Enduring Allure of Jack the Ripper

An Interview with Ripperologist Richard Jones


Richard Jones is a world-renowned Jack the Ripper expert.

Richard Jones, a world-renowned Jack the Ripper expert. Courtesy of Richard Jones.

Jack the Ripper: What makes the case so fascinating? Some people say it’s the Sherlock Holmes aspect: a riddle and investigation methods everyone can follow. Other people say it offers a window into the history of everyday people like no other genre can. And others say it’s just good old Victorian fear.

How does a “Ripperologist” and Jack-the-Ripper tour guide in London view the case?

One of best-known “Ripperologists” (experts on Jack the Ripper), Richard Jones, joins us today for an interview. He’s been conducting tours of the darker side of London history since 1982, most notably with a nightly Jack the Ripper walk around the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields. Jones has written several books on the Whitechapel murders (Uncovering Jack the Ripper’s London and Casebook Jack The Ripper) as well as books on Charles Dickens (Walking Dickensian London) and on the myths legends and ghosts of the British Isles. He has also written and produced a documentary on the case “Unmasking Jack the Ripper) and have appeared on several History and Discovery Channel programmes discussing the Whitechapel murders and Victorian crime.

For other posts on Jack the Ripper suspects, see Francis Thompson as a Ripper Suspect: An Interview with Richard Patterson and By the Hand of Another: Jack the Ripper’s Victims.

You are an internationally acclaimed expert on Jack the Ripper. How did you get started?

My start in the field of Ripper studies came about quite by accident. In 1982, I started doing tours of London, mostly angled towards the history of the City. In the course of my research, I began exploring the streets of Whitechapel and, inevitably, the Jack the Ripper case kept cropping up.

To that point, I honestly knew very little about the case. But, on looking into it and visiting archives and libraries, I suddenly realised what a wealth of social history the case actually afforded. From that point on I was hooked.

What does historical true crime offer as a genre that you can’t get in modern true crime books?

It struck me at the time I started researching the tours, and it is something that still fascinates me today, that for a brief period in 1888 the attention of the World’s media was focused on a very small part of east London, and the newspaper reports of the people in that area – police, members of the public, and, of course, the victims – are there for us to look at and read, thus affording us an unrivalled opportunity to almost go back in time and live the terror of the crimes as that terror evolved.

So, in short, researching historical true crime and exploring original sources make us eyewitnesses of long ago events.

Page one of the Dear Boss letter, which has been mistakenly attributed to Jack the Ripper.

Dear Boss letter, page 1. Public domain.

Tell me one thing about Jack the Ripper most people don’t know.

He never existed!

There was most certainly a serial killer – in fact, there were probably several serial killers – in London in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s. But the name Jack the Ripper was actually unrelated to these, as it was, in fact, the signature on the infamous “Dear Boss” letter, which was sent to a London news agency in late September 1888.

The police made the mistake of releasing this letter to the public and the newspapers gave it wide circulation, to the extent that, by the end of October, 1888, and into the modern age, the man responsible for the crimes became known as the none existent killer “Jack the Ripper.”

Page 2 of the Dear Boss letter contains the infamous "Jack the Ripper" signature. Public domain.

Page 2 of the Dear Boss letter contains the infamous “Jack the Ripper” signature. Public domain.

Are there any common misconceptions about Jack the Ripper?

Sadly, there are many misconceptions about the Ripper. However, perhaps the most persistent one is the image that we have, thanks largely to film and television portrayals of him, as wearing a top hat and swirling cape and carrying a shiny black bag.

The real murderer, whoever he (or she) was, would have been someone who fitted into the district in which the murders were committed.

This folklore image of The image of Jack the Ripper with a swirling cape and top hat is nothing more than folklore.

This folklore image of The image of Jack the Ripper with a swirling cape and top hat is nothing more than folklore. Image by Dave Scar, Shutterstock.

In your opinion, can the case ever be solved this late in the game?

Unless some long-lost documents or evidence turn up then I don’t think that the case can now be solved. Virtually all the police evidence has long since disappeared or been destroyed, So, from the perspective of suspects the police at the time might have had, we are dependent on the, often contradictory, recollections, musings and memoirs of police officers in their retirement.

Has any new evidence been discovered in the past 50 years?

With DNA testing on an alleged shawl of one of the victims, the case has entered the age of modern criminology. The methodology used on the shawl has been subject to debate.

With DNA testing on an alleged shawl of one of the victims, the case has entered the age of modern criminology. The methodology used on the shawl has been subject to debate. Image from Pixabay.

“New” evidence is discovered on an almost yearly basis. Whether it is useful or accurate evidence is debatable. The most recent example of this is the excitement generated by the DNA on Catherine Eddowes supposed shawl. The newspapers had a field day with this, announcing that DNA had finally solved the mystery. But, unfortunately, it had done no such thing.

Firstly, the testing methods were questionable.

Secondly, it is doubtful that it was a shawl, and it is almost certain that Catherine Eddowes possessed no such garment, since the City of London Police, in whose jurisdiction her murder occurred, logged every item that was found in Mitre-square (the scene of her murder) and they make no mention of a shawl being present at the murder scene.

Finally, even if we do accept that the shawl was a shawl, that it did belong to Catherine Eddowes, and that the DNA of Aaron Kosminski was found on it, it wouldn’t prove that he was the murderer, simply that his he had had contact with her.

Do you have a favourite suspect? Who? Why?

My “favourite” suspect is Michael Ostrog. Not because I think that he was Jack the Ripper, but because he almost certainly wasn’t.

We have an almost complete record of his criminal career from the mid-1860’s right through to the late 1890’s and he was a lot of things – a conman, a cheat, a fraudster – but he was most certainly not homicidal.

He, therefore, demonstrates an important point about Ripperology – that it is possible to build a case against anybody and make it seem plausible.

As for a favoured suspect, I would have to go with Aaron Kosminski. not because of the DNA evidence, but simply because he was the favoured suspect of the two highest ranking officers on the case, Robert Anderson and Donald Swanson, and since they knew the evidence against all the suspects at the time, we have to take their opinion seriously.

Of course, we have the problem that we don’t still have any of the evidence that led them to their conclusions.

Just what is it about this case that makes it so intriguing?

By 1889, a period newspaper was already poking fun at the number of suspects.

By 1889, a period newspaper was already poking fun at the number of suspects. Tom Merry, Puck, 21 Sept. 1889, public domain.

I think that it remains unsolved is what makes the case so intriguing. Plus, it was long enough ago to make it “safe” .i.e, we are not directly threatened by it. Also, it gives us that window through which we can look back on an intriguing period in Victorian history and in police and criminal history.

What do you offer on your Jack the Ripper Tour?

Our Jack the Ripper tour is conducted almost along the lines of a Crime Scene Investigation. Participants are encouraged to question things, to discuss things and to form their own opinions about the case. It is, accordingly, done at a relaxed pace, with plenty of interaction between the walkers and the guide.

How can we book a tour with you?

It is best done through our website.

That sounds like fun! Thanks for joining us, Richard Jones.

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By the Hand of Another: Jack the Ripper’s Victims

Just how many victims did Jack the Ripper have? The number of canonical victims is five, but some people say there are more, and some less. What measuring sticks do Ripperologists use to figure their lists?

Historian and true crime aficionado Cal Schoonover joins us today with a guest post containing his analysis of the primary sources. What do you think? Please comment below.

Welcome, Cal Schoonover!

Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper by (c) Dm_Cherry
Lizenzfreie Stockfotonummer: 514093975; with permission.

Whitechapel 1888: The reign of Jack the Ripper begins

The violence London saw during the autumn of 1888 was something out of a horror novel. Murder was nothing new for the people in the East End, but the horrific way a group of murders occurred starting in April of that year caught the attention of many who lived there. The people of London’s East End in the district of Whitechapel faced poverty beyond what others in London faced. The slaughter houses employed people on a day-to-day basis as well as dock labors. Work was not a guarantee and when it ran out, people did what they had to do to survive. They stole and they prostituted themselves.

Violence was the norm, so to say, so when people’s attention was caught by the Whitechapel killer, forever known as Jack the Ripper, the crimes had to have been bad. On the morning of Friday, August 31, 1888 a carman named Charles Cross was on his way to work “about half past three” in the morning. Cross walked down the dark secluded street of Bucks Row when he spotted something that resembled a tarpaulin in the street. Moving closer, Cross could see it was not a tarpaulin, but the body of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols.

Canonical victim 1: Polly Nichols

Another carman named Robert Paul, who was also on his way to work when he came upon the scene. “Come and look over here; there is a woman lying on the pavement,” Charles Cross said.[1] Moving in for a closer look, both men gazed down at the woman. Not seeing any blood and pressed for time, both men left the scene in hopes of finding a policeman.

Not long after Cross and Paul left did the first policeman arrive. It was Police Constable (PC) John Neil, who was walking his normal beat. Seeing the outline of a person on the ground, Neil shined his bull’s-eye lantern on the figure. She was “lying on her back, with her clothes disarranged” with “blood oozing from a wound in the throat.”[2] Neil called for help and asked an arriving policeman to fetch a doctor. After they pronounced her dead, they removed the body from the scene and taken to the mortuary, where upon further examination, it was discovered severe abdominal mutilation had occurred. A bruise in the shape of a thumb was found on the lower right jaw and on the left cheek. The wound in the neck was noted to be jagged, proving the neck was cut at least twice down to the spine. There was no sign of a struggle either, which indicates Nichol’s willingly went with her killer.

Jack the Ripper: The Nemesis of Neglect

Jack the Ripper: The Nemesis of Neglect; Punch cartoon, John Tenniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Canonical victim 2: Annie Chapman

Annie Chapman, the second victim, was found on the morning of September 8, 1888 in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street. Chapman was a forty-seven-year-old prostitute whose life was just as hard as the others in her line of work. She spent the last night of her life drinking and searching for clients who were willing to pay her a few pennies for sexual favors.

Her body was found by a resident of 29 Hanbury Street, John Davis, who was horrified at his discovery. Davis didn’t examine the body; he just turned around after seeing it and ran for help. Inspector Joseph Chandler testified at Chapman’s inquest that he observed Chapman lying on her back with her legs drawn up. “A portion of the intestines, still connected with the body, were lying above the right shoulder,” Chandler described.[3] He sent for Dr. George Bagster Phillips, the divisional police surgeon.

Phillips examined the body, noting the throat had been severed deeply by a jagged cut along with bruises the size of a man’s thumb. Along with considerable abdominal mutilation, identical to the injuries Nichol’s received. Dr. Phillips noted the killer may have possessed some anatomical knowledge, having removed Chapman’s uterus intact. The killer would have to know what to look for and where exactly to cut without damaging the organ. The killer, according to Phillips, displayed this skill.

Canonical victims 3 and 4: The double event

Victim 3: Elizabeth Stride

Mortuary photo of Elizabeth Stride.

Mortuary photo of Elizabeth Stride. By Unknown photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

On September 30, 1888 the famous “double event” took place. The first killing of the night took place at Dutfield’s Yard, Berner Street shortly before 1:00 a.m. The victim was forty-four- year old Elizabeth Stride. Stride, like the other victims, was a known prostitute, but unlike the others, she was not mutilated.

Louis Diemschutz drove his pony and cart down the dark alley way into Dutfield’s yard, tired after a long day of peddling his trinkets. He could see the gates were wide open on the other end of the alley way, but as he neared the open gates, his pony shied away and wouldn’t move. There was an “object” lying in his path, but unable to make out what the object was, he jumped off his cart and lit a match. The wind picked up, blowing his match out, but he was able to see “it was the figure of a woman.”[4] Frightened, he ran for help, shouting “police” as he entered a nearby club.

Elizabeth Stride was lying on her back with her right arm over her stomach and her left arm extended from the elbow. In her hand she was clutching a packet of cachous, a breath sweetener. Stride wore a silk scarf around her neck, which was pulled tight as if she had been strangled by it. The lower part of the scarf was frayed, obviously from the deep cut to the throat she received. Blood flowed from the neck and onto the sidewalk; there were no other mutilations to Stride.

Another explanation?

Some people argue that Stride was not mutilated because Diemschutz interrupted her killer. While this is a possibility, the more likely scenario is that Stride was killed due to a domestic dispute. While people may or may not agree with the argument presented here, it is important to keep an open mind about how things were in the poverty stricken East end.

On the night Stride was murdered, an eye witness named Israel Schwartz saw a man grab and throw Stride to the ground. There was a second well -dressed man who was within feet of this attack standing there lighting his pipe. When the one man threw Stride to the ground, the well- dressed man ran off. Schwartz told police he was not sure if the two men were together or not. The man who threw Stride to the ground was described as 5ft. 5in. tall, with dark hair and a small brown moustache. He was broad shouldered and wore a dark -jacket and trousers along with a black peaked cap. The other man was taller and wore a dark dress over coat, with a black hard felt hat and carried a pipe.

Michael Kidney as a suspect

The more likely answer is the better dressed man was Stride’s client. Her attacker fits the description of her long-time boyfriend Michael Kidney, known by police to be violent and abusive to Stride. Kidney and Stride had lived together for three years by the time she was murdered and according to Kidney, the two lived together “nearly all that time.”[5] Kidney told the inquest that Stride had left him for at least five months total out of those three years due to his violent acts. He last saw Stride on September 25 and expected her home later that night. Catherine Lane, however, was called as a witness at the Stride Inquest and stated Stride left Kidney after a fight. Kidney denied this, but he did admit Stride had left him in the past. The stormy relationship they had included violence..

If the man in the peaked hat had approached Stride and the well-dressed man with the intent of robbing or murdering her, why didn’t Stride put up a fight or scream for help? Maybe because Stride knew her attacker, knew that she would be yelled at and possibly hit but not murdered. As she was shoved to the ground, her client fled, her killer then slit her throat while Stride was on the ground. The fact Stride still clutched the packet of Cachous in her hand proves she did not attempt to defend herself. Why?

So how exactly had Kidney known his ex-girlfriend had been murdered?

One last interesting fact is the day after Stride’s murder, Kidney, in a drunken rage stormed into the Leman Street Police Station in Whitechapel demanding to see a detective. He was thrown out of the station but claimed he had information about the murder. The problem with this is at the beginning of Stride’s inquest, she was identified as Elizabeth Stokes, not Stride. So how exactly had Kidney known his ex-girlfriend had been murdered? Kidney admitted he went to the police station to complain about her death, yet no one knew Stride was even dead at this time.

The murder of Elizabeth Stride gives the impression of a domestic dispute. However, due to the location and of past events, the hype of the Ripper murders linked Stride to the list of Jack the Ripper’s victims. The fact that Stride was murdered on the same night the actual Ripper chose to murder is a coincidence.

Victim 4: Catherine Eddowes

Not long after Stride was found murdered, forty-six-year-old Catherine Eddowes was released from the Bishopsgates Police Station. She had been arrested for being drunk in public and not answering a policeman’s questions. She was also a known prostitute. Eddowes was released around 1:00 a.m. and was last seen walking in the direction of Mitre Square. By 1:30 a.m. PC Watkins had passed through the square and nothing was out of the ordinary. When he reentered the square around 1:45, he found the body of Catherine Eddowes. Her body had been ripped open, it was a sight that Watkins had never seen before. Eddowes’s abdominal area had been completely ripped open, her intestines were ripped out and placed over her right shoulder. The throat had also been cut along with some small cuts to the face. Much of Eddowes’s nose was also cut off as well as her earlobe and her eyelids were slit.

Further examination of Eddowes’s body showed her right kidney had been cut out and taken away. Like in the case of Annie Chapman, Eddowes’s uterus was taken away by her killer. This frenzied attack on Eddowes happened in less than fifteen minutes and not one person heard any unusual sounds. The Ripper once again escaped undetected.

Police photo of Mary Kelly's body.

Police photo of Mary Kelly’s body. Does the extreme level of violence shown here speak for domestic violence? Opinions differ. By City of London police; Unknown photographer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Canonical victim 5: Mary Kelly

The last murder that has been attributed to Jack the Ripper was a younger woman named Mary Jane Kelly. She was different than the other victims. Not only was she much younger, but she also had her own lodgings. It was at her lodging house that her severely mutilated body was found. Mary Kelly, while considered to be Jack’s last, raises the question of whether she was an actual Ripper victim. Much like Stride, Kelly had worked as a prostitute, but she also had a live-in boyfriend named Joseph Barnett who had “lived with the deceased one year and eight months.”[6]

Twenty-five-year-old Mary Jane Kelly rented a one room apartment at 13 Miller’s Court, 26 Dorset Street in Spitalfields. She was reportedly out drinking at the Ten Bells Pub earlier in the night and was heard singing in her room in the early morning hours of November 9, 1888. By 10:30 that morning, no one had seen or heard anything from Kelly. Her rent was past due, so her landlord, John McCarthy sent his employee, Thomas Bowyer over to collect.

A gruesome murder

Bowyer knocked several times but got no answer. “Receiving no reply, I passed around the corner by the gutter spout where there is a broken window – it is the smallest window,” Bowyer said.[7] The window had a broken pane, so Bowyer reached his hand through and pulled back the curtains. His blood ran cold at the horrific scene before his eyes. “I saw two pieces of flesh lying on the table,” he described to the inquest. “The second time I looked I saw a body on this bed, and blood on the floor.”[8]

He ran from the scene to tell his boss of his discovery. McCarthy, not believing what he heard, followed Bowyer back to the crime scene. Seeing the horrific sight for himself, he knew the police had to be contacted. Mary Jane Kelly had been completely mutilated beyond recognition. Her legs were cut down to the bone, her face was cut off. Her stomach had been completely ripped open and her heart was missing. Her breasts were cut off and placed under her head and the intestines were placed between her legs. Pieces of flesh the killer cut off were placed on the table next to the bed. Her throat also had been cut, which was enough to cause death.

Joseph Barnett as a suspect

While the murder of Mary Kelly was horrific and linked to Jack the Ripper, the question remains if she was his victim or not. Joseph Barnett moved out after an argument with Kelly on October 30. Kelly, according to Barnett, had allowed a woman of “bad character” stay with them and he “objected to it.”[9] Barnett told the inquest he last saw Kelly on Thursday, November 8 around 7:45 p.m. when he came to her room and visited for a while. She asked Barnett for money, but not having worked in a while, he had none to give.

Kelly’s murder screams personal attack, like perhaps from a jealous boyfriend.

During the inquest, Barnett admited Kelly and he quarreled often. He also said he would read the newspapers about the Ripper’s murders to Kelly, who was afraid of what was taking place on the streets. People assume Kelly’s murder is connected to Jack the Ripper simply because of the timing of events; much like in the case of Stride. However, Kelly’s murder screams personal attack, like perhaps from a jealous boyfriend. One can not dismiss Joseph Barnett as Kelly’s probable killer. Although questioned for four hours by Inspector Abberline and released, one must remember that during this era, unless a killer was caught in the act, a murder charge was hard to prove.

Barnett knew how to access Kelly’s room since he lived there. He knew how gruesome the murders were since he read about them in the newspaper and admitted to fighting with Kelly because of her life choices. Another interesting fact came to light during the inquest by a woman named Julia Vanturney, who claimed there was another Joe in Mary Kelly’s life. Vanturney testified that Barnett would “not allow her (Kelly) to go on the streets,” and she stated that Kelly “often got drunk.”[10] This shows how controlling Barnett was toward Kelly and Barnett admitted Kelly would drink a lot but not when he was around.

Barnett may have killed Kelly after another aggressive argument turned deadly. Knowing her death could possibly be blamed on the Ripper, he may have felt more confident that he could get away with her death. One must keep in mind that although he was questioned by police, the police were in-fact looking for someone who may have had anatomical knowledge. Barnett did not, so the police didn’t view him as a suspect.

Just three victims?

The name Jack the Ripper created sensational headlines for newspapers, which kept their readers wanting more. Hundreds of people came forward with false leads and information which caused more confusion. The police really had no idea where to begin and with limited ways and means, did the best they could to catch the killer who claimed three, not five victims. When looking at Modus Operandi, one can only truly name three victims killed by the same person. Stride and Kelly both died by the hand of another, but will forever be grouped into the famous five of none other than Jack the Ripper.

What do you think? Which victims should belong to Jack the Ripper’s list and why?

Thank you, Cal Schoonover!

About Cal Schoonover

Cal Schoonover holds a BA in 18th and 19th century Military History and is working on his MA in history with a concentration on the Civil War. He plans on pursuing his PhD by the fall of 2019. His articles have appeared in Crime Magazine, the Surratt Courier and Emerging Civil War. com. He lives in Wisconsin with his son James.

Cal Schoonover, author of the guest post on the Villisca ax murders

Cal Schoonover, with permission

(c) By Cal Schoonover, 2018, with permission.

[1] Charles Cross testimony as published by The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, September 4, 1888.

[2] PC. John Neil testimony as published by The Daily Telegraph, Monday, September 3, 1888.

[3] Inspector Joseph Chandler Inquest as published by The Daily Telegraph, Friday, September 14, 1888.

[4] Louis (Lewis) Diemschutz inquest testimony as published by The Daily telegraph, Tuesday, October 2, 1888.

[5] Michael Kidney’s testimony as published by The Daily Telegraph, Thursday, October 4, 1888.

[6] Joseph Barnett’s Inquest testimony as published by The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, November 13, 1888.

[7] Thomas Bowyer’s Inquest testimony as reported by The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, November 13, 1888.

[8] Ibid

[9] Barnett’s inquest testimony.

[10] Julia Vanturney’s inquest testimony as reported by The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, November 13, 1888.

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Francis Thompson as a Ripper Suspect? Interview with Richard Patterson

Poet Francis Thompson is a Ripper suspect

Poet Francis Thompson in 1877: By Published by Herder, MO, USA,  Public Domain.

The thing that scares me most about the Jack the Ripper case is not the murders. Oh, no. It’s the number of suspects!

The list of men accused of the world’s most famous serial killing spree now far outstrips the number of victims, and fresh suspects appear every decade. With the publication of each new Ripper book comes totally convincing arguments that the newly introduced suspect could have murdered and mutilated at least five women in Whitechapel in 1888. That always leaves me with lingering questions:

Were Victorian men really that depraved? Were there so many of them really capable of history’s most famous serial killing spree?

The answers suggested in the Ripper literature frighten me more than the crimes, because collectively, they say yes.

With that ripe fodder, I’m opening a new historical true crime blog category: Ripper suspects. I don’t really have a favorite candidate and won’t advocate for one over the other. This category will present the suspects objectively.

One suspect, however, more than any other, gives me goose bumps. It’s not because I’ve singled him out as the most likely candidate. It’s because I knew him – through his poetry – even before anyone ever fingered him as Jack the Ripper, and viewed him as an eloquent champion of the Christian faith. Francis Thompson’s poem, The Hound of Heaven, accompanied me through my childhood with its haunting images of a God who pursues the fleeing sinner:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
– Francis Thompson, excerpt from The Hound of Heaven

As it turns out, Francis Thompson knew a few things about sin. At La Trobe University, in Melbourne, Australia, Richard Patterson discovered a Thompson-Ripper connection in a research project. He’s continued investigating Thompson for twenty years and just published the book, Francis Thompson – A Ripper Suspect. Patterson will be a featured speaker at Ripper Conference this coming November in London. (You can read more about him at the end of the post.)

Hound of Heaven poet Francis Thompson as a Ripper suspect?

Hound of Heaven poet Francis Thompson as a Ripper suspect? Image by Pixabay

Reading Patterson’s book gave me a wholly different view of the poet who inspired both J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton. Now I’d be afraid to travel back in time and meet him. Here’s why.

Mr. Patterson, What are the strongest arguments for Francis Thompson as a Ripper suspect?

Apart from his prose and poetry in which he wrote on killing prostitutes with a knife before the murders and writing about killing women with a knife after the murders, Thompson had the means and opportunity to have committed the Whitechapel murders. In researching the life of Francis Thompson it can be shown that during the final murder Thompson was living in the Providence Row night refuge. This was a homeless shelter situated at the end of Dorset Street, the street that the last Ripper Victim, Mary Kelly, was killed in. As well as being only yards away from Kelly, Thompson, during the murders, lived within walking distance of all the murders. I can also show that Thompson was carrying a dissecting scalpel, and being homeless at the time, it was always in his coat pocket. Added to this, Thompson had trained as a surgeon for several years. He had been trained in dissection techniques that are similar to the wounding done to the victims. Thompson also may have been a suspect who was questioned by the London City Police, at the time of the murders. Thompson’s motive can be primarily traced to the fact that not long before the murders began, Thompson was rejected by a prostitute, who broke up with him and fled him. All the victims were prostitutes.

Richard Patterson, author of Francis Thompson -- A Ripper Suspect.

Richard Patterson, author of Francis Thompson — A Ripper Suspect. Photo courtesy of Richard Patterson.

Who first recognized Francis Thompson as a Ripper suspect? When and why?

In 1988, the year that coincided with the anniversary of the Whitechapel murders, Dr. Joseph Rupp, a Texan forensic pathologist, published an article “Was Francis Thompson Jack the Ripper?” It came out in a British journal the ‘Criminologist’. His article examined Thompson’s medical skill discussed Thompson living as a vagrant in London during the murders. Rupp explained that Thompson was seeking out a prostitute who had left him. I have spoken with Dr. Rupp many times, since making contact with him in early 2015. He told me he had studied the works of Francis Thompson and as well as his pathology, he had in interest in poetry. Rupp, who had been introduced to the works of Francis Thompson in college and knew a little about his life, could see how Thompson could be the murderer. Rupp’s article was the first to openly suggest Thompson was the Ripper. My book shows that it appears that other writers have also hinted, before Dr Rupp’s article, that Thompson was the Ripper

 Thompson wrote a poem, Nightmare of the Witch-Babies, about a knight stalking and killing a prostitute and then cutting out her uterus to find two unborn children. Was that a usual topic for Victorian literature?

And its paunch was rent [her belly was ripped]
Like a brasten drum [burst drum];
And the blubbered fat
From its belly doth come
It was a stream ran bloodily under the wall.
O Stream, you cannot run too red!
Under the wall.
With a sickening ooze – Hell made it so!
Two witch-babies, ho! ho! ho!
– Francis Thompson, excerpt from Nightmare of the Witch-Babies

Victorian literature has always had a dark gothic element and the industrial revolution with the accompanied rise of science and medicine brought with it a morbid fascination in anatomy. Novels and serialized magazines, which dealt with the exploits of criminals like the body snatchers Burke and Hare and highwaymen, were also very popular. Even with all this interest in crime and medicine, the gruesomeness and visceral intensity of Thompson’s poetry, in which he reveled in the gory detail of killing and disembowelment of women, surpasses the darkest fiction of the likes of Edgar Allan Poe or Thomas Dequincy. No other works by any other author focuses so strongly or takes such delight in describing the mutilation of women. Only the sardonic Jack the Ripper letters provide any comparison.

Did Jack the Ripper ever cut the uterus out of any of his prostitute-victims?

Yes. Annie Chapman, who is known as the Ripper’s second victim, had her uterus removed.

Has anyone performed handwriting and/or linguistic analyses to compare Thompson’s poems to Jack the Ripper’s purported letters?

Yes. In my research I visited the Kew archives in London and took forensic photographs of the Dear Boss letter. This is a letter that has become infamous for the belief that the killer had written it during the murders and sent it to Central News Agency in London. The letter boasted of the crimes and it is from this letter that the name Jack the Ripper originates. I believe I am the first and only person to have taken photographs of the Dear Boss letter, using a template superimposed over it, so that it could be used as evidence in a court of law. I also travelled to Boston College’s Burns Library in the United States. Here are the most comprehensive archives of Francis Thompson’s letters and manuscripts. I also took photos of Francis Thompson’s handwriting. In 2009 I sent samples of Thompson’s writing and the Dear Boss letter to a document forensic examiner. He concluded that the handwriting did not match. I have not sought a second opinion. Proving that Francis Thompson wrote the Jack the Ripper letters would only show that Thompson knew about the murders and not that he was the Ripper, but I still believed that once my research was complete, people would enquire if it could be shown whether Thompson wrote the Ripper letters, the Dear Boss letter, in particular. Others, such as Dr. Joseph Rupp, have urged me to get a second opinion and also see if Thompson’s handwriting matches other purported Ripper letters, such as the From Hell, letter that was sent to a member of a Whitechapel vigilance committee. The letter was accompanied by a piece of kidney preserved in a cardboard box and some believed that this kidney matched a Ripper victim. As of now, I believe that some of the Ripper letters may have been written by Thompson, and that the Dear Boss letter was written by another person who knew both about the Ripper crimes and about Thompson’s personal circumstances. I detail this in my book and provide an explanation for who wrote the Dear Boss letter and why.

"A Suspicious Character."

“A Suspicious Character,” Illustrated London News, 1888; public domain.

Some authors say Jack the Ripper displayed anatomical knowledge in mutilating his victims. True? Or just a Ripper myth?

I believe it is true. That the Ripper held anatomical knowledge was also something that some of the doctors who examined the victims and some of the police who investigated the case also believed.

In your book, you describe how the poet mutilated dolls as a child. How does that strengthen the argument for Francis Thompson as a Ripper suspect?

When criminal psychologists have studied serial killers and looked at the formative years, they have seen that serial killers show a propensity for mutilation themes in their childhood. Although acts of mutilation does not automatically lead to serial killing they are considered as factor which shows a latency of serial killing. Childhood mutilation acts are one of three indicators which psychologists have named the Triad. The other two are fire-starting and arson as well as bedwetting. Of the bedwetting, I have seen no evidence that this can be applied to the poet, but Thompson, on several occasions, started fires.

As a medical student, Francis Thompson paid money to dissect extra cadavers. Was that usual for a medical student of his time? To what extent might it have pointed to a pathological interest in dead bodies?

Paying extra for anything was unusual for medical students at the time, and probably is still unusual. It should be noted that Thompson’s medical school saw the practical study of anatomy as far more instructive then the reading of textbooks. So it could be argued that teachers would have urged that students spent their extra money on working on more cadavers than was usually allowed. None the less, his family expressed surprised that Francis Thompson spent so much on extra cadavers.

How close did Francis Thompson live to the victims at the time of the murders?

Because Francis Thompson was a vagrant from 1885 to 1889 and spent most of his time living on the streets, it has been hard to track his whereabouts. What we do know is that he used the Salvation Homeless shelter in Limehouse which was the district adjacent to Whitechapel where the murders happened. We also know that he spent nights walking along Mile End road, which is a busy thoroughfare in Whitechapel. It can also be established, by Thompson’s own admission that he stayed in Providence Row. The most likely time, given the strict entry conditions of the Row, was during the first weeks of November 1888. Mary Kelly was killed on November 9th.  From the building Thompson had his bed in, a resident could look out the window down the 80 or so yards to the covered archway that led to Mary Kelly’s bed. No other known suspect can be shown to have lived so close to one of the murder sites.

Did Thomson experience any significant life events when the Ripper murder series started?

Yes. Criminal psychologists look to what stressors where in in play, when a serial killer first begin murdering. Just before the Ripper murders, a prostitute who he had been living with for a year dumped Thompson. She fled him after she found out that he had become a published poet. Included in the submission of poems delivered to the editor that published a poem of Thompson’s was his ‘Nightmare of the Witch Babies’ poem that detailed the killing of prostitute. Previous biographers have stated that Thompson’s friend left him because she did believed that their relationship, if he became an established writer, would cause a scandal. Thompson was devastated by her leaving him and this emotional upheaval happened at the same time of his transition from a homeless man to a working journalist with responsibilities. Thompson was also a long time opium addict, just before the murders Thompson also began to withdraw from a drug that he had been on for many years. I believe that all of these things as well as earlier traumatic episodes in his life and a previous mental breakdown contributed to his mind snapping and him living out in reality what he had only previously reserved for the pen

Why do you think Thompson stopped killing?

Because doing so became physically impossible. Only days after the last murder, Thompson was placed in private hospital for exhaustion and taken to a faraway, male-only country monastery. He spent most his remaining years in monasteries and when he did live in London it was under supervision and within a limited area, far away from where the murders happened. As my book explains, his return to London, however, coincides with other murders, some of which have attributed to Jack the Ripper.

Francis Thompson -- A Ripper Suspect: Richard Patterson's new book.

Francis Thompson — A Ripper Suspect: Richard Patterson’s new book. Image of book cover courtesy of the author.

In his book, “The Cases that Haunt Us,” FBI behavioral scientist John Douglas offers a criminal profile of Jack the Ripper. He says the extent of the mutilation of the Jack the Ripper’s last victim, Mary Jane Kelly, indicates the Ripper was at the end of his rope, psychologically speaking. Such a person would have trouble functioning in society. Does that speak against Francis Thompson as a Ripper suspect? In other words, do you think Douglas’s assessment still would apply to a former medical student trained in the Virchow technique of organ removal at autopsy, and who had already “mutilated” a number of bodies, albeit for medical school dissection?

Yes it would. Thompson’s physical condition and his letters and written work reflect a man at the brink of a complete nervous breakdown immediately after the murders and on several occasions in the following years.

You’ve indicated that Thompson’s editor covered up evidence of the poet’s guilt. How?

After Thompson’s death, in 1907, his editor, who lived until 1948, took complete control of Thompson’s papers. Within days of Thompson’s death, his editor orchestrated the revising of Thompson’s life by suggesting that Thompson hated his medical studies and spent all his time in libraries instead of the surgery. That Thompson stayed at Providence Row, which Thompson himself wrote about in essays and articles, was erased from subsequent publications. Other works of Thompson which showed Thompson in a bad light were burnt by his editor. His editor also made unauthorized alterations to Thompson’s work, removing references to murder and killing women. His editor saw nothing wrong in forging Thompson’s signature so that it would appear that the altered poems were original works.

Thank you, Richard Patterson!

Were you already familiar with Francis Thompson through his poetry? Given what you just read about him, would you feel comfortable meeting him in a dark alley?

Literature on point:

Robert Patterson, Francis Thompson – A Ripper Suspect (self-published, February 2016)

Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven (1893, public domain)

Francis Thompson, Nightmare of the Witch-Babies (unpublished, 1887, public domain)


Richard Patterson biography:

Born in Melbourne in 1970, Richard Patterson, a High School Teacher, independently determined that Thompson may be the Ripper in 1997. Patterson’s continued research has made him a guest speaker at the 2005, UK Jack the Ripper Conference, held in Brighton. He has been invited to speak again on his book and his latest findings at the 2016 Conference to be held in London. He has had articles published on the theory in newspapers, magazines and journals. He authored the Francis Thompson page on the Ripper Casebook, the world’s most visited Ripper website. His research into this suspect has made news headlines around the world. Media interest includes, The UK Express, The Lancashire Evening Post, The UK Daily Mail, The UK Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor Magazine, The New York Daily News, The UK Sun, The UK Daily Star, The Examiner.com, The UK North West Tonight News & Sydney’s 2UE Radio Station, The Echo, and The Northern Star.

Patterson’s research relies on press reports, police documents, letters, biographies, uncut-volumes, and the first hand examination of historical and artifacts relating to the case. These include the Ripper’s infamous ‘Dear Boss’ letter of which Patterson personally handled, at London’s Kew Archives. He also visited the Burns Library at Boston College in the US, where Patterson read Thompson’s notebooks of 1888, and many other original documents including Thompson’s private letters.

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