The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Over a hundred years after the fact, Jack the Ripper continues to inspire morbid fascination. There was the recent big-budget movie, which was an insultingly dumbed-down adaptation of an exceptional, if far-fetched, book (which I heartily recommend). There are bunches of so-called Ripperologists, people who spend lots of time combing over mountains of information--some factual, some not--in an effort to formulate theories about the identity of the killer and zero in on targets. And where there's bunches of people with the same interests, there's going to be a few clubs, like this one.

Well, thanks to modern DNA identification technology, all that fun might be an endangered species. A writer claims to have genetic material from a long-dead artist named William Sickert, who the writer believes was Jack the Ripper. I imagine the tests will be conducted soon, and regardless of the outcome, there's little doubt that other suspects will soon get the same treatment.

Coincidentally--or perhaps not?--the DNA solution is also being employed to crack the unsolved Zodiac Killer murders from 30 years ago.

In the wake of the DC-area sniper hysteria, it's perhaps appropriate that the first big-time serial killer of the modern era makes it back into the news. It's amazing, and not in a good way, how fixated people become on serial killings. I liken it to a social disease: a sick fascination with a faceless killer, which see-saws between obsession and revulsion. I think it's ridiculous to blow up a killing streak of around a dozen people into some sort of national crisis, when you consider that thousands of people around the country are killed every day in much more anonymous--and thus, less titillating--situations.