Was Jack the Ripper a poet and we didn’t know it?

I learn something new every day. That is partly thanks to my career in writing, and it’s partly thanks to Facebook. Last week, I learned that we don’t know who Jack the Ripper actually was.

jacktheripper“That’s odd,” I thought. “How do they know his name was ‘Jack’ if they don’t know who he was?”

Apparently, people have proposed numerous “secret identities” for the infamous culprit behind a string of murders in London. With DNA, historical clues, textual evidence, and reports on the killings, people have¬†wondered whether he was a Polish barber, a female Salvation Army worker, and a figment of the imagination.

Poet Francis Thompson is now on the suspect list, according to an Australian teacher named Richard Patterson. According to a story in the Huffington Post, Patterson developed a theory that Francis Thompson could be Jack the Ripper after learning that the poet had some surgical experience (linking him to a surgical technique used on some of the killer’s victims) and had written poems about killing women around the time period of the murders. (Read the HuffPo story for more details about the reasoning.)

Francis Thompson at the age of 19

Ironically, I read about this development on the same day that I had conversed with a history professor at work about the fact that I wish I had taken more history classes when I was an undergraduate. I see many ways that knowing more about the past would help me in my work today (and in my enjoyment of life).

So it was interesting to read about an English teacher solving a historical murder mystery—a cross between the job of a historian and a cop. Studying and teaching English isn’t just about books and poems and stories and grammar. By having a broad range of knowledge and interest, Patterson was able to develop an intriguing theory and contribute to a discussion about an old historical question.

We all would benefit from a general curiosity and a desire to know more about topics outside our day-to-day business. This isn’t just about history and English. Knowing some, and continuing to learn more, about computer science, ethics, sports, theology, bicycle repair, and current events allows you to make connections and solve problems that would otherwise be beyond your reach.

It pays to learn a little something every day.