There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Over a century has passed since the ghastly murders that made London’s Jack the Ripper a household name. And at this late date, definitively establishing the identity of the Whitechapel Murderer is about as likely as the Loch Ness Monster’s hurling himself onto dry land, shouting, “I want to hold a press conference!” Yet would-be sleuths continue to offer new solutions to the Ripper murders, each more ambitious—if no more convincing—than the last. Now crime novelist Patricia Cornwell (whose Kay Scarpetta novels are remarkable chiefly for their utter lack of humor) says she has proof that Saucy Jack was none other than Victorian impressionist painter Walter Sickert. Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed starts with an intriguing, if thin, premise—that Sickert was fascinated by, and even painted, some of the crime scenes, and furthermore, that his paintings were kind of creepy—and attempts to build a case against the painter. What is most annoying about Cornwell’s book is not her theory but her hanging judge’s utter certainty. Unfortunately, after failing to deliver on the forensic evidence (the English press took to calling her Patricia the Ripper after she destroyed a Sickert painting in a fruitless search for DNA to match with genetic material found on the Ripper letters) she resorts to guesswork, innuendo, and what can only be described as wholesale character assassination before falling back on a kind of Hitleresque critique of art: sick painting, sick mind. My theory? When somebody utters the words “Case closed,” what she’s really saying is “Wallet open.” You can rip Cornwell at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. $15. (202) 357-3030. (Michael Little)