Mary Jane Kelly, Whitechapel Victim
Mary Kelly was brutally murdered on 9 November 1888 and although it has been debated about, she is generally believed to be the final victim of Jack the Ripper who killed five prostitutes around Whitechapel in the later months of that year. The other victims were murdered were killed on the street, where Mary was murdered in her own home at 13 Miller’s Court, 26 Dorset Street and it is here that her ghost was said to haunt in the months immediately following her death, gazing from the window.
Mary Jane Kelly was said to be born in Limerick, Ireland, around 1863, though her family moved to Wales whilst she was still young. Sometimes known as Marie Jeanette Kelly (used after a brief stint in France with a client and appears on her death certificate) or Ginger, she was described as being 5’ 7” tall, “quite attractive” and “buxom”.
She shared the single room (10’ x 12’) dwelling at Miller’s Court with Joseph Barnett for which they paid 4s 6d/week. At the time of her death, twenty five year old (estimated) Kelly was living in poverty and her rent was 29s in arrears. Barnett had moved out on 30 October (a week before her death) after Kelly started sharing it with another prostitute.
Mrs Elizabeth Phoenix of Bow Common Lane told the Police after Mary’s death that Kelly used to live in Beezer’s Hill, adding “She was Welsh and that her parents, who had discarded her, still lived in Cardiff, from which place she came. But on occasions she declared that she was Irish”.
Not much is known about Mary Kelly (who does not appear in the 1881 census) and many details were taken from Barnett. Around 1879 Kelly may have been married to a Welsh coal miner called Davies who died in a mining accident around 1881. Mary was a fluent Welsh Gaelic speaker and she left Cardiff where she had started working as a prostitute to come to London in 1884 where she found a position in a West End brothel. Her father worked in a Welsh iron foundry and her mother may have returned to Ireland as her Kelly’s landlord John McCarthy claimed Mary received mail from her. According to Barnett she had six or seven brothers and a sister.
A reporter enquiring in the Breezer’s Hill area wrote: “It would appear that on her arrival in London she made the acquaintance of a French woman residing in the neighborhood of Knightsbridge, who, she informed her friends, led her to pursue the degraded life which had now culminated in her untimely end. She made no secret of the fact that while she was with this woman she would drive about in a carriage and made several journeys to the French capital, and, in fact, led a life which is described as that “of a lady.” By some means, however, at present, not exactly clear, she suddenly drifted into the East End. Here fortune failed her and a career that stands out in bold and sad contrast to her earlier experience was commenced.”
Just after 10.45am on 9 November 1888, the mutilated body of Mary Kelly was found by Thomas Bowyer (also known as “Indian Harry”, he was a retired soldier collecting rent for the landlord John McCarthy) at her home 13 Miller’s Court (though the official death registration shows 1 Millers Court). Inspector Walter Beck was the first police official to attend the crime scene.
Her body was examined by Dr Thomas Bond (Police Surgeon) who noted:
“The body was lying naked in the middle of the bed, the shoulders flat but the axis of the body inclined to the left side of the bed. The head was turned on the left cheek. The left arm was close to the body with the forearm flexed at a right angle and lying across the abdomen.
The right arm was slightly abducted from the body and rested on the mattress. The elbow was bent, the forearm supine with the fingers clenched. The legs were wide apart, the left thigh at right angles to the trunk and the right forming an obtuse angle with the pubes.
The whole of the surface of the abdomen and thighs was removed and the abdominal cavity emptied of its viscera. The breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds and the face hacked beyond recognition of the features. The tissues of the neck were severed all round down to the bone.
The viscera were found in various parts viz: the uterus and kidneys with one breast under the head, the other breast by the right foot, the liver between the feet, the intestines by the right side and the spleen by the left side of the body. The flaps removed from the abdomen and thighs were on a table.
The bed clothing at the right corner was saturated with blood, and on the floor beneath was a pool of blood covering about two feet square. The wall by the right side of the bed and in a line with the neck was marked by blood which had struck it in a number of separate splashes.
The face was gashed in all directions, the nose, cheeks, eyebrows, and ears being partly removed. The lips were blanched and cut by several incisions running obliquely down to the chin. There were also numerous cuts extending irregularly across all the features.
The neck was cut through the skin and other tissues right down to the vertebrae, the fifth and sixth being deeply notched. The skin cuts in the front of the neck showed distinct ecchymosis. The air passage was cut at the lower part of the larynx through the cricoid cartilage.
Both breasts were more or less removed by circular incisions, the muscle down to the ribs being attached to the breasts. The intercostals between the fourth, fifth, and sixth ribs were cut through and the contents of the thorax visible through the openings.
The skin and tissues of the abdomen from the costal arch to the pubes were removed in three large flaps. The right thigh was denuded in front to the bone, the flap of skin, including the external organs of generation, and part of the right buttock. The left thigh was stripped of skin fascia, and muscles as far as the knee.
The left calf showed a long gash through skin and tissues to the deep muscles and reaching from the knee to five inches above the ankle. Both arms and forearms had extensive jagged wounds.
The right thumb showed a small superficial incision about one inch long, with extravasation of blood in the skin, and there were several abrasions on the back of the hand moreover showing the same condition.
On opening the thorax it was found that the right lung was minimally adherent by old firm adhesions. The lower part of the lung was broken and torn away. The left lung was intact. It was adherent at the apex and there were a few adhesions over the side. In the substances of the lung there were several nodules of consolidation.
The pericardium was open below and the heart absent. In the abdominal cavity there was some partly digested food of fish and potatoes, and similar food was found in the remains of the stomach attached to the intestines.”
In each case the mutilation was inflicted by a person who had no scientific nor anatomical knowledge. In my opinion he does not even possess the technical knowledge of a butcher of horse slaughterer or a person accustomed to cut up dead animals.”
The Evening Before:
8 November 1888
7.30pm – Joseph Barnett went to visit Mary Kelly at 13 Millers Court and left at 8.00pm to return to his lodgings at Buller’s Boarding House where he played a game of whist until 12.30am, before going to bed. Mary had had company when he visited, a woman.
8.00pm – 11.45pm – Though not confirmed, Mary Kelly have been in the drinking in the Ten Bells pub with Elizabeth Foster for some of this time. At around 11.00pm she may have been in the Britannia pub, drunk and with a respectable looking man.
11.45pm – Mary Kelly as seen returning home with a man by Mary Ann Cox. Was a 31 year old prostitute and widow who lived at 5 Millers Court. Cox described the man with Kelly as being stout, 5’5” tall and around 35 years old. He wore a long overcoat, looking shabby and carried a pail of beer. Kelly started to sing song “A Violet I Plucked from Mother’s Grave When a Boy” and was stil singing when Cox went out again at 12.00 midnight.
9 November 1881
12.30am – Still singing, Mary disturbs her upstairs neighbours, a flower seller called Catherine Pickett and her husband. Catherine wants to go and complain to Kelly about the noise but her husband tells her not to.
1.00am – It is raining and mary Cox hears Kelly still singing as she returns home to get warm.
2.00am – On Flower and Dean Street, Mary Kelly approaches George Hutchinson and asks for a sixpence loan, which had to refuse as he had no money. She heads for Thrawl Street and is approached by a man with a package. They chat, laugh and head off toward Dorset Street together. Hutchinson describes the man as looking “Jewish”. For some reason Hutchinson follows them back to Millers Court and waits outside, until 3.00am before leaving.
3.00am – Mary Cox comes home again in the pouring rain. She does not sleep that night suffering from insomnia and hears people go in and out of the court throughout the rest of the night. “I heard someone go out at a quarter to six. I do not know what house he went out of as I heard no door shut” she told the police.
4.00am – Another neighbour, Elizabeth Prater is awkened at 4.00am and hears the faint cry of “Murder”. As this was a common occurrence in the East End she went back to sleep.
8.30am – By this time Mary was dead, but Caroline Maxwell claimed to have seen her at 8.30am and described her clothing accurately. This led some to speculate that maybe Jack was a woman or have dressed as Mary.
10.00am – A tailor from Dorset Street, Maurice Lewis claimed her saw Mary Kelly at 10.00am. The police ignored him. He also claimed to have Joe Barnett and Mary in the pub together at 10.00pm the night before.
10.45am – Mary Kelly’s body discovered. She was wearing a chemise and her clothes were neatly folded upon a chair.
Kelly was buried at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Leytonstone on 19th November 1888. No family members could be traced to attend the funeral.
There are a few points that make Kelly’s murder different when compared the other five victims. Mary was killed at home where the others were murdered outside. Kelly was only twenty five years old (if the age is correct) whilst the other victims were in their forties, so she may not have fitted with Jack’s victim type. Kelly’s mutilating showed no skill or knowledge of anatomy, where the others had. Given that the last Ripper murders had been Catherine Eddowes and Elizabeth Stride on 30 September 1888, some think the five week gap between the killings may be too long for Jack to have waited. It was even suggested by the author Bruce Paley that Joseph Barnet t may have killed her.