In 2004, after reading a book containing a selection of Van Gogh letters, I developed a different image of Vincent van Gogh. He seemed to have an attitude of entitlement that I didn’t expect and didn’t like, and I was a bit annoyed that the artist I had been trying to emulate in my own art was not as he seemed.
Soon after, while passing through an airport, I happened to pick up my first Jack the Ripper book, and while reading, I kept thinking in the back of my mind, likely out of disillusionment with my favorite artist, that the attributes of Jack the Ripper seemed to match well to Vincent. I was just playing with this–nothing serious.
Then, when I finished the book, I thought that if Van Gogh were actually Jack the Ripper, there would be some indication of it in his paintings, and I pulled a Van Gogh book off my shelf and riffled through the paintings. I couldn’t see any connection at first, but I found a pretty painting of some flowers that I really liked and thought I would like to paint a copy of it for practice.
The next night, having left the Van Gogh book next to my bed, I picked it up again, wanting to see the pretty flower painting again, and when I opened the book and pushed a group of pages together and realized I was turning to the painting I wanted, I paused for a fraction of a second and then turned to the page. The pause allowed all but the right side of the painting to be blocked for a brief second, and a face jumped out of the pretty flowers–a familiar face.
I believed the face was the face of Mary Kelly, a victim of Jack the Ripper. I had seen the photo of her mutilated body and face as it was found and photographed on her bed in her room in the East End of London. It’s a gruesome photo, but I couldn’t help going back to it several times to try and make out her face, which is badly mauled and skeletal-like. I couldn’t make out the features of her face, and the brain wants to have order, so it stayed on my mind. Then, when I looked at Van Gogh’s Irises painting, that same mauled and skeletal-like face jumped out from the pretty flowers, and I believed I was seeing the same face.
But I then also thought I must be nuts. A few days later, I looked up some information that I thought would settle it for me. Checking where Van Gogh was living in 1888 during the Ripper murders and finding that he was living all the way down in the South of France, I concluded I was being ridiculous, and I set aside what I had discovered.
Two years later, after giving up on a novel I was writing, because I had learned enough about the craft of writing to conclude it wouldn’t be what I wanted, I was then attempting to come up with an idea for another book to write. After a busy time at work ended and some peace returned, the discovery I had previously made popped back to mind, and I wondered why I hadn’t looked into it further.
I then began looking more deeply into Van Gogh’s life and the Ripper murders. To my surprise, everything pointed to the possibility that Vincent van Gogh was indeed Jack the Ripper. After a few months of digging, I was then convinced of Vincent’s guilt. I decided this would be the book I would write.
After working on the book for a year, I then decided the magnitude of the book required me to quit my job to devote all my time to it. I thought I could get it done within about a year, but it took much longer.
The first three years were the most difficult–nothing but research, analysis, and organizing the book. I forced myself not to start any writing until the research was completed for the entire book.
Then, because the writing was important to me, and I wanted the book to be a suspense filled adventure for the reader, it took another two years to write. It then took five more months to complete the edits and the illustrations and the endnotes.
I finally completed the book on November 9, 2011, which was appropriate and rather mysterious, since this was the same date of Mary Kelly’s murder, 123 years earlier. It was her face that I had first seen hidden in the flowers, so it was wonderful and magical that it worked out this way.
Enjoy the adventure,