Francis Thompson (1859–1907) was an English poet, who after, failing in his studies in Manchester, moved to London to become a writer, but could only find menial work and became addicted to opium, and was a street vagrant for years. An editor read his poetry and, in 1888, rescued him, publishing his book ‘Poems’ in 1893. Thompson lived mostly in monasteries in Wales and at Storrington, but wrote three books of poetry, with other works and essays.
One-Hundred-and-Thirty-Years is beyond the experience of any human lifetime. The East End murders of 1888, as well as being a criminal case, is history. An anonymous letter was sent, believed by the police to be authentic, which was signed 'Jack the Ripper'. This name is more used by historians who write about these senseless murders.
It is not surprising that facts sometimes blend with opinion. One idea often spoken about is that the Jack the Ripper murders, by shining a spotlight on the lives on the people who lived in the slums that they occurred, brought about social reform. This included improvement in housing, sanitation, and education. This idea, that despite a few deaths the lives of the populace as a whole was improved has become ingrained. It is even taught to students of High School History Curriculum.
Bizarrely, the Ripper edges ever closer to being added to the list of the ‘Saints of Whitechapel.’ - Those many good men and women who spent their lives working hard to improve conditions in London’s slums. The ‘Social Reformer’ myth arises from our need to find sense in chaos. The truth is that the Ripper took life and the potential for new life. We will never know the possibility that one of the victim's may have brought about positive social change. Nor can we ever know if the never born generations of these victims, these mothers, sisters, daughters, might have too brought about improvements to society.
Instead of trying to find good in the bad by using the worn-out social reform rhetoric, there is a very simple counter-example for Jack the Ripper and his murders. There is the English poet, Francis Thompson. It was from Spitalfields, where the Ripper murders were centered, that, in 1888, a charitable editor rescued Thompson from a life of poverty.
Even though, unlike the Ripper, Thompson is hardly mentioned now, after his death in 1907, his fame as a poet grew, until by the 1940s, he was a commonly read and in most poetry anthologies. However, now he has drifted into obscurity while the immortal Ripper has become the industrial tourist complex that it is today.
How easy it is to contrast Thompson with the Ripper. Unlike the Ripper, who is universally feared and loathed for his horrendous murders and mutilation, Thompson, when he is rarely remembered, is spoken of in glowing terms. Thompson was born in Preston, in 1859. Despite coming from a respectable but rather dull family, he grew into a gifted wordsmith. Newspapers praised his works. The ‘Speaker’ wrote,
‘Mr Thompson’s poetry, at its very highest, attains a sublimity unsurpassed by any Victorian poet.’
If there were no better poet than Thompson, it would be hard to find a worse murderer than the Ripper. Papers such as the, ‘East London Advertiser’ were limitless in their condemnation, ‘what can be more appalling than the thought that there is a being in human shape stealthily moving about a great city, burning with the first for human blood and endowed with such diabolic astuteness, as to enable him to gratify his fiendish lust with absolute impunity.’
Thompson, after reaching London, from Manchester, in 1885, with the aim of becoming a writer, drifted into destitution. Yet, somehow he survived homelessness and the dangers of the very crime-ridden streets, in which the Ripper roamed, to become a noted poet. While the papers described Thompson as a, ‘genius of rare inspiration,’ The Ripper seemed to be gifted only with diabolical luck and the ability to strike terror. The papers described the murderer with these words, ‘Hideous malice, deadly cunning, insatiable thirst for blood.’ This is how the same papers considered Thompson, ‘of all poets to be the most celestial in vision… He is an Argonaut of literature.’ They judged the Ripper as a, ‘a murderous maniac,’ a ‘ghoul-like creature who stalks through the streets of London, stalking down his victim.’ Of Thompson, his editor’s wife wrote, ‘He was one of the most innocent of men.’
Unlike the Ripper who gutted women, apart from his brilliant poetry, Thompson, seems to have done nothing notable. After his rescue from homelessness Thompson spent his years, until he died, aged only 47, mostly in country monasteries. These religious sanctuaries were an ideal place for Thompson to write about God and reflect on the bible. His poem, ‘Little Jesus,’ is a pretty poem that shows his wish to understand the spiritual life and the divine:
‘Little Jesus, was thou shy
Once, and just so small as I?
And what did it feel like to be
Out of Heaven, and just like me?
Did Thou sometimes think of there,
And ask where all the angels were?
I should think that I would cry
For my house all made of sky;’
The Ripper, if the infamous letters did come from him, had God furthest from his mind when he wrote, ‘I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them,’ and in the gruesome ‘From Hell’ letter in which he boasted, ‘I send you half a kidney. I took from one woman, preserved it for you, the other piece I fried it and ate; it was very nice.’ Distinctly different from the mutilating, cannibalistic Ripper, Thompson enjoyed quaint pursuits. Like the time he took his editor’s small children ice-skating in Kensington Gardens. Here is part of a letter he wrote to their father,
‘If the children had half so delightful an afternoon as I had with them, I shall not doubt whether they enjoyed themselves. Cuckoo, considering how new he is to the ice, got on very well; far better than I expected from his delicate frame. He was quite brave about his tumbles – and to be sure, Monica did her best to familiarise him with them. … Let me thank you warmly for your kindness in trusting the children to me. Or shall I say trusting me to them? .. I desired nothing better than to play with them. Indeed, they could not have been better or kinder.’
When we think of the Ripper and how he is remembered for his carnage and savagery, we should be grateful that from the very streets that he roamed came Francis Thompson. His poetry was so inspiring that within a year after his early death, which was came from complications of the lung, the paper ‘The Stylus’ wrote.
‘There died quietly in a London hospital a man of the rarest genius … To have felt and loved Francis Thompson’s poetry is one of those spiritual gains in our life which, come what may, can never be lost entirely. He was rather a soul, a breath, than a man. It is the mind of a woman in the character of a child, so that we feel for him less admiration than tenderness and gratitude. Francis Thompson has done the world an inestimable good, if the world will but recognize it, for he has succeeded in cloaking all things with the divine presence, and so vividly that we can almost see God in our midst. Truly a miracle was performed by this poet inspired of the Holy Ghost, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”’
It seems that Thompson’s time on Earth was an answer to everyone’s prayers, but when prayers were directed to the Ripper, it was for a far different reason. Consider the thoughts of Inspector Walter Dew who explained,
'I was on the spot, actively engaged throughout the whole series of crimes. I ought to know something about it. Yet I have to confess I am as mystified now as I was then by the man's amazing elusiveness. England had never known anything like it before; I pray she never will again.'
When it comes to the lasting influence of the Ripper and Thompson, the differences are as plain as black and white. Many serial killers have professed an admiration for the Ripper and copycat killers abound. Examples would include Peter Sutcliffe, who is better known as the, Yorkshire Ripper. Sutcliffe, like the Ripper targeted mostly prostitutes and, in 1981, he was convicted of murdering 13 women.
Thompson’s influence is so different to the Ripper that it is almost unbelievable they shared the same home ground in the East End, let alone the same universe. Thompson is often named the ‘poets poet,’ because his works served as an inspiration for such greats literary figures as Oscar Wild, C.S Lewis, G.K Chesterton, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Eugene O'Neill, and Robert Frost.
More notably, the author, J. R. R. Tolkien, used phrases and words coined by Thompson for his Middle Earth Books. He lectured on Thompson's work describing how influential he was to his writing. The Indian civil rights activist, Mahatma Gandhi, kept a copy of Thompson's poetry beside his bed while under house arrest, for protesting British rule. Gandhi praised Thompson's poetry. He even went as far as recommending it as a remedy for anxiety. The American civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jnr, quoted Francis Thompson's poetry in his sermons. The United States Supreme Court quoted Thompson's poetry in its historic 1955 Brown v. Board of Education, judgment on desegregation.
Thompson's poetry has been published in 70 languages. These are just some of the reasons why Thompson is often described as the greatest mystical poet of modern times.
All this must make you think why would Thompson be included in this book, which is a rogue’s gallery of cutthroats, madmen, and conmen. Jack the Ripper and Francis Thompson and Francis Thompson and Jack the Ripper have hardly anything in common. It looks like what we have here is another of those fanciful theories because, as everybody thinks, the Ripper was probably an unknown random guy that nobody has ever heard of. Naming Thompson as a suspect looks like a desperate attempt to cherry pick. It appears to be another a rehash of a stale idea. Finding somebody, we have heard of and frame him for the crimes. It is usually the opposite of real research. This article could be yet an attempt to slander a good name to cash in on the Ripper craze. Any reasonable person, with good taste, would wipe Thompson’s name off from the suspect list.
However, let us take a closer look at Francis Thompson. Where the Ripper actually lived is conjecture though many accept that if he was not a local man, he must have lived close by. This is because he seemed to know the streets very well and had many opportunities to kill repeatedly. The local killer idea fits in well with what we know of modern profiling on serial killers. Thompson lived at ‘The Row.’ This was the common name for a homeless person’s night refuge on 50 Crispin Street, Spitalfields.
The Sisters of Mercy, an order of nuns, ran this shelter, properly named, Providence Row night refuge. The Row was unique because it had a policy of not locking residents in at night. The Row allowed residents to leave at all hours. This was because the nuns encouraged its guests to find work and many of the jobs they sought were ones that required unusual work hours. These trades included lamplighters, matchbox sellers, market porters, and other trades that required late night and early morning work. If the Ripper slept at a refuge, The Row would have perfectly suited his nightly excursions. The Row was, and still is, situated opposite the entrance to Dorset Street, which held Miller’s Court where Mary Kelly was killed. Tracing Thompson’s movements it is most likely that he was admitted to The Row on November the 5th 1888, and left on November 15th. This means that poor Thompson was living less than 100 yards from Mary Kelly when she was killed on November 9th.
Such bloodshed so near to a sensitive poet must have been shocking. It may be the reason why the editor, who rescued him on the 15th and sent him to a private hospital to recover from exhaustion, never mentioned The Ripper when he spoke of Thompson. It may be the reason why his editor, after Thompson’s death, in 1907 removed all the references that Thompson made in his many essays, about staying at The Row. It must have been difficult for this editor to not tell everyone he met that the brilliant poet that he discovered stayed at the same refuge that Mary Kelly was also supposed to have once stayed. Especially when the editor was particularly interested in the Jack the Ripper murders. Not only did he follow all the press reports, but spoke to his closet friends about the latest reports and shared his theories on suspects and motives.
Another person, involved in writing and publishing, who did not have the same hesitation about speaking of a poet in the East End was was the English writer Robert Thurston Hopkins who told,
‘One of Mary Kelly’s friends was a poor devil-driven poet who often haunted the taverns around the East End. I will call him “Mr. Moring”, but of course that was not his real name. Moring would often walk about all night and I had many long talks with him as together we paced the gloomy courts and alleys’
Nobody has yet to have found out whom this Mr. Moring was, but Hopkins did describe him. ‘He had black, lank hair and a moustache, and the long, dark face of the typical bard’ He may have as well been describing the poet, Thompson, since that is how he looked. Hopkins also wrote of his friend and how he, ’knew every opium den in the East End – although at that time they were not counted in with the sights of London’ Thompson had by 1888 formed a decade long opium habit. He usually took it in the form of laudanum in which the opium was mixed with wine, but if necessary would smoke it from his long clay pipe which was his constant companion. Hopkins, who was friends also with Thompson’s editor, did not go straight to the police with his suspicions, when he learned of the death of Mary Kelly. Hopkins reason why not was simple. ‘I could not connect a man of such extraordinary gentleness committing such a dreadful series of outrages.’
Spitalfields must be a small world because not only did it fit within its boundaries the Ripper who encountered Mary Kelly, but also Mary, the prostitute, it seems, was a friend to a poet. Spitalfields grows smaller still, because another fact is that our gentle, Francis Thompson, the poet, was also friends with a prostitute.
In the spring of 1887 Thompson, befriended a prostitute, when he was on the London streets. To this day, despite the fact that both lived together from June of 1887 until June of 1888, her very name has been kept a secret. Peculiarly, the son of his editor dubbed her a ‘Sister of Charity’ after the nuns who ran The Row. This was because she allowed Thompson to share her lodgings and not only was she his lover, but she encouraged him to write to the editor who would rescue him from poverty a few days after the last Ripper murder.
In June 1888, Thompson discovered that the editor had published some pieces of his poetry. He told his prostitute of his change in fortune and she promptly left him. So shocked was he that she had fled that he refused to leave. the streets. He was determined to track her down. This was why during the Jack the Ripper murders Thompson was living in the East End. By July, while seeking her, he was staying in the Limehouse. This district is adjacent to Whitechapel. He spent his first nights searching for the along Mile End Road, not far from where Mary Ann Nichols, whom many believe to be the Ripper’s first murder victim, was killed. Thompson was no longer in contact with his editor. Though by the end of August, thanks to his editors, benefice, Thompson was now wearing fresh clothes, had bathed, and had coins in his pocket. It would not be until Mid-November when Thompson turned up on editor’s doorstop, exhausted from his night’s escapes, that he remade contact with him.
Thompson was incredibly lucky, since he was on the very streets and during the very nights that the Ripper was, that he did not meet the knife-wielding madman. If he had would have had little means to protect himself, apart from the knife that he had. Thompson was carrying a long-bladed, general-use dissecting scalpel at the time of the murders. In his many run-ins with the police, who he said were ‘against him,’ his excuse for possessing it and why it needed to be razor sharp was that he ‘needed it to shave.’ Being homeless, Thompson had it with him all the time. He carried it within one of the pockets of the long brown coat he wore.
We might wander what might have been on Thompson’s mind while he was seeking the prostitute who betrayed and abandoned him. As it is, we only have his writings at the time to draw upon. This is how Thompson described these night workers.
‘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!’
However, Thompson was a poet. Perhaps we can glean some information on what he thought of streetwalkers, such as the one who left him from his poems. A great example if his ‘The Nightmare of the Witch Babies.’ Never published, but found in the notebook he carried. A reading of it would make you think that it was inspired by the very crimes of the Ripper, because it so reminiscent of their brutalities, but a note written beside it by Thompson, ‘Finished before October 1886,’ shows that it was written before the murders began. The poem begins with the protagonist, a ‘lusty knight’ on a hunt, but he hunts in London, after dark, and his game is women.
‘A lusty knight,
On a swart [black] steed,
Rode upon the land
Where the silence feels alone,
Rode upon the Land
Rode upon the Strand
Of the Dead Men’s Groan,
Where the Evil goes to and fro
Two witch babies, Ho! Ho! Ho!
A rotten mist,
Like a dead man’s flesh,
Was abhorrent in the air,’
As he rides through a desolate landscape of the metropolis, the knight catches sight of a suitable prey.
‘What is it sees he?
There in the frightfulness?
There he saw a maiden
Sad were her dusk eyes,
Long was her hair;
Sad were her dreaming eyes,
Misty her hair,
And strange was her garments’
Soon he begins to stalk her.
‘Swiftly he followed her.
Eagerly he followed her.
Then she disappoints him. He discovers she is unclean.
‘Lo, she corrupted!
The knight captures her and decides to kill her. He slices her open and drags out the contents of her stomach. He guts her like an animal in order to find and kill any unborn offspring she may have. The poem ends with a macabre twist and his rapture at finding, not just a single fetus, but twins.
‘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!’
The entire poem contains phrases like ‘the bloody-rusted stone’, ‘blood, blood, blood’, ‘No one life there, Ha! Ha!’ and ‘Red bubbles oozed and stood, wet like blood’. It has a plot, which reads like the description of a slaughterhouse. The Ripper would have loved it, although none of his victims were proved to be pregnant, though there are rumours that Mary Kelly was and showed signs of morning sickness before she was killed and had her uterus removed and taken away.
Not only was Kelly’s uterus removed, but also her heart. Doctor Robert Bond, a surgeon who was asked to perform her autopsy, recorded the mutilations,
‘The pericardium was open below and the heart absent.’
The pericardium is a layer of tissue that holds the heart in place. To get to the heart this membrane had first to be sliced open. The removal of organs was a feature of the Ripper killings. The agility that the killer showed in doing so, while working in almost total darkness and under strict time constraints, led other surgeons to suggest that the Ripper had good anatomical knowledge, such as a medical student or doctor might possess. Dr Bond, on the other hand, concluded that the Killer was not a doctor, mainly because the removal of the various organs, which the Ripper performed, was not a skill, in Dr Bond’s experience, that doctors were trained to do. Today pathologists routinely remove the organs from cadavers, but when Dr Bond studied at London’s King’s College Hospital, between 1860 and 1865, this was unheard of. The Ripper, however, routinely removed organs and Francis Thompson did too.
When people talk about Jack the Ripper and the mysteries surrounding him, top of the list of topics are the arguments on whether he was medically trained. With the Ripper we could speculate endlessly but not with Thompson. Before he was homeless in London and before he became a poet, Thompson was a medical student.
Theorists who favor suspects who have had little or no medical training like to write that there existed anatomical books that anyone could read that would have given the murderer enough knowledge to have carried out the murders. Some suspects are strengthened by their possessing some degree of anatomical training. I do not think you will find anyone better trained to perform as the Ripper did, than Francis Thompson.
Thompson’s medical school was not your normal school and Thompson was not your normal medical student. What made Thompson’s school so special was how well they trained their students in surgery and anatomy and what made Thompson special was how much he studied and how his studies reflected the nature of the injuries done to the victims.
Francis Thompson, from 1878 until 1883, was a student at Manchester’s Medical College. When it came to hands on anatomical studies, and innovative training of surgical techniques, it was a first class school. The book, ‘The Study of Anatomy in Britain, 1700-1900,’ had this to say about where Thompson learnt his skills with a knife.
‘If there is one point which stands out most prominently in the many conspicuous recommendations of the Manchester Medical School. It is the wealth of material - anatomical, pathological and clinical, - at the disposal of the teachers, and this has been a characteristic feature during the whole of its career. One of the greatest difficulties of medical schools is to obtain a sufficient supply of subject for dissection, but this has never been felt at Manchester There is accommodation in the dissecting room for 250 students.’
To study there it was compulsory that students possessed great physical strength to cope with the arduous workload and subdue patients, fearful of having operations done to them at a time when there were not anesthetics.
Thompson’s medical skill was the inspiration for the 1988 article that came out in, the, ‘Criminologist’ The article was called, ‘Was Francis Thompson Jack the Ripper, and it was written by Joseph C. Rupp, M.D., Ph.D,. This Texan pathologist reiterated claim in the forward to my 2016 book, ‘Jack the Ripper, The Works of Francis Thompson.’ In the forward to my book he wrote,
‘As a forensic pathologist for over fifty years I have personally with my own two hands performed approximately one autopsy a day, that is a total of about 9,000 autopsies performed during my working life. Performing an autopsy is a skilled task. If someone came to me and offered a king’s ransom to perform a partial autopsy (evisceration) in the dark, on the ground, bare handed with only a surgical knife and no assistance plus a time constraint of a few minutes, my answer would be, “Certainly not, are you crazy?” And yet such a feat was accomplished not once but at least four times. It is almost impossible to even contemplate such a feat of daring and dexterity.
How could such a thing be possible in the near darkness with slippery blood all over the scene from the slashed arteries in the neck, the body fully clothed and all of the London police force out searching for you. Yet, Jack did lt. Now take look at Francis Thompson, our suspect, with six years in medical school, three times through the medical curriculum which meant that he may have taken the anatomy course three times’
Daily attendance, for Thompson, at his medical school, was also compulsory. The school’s record of daily attendance testifies that Thompson was a keen student. Biographer Bridget Boardman, in her 1988 ‘Francis Thompson, Between Heaven & Charing Cross,’ wrote about Thompson’s studies, at the college and the Manchester Hospital Medical Infirmary, the 19th century equivalent of our modern hospital’s Emergency Department.
‘Anatomy had always occupied a central place in training and the dissecting of cadavers was accompanied by far more practical experience in assisting at operations ... his time was almost equally divided between the college and the hospital … students were deliberately discouraged from using the library in preference to the dissecting room.’
Francis Thompson was taught, the then almost unheard of technique of organ removal in dissections by his instructor, Dr Julius Dreschfeld. This Professor of Pathology, was Thompson’s lecture and he was also the Director of the infirmary where Thompson gained practical work experience. The procedure, the professor taught, of how to cut into cadavers and remove organs, is called the Virchow Method. Dreschfeld was taught it directly by the German Pathologist Rudolf Virchow. The pioneering work of this Pathologist is now seen everyday in dissecting rooms but, when the Ripper was taking away kidneys and uteruses, the practice taught to do this had not yet extended beyond the walls of Thompson’s college. A read of the school’s 145-page textbook on the Virchow method, named. ‘Post-Mortem Examination with especial reference to medical-legal practice, is interesting. Here is Virchow describing, in more detail Dr. Bond’s observation of the removal of Mary Kelly’s heart.
‘To bring the heart into the right position for the dissection, when the incisions for the right side are to be made, I extend firmly the forefinger of the left hand, and push it under the heart, and keep it against the base, so that the ventricular portion hangs down over the forefinger, which is as a fulcrum to it.’
In the same book, Virchow pointed out that a clever student, like Thompson was, should improvise,
‘It is scarcely necessary to point out that there are many cases in which deviations from this method are not merely allowable, but also absolutely necessary. The individuality of the case must often determine the plan of the examination … A good pathological anatomist is perfectly able to dissect all the viscera of one subject, or even of two, with one knife.’
Virchow’s words must have been reassuring to Thompson, when he was living in Spitalfields with his dissecting knife in his coat pocket. It must have given him hope that even in Spitalfields, he good get to work if his knife was nice and sharp. Despite what the Ripper did – remove victim Eddowes’ kidney, Kelly’s heart etc.…– we can not say for sure what he thought about the worth of such a practice, but we can for Thompson, who wrote, in one of his poems, lines such as,
‘The life-gashed heart, the assassin’s healing poniard [knife] draw.
The remedy of steel has gone home to her sick heart.
Her breast, dishabited,
Revealed her heart above,
A little blot of red.’
Thompson not only thought that cutting women open and removing their hearts was a ‘good’ thing to do for its ‘healing’ properties, he thought it to be an almost sacred duty and compared it to the rites of mummification as practiced by the ancient Egyptians. This is how he related it,
‘The purifying power of suffering was known even to the heathen. In the Egyptian obsequies, [funeral rites.] the removal of the most perishable parts of the body, the preservation of the rest by steeping and burning nitre, signified the cleansing of the human being by pain; and the symbolism was emphasised by the words spoken over the embalmed corpse, “Thou art pure, Osiris, thou art pure”.’
Despite his many years of practical studies, Thompson failed to become a doctor. This was because of he refused to attend the final one-day examination. It seemed that actually becoming a doctor and swearing the Hippocratic oath, in which a promise is made to do no harm, did not appeal to him. This did not lesson his love of dissection. So strong was his liking for it that he spent much more money on gaining fresh corpses than his studies required. His sister, Mary Thompson, remarked upon it,
‘‘He could get into a temper when roused. … Many a time he asked my father for £3 or £4 for dissecting fees; so often that my father remarked what a number of corpses he was cutting up.’
To qualify in medicine, a trainee doctor had to dissect two bodies in a two-year teaching-cycle, but with £4 pounds, Thompson was able to purchase 5 bodies. This was something he did ‘many a time’ during a 2-year teaching cycle. Considering he repeated the teaching cycle three times, we can only speculate on how many more bodies than his colleagues that the enterprising Thompson was cutting into.
With his possessing a dissecting knife and a remarkable amount of anatomical skill, if Thompson were to decide to kill prostitutes in the London streets he roamed and had grown to know intimately during his three years of homelessness in London, he could be seen as the perfect killing machine. The only thing that would render him harmless would be his state of mind.
His editor’s daughter said, ‘We rather despised him.’ His landlady referred to him as the ‘mental case’. His classmates called him ‘abnormal’ and described him, ‘a vacant stare, weak lips, and a usually half-open mouth, the saliva trickling over his chin.’ Research into Thompson’s childhood and events, before 1888; show a history of intentional fire starting. (Twice he set a church on fire.) When he was a child, a ‘murderous impulse’ compelled him to behead one doll that he said was ‘on the terms of intimate affection.’
Biographers on Thompson and psychologists agree that Thompson was mentally unstable. Paul Van K, in his 1973, ‘Francis Thompson a Critical Biography’, wrote that Thompson's behaviour and writing, ‘gives evidence of a schizophrenic tendency in him.’ This opinion was backed up by respected psychiatrist Thomas Verner Moore, who wrote in the ‘Psychoanalytic Review,’ about Thompson,
‘He manifested that shut-in reaction type which might readily have developed into a full-grown dementia praecox.’ [childhood psychosis]. Moore explained in his article that the ‘shut-in’ personality ‘tends to become psychopathic.’
Doctor William B. Ober, the internationally recognized Director of Pathology in New York, wrote in the journal, ‘New York Academy of Medicine,’
‘The life of Francis Thompson (1859-1907) was that of an overt psychopath and known addict. [his writing and behaviour was] … an expression of the most masochistic attitude ever adopted by any poet who has written in English, even beyond the customary limits of self-flagellation or martyrdom.’
After Thompson’s editor got him out of Spitalfields and shipped him to the Storrington monastery, the poet got to writing. In the autumn of 1889, on the 1st anniversary to the Ripper murders, Thompson completed, his only ever story, 'The End Crowns the Work,' about a poet who kills a women with a knife, to achieve fame. So much about Jack the Ripper is a mystery, but if we were to imagine the murderer had written a confession of his horrible deeds, a year after his deeds it might have sounded very much like what Francis Thompson wrote in his story. Here is part of it. Interestingly, this part describes the murderer fears that the police, like those investigating the East Murders who tested their use, would use bloodhounds to track him down.
‘If confession indeed give ease, I, who am deprived of all other confession, may yet find some appeasement in confessing to this paper. With the scourge of inexorable recollection, I will tear open my scars. With the cuts of a pitiless analysis, I make the post-mortem examination of my crime. It was close on midnight and I felt her only. I reared my arm; some violence seized my hand and drove the poniard down. Whereat she cried; and I, frenzied, dreading detection, dreading above all her awakening, - I struck again and again she cried; and yet again and yet gain she cried. Now, relief unspeakable! That vindictive sleuthhound of my sin has at last lagged from the trail; I have had a year of respite, of release from all torments. What crime can be interred so cunningly, but it will toss in its grave, and tumble the sleeked earth above it? I do not repent, it is a thing for inconsequent weaklings.’
Because the Ripper murders are officially unsolved, anyone who tells you they know anything much about Jack the Ripper is telling a fib, however, after more than 20-years of research on Thompson, I can truthfully say I know him better than anyone alive. I know that, in 1888, this man, with an unsound mind, stalked the streets of Spitalfields. He carried his razor sharp knife seeking a prostitute who had humiliated him while his thoughts were on cutting women’s stomachs open. This sums up who Francis Thompson was but might you know him better by his trade name. Jack the Ripper
On the first day of summer, 2006 I journeyed to the small town of Storrington. It was not until the train to Winchester passed through Crawley that the excitement began to build. Crawley in Sussex held my interest for two reasons. Firstly it was near to where Francis Thompson, my suspect for Jack the Ripper, stayed at local monastery. It was also at Crawley were the infamous ‘Vampire’ George Haigh claimed his last victim and tried to disposes of her in a vat of acid.
Before I could allow myself to ponder too long on all this the train arrived at Pulborough, where I met by John Mann, a writer and Storrington resident, who having purchased my book ‘Jack the Ripper’ and having read it had invited me to see the sights. John, an ex Head Teacher, had written to me after being invited to create a temporary exhibition on Thompson by the local museum.
During the 10-minute drive from Pulborough for the seven miles to Storrington, John gave me a brief rundown on the town. Apparently, the residents of Storrington are sedimentary, hardly moving a few miles from where they are born. This tradition has been followed from the Stone Age. The descendents of these pre-historic peoples can be recognised by what he told was their shortness and their darkness. The local butcher, John explained being a typical example.
Finally we parked in Church Street Storrington a few yards from his house. My knowledge on English flora is limited but I immediately noted that before us on the other side of the road was a well-grown Horse Chestnut tree, distinctive by its large splayed leaves and mighty branches. During our short walk to his house John pointed out the gates of a fine convent, now in private ownership that is due to be converted to expensive apartments. John also showed me an intricately carved wooden gate that apparently was a gift from Burma from the time of the Great Exhibition.
John’s house, once a butcher’s, was a quaint but interesting place. Its history could be traced back to the 15th century, and perhaps even earlier to the twelve. What struck me upon entering was the low ceilings, and exposed wooden beams. Its walls are made from wattle and daub and at one end is huge fireplace whose back holds a great metal grate that celebrates the crowning of Charles the second at the end of the civil war. John has been renovating his house and had found some remarkable coins dating back to the 15th century. Even before beginning my tour, I had already felt I had literally stepped into history.
John’s wife, a primary school teacher, was a charming woman, who despite preparing work for her school that holds thirty pupils, proved gracious as she was pretty.
Our first jaunt was to the South Downs. A hilly range that holds an ancient highway and what is now a popular overland trail for walkers. These bare, gently undulating hills, provide an interesting backdrop to the town that is nestled at its base. Near to John’s house is the Priory that Thompson lived during late 1888 and much of 1889. By heading up along the paths to the top of the downs I was literally retracing Thompson’s footsteps as he would have undoubtedly have walked this himself. The local call the path that snakes itself about anthills, thistles, and berry bushes is known by the locals, and by Thompson as Jacobs ladder. As one walks it one is almost completely unaware that they have gained altitude until a backwards glance shows the landscape is exposed in all its glory. The South Downs from Storrington is part of a vast natural amphitheater. Storrington is right at the front of the stage as it were among the limelight. While ascending Jacob’s Ladder John, who proved himself knowledgeable in many things local, explained one plant from another. With surety, he pointed out cowslip and primrose and told me that in Thompson’s day much of the downs were used for sheep farming, the Sussex sheep being a much smaller cousin of today’s breeds. Consequently, the hills would have been shorn and bare due to grazing. Nowadays much of the Downs is marked by shrubbery and the new growths of trees that are huddles in copses in the valleys. The Downs are composed mostly of chalk and flint and here and there this exposed in stark patches of white on the green turf. The turf itself barely reaches more than a few inches deep but provides almost a springy flooring, enabling a hiker to traipse about in comparative ease. From the top of the ridge we looked down and could see Storrington and neighbouring villages. Each are similar by being shaped in tight circles, clustered together to enable as much of the land as possible to be devoted to farming. Storrington has a rather large modern growth of houses, known as the estates, whose dull modern roofs contrast with the low dark roofs of slate of the oldest part of the town. Also from the top of Downs Ridge I could easily see the Priory and John pointed out what he thought would have been the window to Thompson room where he stayed on the top floor.
We walked a mile or so westward along the Down. Up so high on this day the wind was strong, but a fine mist hung in the air. The ocean could be seen several miles to the south, and John let me know that on some days could be seen in far greater detail. I found John an easy man to converse with. He spoke of history, of how the entire bowl of the hinterland was once completely covered in plains of chalk that the millennia had weathered to away, and that once the land, of which Storrington was a part, was an ancient forest. The indigenous people would have lived up on the downs, in huts, or during times of war, in stone forts. The forests below a green see of mystery and unknown dangers. The remnants of these squat stone fortresses could be seen every few miles or soon set on the peaks of the Downs. From each would have been fiery beacons used to transmit signals quickly over great distance. During the Second World War, John told, these same peaks were once used to transmit messages using devices like windmills whose vanes held brightly flags.
As we walked on we spent out time talking of Thompson, scanning upturned fields for stone age tools, which were left in abundance and evidently still quite easy to find. John pointed out some flooded fields, which he said was a technique farmers relied upon to ensure the soil regained its nutrients after a season of planting and harvesting. Near the end of our walk we entered a copse of trees. To my untrained eyes these small thin trees seemed to be re-growth on land left idle, but John showed that several of the trees shared the same root systems that stretched many meters underground. These trees were in actuality the oldest living things in England, being perhaps thousands of years old.
We then came to a cutting where the path was banked on both sides by steep mounds. I thought they were merely what remained of soil that had been dug out for whatever reason from the valleys. John invited me to climb up and showed that the mound was really a huge ramp that began in the valleys to the south and extended up over the ridge of the downs and projected like a finger pointing to the North East. John told that such ramps had been built in intervals for hundreds of miles and all, despite following a natural curve of hills, pointed Northeast as well. For what purpose I do not know, but I venture John has thought considerably on them and may one day explain the reasoning behind what I can only assume, if interconnected, make up the largest Stone Age structure on Earth.
Eventually we made our way down the Downs, where we waited for John’s kind wife Mary, to rescue my tired legs and drive us back into town. Our drive back proved to be a journey through the most charming streetscape that I had ever witnessed. Wonderfully picturesque houses made from local stone and set by roofs of fine thatch met my gaze at every turn. It came as a shock to come back to the centre of town and be confronted by modern buildings. By modern in this case I mean abodes of the 19th century.
While refreshing ourselves a local pub with a maritime name that seemed oddly out of place, [The Anchor] John and I discussed Thompson’s verse in relation to the natural landscape of Storrington, and then we talked about Thompson as an individual, how he thought and how he saw himself in relation the late 19th century, an era that abounded in contradiction, aesthetic and tension.
Having regained our spirits we made out way to Storrington Museum. It must be remembered that old Storrington is a small place making it easy to get from one point to the next by foot. The Museum, which was attended by a retired lady and gentleman at the front desk proved to be small and interesting. It has only been recently established and at the moment consists of a single room full of display cases aiming to provide examples of Storrington from the stone age to modern times. On walls hang old photos of the town, and scattered about are example of tradesmen tools, clothing, bits of roman pottery, flint tools, letters, peasant clothing etc..
After taking my time, with John, who no doubt found all the museum’s content very familiar, waiting patiently. I signed the visitor’s book. By now a third lady, who John later told me later was a worthy member of the museum committee, joined the other two staff at the front desk. John told them my reason for being at Storrington and briefly went into my theory of Thompson and the Ripper crimes. The three expressed the same dignified surprise long familiar to me. The same mutterings of concern and ignorance of people who would soon forget what is thought matters little to them.
The high-point of my planned visit was the Priory that Thompson stayed in. In his day the priory, a large redbrick building, stood just on the outskirts of the town. Now it was housed in its centre, surprisingly close to the bustle and everyday affairs of the town. The priory is a single building four stories high that is surrounded by a high wall. First built as a gift by a local lord for French Norbertine monks in the 1870’s. Neither of us had managed to make prior arrangements to visit so we contented ourselves with tracing its outer walls. We found the double gates at the rear were open providing an easy view of the rear grounds. Now a bank of grass, John proposed that it was originally a kitchen garden. These garden are common to the town. They are walled areas to the rear of houses and buildings devoted to growing food produce for the household. A great variety of food was produced, citrus, herbs, roots, strawberries, and grapes. This method of self-subsistence not only had its origins in frugality but during times of war they would become the sole means of survival. From the drive of the open gateway, we could see the building’s many windows. John pointed out that he thought it was the right uppermost window that was the room where Thompson himself had stayed.
We walked right around to the south side of the building and noted a more recent extension. Across the rode was a little park that held an altar to the Virgin. Set upon stone steps wearing a dress of white with a blue sash I noted the base was decorated with prominent fur-de-lye. A symbol whose origins are perpetually argued.
John and I decided to make our way along the west side of the church where a quaint wooden sign directed was a gravel path. We walked it, me with my camera ready to take photos of the building, when I tall woman in her fifty’s approached us. In a curt manner she enquired what our business asking if we meant to ‘Suss the Joint out’, evidently she presumed our intentions were not at all honourable and was concerned we were casing the Priory for a future burglary. We quickly put her at ease with our explanation on the purpose of our visit. To partly change the subject I asked this lady if she knew were the cross was situated. Thompson, in his ‘Ode to the Setting Sun’ had written of a cross and biographies related how a large cross once stood within the grounds of the Priory. Local legend had it that some time after Thompson having written his poem some troublesome youths had torn the cross down and transported it away. It was not until many years later that this had been rectified with the erection of a new cross. This woman, who might herself have been a nun, although in casual dress, told that we could find the cross if we followed a short winding road which begun south east of the Priory. The woman told that this road led to a cemetery with the cross at its centre. I also asked if it would be possible to enter the Priory. The woman agreed that we might simply knock on the Priory door and see what happens. We bid her good day and following her instructions John and I found this road and made our way up it. On the way I joked that perhaps the woman was protecting a valuable gold relic secreted within the Priory. Ironically this turned out to be partly true. I later discovered that for the Virgin which stood in the little park opposite the Priory, two crowns of gold set with precious gems where bequeathed. John had lived in Storrington for the past thirty years though he confessed to me that he had never known of this cemetery. He had thought the road was private and led only to manor house.
We found the cemetery soon enough. It was a Catholic cemetery with mostly plain headstones holding remains of people from 1860 onward. Many of the names on these Headstones, although Catholic, seemed to be of those foreign to the town, although John was familiar with several names as being native to Storrington. The wooden cross itself, actually a crucifix, was life-size, complete with a suffering Jesus. A plaque at its base, told that it had been erected in 1997 to replace a previous one that had been toppled during a fierce storm. Even without this plaque the newness of the cross, with its lacquered wood was easily apparent. John let me know that anything wooden buried in the grown quite rapidly rotted in Sussex’s damp soil.
Having scoped the cemetery, we decided to make our way back to the Priory. With John close behind I knocked on the Priory door. We waited in expectation. For a long time nobody answered. We suspected that if there were inhabitants they might probably be in prayer. Finally, we heard movement from inside and the door opened to reveal a Cannon who looked at us with surprise. This Cannon a grey-haired man, with a young face and ice blue eyes, listened while we explained who we were and our purpose of visiting. He explained that he had once given a tour of the Priory and walked up Jacobs Ladder with a woman who was writing a book on Thompson. He told irritably that although he had been careful to relate to her the important events and dates of the Priory this writer had gotten all the dates wrong in her published book. I guessed that it was Bridget M Boardman who had written ‘Between Heaven and Charing Cross’. The priest, realising, I knew something about the woman, and proving my credentials with my knowledge of the subject warmed up and was happy to invite us inside.
The interior of the Priory proved to be a simple structure. Essentially, it was a large quadrangle set with a decorative garden at its centre. We asked about if he knew of the cross. In response he walked us down into the halls and showed us the cross itself that was set against the north east corner. He disagreed that local lads had taken the cross away, telling us that after it had been vandalised it was taken into the halls. After he pointed out an old photo on a wall that showed the cross once stood within a small garden inside the enclosure of the kitchen garden.
The Cannon told us the history of the priory. He told that it had been a priory that housed French Cannons during the time of Thompson. The poet was fluent in French so this would not have hindered him. The last French Cannon died in the 1940’s and since then the Priory had been cared for by a Belgium contingent. The Cannon told us that Thompson’s room was not the end eastern one that we had first believed. This room was a private Chapel for meditation. Thompson’s room had been besides this. The Cannon took us into the visitor’s room. It held pamphlets and books. One book was a recent one on Thompson, given, I guessed by the author. The Cannon asked my opinion on this book. I told him although it showed accurate research it did not show an understanding of the mind of the Poet. The Cannon agreed and then offered us copies of a magazine that explained the history of Storrington Priory and of their order. It included a comic book history of Saint Norbet, their founder.
The Cannon then spoke of the Meynells, telling us that they sometimes visited to observe Mass. He spoke of nearby Greatham Cottage which is still owned by the family. The Cannon also mentioned the rumour that there were once notebooks relating to Thompson housed within the Priory but they had mysteriously been taken away during the 1940’s.
Not wanting to take too much time we said our goodbyes. I promised him that if I were to write about the Priory I would use their literature as the resource to ensure that dates and facts were correct. He asked that once my book was finished that I send the Priory a copy. I wonder if he knew that my book’s theme was that Thompson was Jack the Ripper, he would have been so willing to gain a copy. I thought that desecration was the better part of valour and omitted this fact when I mentioned my research on Thompson. It is likely that if I had told him and explained my position at some length he would not have reacted badly, and might even have been keener to set us straight about the purpose and history of the order.
John and I then made our way back to his house where Mary met us and we all supped tea. We agreed that it had been a worthwhile trip. John was happy to drive me back to the station. I just missed my train and John waited with me at Pulborough station. We talked again at some length about Thompson and I told John what I could of the extra research I had made on Thompson which was now contained in my manuscript. The next train arrived all too quickly and I had to run to catch it back to London’s Victoria station.
Produced & Directed by Mark Duffield, of Demon House pictures, in 2017, 'Francis Thompson: Priest Poet Ripper' is currently in production. The documentary is about my theory that the English poet was the uncaught East End murderer, of 1888, Jack the Ripper. The film will present the theory, the author and the evidence to the solution of one of the world's greatest murder mysteries. In November 2016, during week in which the Jack the Ripper Conference was held in London, I was interviewed on location and in the studio.
Film director, Duffield, is used to working on subjects that focus on the Victorian Era, as is shown in his 2012 film Demon. This Gothic horror, set in the late 19th century, tells the tale of a young man cursed by a love that transforms him into a blood thirsty monster. Duffield has gained praise for his work and his brilliant cinematography. To gain some idea of Duffield's skill, here is a link to a trailer for his award winning film.
With the documentary on me and my book, Mark intends to produce a work that is a matter of fact and objective examination my theory. Included in the documentary will be interviews with, the use of actors to re-create episodes of my suspect's life and to narrate his written work and the opinions of many well known figures in the Ripper field.
These include Mick Priestly who is considered an expert on the Ripper murders and whose new book, 'Jack the Ripper One Autumn in Whitechapel' has earned deserved praise. Also appearing is Amanda Lloyd, who is the administrator of the much sought after, Jack the Ripper Book of the Year award. Also a feature of the documentary will be an interview with Neil Storey. He was the Master of Ceremonies for the 2016 Ripper Conference. Storey is a consultant to TV, radio and film documentaries and dramas, and the author of more than 40 books on subjects ranging from Jack the Ripper, to the Battle of Britain. I would like to thank all these who consented to take part in the making of the film.
Duffield has already released two samples from it.The first clip has me speaking at the front of the Providence Row night refuge. I explain how that Thompson was living there, during the time that Mary Kelly was murdered a few meters away, is significant to my theory.
The second shows the actor Jason Ryall reciting a poem by Thompson, written before the murders, in which he describes hunting down a 'corrupt' woman on the London streets and killing her. Ryall's performance was nuanced and very well paced, allowing the audience to see the meaning of Thompson's gruesome, 1886 poem, 'The Nightmare of the Witch Babies.'
Mark Duffield has long been interested in the Jack the Ripper mystery and knows the details of it very well. As we worked together in my part of the filming, I was impressed by his professionalism, courtesy and patience. I am sure that his documentary will prove fascinating viewing.