Early American Commentators on the Ripper Case

Jack the Ripper, Uncategorized, Victorian Period, Whitechapel Murders 2 Comments »

Although the crimes of Jack the Ripper occurred in the East End of London, they caused such a sensation when they were reported in newspapers worldwide that there were a number of non-British-based commentators on the murders.  Some American medical men and police officials expressed their opinions on the case to U.S. newspapers.

Dr. Howard Atwood KellyDr. Howard Atwood Kelly 

Dr. Howard Atwood Kelly


Dr. Howard Atwood Kelly (1858–1943), pioneer obstetrician and gynecologist and one of the “Four Doctors” in a portrait by John Singer Sargent of the founding physicians of Johns Hopkins Hospital, wrote to the Medical News in a letter published in the issue of 13 October 1888. Kelly, at the time of the murders, an Associate Professor of Obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania, put the murders down to sexual perversion.   Dr. Kelly wrote:

 “The great liability to error on the part of the officers of the law, in the investigation of such cases as the present, lies in the fact that they are misled in their effort to appreciate the motive, and invariably attribute it to an ordinary criminal instinct. Such, however, is not the case, and it is as impossible for a sound healthy man to conceive the nature of the impulse which impels the paederest, or other sexual pervert, as it would be to conceive a new color.”

After giving a list of examples of sexual perversities throughout history, Dr. Kelly wrote:

“A desire to murder without any apparent motive, a desire which practises its cruelties invariably upon women, and that of a certain class; added to this the mutilation of the genitals of the corpse, and, in at least on instance, the peculiar practice of slitting open the belly and drawing out the entrails.”

Dr. Kelly went on to give the following piece of advice to the investigators:

 “It would be of importance to search the corpses, when freshly found, for evidence of violation of this kind, although such is not necessary to establish the truth of the supposition. Sexual perverts of this character never begin by the commission of crimes of such frightful atrocity, but yielding to impulses to do slight injury to their victims, find, as time goes on, that it is necessary to practise greater and greater cruelties, to arouse their desires and gratify passion, until a stage like the present is reached. Such has with probability been the history of the present murderer.” 

Although a number of modern observers of the Ripper crimes, notably Colin Wilson, have also attributed a sexual motive to the murders, it is also true that the doctors who worked on the case found no evidence of “connection”—that is, of semen in or on the bodies of the Ripper victims.


Dr. William A. Hammond


Dr. William A. Hammond as U.S. Surgeon General.


Another American commentator on the crimes was the New York “alienist” Dr. William A. Hammond (1828–1900), a former Civil War U.S. Surgeon General. In an article that appeared in the Atlanta Constitution on 5 October 1888, datelined the day before from New York City, we are told that “Dr. William A. Hammond, the insanity expert of this city, says the Whitechapel murders are committed by a homicidal maniac who is like a tiger in his nature.”


Rather than go for the sexual motive that Dr. Kelly thought was behind the murders, Hammond thought that insanity was the reason for the murders. He believed that the London police were making a mistake in “looking for a repulsive, uncouth butcher, dripping with blood and hiding in the cellars about Whitechapel.”


Hammond’s ideas were also reported in the Bismarck Daily Tribune of North Dakota, of 11 October 1888, where we learn that Hammond believed that “the probabilities are many to one that the perpetrator is a decorous and soft spoken gentleman, living an apparently virtuous life, a man whose closest acquaintances do not suspect [him] of crime.”


In the same issue of the Bismarck newspaper, Chief Inspector Thomas A. Byrnes of the New York City detective force said he agreed with the opinions of Dr. Hammond.  He insisted that the New York police could have caught the man by using the women as decoys.


Chief Inspector Thomas F. Byrnes 


Chief Inspector Thomas A. Byrnes of the New York City Police.   


Byrnes went on to stay: “We have no such autocratic powers as the London police, but if a crime is so plainly localised in one particular district, as in the case of these London murders, we would most assuredly arrest the perpetrator in short order.”  Elsewhere Byrnes is said to have boasted that if someone committed such murders in New York, his men would have him “in the jug in 36 hours.”


Byrnes was decidedly more reticent to criticize his British counterparts in an interview published in the Boston Daily Globe on 13 November 1888:

 “In my position as inspector of police and in charge of the detective force of this city I would say that, if we ever had in New York the misfortune of meeting such outrages, or any similar to those which were perpetrated at Whitechapel, I would consider it an act of great imprudence for me to advertise what schemes I should resort to or what action I should undertake with the detective force of this city for the purpose of apprehending and prosecuting the person who committed the offences. Such a course would be precisely what the offender would want. It is not my province or wish to criticise the action, or lack of action, in others who have already a similar position elsewhere, always presuming that they do the very best they can under the circumstances. It is easier always to condemn others than it is to succeed in their special line of work, and appreciating the difficulties that surround the London police in this dilemma, I have no desire or intention of sitting in judgment upon them.”  

This seems to be rather a turnaround by the opinionated Irish-born New York detective. 


And perhaps he was right to be cautious to criticize for when he had his very own “Ripper” crime on the night of 23–24 April 1891 with the murder and mutilation of Carrie Brown aka “Old Shakespeare” in a hotel room in the seaport section of Brooklyn, the case proved to be not easy to solve.


Although a man named Ameer Bin Ali, a French-speaking Algerian known as “Frenchy”, ultimately was tried and convicted of the murder and mutilation of Carrie Brown, the trial was later shown to be a sham.  After Ameer Bin Ali was released in 1902 after eleven years in Sing Sing, crusading journalists including Jacob Riis and Charles Edward Russell convinced Governor Benjamin Odell that the blood evidence used in the suspect’s trial had been tampered with kamagra uk mastercard. The governor officially declared Ameer Ben Ali to be “innocent of the Carrie Brown murder.” The murder remains unsolved and various Ripper suspects, including George Chapman aka Severin Klosowski, who lived for a time in New Jersey, and Dr. Francis Tumblety, who ran his herb doctor business out of an office in Brooklyn, have been proposed as Brown’s killer.




“Carrie Brown: Jack the Ripper in America—Part 2” on Murder by Gaslight Blog



Christopher T. George, “A Man of Large Opinions: Dr William A. Hammond and Jack the Ripper,” Ripperologist No. 48, August 2003, pp 23–25.


William A. Hammond, “Madness and Murder,” North American Review, Vol 147, December 1888, pp 626–38. An extract from Dr. Hammond’s “Murder and Madness” is available at http://www.casebook.org/victorian_london/murdermadness.html


“Philadelphia Gynecologist’s Oct. 13, 1888 Letter To Medical News” on Casebook: Jack the Ripper message boards at http://forum.casebook.org/showthread.php?p=111411


“Howard A. Kelly, Assoc. Prof. Obst., Univ. of Penna., Correspondence. The Whitechapel Murders. The Medical News, October 13, 1888” in Casebook Press Reports section at http://www.casebook.org/press_reports/medical_news/mednews881013.html

Short Course on the Whitechapel Murders, Baltimore, Oct-Nov 2011

Jack the Ripper, Jews, Joseph Barnett, London, Mary Jane Kelly, Uncategorized, Victorian Period, Whitechapel Murders No Comments »

I am teaching a short course on the case this Fall in the Kaleidoscope program at Roland Park Country School in Baltimore.


 The Whitechapel Murders that occurred in the Autumn of 1888 in the East End of London continue to fascinate new generations. Although the crimes constitute the classic “cold case,” it seems that annually new suspects and theories are proposed. Yet, no one has yet managed definitely to identify the anonymous murderer known as Jack the Ripper. 

On Evening One, I will evaluate the known facts of the murders. On Evening Two, I will examine the different theories and theorists. On Evening Three the class will discuss the enduring legacy of the Ripper murders and the portrayals of the crimes in novels, movies and stage plays, and try to come to some conclusions about what the murders were and were not. Who was Jack the Ripper? Warning: not for the squeamish. Powerpoint images will be projected that will show the murder scenes and the corpses of the women killed, and the mutilations caused by the killer will be discussed in detail.

Three Sessions $75
Thursday, October 20, 27, and Wednesday, November 2
7:00 – 9:00 pm

 Complete course catalog available at http://www.rpcs.org/Kaleidoscope/pdfs/Fall_2011_Catalog.pdf


Roland Park Country School
Office of External Programs
5204 Roland Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21210
Or call with credit card information, 410-323-5500 ext. 3091

A “New Face” for Mary Jane Kelly

Jack the Ripper, Joseph Barnett, Liverpool, London, Mary Jane Kelly, Victorian Period, Wales, Whitechapel Murders 13 Comments »

Researcher Chris Scott, a contributor Ripperologist magazine and author of Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands (Apropos Books, August 2004) has long been delving into the mysterious background of fifth Canonical victim Mary Jane Kelly, who was killed and mutilated in 13 Miller’s Court, Spitalfields, on the morning of 9 November 1888. Chris has recently found what he describes as the “fullest account of the Kelly funeral that I have read.”  As students of the Ripper case will know, Kelly was the most grievously mutilated of all of the Whitechapel Murders victims. Her face was literally hacked away, which made identification of her difficult, to the point that some have doubted that the body in Miller’s Court was in fact the woman that locals and friends knew as Mary Jane Kelly. The famous crime scene photograph remains stomach churning for researchers such as myself who have seen it many times before.<br>At the inquest on Kelly, her long-time lover, Joseph Barnett, testified, “I have seen the body of the deceased, and I identify it by the hair and eyes. I am positive that the deceased was the woman with whom I lived, and that her name was Marie.” (Illustrated Police News, 17 November 1888).    The account found by Chris in the St. Peter Port Star, Guernsey, 22 November 1888, is therefore useful to quote in full because it does help to give some humanity to the person who was butchered in that low court in Spitalfields:


The remains of Mary Janet Kelly, who was murdered on the 9th of November in Miller’s Court, Dorset Street, Spitalfields, were carried on Monday morning from Shoreditch mortuary to the Roman Catholic Cemetery at Leytonstone, for interment, amidst a scene of turbulent excitement scarcely ever paralleled even in the annals of that densely populated district where she met her death. On the afternoon of the murder the body of the unfortunate woman was conveyed to the mortuary attached to St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, and there it remained until Monday. Since the inquest a great amount of sympathy for the fate of the deceased has been created, but it remained for Mr. H. Wilton, the sexton attached to Shoreditch Church, to put sympathy into a practical form, and as no relatives have appeared he incurred the total cost of the funeral himself. Mr. Wilton has been sexton for over fifty years, and he provided the funeral as a mark of sympathy with the poor people of the neighbourhood. The body was enclosed in a polished elm and oak coffin with metal mounts. On the coffin plate was engraved the words:- “Marie Jeannette Kelly, died 9th November,1888, aged 25 years.” Upon the coffin were two crowns of artificial flowers and a cross made up of heartsease. The coffin was carried in an open car drawn by two horses, and two coaches followed. An enormous crowd of people assembled at an early hour, completely blocking the thoroughfare, and a large number of police were engaged in keeping order. The bell of St. Leonard’s began tolling at noon, and the signal appeared to draw all the residents in the neighbourhood together. There was an enormous preponderance of women in the crowd, scarcely any had any covering to their heads, and their tattered dresses indicated too surely that they belonged to the very class to which the murdered women belonged. The wreaths upon the coffin bore cards inscribed with remembrances from friends using certain public houses in common with the Deceased. As the coffin appeared, borne on the shoulders of four men, at the principal gate of the church, the crowd appeared to be moved greatly. Round the open car in which it was to be placed men and women struggled desperately to touch the coffin. Women, with faces streaming with tears, cried out “God forgive her!” and every man’s head was bared in token of sympathy. the sight was quite remarkable, and the emotion natural and unconstrained. Two mourning coaches followed, one containing three and the other five persons. Joe Barnett was amongst them, with someone from M’Carthy, the landlord; and the others were women, who had given evidence at the inquest. After a tremendous struggle, the car, with the coffin fully exposed to view, set out at a very slow pace, all the crowd appearing to move off simultaneously in attendance. The traffic was blocked, of course, and the constables had great difficulty in obtaining free passage for the small procession through the mass of carts and vans and tramcars which blocked the road. the distance from Shoreditch Church to the Cemetery at Leytonstone by road is about six miles, and the route traversed was Hackney Road, Cambridge Heath, Whitechapel Road and the Stratford. In the Whitechapel Road the crowd on each side of the road were very great, and there was a considerable amount of emotion manifested. The appearance of the roadway throughout the whole journey was remarkable, owing to the hundreds of men and women who escorted the coffin on each side, and who had to keep up a sharp trot in many places. But the crowd rapidly thinned away when, getting into the suburbs, the car and coaches broke into a trot. Still the number of those who kept up was sufficient to spread the news in advance, and everywhere people stood in groups, or crowded windows to see the cortege pass. The cemetery was reached at two o’clock. The Rev. Father Columban, O.S.F., with two acolytes, and a cross bearer, met the body at the door of the little chapel of St Patrick, and the coffin was carried at once to a grave in the north eastern corner. Barnett and the poor women who had accompanied the funeral knelt on the cold clay by the side of the grave, while the service was read by Father Columban. The coffin was incensed, lowered, and then sprinkled with holy water, and the simple ceremony ended. The floral ornaments were afterwards raised to be placed upon the grave, and the filling up was completed in a few moments, and was watched by a small crowd of people. There was a very large concourse of people outside the gates, who were refused admission until after the funeral was over.

On another front in Mary Jane Kelly research, a Welsh researcher, Jon Horlor, has been delving into genealogical records in Cwmavon, Monmouthshire to try to find out if he can verify Mary Jane Kelly’s husband may have been killed in a mine explosion as the account by Barnett suggests. He has identified a man named James Davies, age 18 who died in explosion at Risca New Pit, Cwmavon, on 16 July 1880. Holor has established that Cwmavon had a number of Irish immigrant families at this period. Joe Barnett testified that he thought the husband was killed in Carnarvonshire or Carmarthenshire.

Both Mr. Holor and Welsh Ripperologist Gareth Williams think that Kelly may have said that “Cwmavon” might have been misheard by Barnett as “Carnarvon” or “Carmarthen.”   Here is what Joe Barnett said about what he knew of Kelly’s background, as recorded in the London Evening News of 12 November 1888:

She said she was born in Limerick [Ireland] but went to Wales when very young, and came to London about four years ago. Her father’s name, she told me, was John Kelly, a “gaffer” at an ironworks in Wales - Carnarvonshire or Carmarthenshire. She also said she had a sister, who was a respectable woman, and that she had seven brothers, six of them at home and one in the Army. I never saw any of these brothers to my knowledge. She said she was married when very young in Wales. . . . Her husband was a collier named David (sic) or Davies, and she lived with him until he was killed in an explosion. I cannot say how long the accident was after the marriage. She said she was about 16 when she married. After her husband’s death she went to Cardiff to meet a cousin, and stayed there a long time, being in the infirmary there for eight or nine months. She was living a bad life with her cousin, who was the cause of her downfall.

Mr. Holor has said that he believes that the man he has identified, James Davies, who died in the explosion at Risca New Pit, Cwmavon, in July 1880, was the “right name, right age, right area (for me!) and right time frame for MJK according to Barnett.” (See discussion threads at http://www.jtrforums.com/search.php?searchid=1062293.) It will be interesting to see if this interesting lead on Mary Jane Kelly’s mysterious background might finally help us to know more about this Whitechapel murder victim’s elusive life history.

On the Yo Liverpool forum, some genealogically minded people have found a number of women named Mary Jane Kelly in Liverpool and have wondered if Kelly might have been from there.  Of course, Liverpool historically has had a large Irish population so the names “Kelly” and even “Mary Jane Kelly” are relatively common. Here is one of the candidates: 1871 English Census–8 Victoria St., Liverpool, near Stanley; John Kelly, 50, joiner; Mary Kelly, 50, Mary Jane Kelly, 18, General Servant; Margaret and Harriet Kaybeck, servants.   Responding to this information I wrote, “If this woman was aged 18 in 1871 that would have made her 35 in late 1888, probably too old to have been the Mary Jane Kelly who lived in Miller’s Court, Spitalfields, who by all accounts was in her mid-twenties at the time of her murder on November 9, 1888.” See the discussion at http://www.yoliverpool.com/forum/showthread.php?41892-Mary-Jane-Kelly-(Wilson)&p=356380.  Also see http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/ENG-LIVERPOOL/2006-05/1147649833 

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