ME: On how I sleep at night |

ME: On how I sleep at night

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How do I sleep at night? Not well…

(This post originally appeared on Debra Bory’s site on 4/23/13)

More often than not, when I tell people – particularly my community college students – that I’m an expert on Jack the Ripper, I get at least a handful of strange, bemused looks. I’m never surprised by it. Despite the fact that Jack the Ripper is perhaps the most infamous serial killer of all time, the study of his crimes has a name – Ripperology – and has spawned an entire industry devoted to discovering “whodunnit,” it remains an unusual and admittedly morbid period of history with which to be engrossed.

And I am that, thoroughly engrossed. Since my earliest encounter with the spectre of the Ripper on a “Jack the Ripper Walking Tour” in 1995, I’ve been fascinated by the man and the myth. I’ve read perhaps every reputable book on the subject, and a few that were less than credible. I’ve heard all the pet theories, ranging from the believable to the absurd, as to the identify of the elusive killer we call “Jack the Ripper,” “Leather Apron,” “The Fiend of Whitechapel,” etc. The list of monikers is almost as long as the list of suspects.

I’ve studied the autopsy and crime scene photos from every angle. Wake me up from a dead sleep and ask me to recite the names and nicknames of the five canonical victims and I can do so without hesitation. Every year, on the anniversaries of their deaths, I pause to honor their memories, whether with a moment of silence or a Facebook posting commemorating the same.

As previously stated, I am far from alone in my interest in all things Ripper and yet it never perplexes why I get bewildered looks when I tell others of my love for my main man, Jack. There’s an old adage that appearances can be deceiving, and I’m certain my own appearance is misleading.

Diminutive in stature, I’m not particularly menacing, nor do I necessarily convey much of an aura of authority as it pertains to a century plus old crime. Unlike many students of serial murderers, I don’t dress the part, since with two grey and white cats I’ve (mostly) banned dark colors from my wardrobe. I wear glasses, but I’ve never thought they made me look studious or like someone who’s spent whole days poring over the case files. And, yet, in spite of my deceptive exterior, inside my mind I fear I retain too much tragedy.

Inside my head are statistics so horrifying it actually alarms me how easily and unemotionally I can rattle them off. From the number of stab wounds sustained by the first –albeit non-canoncial victim–Martha Tabram, to the count of organs the Ripper removed from the body of the alleged last victim, Mary Jane Kelly, I can vividly picture each of Jack’s “Unfortunates” in situ.

An early reviewer of my debut novel, The Heart Absent, a tale of Jack the Ripper in love, begged the question of how I manage to sleep with all these ghastly facts crowding my psyche and the answer is simply: Not well. Not well, at all.

Still, I continue on as an amateur Ripperologist, and despite my concerns about overexposing myself to evil, I likely will remain fascinated by the Whitechapel Fiend until the end of my days. With the advent of advanced technology and automatic communication, new theories are constantly being put forward, some based in (pseudo)science, others based on cold facts, and even those derived from a fleeting observation or emotion. All these theories provide opportunities for expansion, elaboration and reflection.

Which brings me back to The Heart Absent, a fictional novel in which I tried not to answer the question “Who was the Jack the Ripper?” but rather “What sort of man could Jack the Ripper have been, and what sorts of events might trigger such chaotic violence?” Further, I sought to create complex characters, set against a realistic, meticulously researched historical backdrop, and to put those same characters in situations where my reader would be forced to alternately cheer and condemn them.

Was I successful? Only my readers can respond to that and, if you like stories about heartbreak and horror, passion and loyalty–or even if you just like a good whodunnit or a complex romance–I think you’ll enjoy The Heart Absent. I welcome your comments here, via email at, or over on my web site at You can also add me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest.

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