Pa­tri­cia Cornwell tells Crime Scene why her books are at the fore­front of foren­sic sci­ence and tech, from DNA and drones to Jack The Ripper

Crime Scene - - CONTENTS - By An­dre Paine

The US au­thor gives Crime Scene a glimpse of her new book on Jack The Ripper.

When Pa­tri­cia Cornwell vis­ited the Univer­sity of Le­ices­ter on her re­cent book tour, she did it in style. The US au­thor donned a Le­ices­ter City F.C. shirt and scarf for her lec­ture – you can see the sar­to­rial ev­i­dence on the univer­sity’s Youtube chan­nel – as it turns out that the aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion was fun­da­men­tal in the cre­ation of her iconic char­ac­ter, Dr Kay Scar­petta.

“It’s where DNA fin­ger­print­ing was dis­cov­ered and in­vented,” Cornwell tells Crime Scene. “So that’s a re­ally big deal in my pro­fes­sion, be­cause I heard about that the very first time I went to see a morgue in 1984. This med­i­cal ex­am­iner said, ‘there’s this new tech­nol­ogy called DNA’.”

Dur­ing that trip to a Vir­ginia morgue, Cornwell first saw the po­ten­tial of foren­sic sci­ence and DNA for crime fic­tion. She cor­nered the mar­ket in foren­sic sci­ence thrillers dur­ing the ’90s and re­mains a global best­seller. Cornwell’s 24th Scar­petta novel, Chaos, sees her hero­ine fac­ing a new threat: drone tech­nol­ogy.

“It’s like Al­fred Hitch­cock’s The Birds, isn’t it?” Cornwell rea­sons. “When you’re walk­ing along and you might hear that thing com­ing at you.”

Al­though Cornwell’s books show the sin­is­ter side of new tech­nol­ogy, she re­veals that foren­sic and dig­i­tal de­vel­op­ments have also made her re­visit an old case – Jack The Ripper. She spent mil­lions re­search­ing her best­selling and con­tro­ver­sial 2002 book, Por­trait Of A Killer, which iden­ti­fied artist Wal­ter Sick­ert as the Ripper. In an ac­com­pa­ny­ing BBC doc­u­men­tary, she toured the Whitechapel mur­der sites and even tested out dif­fer­ent knives on an­i­mal or­gans, to try and work out Jack’s method.

Cornwell con­cluded the film by say­ing that she wanted her life back. How­ever, 15 years on, she’s stalk­ing the Vic­to­rian mur­derer once more, via a new book, en­ti­tled Ripper: The Se­cret Life Of Wal­ter Sick­ert.

“It is the book I should have writ­ten the first time – and it is a re­make, it’s not a re­vi­sion,” she tells Crime Scene. “I feel even more sure of my­self in this the­ory than I ever did.”

While not ev­ery­one ap­pre­ci­ated an Amer­i­can au­thor com­ing over here and ‘solv­ing’ the mur­ders from 1888, Cornwell says that she’s since be­come friends with some of the Rip­per­ol­o­gists.

“We’ve ac­tu­ally com­bined re­sources,” Cornwell re­veals, “I even hired a few of them to do record searches for me, to send me doc­u­ments.”

Dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy will also in­form this ver­sion of the book, which is be­ing pro­duced with Ama­zon.

“We’re do­ing a re­ally high-tech elec­tronic ver­sion that’s go­ing to have hun­dreds of im­ages em­bed­ded in it,” says Cornwell. “I’m turn­ing some of my ev­i­dence over to the reader. I’m go­ing to show you pho­to­graphs you’ve never seen be­fore in this case, be­cause I have things that other peo­ple don’t.

“If I tell you about the mur­der of Emily Dimmock in 1907 [ an un­solved killing that in­spired sev­eral Sick­ert paint­ings], I’m go­ing to be the first per­son to show you her picture in the cof­fin with her throat cut. I own it, no one’s ever seen it be­fore. If it’s Mary Kelly [ widely re­garded as the fi­nal Ripper vic­tim], I’m go­ing to show you a picture taken at that time that I bet you you’ve never seen be­fore.”

Cornwell also dis­missed Russell Ed­wards’ 2014 the­ory that the killer was a 23-year-old Pol­ish im­mi­grant named Aaron Kos­min­ski. The the­ory was based on DNA ev­i­dence from a blood­stained shawl that sup­pos­edly be­longed to a vic­tim.

“I don’t be­lieve that for one minute,” says Cornwell. “The orig­i­nal crime scene sketch of Cather­ine Ed­dowes does not in­clude a shawl – she’s not wear­ing one.”

Cornwell is hope­ful of look­ing again at the DNA con­tained on the ‘Ripper let­ters’ by draw­ing on the tech­niques that the Univer­sity of Le­ices­ter em­ployed for Richard III’S re­mains.

“I have been talk­ing to them be­cause they are the best and the bright­est,” she says of her dis­cus­sions with Dr Turi King ( pic­tured, top) and her team. “Tech­nol­ogy’s not the same as it was back then, so I’m pick­ing their brains.”

While the first book was writ­ten in 18 months, Cornwell’s since had time to go much deeper into the Ripper case.

“When I did this the first time it re­ally mat­tered to me a lot that peo­ple be­lieved what I said about him,” she says. “What mat­ters to me now is that this is the best I can do – I be­lieve it. So just take a look at it. You might find it in­ter­est­ing, but you don’t have to be­lieve it.”


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