aka “Mary Jeanette Kelly”, “Ginger”, “Fair Emma”, or “Black Mary”
Canonical Victim #5
November 9, 1888; 13 Miller’s Court, Whitechapel
As he perused his accounting books, John (aka “Jack”) McCarthy, could not overlook the fact that his tenant, Mary Jane Kelly, was six weeks behind in her rent. He had allowed the fees to accumulate, and this morning decided that it was time to see if Kelly could pay up tasking his shop assistant, Thomas Bowyer, with catching Kelly before she left her room for the day. Kelly, like many others in the city, was planning to observe the procession of Right Honorable James Whitehead as he drove to the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand to be sworn in as mayor.
The room at #13 Miller’s Court was actually a converted bedroom from #26 Dorset Street, which opened to the street just beyond the courtyard. A passageway into Miller’s Court from Dorset Street led to Kelly’s little room, which had a door on one side and two windows around the corner from the door. Tenement apartments lined the rest of the courtyard, and nothing else stood inside but a water pump and a dustbin.
When Bowyer arrived at #13 Miller’s Court, he knocked on the door twice. Receiving no answer, he rounded the corner of the yard to see that a couple of glass windowpanes were broken. He reached in through the knocked-out glass and moved the curtain to see whether Mary Kelly was at home or not. The first thing he saw were what looked like two lumps of meat sitting on the bedside table.
The second thing he saw sent him running back to his employers’ office. McCarthy followed him back to Miller’s Court. He drew the curtain aside to see just what the office assistant had: a bloody corpse, mangled beyond recognition, with parts strewn all over the blood-soaked bed. McCarthy sent his assistant to find a constable, and Bowyer soon came across Inspector Walter Beck and Detective Walter Dew chatting on Commercial Street.
“Another one. Jack the Ripper. Awful. Jack McCarthy sent me.”
Bowyer could barely get the words out of his mouth. The officers followed him, observing the carnage through the broken window with queasy horror. They sent for Inspector Abberline, who was in charge of the Ripper Case. The Inspector arrived at 11:30 am and Dr. George Bagster Phillips, a police surgeon who had also responded to the murder of Annie Chapman, arrived around the same time.
Rather than immediately break the door down, however, the officer and medical investigator had been instructed to wait for the arrival of two police bloodhounds, Burgho and Barnaby. Using dogs to sniff out murderers was a new and untested technique, but the Home Office of Scotland Yard had been eager to show the public that they were taking the Whitechapel murders seriously.
The two-hour wait signaled a considerable breakdown in communication within the police force, though. A few weeks earlier, the dogs’ owner, a breeder named Edwin Brough, had reclaimed his hounds from the police when it became clear that Scotland Yard would neither be paying nor insuring him for their services. Nobody told this to Abberline, however, and in the interim two hours, he could do little more than block off Miller’s Court to pedestrians and wait.
Finally, Superintendent Arnold arrived at 1:30 pm in the afternoon, ordering the door to be broken down. John McCarthy used a pickax to chop the front door down. The scene inside, which they had only glimpsed at before, would haunt them forever.
The Life of Mary Kelly
Mary Jane Kelly was a familiar face around Whitechapel. Detective Constable Walter Dew, one of the responding officers, said that she was rarely seen without an entourage of other women, or at least arm and arm with two or three friends. She was often seen around the neighborhood, always dressed in her signature white apron.
By the accounts of those who knew her, Mary Kelly was the youngest and the most attractive of the Ripper’s victims. She was born around 1863 in Limerick, Ireland, making her 25 at the time of her death. She was tall —about 5 feet 7 inches — and had blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.
“She was a good, quiet, pleasing girl, and was well liked by all of us,” said Catherine Pickett, a friend of Kelly’s.
Most of what was known of her backstory came from her partner, Joseph Barnett, and that story was based on what Kelly herself had told him. It was also rife with gaps and small mysteries of its own.
Though Irish born, Mary Kelly spent most of her early years living in Wales. Her father was John Kelly, an ironworker. Kelly told Barnett that she had six or seven siblings. Landlord John McCarthy said that in the time that Kelly lived in Miller’s court, she had received one letter from her mother, but otherwise had not been in close correspondence with her family.
Both Barnett and a former landlady named Mrs. Carthy hinted that Kelly’s family had been well to do. Carthy, also said that Kelly was, “an excellent scholar and an artist of no mean degree.”
In spite of this fact, Kelly seemed to be on her own in the world from a young age. In 1879, when Kelly would have been sixteen years old, she married a collier named Davies. After only three years of marriage, he was tragically killed in a coalmine explosion. Kelly, did not return to her parents, but rather headed to Cardiff to live with a cousin and became a prostitute.
Kelly only spent a little time in Cardiff, and spent much of that time ill and in an infirmary. She moved to London in 1884, and may have stayed in a charitable house, the Providence Row Night Refuge, and worked as a charwoman. Not long afterward, she left this place too and moved into a house in the West End.
In the West End, Kelly worked and lived in a high-class brothel, which The Press Association reported was run by a French Woman. It was said that during this time, Kelly had added some exoticism by her own name by going by “Marie Jeanette”. Kelly told Barnett that she had often ridden in a carriage, and that at one point she had even been taken to Paris. She had not liked Paris, however, and returned to London after just two weeks.
She then moved to a house in the East End on St. George’s Street. She was quickly ejected from that house for drinking too much and possibly using other intoxicants besides alcohol.
At this point, Kelly moved in with Mrs. Carthy, who would be one of the few people that could illuminate Kelly’s background for investigators. She may have been another Madam as well, though, because Barnett referred to the Carthy residence as “a bad house.” Never one to stay put for long, Kelly moved on from there to frequent Cooley’s Lodging House in Thrawl Street, Spitalfields around the end of 1886.
Joseph Barnett entered Kelly’s life on Good Friday, April 8, 1887. Barnett also came from Irish parents, but was born in London in 1858. He worked as a laborer on the docks and a market porter for Billingsgate Fish Market. The two first met on Commercial Street, and then went out for a drink, agreeing to meet the next day. They decided, after meeting only twice, to move in together.
Barnett and Kelly lived first on George Street, then Dorset Street, from which they were evicted for not paying rent and for being drunk. In fact, the Thames Magistrate Court fined Kelly for being drunk and disorderly on September 19, 1888.
The couple would move two more times before August of 1888, and during that time Kelly had been working odd jobs. Then Barnett lost his job. With weeks of rent fees piling up as well as debts to the state for public drunkenness, it was up to Mary Kelly to bring in money. Much to Barnett’s chagrin, Kelly resumed prostitution.
The Days Leading Up to Mary Kelly's Murder
By the fall of 1888, the relationship between Mary Kelly and Joseph Barnett had become strained by their financial situation as well as the latter’s disapproval of Kelly’s lifestyle. The reign of Jack the Ripper overshadowed Whitechapel with fear, and Mary had begun to allow other prostitutes who had nowhere to go in the evenings to stay with the couple in their tiny room at Miller’s Court.
“She only let them because she was good hearted and did not like to refuse them shelter on cold bitter nights,” Barnett told the inquest. “We lived comfortably until Marie allowed a prostitute named Julia to sleep in the same room; I objected: and as Mrs. Harvey afterwards came and stayed there, I left and took lodgings elsewhere.”
Sure enough, Elizabeth Prater of #20 Miller’s Court (who lived directly above #13) reported that on October 30th, sometime between 5 and 6 pm, the couple had argued. Barnett left Kelly to live at Mrs. Buller’s boarding house. Kelly had been drunk and broke two of the windowpanes that looked out on the courtyard.
A charwoman who lived at #1 Miller’s Court, Julia Venturney, says that Barnett was known to have treated Mary well, and gave her money whenever he could. This did not stop after he moved out. He disapproved of her prostitution and did not want her to live that way, and he continued to visit her every day up until the evening of November 8th.
In the meantime, Kelly continued to allow other women including Mrs. Harvey and “Julia”. Harvey slept over there until she took up lodgings on Dorset Street on November 7th. On November 8th, Barnett visited Kelly at 7 pm, then left – on good terms – at 7:45 pm.
At this point, witness testimonies diverge. One thing is for sure, however, and that is that the next time Barnett saw Kelly, he could identify her only by her eyes and her hair.
Post-Mortem and Witness Testimony
When authorities entered the room, there was a fire burning in the fireplace. Mary Jane Kelly’s clothes were neatly folded on a chair and her boots sat in front of the fireplace.
Kelly’s corpse was nude except for a chemise and lying in the middle of the bed that sat flush against the apartment wall. She was inclined slightly to the left side of the bed, and her head was resting on the left cheek. Her right arm had been partially disconnected from the torso; her legs were spread wide and placed at right angles.
Attending police surgeons included Dr. Thomas Bond and Dr. George Bagster Phillips made the post mortem report, but the carnage was so great that some of this information was suppressed for the public inquest.
Dr. Bond’s report said:
“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 to the bone.”
Presumably, without the presence of police walking their beats, concealed in a private room, the Ripper had the time and privacy to carry his compulsions further than he had to that point. As with previous victims, there were entrails and organs piled to the right of the body. This time, there were also other lacerations and organ displacements: Kelly’s uterus, kidneys, and one breast were placed beneath her head. Her left lung was torn and her heart was completely missing.
The Ripper had taken the flaps of skin, which he’d stripped from the thighs and abdomen, and piled them on the bedside table. Those were the lumps that Thomas Bowyer had first spotted when he peeked in through the broken window.
Every feature of Kelly’s face was irregularly slashed. Her nose, ears, cheeks, and eyebrows were all partially removed and her lips were sliced multiple times.
The bed was saturated in blood, and Dr. Phillips stated with confidence that the cause of death, this time, was “severance of the carotid artery” rather than asphyxiation.
There were conflicts as to Kelly’s time of death between the medical contingents. The confusion was made worse by the long delay between the discovery of Kelly’s corpse and the ability for investigators to examine the body. Dr. Thomas Bond held that the murder took place at 1 or 2 am. Based on witness testimony, Metropolitan Police believed it took place around 3:30 or 4 am. Dr. Phillips, who had responded to other Ripper murder scenes, asserted that the time of death was 5 or 6 am. Authorities had to slough through myriad stories from neighbors, many of whose stories also conflicted with one another. What follows is a general picture pieced together from these accounts.
No one could confirm sightings of Mary Jane Kelly between the time that Joe Barnett left her room at 7:45 pm and 11:45 pm, though one story had her drinking with a woman named Elizabeth Foster at the Ten Bells pub. At 11:00 pm, she was said to be very drunk and drinking with a young, respectable looking man with a dark mustache at the Britannia.
The first confirmed sighting came at 11:45 pm by Mary Ann Cox, a prostitute who lived at #5 Miller’s Court. Cox was returning home to get warm and saw Kelly walking ahead of her with a stout man. A gas lamp that stood directly across from #13 illuminated Miller’s Court, so it was easy for any neighbor to see who was entering and exiting Kelly’s apartment.
“The man was short, stout, with a blotchy face. He looked to be in his thirties. He had a short, carroty moustache, a billycock hat, a longish dark shabby coat, and a quart pail of beer,” Cox said.
“A Violet from Mother's Grave”
The two stood outside of Kelly’s room as Cox passed by toward her room. Cox wished them goodnight, and Kelly drunkenly wished her goodnight and slurred that she was going to “have a song”. The residents of Miller’s Court were used to Kelly Irish songs, as they were a regular result of her drunkenness. As Cox went into her home, she heard Kelly starting to sing “A Violet from Mother’s Grave”. Catherine Pickett and her husband, also Miller’s Court neighbors, remember hearing her singing at 12:30 am as well. Catherine remembered that she wanted to go shut Kelly up and her husband prevented her from doing so.
At midnight, Cox went back out into the cold to solicit, and then came back an hour later after it began to rain. At 1 am, the light was on in Kelly’s room and Cox could still hear her singing. She soon went out again. Around the same time, Elizabeth Prater, Kelly’s upstairs neighbor, stood at the entrance to Miller’s Court and waited for a man. Giving up around 1:30 am, she returned to her room and passed out. She did not hear any singing, nor did she see any lights coming from Kelly’s window.
At 2 am, George Hutchinson was walking to his residence at a men’s home on Commercial Street when he passed a man standing at the corner of Commercial and Thrawl. Not giving the man a second look, he soon happened upon Kelly. Kelly asked him for a sixpence, but he declined, saying he had spent all of his money already. Kelly departed in search of cash, soon meeting with the man Hutchinson had passed on the corner.
The man put his hand on Kelly’s shoulder and they exchanged inaudible words and a laugh.
“All right,” Hutchinson heard Kelly say.
“You will be all right for what I have told you,” the man replied.
Hutchinson watched as the man put his hand on Kelly’s shoulder and they began to walk back toward Dorset Street, a parcel in the man’s left hand. Hutchinson scrutinized the man, noticing his pale complexion, small moustache, dark hair, and bushy eyebrows. He was wearing a felt hat pulled low, a long dark coat, and dark spats over boots. Hutchinson summarized the unknown man’s look by saying he had a “Jewish appearance”. Hutchinson followed the two all the way back to Miller’s Court and stood, watching as Kelly kissed the man and let him inside. He stood outside Miller’s court until the clock struck 3 am, then left when nobody emerged from the room.
Around the same time, Mrs. Cox was heading home once again through the rain. She did not see any light from Kelly’s room, and as she lay at home awake for the next hour or so, heard the sound of men walking in and out of the courtyard.
Elizabeth Prater was awakened at 4 am by her kitten, and heard someone cry, “Oh murder!” Sarah Lewis, who was staying with friends in the neighborhood, heard the same thing. This exclamation was common in Whitechapel, however, and neither gave it a second thought. These testimonies gave the most weight to the Metropolitan Police’s hypothesis that Kelly was killed around 3 or 4 am.
Perhaps most puzzling of all was Caroline Maxwell’s statement. She was adamant that she had seen Kelly at 8:30 am, long after any of the experts’ theories. She did admit that she did not know Kelly terribly well, though, and may have been mistaken. Maxwell’s testimony was mostly set aside, and it was assumed that Kelly must have been killed sometime in the early morning.
With so many out on the street already for the Mayor’s show, the nearby streets were a circus of spectators. Haunting photos were taken of the crime scene and Mary’s mutilated body. The remains were finally taken to Shoreditch Mortuary at 4 pm. The police boarded up the windows and padlocked the doors of #13 Miller’s Court.
Funeral and Final Resting Place
Mary Jane Kelly was laid to rest in the Roman Catholic Cemetery at Leytonstone. She was moved from the mortuary at Shorditch to the graveyard at 12:30 pm on Monday, November 19th, 1888. Both Joseph Barnett and John McCarthy joined together to help ensure she was buried according to the traditions of the Catholic Church. According to the Daily Telegraph, none of Mary’s family could be found to come to her funeral. She was listed as “Marie Jeanette Kelly” on her death certificate.
The city reclaimed Mary Kelly’s grave in the 1950s, and John Morrison built a large headstone for her in 1986. It was marking the wrong grave, however, and it was later removed. The area superintendent marked her grave with a simple, historical grave marker in the 1990s.Sources
- Casebook: Jack the Ripper – Victims; Mary Jane Kelly
- A Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Phillip Sugden
- Casebook: Jack the Ripper – Victims; Mary Jane Kelly – Timeline
- Did Mary Kelly Survive? – by Des McKenna ; Originally published in Ripper Notes