The Whitechapel Killer. Leather Apron. Jack The Ripper. These are the names attributed to one of the most infamous killers in the history of Europe and the world. Jack the Ripper's brutal murders transfixed England with their savagery, precision, and brazenness. The killer struck at random and without warning, all while taunting authorities with his brutal violence, sexual obsession, and unrelenting fury.
To this day, no one has been has ever been named as having definitively been Jack the Ripper; the killings ended as suddenly as they began. Theories abound however, and several center on one of Victorian England’s most influential painters, Edward Sickert. Sickert’s work shocked viewers, so much so that implications revolving around the deadly Jack the Ripper and Walter Sickert refuse to go away. Read on to learn about the creepy paintings of Walter Sickert and why some believe his work and life indicate he may have been the most infamous murderer in his history.
The unidentified serial killer commonly known as Jack the Ripper killed at least five women in the English city of Whitechapel between August 31 and November 9 of 1888. While the tally could be much higher as there were similar murders at the time, their are five deaths, called the "Canonical Five," considered the work of Jack the Ripper. They are linked together definitively through their similarities - namely mutilation and removal of their organs.
The city was terrorized by the murders and over 100 suspects were investigated at the time and over the years. Jack the Ripper does have one very specific quality, however. The canonical five prove the murderer had extensive knowledge of surgical techniques and human anatomy. The murderer's obvious expertise indicated they were likely educated and of a higher class than the sort of people known to live in Whitechapel. This criteria narrows the list of possible suspects to the more affluent people of the surrounding area at the time. Walter Sickert was one such person.
Mystery author Patricia Cornwell has spent millions of dollars investigating Walter Sickert as Jack the Ripper. She's written two books and in one of them, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed, she posits that Sickert, who had no children and three failed marriages, had an abnormality on his penis that made him self-conscious. Self-conscious and impotent enough to lash out at women in the form of murder.
She suggests he had a fistula and it's known that he had had surgeries to correct the medical problem. It is a common serial killer trait for a murderer to be impotent or deformed in some way. However, there is plenty of other evidence to suggest Sickert's fistula was not on his penis and there are some claims that he had illigitimate children.
It was no secret Walter Sickert was fixated on the Jack the Ripper case. Suspicion as to who the killer might be was rampant and everyone had a theory. Everyone, including the landlady who rented Sickert a room she believed had been previously occupied by the serial killer himself. While the landlady had no proof whatsoever of this claim, Sickert ate it up.
While renting the room, he created a painting of the space and called it Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom. The piece is dominated by a shadowy figure that could be looming over a bed or perhaps looking through the blinds in search of his next victim. This picture makes up a large part of the theory surrounding Sickert as the murderer.
Sickert's artwork became considerably stranger when he returned to England. He eschewed his contemporary nature studies and started incorporating what were considered at the time to be outrageous themes of sexuality.
While the murders gripped the public's attention and in later years, Sickert was overt about his obsession with the killer. His works during the 1880s and 1890s reflected his thoughts. They were explicit and sensational, often featuring unabashed nudity. The subjects of Sickert’s work were often performers and sex workers. It was whispered that Sickert might be having sex with his art models. In Victorian England, this was the height of perversion and it marked him as a deviant despite his accomplishments as an artist and critic.