Who is Jack the Ripper? It is a question that has held a long fascination. The identity to the perpetrator, of a series of gruesome murders, targeting female prostitutes in London’s East End in 1888, is one of the great mysteries. The police had several suspects, including murderers, and insane butchers, but none could be proved. Some of the more recent theories include that the murders involved some sort of cover up involving a royal conspiracy. In fact, almost every figure from the Victorian age has been named as a suspect at one time or another. They include the portrait artist Walter Sickert and Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Liverpool cotton Magnate, James Maybrick has been named and even author of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Lewis Carroll have been put forward as the elusive Jack the Ripper. All these theories are intriguing. However, the links between these suspects and those horrible sexual lust murders of at least five women in the parish of Spitalfields are tenuous at best. One would think that all the theories involving suspects who were barristers, doctors, actors, writers, and artists, that the reading public would have had enough but the appeal in trying to solve this very cold case and unravel this secret seems to be growing. A novel and imaginative approach is to imagine the perfect suspect. A suspect whose life’s circumstances and connections to the murders would make anyone, from a learned historian, to the amateur sleuth, sit up and take notice.
To give an example, what about location? Researchers, for most of the suspects listed, have had a hard time placing them anywhere near Spitalfields and even in London. My perfect suspect would have not just been able to reach Spitalfields to commit these ghastly crimes but they would have lived there. I would place my suspect living near enough to the murders so that they could commit them in a moments notice but still at a safe enough distance that they could escape, to hide, without fear of being discovered. Choosing such a place, within the maze of streets, alleyways and courtyards that made up this London ghetto takes some thought.
|Victorian Gladstone Bag and equipment|
But what about the suspect himself? Many people back then and people now, believe that the Ripper must have had some sort of medical ability. An attacker, who easily removed their internal organs, quickly overcame all the women. It would a tricky job, in the dark, which is why people think he must have had some knowledge of anatomy. My perfect suspect would have some. In fact, because I can be generous, I will not just make him someone who trained as a doctor, I will have a student of surgery. I will give him several years training at a very fine institution; a medical college that promoted practical work on cadavers over theory. I will let him keep the tools of his trade. I will say my suspect had a dissecting scalpel and I will make sure it is sharp enough to shave with.
Having the location of the suspect and his ability figured out, I should think about his motivation. It should be a strong motive and sets him on a course of destruction. First, though I need to have him be able go unnoticed. Maybe I could make him a police officer? No, on second thought, scrap that. An officer could not freely be at the scene of all the murders. It would be bound to raise questions. I could make him a foreigner who is visiting the area, but that won’t do either. I need him to know the streets well and the language. To be fair, for these most English of crimes, I will make him an Englishman, and I have it that he is a vagrant. That way he will have an intimate knowledge of the streets, having wandered them and slept on them. He would also go unnoticed amongst his many thousands of homeless companions.
Getting back to his motive, I will have that he was in a relationship with a prostitute just beforehand. She will have been one who he trusted. One who showed care and affection to him, but I will have it that, without warning, she betrays and abandons him, leaving him heartbroken. My suspect will already by a troubled man, who has had at least one mental breakdown before hand and suffering from some traumatic incident in his childhood. The prostitute who has made him bitter could by why he is in Spitalfields. He is wandering the streets to try to find her. See, that makes it, at least in his eyes a tragic romance, and everyone likes a love story.
Because I am limited only to my imagination, I will make him a very literate man. A rare thing in the city of London at the end of the 19th century. That way he can write down what he was thinking and we can read it. Imagine being able to read the confessions, first hand, of Jack the Ripper himself? I will bless him with a flair for the dramatic. I will have it that he even writes dreadful things that seem to describe the murders themselves. His writings will be no-holds-barred. He writes poems, for example with scary titles, like ‘The Nightmare of the Witch Babies’ in which he describes hunting down and disemboweling prostitutes. To add a touch of horror, I will have him describe his joy at ripping into the victim’s uterus just so he can find if they have a featus and kill that too. Just to spice things up a bit, I will make it that he has a secret drug habit, one that lets his imagination go full throttle. Opium will do best. All the great writers back then were on the stuff. With his opium at hand and some talent, he would write lines, something suitable poetic and old fashioned, like the following.
‘Swiftly he followed her
Eagerly he followed her.
‘Lo, she corrupted!
‘And its paunch was rent
Like a brasten [bursting] 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!
ho! ho! ho!’
I will have him write about how he came to decide to kill these women. I will give him military airs, as if he thinks he is like some great knight or soldier, who thinks it his duty to kill Prostitutes. I will have him grow to despise this profession and write that they are worse than any disease he witnesses in his medical training. He will write horrible things about them, but since he fancies himself a writer, I will make his prose suitably intelligent and elegant. Something like the following would be just about right.
'These girls whose Practice is a putrid ulceration of love, venting foul and purulent discharge- for their very utterance is a hideous blasphemy against the sacrosanctity [sacred ways] of lover's language.’
When he writes of his decision to slay them he will say of himself,
‘He proceeds without hesitation and without remorse, "more than an executioner might feel," in a career of bloodshed, … he foresees the necessity for further murders on his part; this belief that he can commit the crime and yet escape its infamy, the necessity of engaging boldly in bloodshed. His natural disposition is that of a soldier, bold, decided, instant in action, accustomed to go straight and openly to his object. Moral scruples cannot restrain him; he has completely set them aside, has resolved to jump the life to come. The murder is done, and he ceases to waver. …He faces all the sequel of his crime as a commander, once having decided to give battle, accepts and meets all the chances of the battle. Thenceforward he sets his face towards crime as he was accustomed to set it towards fight;’’
He will be boundless in writing. He will write about killing them in his poems, essays and plays. Without seeming to sound absurd, I will even have him write all about it in short story, where his ‘hero’ talks about how he psyched himself for the kill. Being a 19th century kind of guy, when spiritualism was all the craze, I will have his story be suitably dark and gothic,
‘No; the first step includes all sequent steps; when I did my first evil, I did also this evil; years ago had this shaft been launched, though it was but now curving to its mark; years ago had I smitten her, though she was but now staggering to her fall …When at length, after long wandering, I retraced my steps, I had not resolved, I. had recognized that I could resolve no longer… I swear I struck not the first blow, Some violence seized my hand, and I drove the poniard down. Whereat she cried; and I, frenzied, dreading detection, dreading, above all, her wakening, struck again...There was a buzzing in my brain as if a bell had ceased to toll. How long had it ceased to toll? I know not. Has any bell been tolling? I know not...Or—was it the cathedral bell?... Silence now, at least; abysmal silence; except the sound (or is the sound in me?), the sound of dripping blood; except that the flame upon the altar sputters, and hisses.’
I am almost done with my perfect suspect, but the problem is he is too good. It would seem foolish if the police could not eventually find this man. He needs some sort of alibi, a way to cover his tracks. I will make it that people think he was gentle. I will say he was looked like a religious man, an almost holy man, as if he could have been a priest. Lastly, I will have him taken from the streets and far away right after the last murder. A naive editor could rescue him, from homelessness? An editor who sends him to some remote monastery in the hopes he can be rehabilitated from his drug habit and become a writer. He could live out the rest of his days, in seclusion and under his editor’s watchful eye. He will live just long enough to gain a reputation as a literary figure, and odd genius and then die quickly and be buried at a small funeral.
Finally, as icing to the cake, and to do justice to such a well-known crime, I will make it that many years after his death he achieves fame. His name will be widely known long after the crimes and when most people who were involved in trying to catch the Ripper are long dead. To provide some added sinister irony I will assign great people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior, and J.R.R Tolkien who will praise him and I will make his poetry a thing to study at prestigious universities today.
So kind reader, there you have it.
It would make a great story; an amazing story. There is only one small problem with this suspect. One that I cannot fix, that nobody will able to fix, even with all the imagination in the world. This suspect happens to be real and what I have told you, his background where he was, his skills, his scalpel, what he wrote, his rise to fame. It all happened. His name was Francis Joseph Thompson.
|Francis Joseph Thompson as a young man|
|Richard Patterson at the birth place of Francis Joseph Thompson in Preston, Lancs.|
Further info on Francis Joseph Thompson here: