Book Reviews

Francis Thompson – A Ripper Suspect

“This book solves the Jack the Ripper murders. Within is the culmination of twenty years research around the globe.”

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Few can say they are not familiar with the tales of the notorious Jack the Ripper murders and the ongoing mystery surrounding this killers identity. Despite these brutal crimes occurring over 100 years ago in 1888, the quest for the truth on just who this man was is still very active.

For three months in the autumn of 1888 a killer roamed the streets of Whitechapel in London. Five murders have been conclusively attributed to the work of this one individual, a man who called himself Jack the Ripper, although there may in fact have been many more.

Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly were all murdered in the dead of night with their bodies left out on display in the most gruesome fashion. With little evidence to go on and a distinctly different form of police investigation available then to what we know now, Victorian investigators never did get close to identifying their attacker. In Francis Thompson – A Ripper Suspect, author Richard Patterson identifies the successful and well-known English poet Francis Thompson as not only a literary figure but a prime suspect, and the most likely suspect, in the Jack the Ripper murders.

There are literally hundreds of articles, websites and blogs dedicated to the Jack the Ripper murders with just as many books available on the subject. Theories have been rife and some could say that this work from Richard Patterson is simply another theory in amongst the rest. However, upon reading this book, the 20 years of research this Australian teacher has dedicated to his theory is evident.

Furthermore, his work has some key components which raises its profile; Richard Patterson can place Francis Thompson at the scene of all the murders and he can provide evidence for motive and opportunity.

Richard Patterson is based in Melbourne, Australia and has travelled the world researching Francis Thompson and Jack the Ripper, viewing original documents and giving talks on his work.

He has spoken at the 2005 Jack The Ripper Conference, and as a result of this book has been invited back to speak again at the London Conference in 2016. His website is well worth a visit providing further information, images and video regarding his research.

“When the murders happened Thompson, then an ex-medical student, lived just a 15 minute walk to where all five women were knifed. The bed of this man, whose writing shows a hatred of prostitutes, was only 100 meters, just up the street, from the last victim. At this time Thompson was carrying, under a long coat, a knife, which he kept razor sharp, while he was hunting for a prostitute after their failed relationship.”

His work has also being picked up across the globe with the UK Huffington Post, The New York Daily News and The amongst others, all running articles. I myself discussed his work on Crime Traveller earlier this year (you can read this article here).

Richard Patterson has provided almost a biography of Francis Thompson’s life. Moving through the decades, noting significant events and behaviours he leads into the first link of Francis Thompson to the Jack the Ripper murders. American historian John Evangelist Walsh on completion of his biography of Francis Thompson, added his thoughts regarding Thompson as a Ripper suspect to a footnote in the appendix of his book. Published in the 1960’s, this was a footnote that few noticed or paid any attention to.

Related: Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders [Book Review]

The idea of Thompson being a suspect in the Ripper murders was raised again in 1988 by Dr Joseph Rupp, an American Forensic Pathologist who published a full paper on the topic (available in full at the end of this book). Noticed by some it caused a few ripples, but still the legendary poet that was Francis Thompson was not considered a serious suspect, until this trail was picked up by Richard Patterson.

In A Ripper Suspect, he has compiled and presented extensive research into the background and life of Francis Thompson.

He covers his childhood years in detail, not only his history but how Thompson was as a child, his personality, his secrecy and moodiness and his difference in behaviour compared to other children of a similar age. He discusses the importance that academics and forensic psychologists have placed on the childhood years for the development of an emerging mind, relating to how in the study of serial killers, childhood behaviour is a key factor.

This analysis and exploration of Thompson’s development is interesting and detailed, punctuated by the writings of Thompson himself, enabling a clear picture of who Thompson was to emerge.

In a comprehensive study of Thompson’s life, Richard Patterson has thought deeply about this man as a Ripper suspect. This is not an overview or a summary of a suspect with some points as to why. This is extensive research and it is quite convincing. Examining this man’s life and his experiences, Richard Patterson has been able to piece together these elements, all giving rise to the notion that Francis Thompson became a serial killer.

The Whitechapel Murders of 1888
Francis Thompson is suggested as the most likely suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888

“Vagrants, even in modern society, are largely looked down upon. In 1888, in England, simply being a vagrant was a criminal act and would remain so until 1935.  There was little by now to prevent Thompson sliding into a bottomless pit of despair.”

Francis Thompson is known to have had a difficult life. Despite a promising career ahead of him as a doctor his failure at medical school did not place him well in the eyes of his family. Desertion of his studies and travel to London in 1885 saw the start of his homeless status, drifting from lodgings to lodgings using opium as a way to relieve his failings.

At the same time as the Ripper murders, he was described by shoemaker John McMaster who employed him for a short time as “A damp rag of humanity…He was the very personification of ruin, a tumbledown, dilapidated opium-haunted wreak”.

With the first half of his book dedicated to telling the story of Francis Thompson’s life, it is the second half where Richard Patterson’s theory on Francis Thompson being the elusive Jack the Ripper really comes into play. It tells of disturbing unpublished poems written by Francis Thompson at the time of the murders. Poems filled with blood, razor sharp knives and women. His medical training, proximity to each murder and the possibility he even knew some of the victims comes to light.

“In Thompson’s poem, he begins by describing a female, while thinking if the blood in her body is ripe for taking.  He details how she will bleed, he describes the woman falling while he, the god of grapes, releases his stranglehold on her…..he describes how, in a wild frenzy with a knife he almost severs her head from her neck.”

As the facts come together, page by page it becomes clear just how possible and likely it was that Francis Thompson was indeed the man responsible for the brutal murders of Whitechapel in 1888.

Related: Britain’s Most Notorious Prisoners [Book Review]

Addressing all the myths and debated issues surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders; the infamous ‘Dear Boss’ letter, the notion that Francis Thompson was too intoxicated by his drug addiction to have carried out the murders, Richard Patterson illustrates his argument with quotes and narrative from official documents of the time, from those who knew Francis Thompson and through Thompson’s own words in his poems.

I am not going to reveal all of Richard Patterson’s research here, you will need to read the book for that, but after reading true crime for many years and being very familiar with the most famous unsolved serial killer case in the UK, he has me convinced.

An involved read which is detailed and compelling, Francis Thompson – A Ripper Suspect, provides an intelligent researched look at the life of one individual and how he is placed within the Jack the Ripper story. A historical account which gives a real sense of the era in which Francis Thompson lived and the attitudes and way of life around the time of the Whitechapel murders. This is an extensive piece of work in a book which highlights a perceived mild-mannered famous poet, as a man with a dark past. For anyone who has an interest in Jack the Ripper, his crimes and his identity, this book is a must read and one I highly recommend.

You can purchase a copy of Francis Thompson – A Ripper Suspect by Richard Patterson at Amazon.

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