A Tale of Two Cigarettes: My Interview with Ripperologist Richard Patterson

PattersonMr. Richard Patterson is a researcher and author of Jack the Ripper: The Works of Francis Thompson. Mr. Patterson recently approached me to review his intriguing book. I gladly accepted, and invited him to tell me more about his work with Francis Thompson, as well as his experiences in the writing world.


Rebecca Henderson: What spurred you to research and write about Jack the Ripper?

Richard Patterson: I fell into Jack the Ripper accidently when I was asked by a tutor to help him on a book he was writing about criminal deviancy. It was back in 1997, just before the end of the year’s study of Philosophy for part of a Bachelor of Arts Degree at La Trobe University. As the holiday break ended, I chose the Ripper murders to write about when, at the same time, I bought a small book of poems by Francis Thompson. An hour into reading his poems and I thought perhaps he might have been Jack the Ripper. When I looked into his life and saw parallels to it and the Ripper crimes, I began writing and researching. That was twenty years ago, and I’m still finding points that connect him to the crimes.

Rebecca: Do you think you’ll choose another serial killer to write about next?

Richard: No. Writing about serial killers is difficult because their mindset is so different to the average person and requires a type of thinking that distances the writer from the normalcy of life. I am interested in solving other historical crimes and I may one day write a book on the JFK assassination. I have a theory on who did the shooting and why, but do not worry, it is not a convoluted explanation, even if it does contain some elements of a conspiracy.

Francis Thompson

Rebecca: Your research on Jack the Ripper has taken you to many conferences. What knowledge or connections have you gained from attending these conferences?

Richard: The best that I have gained are friendships. Ripperologists and those interested in the field come from all walks of life and many of them have impressive backgrounds as writers, professionals, and researchers. I have learned a great deal about the Ripper crimes having attended these conferences as well as how to present my information. Many of the people I have come to know are tour guides, authors, researchers, event organizers, and presenters, and they have provided me with invaluable information and assistance.

Rebecca: With presenting such a strong case for Francis Thompson as Jack the Ripper, do you receive any correspondence from nay-sayers? If so, how do you respond, if at all?

Richard: I try to limit my responses to those who dismiss my theory or speak ill of it. I cannot afford to expend my energy arguing against my detractors when there are so many positive things I can be doing instead. Many people who were initially against me, if I hear them out and respect their opinion, have proven to be great allies. Sometimes my critics have been correct and I am quick to listen to what they have to say and make adjustments to the points of my claim. Much of my book was written by looking at the reasoning to the arguments against my theory and constructing counterargument or clarifying my message and so anticipate what objections or questions my reader might have as they explore my book.

Rebecca: What advice do you have for writers looking to profile a historical person as you have?

Richard: If you are lucky enough to obtain the original correspondence, (letters, submission, manuscripts etc.) of the person you are researching, then you are off to a good start. I also recommend reading more on events that were occurring in the time-line of who you are researching. The best way to do this is to read the newspapers of the day. If your historical character existed before newspapers, then look into what laws were being issued. I also recommend finding out about those things that your historical person knew. Things like their religion, their philosophies and their influences.

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Rebecca: If you were somehow granted 10 minutes with Francis Thompson, how would you fill those 10 minutes?

Richard: I would ask him if he was Jack the Ripper, why he killed those women, and what he thought about me writing my book. I would be sure that he and I were not anywhere near a knife. The closest thing I have gotten to meeting Thompson was when I visited his grave and lit two cigarettes. One for him and one for me. I spoke to his grave and told him I was sorry for what I had to do but that if it is true that he killed at least five people, that I hoped he would understand and that it was nothing personal.

Rebecca: Now that the book is published, are you still continuing your research on Francis Thompson?

Richard: Yes. Thompson knew a great deal about many obscure things and I am always finding new information. The great English writer G.K Chesterton once said of Thompson that when looking at him you can go infinitely inwards and outwards. I think that there will always be more to find out about Thompson.

Rebecca: With such huge findings in regards to Jack the Ripper, did you contact the media yourself to promote your research? What other sorts of marketing did you do yourself for the book and/or your conclusion?

Richard: I did contact the media but I worked on gut feeling rather than any overall plan. I was as equally surprised when I received media attention than when I did not. My marketing involved setting up a Facebook group on my book and social networking. I did little marketing locally since I live in Australia and my subject is more interesting to those in the United Kingdom. It is amazing what you can do with spare time and a smartphone.

Rebecca: What steps did you have to take to find a publisher? Can you offer readers any advice for approaching publishers with their own book ideas?

Richard: My advice is to write to self-publish, gain some positive reviews, and re-work your book based on the bad reviews. As the feedback by readers, which are positive, increases go to your local paper or to blogs, and online reviewers that are interested in your topic. Once you have enough of a reputation it is much easier to then approach a professional publisher who will be able to take on your book and do their own editing and marketing on your behalf. You will not gain as much royalties than if you sell your book by itself, but you gain in credibility and a professional publisher can sell your book at a price most people can afford and distribute your book to a wider network.

Patterson Conference2017

You can find out more about Richard Peterson and his body of work on his website.

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