the Ripper.
And these letters have given investigators some real clues as to the true identity of Jack the Ripper. Namely, three letters written by Walter Sickert in 1890 are believed to have been written on the same paper as two of the Jack the Ripper-authored letters written in 1888, according to renowned paper analyst Peter Bower.
The papers used for these letters include identical watermarks, which are believed to have been made from woodcuts. It’s also believed that a draughtsman’s pen was used to write both of them. And, according to Peter Bower, both Sickert’s letters and Jack the Ripper’s letters came from the same run of handmade paper that included only 24 sheets. That’s pretty damning evidence.
On top of that, in the years that Jack the Ripper was committing his “Canonical Five” murders, Sickert would have been in his late 20s, had a light complexion, light brown hair, and a mustache, all traits that were used by eyewitnesses to identify Jack the Ripper. This coupled with the fact that Sickert would have lived close to Whitechapel during these years makes a strong case that he was Jack the Ripper.
However, this still isn’t definitive enough to claim that Walter Sickert was, without a doubt, Jack the Ripper.
Cases to the Contrary
While the fact that Sickert’s letters were written on the same paper as Jack the Ripper’s is very compelling, there are still many out there that don’t believe Walter Sickert is the person we’re looking for. And there is some evidence to support that skepticism.
First of all, as many Ripperologists reading this article may have noticed, the dates don’t line up. Jack the Ripper’s “Canonical Five” victims were all slain in 1888. However, during this time, Walter Sickert is believed to have been in France (spending most of his time in the city of Dieppe). Sickert is believed to have made a visit to Venice during the year 1888; however, it’s hard to say if he ever went to London during that year.
However, it’s not entirely impossible that Sickert could have taken a trip to London, committed the murders, and then returned to France. In fact, there are some people out there that claim that certain sketches by Sickert can place him in London in the summer of 1888 when the murders were taking place.
Unfortunately, though, as of now, no one can say for sure whether Walter Sickert was the real Jack the Ripper. He was certainly open about his fascination with the world’s first well-known serial killer. But is that enough to make him a legitimate suspect? And what about the fact that Sickert and Jack the Ripper wrote on the same paper? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if any more evidence is uncovered in the future…