Tonawanda News

October 13, 2013

Tonawanda teacher explores Jack the Ripper in novel

Staff reports
The Tonawanda News

CITY OF TONAWANDA — Tonawanda High School earth sciences teacher Michael Hawley might be a little obsessed with the infamous Jack the Ripper, the unknown man — or woman — behind a slew of murders in 19th century London’s Whitechapel district.

In four years of research on the mystery serial killer, Hawley has written a handful of articles for Ripperologist magazine and just published his first book of fiction, the young adult novel “The Ripper’s Hellbroth.”

Hawley first became interested in the Whitechapel murders about four years ago after seing a special on The History Channel that explored the possibility the murderer was Francis Tumblety, a man who grew up in, and would ultimately end up buried in, Rochester.

”I had no idea this prime suspect was (buried) right in Rochester,” Hawley said. “I found his gravestone ... . The reason people didn’t know about him was because Scotland Yard didn’t want people to know about him.”

Tumblety was arrested by Scotland Yard, suspected of perpetrating the five — or more — murders, but skipped out on bail and came back to the United States.

Not having much to go on, Hawley did what he figures he does best: research.

”I love research because that was my science,” said Hawley, who has a master’s degree in science and secondary science with a focus on paleontology from Buffalo State College. “I just love discovering new things.”

So he began writing articles for the Ripperologist magazine and participating in online debates and discussions about the case with other Ripper experts. 

”It’s a love-hate relationship,” Hawley said with a laugh. “We’re always arguing with each other.”

One colleague suggested he write about Tumblety. His wife, Anita Hawley, encouraged him to write the the novel when he toyed around with the idea of delving into fiction. 

Hawley chose to try his hand at the young adult paranormal genre, which has exploded into popularity in recent years due to the likes of the “Twilight,” “The Mortal Instruments” and “Beautiful Creatures” series. It also helped that Hawley and his wife have six children, the youngest in elementary school, the eldest in college.

”I’ve experienced that kid life for so long and I also teach high school,” he said, a period in life he describes as “a weird time.”

”Thanks to books like ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight,’ even the older generation enjoys reading young adult books,” Hawley said. “The young adult paranormal (genre) is quite a big thing.”

”The Ripper’s Hellbroth” is a time-jumping murder mystery, focusing on Tumblety as a possible Whitechapel murders suspect as well as a modern-day copy-cat serial killer dubbed the Niagara Falls Ripper. 

FBI forensic scientist Dr. Edward Dunham is called in to solve the modern-day case and is helped along the way by a local college sophomore and her younger brother.

”Dunham is this excellent sleuth detective,” Hawley said. “People keep asking him to come on serial killer task forces. He’s a brilliant guy ... always doing fun things.”

And like many young adult novels these days that ultimately wind up being part of a series, Hawley hints the Niagara Falls Ripper case may not be Dunham’s last. Just as in “The Ripper’s Hellbroth,” any possible future novels will be rooted in historical fact.

For more information about “The Ripper’s Hellbroth,” and Hawley’s non-fiction book, “Searching for Truth with a Broken Flashlight,” visit