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How Ripperology Works

RELEASED July 10, 2008
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Episode Summary
The unsolved murder spree of Jack the Ripper has captivated generations of amateur investigators, each with their own theory of the killer's identity. Learn more about one particularly thought-provoking suspect in this HowStuffWorks podcast.

Announcer

Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark

Hello, and welcome to the Podcast. I'm Josh Clark; a staff writer here at howstuffworks.com. With me is my trusty editress, the intrepid Candace Gibson. How are you,

Candace

Candace Gibson

I'm fabulous, Josh.

Josh Clark

Well, I hope you are feeling intrepid right now. We're about to enter some grizzly territory. Let's talk about Jack the Ripper, shall we?

Candace Gibson

Indeed.

Josh Clark

Okay. So, specifically, could Jack the Ripper have been an artist?

Candace Gibson

Ah, the artist formerly known as Jack the Ripper.

Josh Clark

Um-hum.

Candace Gibson

A.K.A. one Walter Sickert, a British impressionist painter. He would've been 28 around the time of the famous Ripper murders, also called the Conical Murders. These took place back in 1888 from August 31st to November 9th just to set the scene for you and it would've been more than just doves crying in that dank and depraved east end of London in the White Chapel district, it would've been the sound of prostitutes. More specifically, his prey of choice was the alcoholic, drunk, middle-aged and unattractive prostitutes.

Josh Clark

It's the unattractive part that really gets you, you know? I mean, it's bad enough as it is but unattractive too. Now, the problem is is Jack the Ripper is never caught, and as such, a kind of field of amateur investigation called Ripperology has grown up over the centuries of people who dedicate their time trying to figure out who Jack the Ripper was. Right?

Candace Gibson

Right, and over the years, police departments in London, too, have fingered about a 170 suspects in the case but no one has ever been definitively convicted of the crime. And, back in 2002, someone who wasn't even a real Ripperologist sort of took a stab at the case, no pun intended, and that was crime novelist Patricia Cornwell and she was the one who named Walter Sickert.

And she had, you know, some hard evidence and some sort of - I don't know, loosely-based evidence and the loosely-based evidence was sort of relevant to her interpretation of Sickert's art.

Josh Clark

Now, actually, yeah, she considered some of Sickert's paintings confessional like he had actually painted or used the murdered prostitutes that he murdered as models for some of his paintings and that he was either taunting police or getting this off his chest through these paintings.

Candace Gibson

Or he could've been super authentic because he was taught under the school of American painter, James Whistler, who recommended that Sickert paint from life so if he wanted to paint dead prostitutes, it only made sense he had to off them first.

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