‘You would look in vain now for Dorset Street. It is still there, but under another name,’ wrote Inspector Walter Dew one of the first police officers to see the horrifically mutilated corpse of Jack the Ripper’s last canonical victim, Mary Jane Kelly. The sight of Kelly’s body, found lying on her bed in her dingy room in Miller’s Court, an offshoot of Dorset Street, was so terrible that Dew never forgot it, reliving the discovery in graphic detail in his 1938 memoir. By 1904, in an attempt to distance the street from its grisly past, it had been renamed Duval Street and by the 1920s, a great many of the slums and doss houses that once dominated it had been demolished, including Miller’s Court. Now a nameless alley running between a modern car park and several large warehouses, few who walk there would ever suspect that the ground beneath their feet was once ‘the worst street in London.’
And what of the young woman whose violent end was met in that dark, grimy little room there, where misery was ‘written all over the place’ and ‘depths below the lowest deep’ were plumbed? We still have no idea who killed her and why, nor do we know for certain who she was either. Known variously as ‘Black Mary,’ ‘Ginger’ and ‘Fair Emma,’ in spite of the tireless and exhaustive efforts of Ripperologists, such as the late Chris Scott, we know as little about her as her contemporaries and confirming even simple details like her hair colour, height and more importantly, her name, has proved to be somewhat problematic. The information we do have, comes to us almost exclusively via her last lover, Joseph Barnett, and has been almost impossible to verify. Census records and official documents have failed to yield any conclusive results.
According to Barnett, Mary Jane Kelly was 25 years of age at the time of her death, which would make her year of birth 1862 or 1863. She was born in Limerick, but moved to Camarthenshire at the age of 6 after her father, John Kelly, found employment at an ironworks there. Kelly came from a large Catholic family, with six brothers and one sister; one elder brother, Henry, nicknamed ‘Johnto’ (although she may have meant that he was called John ‘too,’ like her father) was in the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards. When she was 16, Kelly married a Welsh collier called Davies, who was tragically killed in a mining accident three years later. Early reports after her death suggested that Kelly may have had a child with Davies, but such claims were unsubstantiated and Barnett made no mention of them. Following the death of her husband, Kelly moved to Cardiff to live with her cousin, and after a severe illness landed her in an infirmary for several months, she turned to prostitution to support herself. In 1884, she left Cardiff for London, a decision that would lead to her untimely death.
To begin with, her fresh-face and comely figure helped Kelly find work at a West End brothel, but her fondness for drink was incompatible with her continued employment there. Nevertheless, Barnett recalled how Kelly was apparently much sought after during time at the West End ‘gay house’ and had even accompanied one gentleman on a trip to Paris where she lived the life of ‘a lady,’ she returned after only a few weeks but adopted the name ‘Marie Jeanette,’ as a remnant of her brief time in France.
After leaving the brothel, Kelly moved in with Adrianus Morgenstern, a Dutchman who lived near the Stepney Gas Works. When the relationship ended, she then lived with a woman known as Mrs Buki on St. George’s Street and her landlady later recalled how she once helped Kelly retrieve some belongings, said to include several expensive dresses, from the residence of a French lady in Knightsbridge. Leaving Mrs Buki sometime in 1885, Kelly then stayed with a Mrs Carthy (most likely McCarthy) in Breezer’s Hill on the notorious Ratcliff Highway, the scene of several grisly murders in 1811.
In late 1886, Kelly moved in with another man, Joseph Flemming a mason worker or plumber who lived in Bethnal Green. Flemming treated her kindly, even continuing to visit her and possibly giving her money after their relationship ended, although it was said that Kelly complained that Flemming sometimes ‘ill-used’ her. On April 8th 1887, only days after she had left Flemming to move into a lodging house in Thrawl Street, Kelly met Joseph Barnett. Barnett was also of Irish heritage, around five years older than her, and worked as a porter at Billingsgate fish market. Within two days, the pair decided to live together and moved into lodgings in George Street. Unable to pay their rent and accused of drunkenness, they were soon evicted and found new accommodation in Little Paternoster Row off Dorset Street before taking a room in Miller’s Court in March 1888. The room, number 13, was the partitioned off back room of 26 Dorset Street, then being used for storage; their landlord, John McCarthy ran a chandler’s shop as well as owning numerous properties on Dorset Street, and lived at number 27 himself with his wife and son.
Kelly and Barnett paid 4s. 6d a week for a room that was approximately 144 square feet and shabbily furnished with only the most basic accouterments including an iron framed bed, a table, some cheap crockery, a tin bath and a fireplace above which hung a cheap print popularly known as The Fisherman’s Widow but thought to be Frank Bramley’s 1888 painting A Hopeless Dawn, depicting an older woman comforting a sobbing young widow whose husband has been lost at sea.
In July 1888, Barnett lost his job, consequently Kelly, who had been financially supported by him, resorted to selling herself once again, a source of conflict for the couple. An already risky endeavour, walking the streets of Whitechapel was about to become even more perilous for those who, like Kelly, had few alternatives. On 7th August, Martha Tabram, a 39 year-old prostitute, was found dead in the George Yard Buildings. Tabram had been married with two sons before the dissolution of her marriage due to her drinking left her destitute. Only weeks after Tabram’s murder, on 31st August, another prostitute, 43 year old Mary Ann Nichols, known as Polly, was found dead in Buck’s Row. Nichols had had her throat sliced and her abdomen savaged, with the removal of her uterus, which had been taken away by her killer. Like Tabram, Nichols had been married with five children before her marriage broke down because of her drinking, unlike Tabram however, Nichols is generally regarded as the first victim of the serial killer who would come to be known as Jack the Ripper.
Days later, on 8th September, 47 year-old Annie Chapman’s mutilated body was found at 29 Hanbury Street. Doctors at the scene noted that her uterus had also been removed leading them to conclude that her killer was also Nichols’s. Of all the Ripper’s victims, Chapman is the only one of whom a photograph taken in life has been found. She is pictured with her husband, John Chapman, a coachman, shortly after they married in 1869. The photograph shows a respectable couple, with Annie looking the dutiful Victorian wife, yet their marriage was besieged by misfortune. The Chapmans had a son whose severe disabilities forced them to place him in a home, and one of their two daughters died of meningitis at the age of 12. Both Annie and her husband turned to drink before separating in 1885. John Chapman continued to support his wife, but after his death in 1886, Annie struggled to make ends meet and was forced to supplement the pennies she earned from selling flowers with occasional prostitution. Like many others who lived in poverty with no hope of escape, Chapman frittered her meagre earnings away in the East End’s numerous public houses where gin provided temporary solace from her wretched existence. At the time of her death, Chapman was suffering from tuberculosis and was gravely ill.
On 30th September, what is known as the ‘double event’ took place, with the killer slaying two unfortunate victims. Elizabeth Stride, a 44 year-old Swedish woman who lived at a lodging house on Flower and Dean Street, was found with her throat cut at Dutfield’s Yard, Berner Street. Stride had moved to London from Sweden to work as a domestic servant and married John Thomas Stride, a ship’s carpenter in 1869. By 1881, the couple had separated and despite Stride’s fanciful claim that her husband and two of their nine children had perished in the Princess Alice disaster of 1878, John Stride died in 1884 and the marriage was childless. Stride took in sewing work and went out charring, but augmented her income by prostituting herself. Unlike Nichols and Chapman, Stride was found to have no abdominal injuries, which has led to speculation that her killer was not theirs; however, police believed that Stride’s assailant had been disturbed and thus prevented from carrying out further mutilations.
As Stride’s body lay in Berner Street, Catherine Eddowes walked through nearby Mitre Square. The previous evening, she had been arrested for being drunk, but soon deemed sober enough for release. Eddowes eked out a living doing odd jobs and pawning items and had recently returned to London after finding work hop-picking with her partner, John Kelly; she was 46 years of age and had three children with Thomas Conway, an ex-soldier from whom she had been estranged since 1880. She was attacked sometime after 1 a.m. and found shortly afterwards, her worldly goods, which included packets of sugar and tea scattered about her person. Like Nichols and Chapman, Eddowes had her throat cut and had been severely mutilated; but the damage inflicted upon her exceeded anything that came before, her face crudely slashed and her nose sliced clean off.
It seemed unthinkable that the viciousness of the Ripper’s attack on Eddowes could be surpassed and with no further murders during October, the hysteria surrounding the case started to wane. On 30th October, after a fight with Kelly caused two window panes to be broken, Barnett left Miller’s Court to live at Mrs. Buller’s boarding house in Bishopsgate. The cause of their argument was Kelly’s insistence upon letting other unfortunate young women sleep in the room because she was too ‘good hearted and did not like to refuse them shelter on cold bitter nights.’
One of the women known to stay in room 13 was Maria Harvey, a laundress and occasional prostitute, who spent 5th and 6th November with Kelly, before taking lodgings at New Court, Dorset Street. Kelly spent much of the 7th in the company of Elizabeth Foster, who later recalled, ‘we were good friends. She used to tell me she came from Limerick. She was as nice a woman as one could find, and, although an unfortunate, I don’t think she went on the streets whilst she lived with Barnett. On Wednesday night I was in her lodgings with her, and the next evening I met her in the Ten Bells public house near Spitalfields Church. We were drinking together, and she went out about five minutes past seven o’clock. I never saw her after that. ’
The next day, Harvey claimed to have spent time with Kelly in the afternoon until Joseph Barnett visited Miller’s Court at about 7:30 p.m. Another prostitute, Lizzie Albrook also stated she had seen Kelly early in the evening of the 8th, telling a journalist, ‘About the last thing she said was, ‘Whatever you do don’t you do no wrong and turn out as I have.’ She had often spoken to me in this way and warned me against going on the streets as she had done. She told me too, that she was heartily sick of the life she was leading and wished she had money enough to go back to Ireland where her people lived. I don’t believe she would have gone out as she did if she had not been obliged to do so to keep herself from starvation. She had talked to me about her friends several times and on one occasion told me she had a female relation in London who was on the stage.’
Barnett left Miller’s Court sometime around 8 p.m. when he went back to his lodgings and played whist for several hours, before going to bed at midnight. Kelly’s movements from the time of Barnett’s departure are more difficult to ascertain.
Several unconfirmed reports, including a claim by a neighbour, Elizabeth Foster, suggest that Kelly was seen drinking in The Britannia pub at around 11 p.m. At 11:45 p.m. Mary Ann Cox, a widow who resided at 5 Miller’s Court, saw Kelly entering her room, she was inebriated and accompanied by a man, described by Cox as being about 35, with a carroty coloured moustache and blotchy complexion, stout and wearing a billycock hat and long overcoat, he was carrying a quart can of beer. Cox bid Kelly goodnight, to which Kelly replied that she was going to sing, her song of choice being the melancholy 1881 ditty, A Violet from Mother’s Grave. Cox then left her room, only returning at 3 a.m. Another witness, Catherine Pickett, a flower seller who also lived at Miller’s Court, reported hearing Kelly still singing the same song between midnight and 12:30 a.m. and was ready to complain about the noise, only to be stopped from doing so by her husband.
Perhaps the last person to see Kelly alive was George Hutchinson, an unemployed labourer and former groom who lived at the Victoria Working Men’s Home on Commercial Street, near Dorset Street. Returning from a trip to Romford at around 2 a.m. on 9th November, Hutchinson, who told the police he had known Kelly for about three years, said she approached him on Commercial Street to ask if he could lend her sixpence, which he refused. Hutchinson then saw Kelly being approached by a man, described as about 35, 5’6” tall, with a pale complexion, dark hair, eyes and moustache, he was smartly dressed and wearing a coat trimmed with astrakhan. Snippets of the exchange between Kelly and her unknown escort were heard by Hutchinson, she ‘All right,’ to which the man replied, ‘You will be all right for what I have told you.’
With his suspicions aroused, Hutchinson decided to keep watch as Kelly and her companion passed down Dorset Street, before stopping at the entrance to Miller’s Court. Hutchinson again heard Kelly speak, saying ‘All right my dear, come along. You will be comfortable’ afterwards the man put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a kiss; she then exclaimed that she had lost her handkerchief, the man then offered his and pulled a red handkerchief out of his pocket. After following the pair into Miller’s Court and seeing them enter Kelly’s room, Hutchinson waited for nearly forty-five minutes but saw nothing more. Doubts have been expressed over the validity of Hutchinson’s statement, which he waited until after the inquest to give to the police, yet the officer in charge of the case, Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline, remained convinced by his account.
Additionally, Sarah Lewis, a young laundress, also claimed to have seen a man matching the description given by Hutchinson. After arguing with her husband, Lewis had left to stay with friends at Miller’s Court and at about 2:30 a.m. saw three people outside The Britannia public house on Dorset Street; two were women, one badly dressed and with no head covering like Kelly was thought to have been, the other a man who looked like the one Hutchinson had described. At about 4.a.m, Lewis was apparently disturbed by a single scream that sounded as if it had come from a young woman, followed by a cry of ‘Murder!’
At the same time, Mrs Elizabeth Prater, an unfortunate who had been deserted by her husband and lived at 20 Miller’s Court, the room roughly above Kelly’s was also awoken, as she would reveal at Kelly’s inquest: ‘I lay down on the bed at 1.30 in my clothes. I fell asleep directly, because I had been having something to drink, and slept soundly. I had a little black kitten which used to come on to my neck. It woke me up from 3.30 to 4 by coming on to my face, and I gave it a blow and knocked it off. The lights were out in the lodging house. The cat went on to the floor, and that moment I heard, “Oh! Murder!” I was then turning round on my bed. The voice was a faintish one, as though someone had woke up with a nightmare. Such a cry is not unusual, and I did not take any particular notice. I did not hear the cry a second time. I did not hear any bed or table being pulled about. I went to sleep and was awakened about five o’clock.’
Similarly, Mary Ann Cox thought she heard a man’s footsteps leaving Miller’s Court at around 5:45 a.m.
Later that morning, at 7:45 a.m. Catherine Pickett knocked on Kelly’s door with the intention of borrowing her shawl as it was chilly. There was no reply and so thinking Kelly must be asleep, she left. Shortly before 10:30 a.m., Kelly’s landlord John McCarthy asked his assistant Thomas Bowyer, an army pensioner known locally as ‘Indian Harry,’ to collect rent from the residents of Miller’s Court. Kelly was 29s in arrears, and her door was one of the first Bowyer tried. Knocking repeatedly to no avail, he looked through the broken window pane; what he saw would torment him for the rest of his days. Gibbering with fear, Bowyer was barely able to speak as he rushed to McCarthy, who returned with him to Miller’s Court where he too was greeted by a vision so terrible, ‘it looked more like the work of a devil than of a man. I had heard a great deal about the Whitechapel murders, but I declare to God I had never expected to see such a sight as this. The whole scene is more than I can describe. I hope I may never see such a sight as this again.’
McCarthy went straight to the police station on Commercial Street before returning to Miller’s Court accompanied by Inspectors Walter Beck and Walter Dew. Orders were given by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren that the room must not be entered until the arrival of their top bloodhounds Barnaby and Burgho, but at 1:30 p.m. Inspector Arnold arrived with the news that the dogs were not coming. Kelly had lost her key and had been letting herself into the room by putting her hand through a broken window pane, something she had neglected to tell her landlord about, and having no spare pair, McCarthy was forced to smash the door open with a pickaxe.
Writing in his memoir half a century later, Walter Dew declared that whenever he thought of that day, ‘the old nausea, indignation and horror’ still overwhelmed him and that the hellish sight in room 13 was only truly understood by ‘those of us whose duty it was to enter it.’ Dew, who had known Kelly by sight, and thought her ‘a good-looking and buxom young woman,’ was left reeling, ‘as if someone had given me a tremendous blow to the stomach.’ What troubled Dew most was Kelly’s eyes, which he remembered ‘were wide open, and seemed to be staring straight at me with a look of terror.’
Dr Robert Anderson, the Assistant Commissioner arrived at around 2.p.m. and in an 1893 revision of his 1876 book The Gospel and its Ministry, he told of how, ‘the sight of a room thus stained will not easily fade from my memory. It was the scene of the last and most fiendish of the crimes known as the “Whitechapel murders” in London. Blood was on the furniture, blood was on the floor, blood was on the walls, blood was everywhere. Did this speak to me of life? Yes, but of life gone, of life destroyed, and, therefore, of that which is the very antithesis of life. Every blood-stain in that horrid room spoke of death.’
Words alone can never convey the utter atrocity Dew, McCarthy, Anderson and others saw in Miller’s Court on 9th November 1888, but as an aid to the investigation, photographs were taken and these give us a glimpse of the grotesque spectacle they encountered. Joseph Martin, who photographed the other Ripper victims, took one full-length photograph of Kelly as they found her, which has lost none of its power to shock over the ensuing years. Another photograph taken from a different angle resurfaced in 1987 when it was handed in to Scotland Yard and it is thought that more have either been destroyed or await discovery. According to Dew, photographs of Kelly’s eyes were taken due to the Victorian superstition that the last image a person ever saw could be imprinted upon them.
In the room itself, a fire had been burning, the flames so intense that the kettle’s spout had melted and burnt fragments of clothes left amongst the ashes. Kelly’s possessions were so few as to barely warrant a mention, but it was recorded that stale bread and empty bottles of ginger beer were found in a cupboard.
The examination of the body was carried out by doctors William Dukes, and Thomas Bond, a police surgeon for A Division, who were awaiting for the arrival of Mr George Bagster Philips, H division’s police surgeon. Bagster Philips’s full post-mortem has since been lost, but extensive notes made at the scene by Bond survive and make for sobering reading. Besides cataloguing the appalling injuries inflicted upon Kelly, Bond affirmed his belief that she had been murdered by the same hand as Nichols, Chapman, Stride and Eddowes. Due to the body’s state of rigor mortis, he suggested that she had died at some time between 2 and 8 a.m. Partially digested remains of fish and potatoes were found in her stomach but it was impossible to tell when she had eaten. Fish and chip shops were numerous in the East End, but it seems more likely that Kelly would have bought this food from one of London’s many street vendors and that her last meal was in fact fried fish or hot eels and a baked potato as these were more commonly eaten at that time.
It was noted by Bond that, ‘The pericardium was open below and the heart absent.’ Whether Kelly’s killer kept her heart, or if it was with the other viscera littering the room has never been adequately determined. Both the Daily News and The Times stated that all her organs were accounted for, with The Times reporting that Bagster Phillips had ‘”fitted” the cut portions of the body into their proper places no portion was missing. At the first examination which was only of a cursory character, it was thought that a portion of the body had gone, but this is not the case. The examination was most minutely made, and lasted upwards of 2 ½ hours after which the mutilated portions were sewn to the body.’ By contrast, the Observer claimed that the murderer had not only cut her heart out but ‘carried it away.’ Suggesting that the doctors and police at the scene believed her killer may have burnt part of Kelly’s remains, Bagster Philips and the coroner Roderick Macdonald, sieved the ashes on the fireplace, however, it was emphasised that they found nothing relevant to the investigation.
As the true horror of Miller’s Court unfolded, close by masses cheered as the Lord Mayor, James Whitehead’s procession passed through the City of London. Dew later told how Lizzie Albrook recalled Kelly’s excitement at seeing the show along with her sad admission ‘this will be the last Lord Mayor’s show I shall see’ adding that ‘I can’t stand it any longer. This Jack the Ripper business is getting on my nerves. I have made up my mind to go home to my mother. It is safer there.’ Instead of her attendance, news of Kelly’s murder swept through the crowds, leaving many to abandon the pomp laid out before them and make their way to Dorset Street, despite the police barricades that were in place.
As Kelly’s body left Miller’s Court, ‘Ragged caps were doffed and slatternly looking women shed tears as the shell, covered with a ragged looking cloth, was placed in the van.’ The corpse was taken to Shoreditch Mortuary and an inquest scheduled to be held at Shoreditch Town Hall on Monday, 12th November. Joseph Barnett identified the body, telling police that he knew it was Kelly by her eyes and ‘ears’ although whoever wrote his statement down may well have mistaken ‘hair’ for ‘ears.’ Barnett was nonetheless positive that the body he viewed was the woman he had lived with for eighteen months.
Incidentally, on 9th November the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police since 1886, Sir Charles Warren handed in his resignation. The Press blamed Warren for the police’s failure to catch the Ripper and his response to these criticisms, a self-penned pieced in Murray’s Magazine in which he excused vigilantism, much to the consternation of many police on the streets, only intensified this condemnation. Warren’s resignation was formally accepted on 12th November, the day of Kelly’s inquest. So shocking was the brutality of the Miller’s Court murder, on 10th November, in an unprecedented measure, the Home Office declared that a Royal Pardon would be granted to anyone who might be able to provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator.
The murder also reignited the hysteria shown by the press, with newspapers pouring over the gruesome details of Kelly’s death and interviewing those who knew her. In a somewhat contradictory account from the one she gave the police, Elizabeth Prater revealed, ‘I have known her (Kelly) since July – since I came to lodge here. She was tall and pretty, and as fair as a lily. I saw her go out in the shell this afternoon, but the last time I saw her alive was at about nine o’clock on Thursday night. I stood down at the bottom of the entry, and she came down. We both stood talking a bit, thinking what we were going to do, and then she went one way and I went another. I went to see if I could see anybody.’
Although Kelly had no hat and was poorly dressed for the weather, Prater was also recorded as saying, ‘She had got her hat and jacket on, but I had not. I haven’t got a hat or a jacket. We stood talking a bit about what we were going to do, and then I said, ‘Good night, old dear,’ and she said ‘Good night, my pretty.’ She always called me that.’ According to the journalist, Prater burst into tears, sobbing ‘I’m a woman myself, and I’ve got to sleep in that place to-night right over where it happened,’ before confessing that she had seen Kelly’s body through the window, and exclaiming, ‘I could not bear to look at it only for a second, but I can never forget the sight of it if I live to be a hundred.’
Mrs Elizabeth Phoenix, the sister of Mrs Carthy (or McCarthy) with whom Kelly had lived in Breezer’s Hill, went to Leman Street Police Station on 11th November, the day before the inquest, telling officers that she had known the deceased whom she described as around 5’7”, stout with blue eyes and am impressive head of long hair, she also told them the following details, which they recorded, ‘At that time she gave her name as Mary Jane Kelly, and stated that she was about 22 years of age, so that her age at the present time would be about 25 years. There was, it seems, some difficulty in establishing her nationality. She stated first that she was Welsh, and that her parents, who had discarded her, still resided at Cardiff, whence she came to London. On other occasions, however, she declared that she was Irish. She is described as being very quarrelsome and abusive when intoxicated, but “one of the most decent and nicest girls” when sober.’
Contributing to the confusion over Kelly’s heritage, an unnamed source from the City Missionary told the Daily News, ‘I knew the poor girl who has just been killed, and to look at, at all events, she was one of the smartest, nicest looking women in the neighbourhood. We have had her at some of our meetings, and a companion of hers was one we rescued. I know that she has been in correspondence with her mother. It is not true, as it has been stated, that she is a Welshwoman. She is of Irish parentage, and her mother, I believe, lives in Limerick. I used to hear a good deal about the letters from her mother there. You would not have supposed if you had met her in the street that she belonged to the miserable class she did, as she was always neatly and decently dressed and looked quite nice and respectable.’
Indeed, it was reported in the Daily Telegraph, that Kelly had been, ‘of a fair complexion, with light hair, and possessing rather attractive features, dressed pretty well. Usually she wore a black silk dress, and often a black jacket, looking shabby genteel in her attire, but generally neat and clean. Latterly, it was confessed, she had been much given to drink, and had rapidly gone from bad to worse.’
Most intriguingly of all, however, were those who came forward with claims that they had seen Kelly after 8 a.m. on the morning of the 9th November, later than the estimated time of death suggested by Bond. Maurice Lewis, a tailor who lived in Dorset Street, said he saw Kelly leave her room at 8 a.m and believed he had seen her again at around 10 a.m. drinking in The Britannia. Even more puzzling, is the account of Caroline Maxwell, who lived at 14 Dorset Street with her husband, a Deputy at Crossingham’s Lodging House opposite Miller’s Court. At 8:30 a.m. Maxwell was leaving Crossingham’s when she allegedly saw Kelly outside the entrance to Miller’s Court. Maxwell, who had known Kelly for several months, asked her why she was up at what, for her, was an unusually early hour. Kelly replied that she had ‘the horrors of drink’ upon her and when told by Maxwell to go and have a pint of beer at The Britannia, she replied that she already had already done so and ‘brought it all up again.’ Maxwell also claimed to have seen Kelly later that morning, standing outside The Britannia and talking to a man in a market porter’s uniform. Inquiries at The Britannia and other pubs in the area provided no recollections of Kelly having been seen or served at all on the 9th.
In his 1959 book The Identity of Jack the Ripper, Donald McCormick wrote how Maxwell told Abberline how she was certain she had seen Kelly because ‘you couldn’t miss her. She was different like from these other girls.’ Moreover, Maxwell stated that Kelly’s ‘eyes looked queer, like suffering from a heavy cold.’ This assertion is a curious one; not only does it enhance the credence of Hutchinson’s claim that Kelly had asked her companion for a handkerchief, it also correlates with Dew’s account of how Albrook had found Kelly ‘in tears on the evening of the 8th and that they had drunk in order that she might drown her sorrows’ as eyes that were red and from crying could easily be mistaken for symptoms of a cold. Maxwell also claimed Kelly was wearing a dark skirt, velvet body and maroon shawl, items which some reports suggested were found in her room and lay folded over a chair. If Maxwell is to be believed, then Bond’s estimated time of death is incorrect. So adamant was Maxwell that she had seen and spoken to Kelly after the woman was thought to have been dead, she was prepared to swear so at the inquest.
Others giving evidence were Joseph Barnett, John McCarthy, Thomas Bowyer, Mr George Bagster Philips, Inspectors Beck and Abbeline, Mary Ann Cox, Maria Harvey, Julia Venturney, Elizabeth Prater, and Sarah Lewis. Kelly was not thought to have any enemies and Barnett claimed, ‘She had on several occasions asked me to read about the murders,’ and though Kelly had seemed frightened, ‘She did not express fear of any particular individual except when she rowed with me but we always came to terms quickly.’ Similarly, Maria Harvey affirmed, ‘I was a friend of the deceased’s – she never told me of being afraid of any one.’ In spite of a warning from Macdonald, Maxwell reiterated her statement that she had indeed seen and spoken to Kelly at the times she originally stated. Bagster Philips told the jurors, ‘the large quantity of blood under the bedstead, the saturated condition of the paliasse, pillow, sheet, at that top corner nearest the partition leads me to the conclusion that the severance of the right carotid artery which was the immediate cause of her death was inflicted while the deceased was lying at the right side of the bedstead and her head & neck in the top right hand corner.’ There appeared to have been no signs of a struggle and Kelly was found clothed in a thin cotton chemise as if she were ready for bed, the medical professionals who examined the body believed Kelly had been ‘killed in her sleep, or while in a partially comatose condition arising from drink.’
The jury also faced the unenviable task of viewing Kelly’s body, although thanks to the doctors’ efforts at reconstruction it was a more bearable sight than it had been in Miller’s Court. A reporter from the Pall Mall Gazette was one of those who viewed the cadaver, writing that ‘Only her face was visible: the hideous and disemboweled trunk was concealed by the dirty grey cloth, which had probably served to cover many a corpse. The face resembled one of those horrible wax anatomical specimens which may be seen in surgical shops. The eyes were the only vestiges of humanity, the rest was so scored and slashed that it was impossible to say where the flesh began and the cuts ended.’ It is interesting to note the comparison made between Kelly and the Anatomical Venuses popular in Europe during the eighteenth century; wax models used for the study of anatomy and made to look like beautiful women who had been cut open, with their internal organs displayed for all to see.
Commented on at the time, the inquest’s brevity was remarkable, although one explanation for this is that Macdonald did not want to prolong the potential for any public alarm or unrest. A verdict of ‘wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was recorded, with the death certificate naming the deceased as Marie Jeanette Kelly, otherwise Davies.
On 19th November, Kelly was finally buried. The funeral was held at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone and kindly paid for by Mr Henry Wilton, the Sexton of St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch. For a woman few had known well in life, an ‘enormous crowd’ turned up to pay their respects. A polished oak coffin was adorned with ‘two crowns of artificial flowers and a cross made up of heartsease’ as well as cards of remembrance from those who, as one report remarked upon, ‘used certain public houses in common with the Deceased.’ The chief mourners were Barnett and the women who had given evidence at the inquest. Though the intervening years have seen her headstone replaced several times, the one currently in place bears an inscription taken from Tchaikovsky’s None But the Lonely Heart, a romantic piece inspired by the Lev Mei poem, The Harpist’s Song. It reads, ‘None but the lonely heart can know my sadness’ – poignant words for a young woman whose heart was torn from her body.
Above: Recording of Tchaikovsky’s None But the Lonely Heart (1927)
New and often wild claims about Kelly and who she really was have abounded since her death. For instance, in his 1987 book Jack the Ripper – One Hundred Years of Mystery, Peter Underwood writes that the late John Morrison, who made no secret of his slavish devotion to the memory, or more accurately, his fantasy of Kelly, told him that she was in fact from Newcastle. Whilst many of Morrison’s assertions must be taken very lightly indeed, such as the one that Kelly was pregnant at the time of her murder, such contentions show how, with a little artistic license and imagination, she could have been any one of thousands of crestfallen women whose pitiable presence haunted Victorian London.
An example of how Kelly can be manipulated into being just about anybody is provided by a search of women in Newcastle, with the surname Kelly. The Tyne and Wear Archives Museum records show that in April 1873, Catherine Kelly, a 17 year-old prostitute, was sentenced to three months in Newcastle Gaol for the crime of stealing clothes, boots and blankets; her police photograph shows a pretty but downtrodden looking girl, with the same fair complexion, light eyes and hair attributed to her namesake.
Catherine Kelly is listed as being 5’1” tall as opposed to 5’7″ usually given for Mary Jane, but this could be explained away as a handwriting mistake. Her birthplace is listed as Nottingham and the 1871 census records do list a 15 year-old Catherine Kelly born and living in Nottingham, with her occupation given as lace mender, yet there is no Catherine Kelly of the right age in the 1861 census, she is also absent from any further ones. Incidentally, Catherine Kelly was used as an alias by Eddowes.
Say the young woman in question was of Irish parentage and left to make a new life for herself in London, fabricating her back story and shaving seven or eight years off her age, then she could become a candidate, albeit a very dubious one, for whoever died in Miller’s Court. Certainly, several witnesses said that Mary Jane Kelly actually ‘looked 30’ instead of 25. Barnett also claimed Kelly told him ‘she had obtained her livelihood as a prostitute for some considerable time’ before he, ‘took her from the streets’ and so she could quite conceivably have lied about her age.
We may never learn the true identity of the woman found that fateful November morning; but while such a discovery would satisfy our inquisitiveness, it would do nothing for the helpless victim. Perhaps her memory is best served, not by seeking the minutiae of a life ruthlessly ended, but by showing compassion to the faceless Mary Jane Kellys who still walk among us.
I Caught Crippen – Walter Dew (1938)
The Identity of Jack the Ripper – Donald McCormick (1959)
Jack the Ripper: One Hundred Years of Mystery – Peter Underwood (1987)
The Complete Jack the Ripper – Donald Rumbelow (2004)