Patricia Cornwell: Wikis


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Patricia Cornwell

Born June 9, 1956 (1956-06-09) (age 53)
Miami, Florida
Occupation Novelist, 1990 - present
Nationality American
Literary movement Crime Novel
Official website

Patricia Cornwell (born Patricia Carroll Daniels; June 9, 1956) is a contemporary American crime writer. She is widely known for writing a popular series of novels featuring the heroine Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a medical examiner.


Early life

A descendant of abolitionist and writer Harriet Beecher Stowe,[1] Cornwell was born in Miami, Florida. Cornwell says that there are numerous links between herself and the main character in her novels, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a forensic pathologist. They are both Miami-born, divorced, and had difficult relationships with their late fathers.

Cornwell's father, Sam Daniels, was one of the leading appellate lawyers in the United States and served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Cornwell later traced her own motivations in life to the emotional abuse she says she suffered from her father, who she says walked out on the family on Christmas Day 1961.

He was on his deathbed. We knew it was the last time we’d see each other; he grabbed my brother's hand and mouthed 'I love you,' but he never touched me. All he did was write on a legal pad 'How's work?'[2]

In 1961, Cornwell's family moved to Montreat, North Carolina, where her mother was hospitalized for depression and the children were placed in the foster care system. By her late teens, Cornwell told The Times [2], she was anorexic and suffered from depression. Billy Graham's wife, Ruth Bell, encouraged Cornwell to write.

Cornwell originally attended King College in Bristol, TN. She later transferred to Davidson College and shortly after graduating with a B.A. in English, she married one of her English professors, Charles Cornwell, who was 17 years her senior. Professor Cornwell left his tenured professorship to become a preacher and Patricia began writing a biography of Ruth Bell Graham.

In 1979, Cornwell started working as a reporter for The Charlotte Observer and soon began covering crime. Her biography of Ruth Bell Graham, A Time for Remembering (renamed Ruth, A Portrait: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham in subsequent editions), was published in 1983. In 1984, she took a job at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia. For six years she worked there, first as a technical writer and then as a computer analyst. She also volunteered to work with the Richmond Police Department.


In the 1980s, Cornwell wrote three novels that she says were rejected before the publication, in 1991, of her first major success, Postmortem. After the success of Postmortem, Cornwell bought five houses and as many cars in one year. Then, after an evening out with actress Demi Moore, who was visiting to discuss playing Scarpetta in a film, Cornwell crashed her Mercedes, was convicted of drunk driving and sentenced to 28 days in a treatment center.[3]

After studying the criminal brain for her 2005 book, Predator, Cornwell said she reversed her position in support of the death penalty and concluded that the mind is formed by nature and nurture acting upon each other, which does not mean that someone is chemically doomed to become a psychopathic murderer. In her interview with The Times, Cornwell used similar concepts to describe herself, saying that she was "wired differently", in a direct reference to her struggle with bipolar disorder:[2]

My wiring's not perfect and there are ways that you can stabilize that. I have certain things that run in my own ancestry... It's not unusual for great artistic people to have bipolar disorder, for example. The diagnosis goes back and forth but I’m pretty sure that I am. I take a mood stabilizer.[2]

"She was a personal friend of George Bush Senior (or 'Big George', as she calls him), spending a number of weeks at the family's summer retreat in Kennebunkport. 'I was supportive of young George Bush because I liked his family. I thought he was going to be another Big George. Boy, was I ever wrong. It's not a democracy so much as a theocracy, and those are not the principles this country was founded on.'" [4]

She has been friends with the family of the Reverend Billy Graham since childhood, often serving as the family's unofficial spokesperson on Don Imus' radio show. Cornwell was a particularly ardent supporter of Graham's elderly wife, Ruth Bell Graham, who wished for herself and her husband to be buried together near their home in the mountains of North Carolina, rather than at a "Billy Graham Museum" in Charlotte that was being planned by Graham's eldest son, Franklin.[5]


Scarpetta series

The Scarpetta novels include a great deal of detail on forensic science. The solution to the mystery usually is found in the forensic investigation of the murder victim's corpse, although Scarpetta does considerably more field investigation and confrontation with suspects than real-life medical examiners. The novels are considered to have influenced the development of popular TV series on forensics, both fictional, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and documentaries, such as Cold Case Files.

Cornwell herself worked at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Virginia as a technical writer and computer analyst, but not in any official medical or forensics capacity.

Other significant themes in the Scarpetta novels include health, individual safety and security, food, family, and the emerging sexual self-discovery of Scarpetta's niece. Often, conflicts and secret manipulations by Scarpetta's colleagues and staff are involved in the storyline and make the murder cases more complex. Although scenes from the novels take place in a variety of locations around the U.S. and (less commonly) internationally, they center around the city of Richmond, Virginia.

There are two remarkable style shifts in the Scarpetta novels. Starting from The Last Precinct, the style changes from past tense to present tense. Starting from Blow Fly, the style changes from a first person to a third person, omniscient, narrator. Events are even narrated from the viewpoint of the murderers. Before Blow Fly the events are seen through Scarpetta's eyes only, and other points of view only appear in letters that Scarpetta reads.

Andy Brazil/Judy Hammer series

Besides the Scarpetta novels, Cornwell wrote three additional pseudo-police fictions, the Trooper Andy Brazil/Superintendent Judy Hammer series, set in North Carolina, Virginia and off the mid-Atlantic coast. Besides the older woman/younger man premise, the books include discomforting themes of scatology, sepsis.

Cornwell also wrote a number of works of non-fiction, including cookbooks featuring Northern Italian cuisine and an analysis of Jack the Ripper. The fictional Scarpettas originally came from northern Italy.

Jack the Ripper

Cornwell has been involved in a continuing, self-financed search for evidence to support her theory that painter Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper. She wrote Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed, which was published in 2002 to much controversy, especially within the British art world and also among Ripperologists.[6][7][8] Cornwell has denied being obsessed with Jack the Ripper in full-page ads in two British newspapers and has said the case was "far from closed."[9][10] In 2001, Cornwell was criticised for allegedly destroying one of Sickert's paintings in pursuit of the Ripper's identity.[11] She believed the well-known painter to be responsible for the string of murders and had purchased over thirty of his paintings and noted how closely they resembled the crime scenes.[11] A curator for a large 1992 Sickert show at the Royal Academy in London noted that the artist "always painted from photographs, and was one of the first artists to do so."[11] Cornwell did claim a breakthrough, a letter written by someone purporting to be the Ripper, in the possession of Scotland Yard, had "the same unusual watermark as Sickert's writing paper" that Sickert's father, who was a stationer, had provided.[11] "If a jury then had seen that," she said, "they would have said 'hang him'."[11]

Leslie Sachs case

Leslie Sachs, author of The Virginia Ghost Murders (1998), claimed there were similarities between his novel and Cornwell's The Last Precinct. In 2000, he sent letters to Cornwell's publisher, started a web page, and placed stickers on copies of his novel alleging that Cornwell was committing plagiarism. The United States District Court of Eastern Virginia granted Cornwell a preliminary injunction against Sachs, ruling his claims were baseless. The court shut down his web site for false advertising and ordered him to stop placing the stickers on his book The Virginia Ghost Murders and required booksellers to remove the stickers already on their copies.[12] Sachs fled to Belgium to escape the injunction.[13]

In May 2007, testifying in a Virginia court in her libel suit against Sachs, Cornwell stated that Sachs had accused her in online postings of being a "Jew hater" and "neo Nazi" who bribed judges, conspired to have him killed, and was under investigation by U.S. authorities. She hired bodyguards to protect her against anyone who might believe Sachs' accusations. She asked the court to enforce a broader injunction to stop his online accusations, charging he was engaging in libel and cyberstalking.[13][14] Sachs chose not to participate in the proceedings.[15] In June 2007 the federal judge, finding actual malice in forty-five false statements by Sachs, ordered the removal of Sachs' defamatory postings until the case was resolved.[16] In December 2007 the court awarded Cornwell $37,780 in damages to cover the costs of defending against Sachs's internet attacks. He also permanently enjoined Sachs from making the defamatory accusations against Cornwell. Sachs again chose not to participate in the proceedings.[15]

Personal life

In November 2007, The Daily Telegraph published an interview focused largely on her lesbian history and identity including her marriage to Staci Ann Gruber.[17] In an April 2008 interview on how Cornwell's life has influenced her writing, in The Times, Cornwell's marriage to Gruber in Massachusetts was also discussed.[18] A 2008 interview in The Advocate discusses how Billie Jean King helped Cornwell to come to terms with talking about her sexuality publicly. In the interview, she says turning fifty made her see the importance of speaking out for equal rights.[19]

In June 1991, Marguerite 'Margo' Bennett and Cornwell became friends after the two met at the Quantico FBI academy, where Cornwell had been researching her Scarpetta books. Margo and her FBI undercover husband Eugene "Gene" Bennett had been in a relationship for ten years, married since 1984, and were parents of two daughters. The following year, Cornwell began an affair with Margo.[20] In 1996, following discovery of the affair, Eugene Bennett was arrested and later charged with the attempted murder of his wife, among a host of other charges related to the abduction of Margo's minister, Edwin Clever, and threats to blow up his church. Gene Bennett was convicted in Prince William County, Virginia in 1997, and was sentenced to 23 years in prison. Margo Bennett had already been forced to resign from the FBI in 1994 after helping prosecutors convict her husband in a federal fraud case. The novelist has denied any responsibility and expressed regret for the 1996 incidents at the Prince of Peace United Methodist Church, implying the blame lay at the Bennetts' door. Cornwell told reporters, the affair was "very brief."[20]

Since 1998, Cornwell has donated at least $130,000 to the Republican Party, and has made additional individual contributions to Republican U.S. Senate candidates including George Allen, John Warner, and Orrin Hatch.[21] She has occasionally supported specific Democratic candidates as well, including Hillary Clinton, Nicola Tsongas, Charles Robb, and Mark Warner.[21]

Cornwell has made several notable charitable donations, including founding the Virginia Institute for Forensic Science and Medicine, funding scholarships to the University of Tennessee's National Forensics Academy, Davidson College's Creative Writing Program (the result of which is the Patricia Cornwell Creative Writing Scholarship rewarded to one or two incoming freshmen), and donating her collection of Walter Sickert paintings to Harvard University. As a member of the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital’s National Council, she is an advocate for psychiatric research. She has also made million-dollar donations to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the Crime Scene Academy and to the Harvard Art Museum.


Fiction series

"Kay Scarpetta" series:
In chronological order.
Andy Brazil/Judy Hammer series:
  • Hornet's Nest (1997) ISBN 0-399-14228-2
  • Southern Cross (1999) ISBN 0-399-14465-X
  • Isle of Dogs (2001) ISBN 0-399-14739-X
At Risk / Win Garano series:
  • At Risk (2006) ISBN 0-399-15362-4 (originally a serialization for The New York Times)
  • The Front (2008) ISBN 0-399-15418-3
  • Life's Little Fable (1999; children's book) ISBN 0-399-23316-4


  • A Time for Remembering (1983; biography of Ruth Bell Graham; later reissued as Ruth: A Portrait) ISBN 0-06-061685-7
  • Ruth, A Portrait: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham, Doubleday, 1997. ISBN 978-0385-48900-3
  • Scarpetta's Winter Table (1998) ISBN 0941711420
  • Food to Die For: Secrets from Kay Scarpetta's Kitchen (2002) ISBN 0-399-14799-3
  • Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed (2002) ISBN 0-399-14932-5


  • The First Scarpetta Collection. Postmortem and Body of Evidence (1995) ISBN 0-316-91125-9
  • A Scarpetta Omnibus: Postmortem, Body of Evidence, All that Remains (2000)
  • A Second Scarpetta Omnibus: Cruel and Unusual, The Body Farm, From Potter's Field (2000)
  • A Third Scarpetta Omnibus: Cause of Death, Unnatural Exposure & Point of Origin (2002) ISBN 0-316-72472-6
  • The Scarpetta Collection Volume 1: Postmortem and Body of Evidence (2003) ISBN 0-7432-5580-1
  • The Scarpetta Collection Volume 2: All that Remains and Cruel and Unusual (2003)


  • Patricia Cornwell is the 2008 winner of the Galaxy British Book Awards’ Books Direct Crime Thriller of the Year award—the first American ever to win this prestigious award.
  • The only author to receive the Edgar Award, Creasey, Anthony Award, and Macavity Awards, and the French Prix du Roman d'Adventure in a single year for Postmortem (1991)
  • Gold Dagger for Cruel and Unusual (1993)[22]
  • Sherlock Award for "Best Detective"[23]
  • ECPA Gold Medallion Book Award, 1985 in the Biography/Autobiography category for A Time For Remembering".[24]


  1. ^ Patricia Cornwell Biography and List of Works - Patricia Cornwell Books
  2. ^ a b c d News and Views from The Times and Sunday Times | Times Online
  3. ^ New Chapter for a Serial Spender - New York Times
  4. ^
  5. ^ Stepp, Laura Sessions (December 13, 2006). "A Family at Cross-Purposes: Billy Graham's Sons Argue Over a Final Resting Place". Washington Post. 
  6. ^ November Article: Portrait of the Artist as a Serial Killer
  7. ^ Casebook: Jack the Ripper - The Art of Murder
  8. ^ Casebook: Jack the Ripper - Patricia Cornwell and Walter Sickert: A Primer
  9. ^ The Grand Old Ripper | News | Books
  10. ^ BBC NEWS | UK | Author denies 'Ripper' obsession
  11. ^ a b c d e Gibbons, Fiachra (8 December 2001). "Does this painting by Walter Sickert reveal the identity of Jack the Ripper? Author rips up canvas in attempt to prove artist was killer". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  12. ^ CYBERLAW UPDATE - Chapter 10: Privacy Rights and Security Issues, Pearson Higher Education.
  13. ^ a b Dan Glaister, Crime writer Patricia Cornwell takes 'cyberstalker' to court, The Guardian, May 24, 2007.
  14. ^ David Mehegan, Crime novelist tries to ward off Internet attacker, Boston Globe, June 7, 2007.
  15. ^ a b Matthew Heller, Defaulted Defamer Ordered to Pay Crime Author $35K, Courthouse News Service, December 24, 2007.
  16. ^ Linda Rosencrance, Author ordered to remove defamatory statements from Web site, Computerworld, June 6, 2007.
  17. ^ Patricia Cornwell: 'Finally, I feel rooted somewhere' - Telegraph
  18. ^ Patricia Cornwell's extraordinary life, April 19, 2008
  19. ^ Interview with The Advocate 2008
  20. ^ a b [1] The Daily Mail, Zoe Brennan
  21. ^ a b NEWSMEAT ▷ Patricia Cornwell's Federal Campaign Contribution Report
  22. ^ THE CWA Dagger Awards Overview
  23. ^ At Risk - New York Times
  24. ^ 1985 Gold Medallion Book Awards Winners, Evangelical Christian Publishers Association
  • Patricia Cornwell Moves To Richmond, Style Weekly, January 31, 2006
  • ''"Crime Novelist Tries to Ward Off Internet Attacker", David Mehegan, Boston Globe, June 7, 2007
  • "Me, stalkers and my lesbian lover", Irish Independent 12 December 2005
  • "I'm not weird, I'm just wired differently", interview by Andrew Billen in The Times, London, 6 December 2005
  • "Best-selling author Patricia Cornwell wins preliminary injunction barring unknown author from creating bogus "scandal" to promote his book "Virginia Ghost Mysteries" by falsely claiming that Cornwell had plagiarized from it." Entertainment Law Reporter, Vol. 22, No. 6, November 2000.
  • Cornwell v. Sachs, 99 F.Supp. 2d 695, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10823 (E.D.Va. 2000)

External links

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