The waiting, the wondering, the nail-biting anxiety -- all of it is over. Patricia Cornwell has unmasked Jack the Ripper! In her forthcoming nonfiction book, "Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed," the best-selling crime novelist argues that the infamous murderer was actually Walter Sickert, a printmaker and a respected impressionist painter. To arrive at this conclusion, Cornwell and her helpers reportedly pored over fingerprints, DNA samples, crime-scene photographs and other physical evidence, employing the state-of-the-art technology of an image-enhancement computer to ultimately put the finger on Sickert.
What is there for a grateful public to say, except, "Thanks for all your hard work on the sniper case, Miss Timely Set of Priorities?" Americans are mowing each other down at the gas pump, the anthrax mailer is still a cipher, and whoever green-lighted "Good Morning Miami"s is walking around unpunished. But we can all sleep easier at night, knowing that one of the leading lights of airport fiction has figured out who killed a bunch of Cockney whores 114 years ago.
(Or has she? According to a story posted on www.msn.com, Cornwell admits in the book that her research represents at best a "cautious indicator" of a DNA match between Sickert and the Ripper. "Cautious indicator" doesn't strike me as synonymous with "case closed." In fact, it sounds an awful lot like a euphemism for "Hell if I know," but I could be wrong: I don't speak Forensic.)
A spurious enterprise? You bet. But not a unique one. Last week, Orlando Weekly came into possession of a top-secret FBI memo that shows celebrity sleuthing to be all the rage within the corridors of power. If this intercepted status report is to be believed, our law-enforcement agencies are literally looking to the stars to solve some of the greatest mysteries of our time.
CASE#10000023: The Black Dahlia
On Jan. 15, 1947, the mutilated, bisected body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short was found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. To this day, the culprit has not been found. Seeking to duplicate the success of the Cornwell/Ripper investigation, the Bureau has retained espionage novelist Tom Clancy to assemble a comprehensive profile of the brutal assailant.
Thus far, Agent Clancy's dispatches have been of limited helpfulness. Proceeding from what he calls his "Red on Black" thesis that the Dahlia must have been murdered by a high-ranking Communist official, he has supplied us with the names of several former party leaders he believes to be top contenders. Almost none of these individuals can be proved to have spent any time in California, and a routine records check turned up no references to the I.D. "Boris Badenov." One of agent Clancy's reports incorporated a 17-page description of the workings of an SS-1 Scud missile -- a passage that, though rich in detail, was both off-topic and redundant with pre-existing Bureau intelligence.
While the Bureau sees no reason to recant its public support for the Warren Commission's finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, we continue to examine other, more complex possibilities. Retaining the Rev. Al Sharpton as a clandestine field investigator, however, has not facilitated the breakthrough we desired. Only days after getting the assignment, Agent Sharpton broke his confidentiality agreement by conducting a well-attended press conference in which he stated his intention to "finally, at long last, get some justice on behalf of this tragically martyred cracker."
Since then, our man's methods, ethics and sincerity have remained suspect. Instead of establishing a connection between Oswald and the inner cities -- which has long been a goal of the Bureau -- Agent Sharpton has turned in a battery of unformatted, uncorroborated "reports" (on 3-by-5 cards, no less) that posit a shadowy conspiracy between the U.S. Postal Service, Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola and Kiwanis International. We also have reason to fear misappropriation of the operative's expense budget, which in one egregious instance may have been used to fund eBay bidding on an autographed photo of Pam Grier.
CASE#27753956: The Crop Circles
Kelly Ripa says they're definitely alien in origin. We need to reimburse her $16 for movie tickets.
CASE#31494767: D.B. Cooper
Locating the vanished Northwest Airlines skyjacker is still a major priority, but putting former Cincinnati Reds slugger Pete Rose on his trail appears to have been a miscalculation on a par with the Sharpton affair. Rose has refused to file any reports until we guarantee him certain amenities, including his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame and free tickets to all Bengals games. Of Cooper's whereabouts, Rose has relayed only this cryptic message: "I'll lay you 3-1 odds he's in Kansas, and 5-2 on Hawaii."
Capitol Hill is getting hot under the collar about our protracted inability to determine if the enigmatic Disney character is a dog or a horse. Our specially recruited investigators, the Olsen Twins, are deadlocked. "Horse!" swears Mary-Kate. "Dog!" Ashley testifies. Reports from agents assigned to shadow the duo indicate that many a vicious pillow fight has been fought over the controversy. We would be well served to terminate the operation before they kill each other.
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