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September 8, 2014

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper

Can it be? Has science actually produced an answer to one of the most enduring, captivating mysteries of the past two hundred years? If in fact DNA analysis has succeeded in proving the Ripper’s identity – after more than a century of Holmes-style deduction has failed – it is at least gratifying to know that the perp was on Scotland Yard’s short list. The good guys, in other words, were on the right track.

There will of course be scores of Ripper-enthusiasts, known as “Ripperologists,” who will not be pleased by this latest development: They have their pet theories, and will no doubt make a fair amount of noise in defense of their own, hand-picked suspects. We would expect novelist Patricia Cornwell to be among the most eloquent of noise-makers: Her 2002 work of non-fiction, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed pointed the bloody finger at Walter Sickert, a well regarded, influential artist known in part for his paintings of prostitutes. That’s ok, Patsy: We still love Kay Scarpetta.

Science does appear, here, to have trumped the little grey cells, but in reading the article in the Daily Mail – a newspaper that does love the gory details – my favorite gory details concern not the DNA analysis but that bloody bloody shawl. First, the copper took this grisly, bloodstained shmatte home as a present for his wife? Thanks awfully, but you never heard of flowers and chocolates? Second, the family shoved the thing in a drawer without washing it and kept it in all its yucky, stained nastiness for generations – sufficiently convinced of its importance to hold onto it, apparently (and hold onto those stains as well), but somehow not sufficiently convinced to, say, bring it in to the local police station: “I dunno if anyone’d be interested, like, but this shawl, see, it got soaked in the Ripper victim’s blood…” I mean, really, has nobody in that family ever seen “Cold Case” or “Crimesolvers”?

And finally, still on the shawl, I desperately want the name of their dry-cleaner. That thing looks pristine. A hundred-plus years stuffed in a drawer, stiffening with arterial blood and semen and kidney cells, nibbled by the kind of critter for whom that sort of glerp makes the ideal snack, and look at it now! They even ironed it. Leave aside the provenance, and you’d pay $200 for it at Bloomingdale’s.

Or would you? Are you a Ripperologist? What do you think of this latest twist in one of our favorite never-solved whodunnits?



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