In this 1998 book Paradox, R.A. Patterson suggests that Jack the Ripper may have been the poet Francis Thompson. But who was Thompson and why may he have been the Ripper?
Thompson was born in Preston, Lancashire in 1859. The son of a Doctor and from a Catholic converted family, Thompson attended Ushaw College, Durham before going to study medicine at Owens College, Manchester. His medical studies left him bored and although qualified, he never practiced as a doctor. Instead he moved to London in 1885 where he intended on becoming a writer, but instead sold matches and newspapers for a living. During this time he became seriously addicted to opium (he had originally taken for a lung infection several years earlier and had caused him to not be accepted to study at Oxford University) and because of his addiction he became unable to hold down a job and became a homeless vagrant.
He lived during this time in the docklands of London’s East End. He attempted suicide, but was saved by a vision he claims he saw of a famous poet Thomas Chatterton who had committed suicide a century before. He then befriended and fell in love with a prostitute who shared her lodgings and income with him. She later left him as she feared she would taint his growing reputation as a poet. In 1888 he was discovered as a poet when he sent his work to the magazine Merrie England, the editors of whom sought him out and gave him a home and helped him overcome his addiction. His health however had seriously been affected by these experiences and he spent his last years as an invalid before dying aged 47 in 1907.
But why has he been accused of being Jack the Ripper? In Paradox, Patterson outlines the case for Thompson which the authors of the Jack the Ripper A to Z boil down to the following points.
- He was in the East End docklands in autumn 1888
– Thompson was one of over 400,000 people living in London at the time of the Ripper crimes.
- He allegedly associated with prostitutes
– It is estimated that there were 1200 prostitutes in the East End in 1888, so a lot of men probably associated with them.
- He had medical training
– A lot of other men in the area would have had some form of medical training and doctors at the time disagreed as to the level of medical knowledge the Ripper possessed.
- He allegedly carried a surgeons scalpel
– Again, doctors did not explicitly say what type of weapon was used and a lot of men carried knives in the East End due to the dangers of the area.
- He allegedly owned a leather apron
– No eyewitness of Jack the Ripper stated they saw a man in a leather apron (though one was found near Annie Chapman’s body, but this was later found to be the property of a resident of 29 Hanbury Street) and the idea that the killer wore one was most likely a press invention.
- Some of his poems dealt with the topic of men mutilated women
– The men in the poems lived in medieval times, when it could be argued such brutality was more commonplace and it is common for poets to write about dark and violent topics.
- He was a Catholic and the murders occurred on various Saints days that may have had a special significance
– Most days of the year commemorate the feast day of a Saint. The East End in 1888 was awash with Irish immigrants, many of whom would have been Catholic.
- His physical appearance was not unlike the man described by George Hutchinson
– The accuracy George Hutchinson’s eyewitness description is suspect because of it’s detail considering the circumstances surrounding it, and Hutchinson describes a “toff” – not a homeless, drug addicted and impoverished poet.
- A mathematical expert consulted by Patterson stated the correlations present are too many and too concrete to be mere coincidence
Thompson also fits the characteristics given by R Thurston Hopkins in his 1935 work “Life and Death at the Old Bailey” in the chapter “Shadowing the Shadow of a Murderer” of “Mr Moring”, a pseudonym given to a his suspect, a man apparently known to be friends with Mary Kelly who fitted George Hutchinson’s description and described as a drug addicted poet and the son of a well off East End tradesman. However, historian and Ripperologist Martin Fido believes that “Mr Moring” may actually be another poet, Ernest Dowson.
To conclude, while Francis Thompson is an interesting character, the evidence presented by R.A. Patterson for him being Jack the Ripper is entirely circumstantial and could fit thousands of other men. Patterson has recently been working on a novel based on his Thompson as Ripper theory, so the name of this seldom mentioned suspect may become more well known in the near future.