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Francis Thompson
by Richard Patterson

"Every Scope, by immoderate use, turns to restraint"
The motto of Francis Thompson

"I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled"
The motto of Jack the Ripper

The English poet Francis Thompson (1859-1907) is as a suspect for the Whitechapel murders of 1888. This was the knife murderer and mutilator, of five woman prostitutes, around the London parish of Spitalfields, in 1888. The killer was never caught but most people thought then that it was the work of a religious maniac who was avenging a class of women who had somehow offended him. The theory that Thompson is the Ripper was first proposed, in 1988, on the centenary of the murders. This was in an article titled, 'Was Francis Thompson Jack the Ripper?' that came out in the Criminologist. The writer was, forensic pathologist, Dr Joseph C Rupp, M.D., Ph.D. He was the Medical Examiner for Nueces County, Texas. In his article, Dr. Rupp wrote:

'Francis Thompson spent six years in medical school, in effect, he went through medical school three times. It is unlikely, no matter how disinterested he was or how few lectures he attended, that he did not absorb a significant amount of medical knowledge... The Ripper was able to elude the police so many times in spite of the complete mobilization of many volunteer groups and the law enforcement agencies in London. If we look at Thompson's background, having lived on the streets for three years prior to this series of crimes, there is no doubt that he knew the back streets of London intimately and that his attire and condition as a derelict and drug addict would not arouse suspicion as he moved by day and night through the East End of London.'

Thompson was an ex-medical student, whose fame grew soon after the murders. In her 1988 biography of Thompson, Between Heaven & Charing Cross, Bridget Boardman described the curriculum and working conditions at Owens during Thompson's time as follows:

'...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...[Thompson's] time was almost equally divided between the College and the Hospital...Outside there was a constant flow of traffic with patients arriving on stretchers or in carriage-like ambulances drawn by police horses...In the main hall a huge bell was continually clanging, twice for medical aid and three times when surgery was needed. In the Accident Room staff and students waiting to be called for their services gathered round the fire...There were two operating theaters with wooden tables, to which were attached leather straps for controlling those whose fear led to violent protest...'

Some observers have stated that Thompson neglected his medical studies. Such claims, however, are inaccurate and originated only after his death. His enthusiasm for spending long hours with a scalpel at the college's mortuary led his sister Mary to observe 'Many a time he asked my father for 3 pounds or 4 pounds for dissecting fees so often that my father remarked what a number of corpses he was cutting up.' What did not interest Thompson was passing examinations and bringing his studies to an end. On the three occasions he was required to sit the final examinations he simply did not show up and as a consequence failed in his studies.

Thompson lived in Spitalfields when the prostitutes were murdered. On the night that the 5th victim, Mary Kelly was killed, he could look from the room that had his bed, to the covered passage, that led to the room that had her bed. He lived at No. 50 Crispin Street, in the Providence Row night refuge. Supposedly, Kelly and Thompson stayed at the same address. It is even said that a fellow writer, Robert Thurston Hopkins, knew that Thompson, and Kelly were friends. Thompson kept a dissecting knife under his coat, and he was taught a rare surgical procedure that appears to mimic the mutilations found in more than one victim. Soon after the murders, he wrote about killing female prostitutes with knives. Soon before the murders, he wrote about seeking out women and killing them with a knife and disemboweling them. His alibi for being in Spitalfields, that he was distraught and seeking out a prostitute who had jilted him. Before 1888, he had already showed signs of religious mania, pyromania and the urge to mutilate females. He also had a history of trouble with the police, who he said were 'against him', all through his homeless years in London from 1885 until the end of 1888.

Before his six years of medical training in a busy surgery, Thompson failed several years of study as a priest. Thompson was an extremist Roman Catholic who wrote of hating prostitutes for their immorality. Each murder happened on days once worshiped as saint days by Catholics. The saints for these days were protects of butchers, soldiers, midwives, and doctors. These were the same occupations the police believed the Ripper held. At least one expert mathematician has stated that this one in 344,86 chance of happening is beyond coincidence. All the murders happened on old Roman Catholic Church land. The Catholic editor, who rescued Thompson from homelessness in Mid- November 1888, within a few days of the final murder, had a keen interest in these murders. His editor tightly controlled Thompson's finances, movement, and friendships. Thompson lived as a virtual recluse, after 1888, and had a small private burial. After Thompson's death, his editor made unauthorized alterations and destroyed much of Thompson's personal papers. Thompson's fame was posthumous

The Nightmare of the Witch-Babies was one of the first poems submitted to his editor's magazine on 23 February 1887. 'The protagonist of the poem is a 'lusty knight.'

A lusty knight
Ha! Ha!
On a swart steed
Ho! Ho!
Rode upon the land
Where the silence feels alone

As he rides through a desolate streetscape, the knight catches sight of a beautiful woman.

'What is it sees he?
Ha! Ha!
There in the frightfulness?
Ho! Ho!
There he saw a maiden
Fairest fair:
Sad were her dusk eyes,
Long was her hair;
Sad were her dreaming eyes,
Misty her hair,
And strange was her garments' flow'

Soon he begins to stalk her.

'Swiftly he followed her
Ha! Ha!
Eagerly he followed her.
Ho! Ho!'

But then he discovers she is unclean.

'Lo, she corrupted!
Ho! Ho!'

He decides to kill her by slicing her stomach open in the pretence of finding and killing any unborn offspring she may have. It ends with his rapture at finding not just a single foetus but two.

'And its paunch [stomach] was rent [ripped]
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!
Two witch-babies, ho! ho! ho!'

This poem, which 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' and a plot which reads like the description of a slaughterhouse, was not published. Instead, in November 1888, the month of Kelly's murder, when Thompson lived a two-minutes' walk from her room, one of his essays was published in Merry England. In this essay, Bunyan in the Light of Modern Criticism, Thompson compared a good writer to someone skilled in the use of a knife on a corpse:

'He had better seek some critic who will lay his subject on the table, nick out every nerve of thought, every vessel of emotion, every muscle of expression with light, cool, fastidious scalpel and then call on him to admire the "neat dissection".' This is a boast from Thompson, the failed doctor, who now was a writer. Unlike what he was just weeks previously, when the author of the 'Dear Boss' letter, incensed by newspaper reports of the thinking of the police, had stated, 'I have laughed when they look so clever... They say I'm a doctor now. Ha ha.' Even without hard proof that Francis Thompson was Jack the Ripper, Thompson makes for an interesting suspect.

Related pages:
  Francis Thompson
       Message Boards: Francis Thompson 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - Francis Thompson 
  Richard Patterson
       Press Reports: Evening News - 22 August 1888