FRANCIS Thompson, Preston’s most famous poet, has been fingered as Jack the Ripper in a new book by Austalian teacher Richard Patterson.
The literary heavyweight who was born at 7 Winckley Street on 18 December 1859, aroused ‘Ripperologist’ interest 20 years ago, but now Richard believes his new research firms up the case.
The 45-year-old has travelled the world collecting information to prove the suspicion, potentially unravelling the mystery of who the serial killer was who butchered prostitutes in London’s East End from 1888 to 1891.
Richard said: “In my youth, I had read a couple of books on Jack the Ripper because I have a general interest in history.
“Near the end of 1997, I was studying for my Bachelor of Arts course at La Trobe University. I was asked, by one of my tutors of philosophy, if I would like to help on a book that was to be on the cause of criminal deviant behaviour of murderers.
“During the summer break I purchased a small book of poems on Francis Thompson, and upon reading one of his poems I concluded that he might be the Ripper.
“My interest in the Ripper grew as I studied and researched the crimes.”
He added: “It was Francis Thompson’s seemingly sweet and romantic poem, ‘An Arab Love Song’ with these seductive lines that first set me on the trail of determining that he might be the elusive Ripper:
‘Leave thy father, leave thy mother
And thy brother;
Leave the black tents of thy tribe apart!
Am I not thy father and thy brother,
And thy mother?
And thou what needest with thy tribe’s black tents
Who hast the red pavilion of my heart?’
“When I thought of the central argument and logic of this poem I decided that the listener was required to sacrifice everything for love, while the speaker gives nothing.
“Essentially the poet asks the listener to ‘Love no one but me!’ I wondered if a poor streetwalker, who wandered the streets of Whitechapel would fall these words.
“When I read that Thompson had medical training and many people believe the Ripper had medical knowledge, I began researching Thompson’s life and works.
“Dr Joseph Rupp, a Texan pathologist, back in 1988 had named Thompson a suspect, but nobody had paid him any attention. This was partly because he had not placed Thompson near the murders.
“My research since then can now show Thompson living close to all the murders, he carried a knife and amongst much more, he had been taught a rare and specialised technique of surgery that was similar to some of the Ripper’s mutilations.”
Richard has travelled the world researching his suspect, including visiting the Burns Library in Boston, which holds the worlds largest collection of Thompson’s letters and papers.
He has also spoken at length to Dr Rupp, travelled to Thompson’s birthplace in Winckley Square as well as the scenes of the murders.
Richard added: “Like Dr Rupp before me, my theory was seen as an oddity. It has been hard for other ‘Ripperologists’ to accept that someone who achieved fame could have hidden these crimes.
“Now many experts have become very interested the facts I have gathered.
“This new information showing he lived yards from the victims, and wrote about, both before and after the murders, of killing women in the same way that the Ripper did, has made Thompson much more credible as a suspect.”
Richard points to one of Thompson’s unpublished poems, written two years before the murders, called The Nightmare of the Witch Babies.
It concerns the narrator wandering about the streets of London after dark. The narrator tells how, once he finds a woman he believes to be corrupt, he takes pleasure in ripping her stomach open with a knife to look for any unborn foetuses so he can kill them.
Richard points out that the use of ‘Ha! Ha!’ as mirroring the infamous ‘Dear Boss’ letter the Ripper is said to have sent to the press during the murders. It contains the lines ‘I have laughed when they look so clever… They say I’m a doctor now. Ha ha.’
Richard said: “The evidence now shows that Thompson lived in Whitechapel, where and when the prostitute murders happened. He lived down the street, a few meters away from the murder of the last victim, Mary Kelly.
“We can show he lived within 15 minutes walk to all the murders.
“We can say on the night that Kelly was killed, Thompson was able to look down from the room where he had his bed, to the covered passage. The one that led to Kelly’s bed, where she would be stabbed to death.
“Kelly and Thompson are now believed to have once lived at the same address and further evidence points to them being friends. Another important discovery is that, until 1889, he kept a dissecting knife under his coat.”
Richard believes mystery is the key to the enduring interest in the Ripper case, aided by stereotypes and romantic notions held for late Victorian London, with its fog bound streets, yellow gas lamps, and the aristocracy with their top hats and walking canes.