the Whitechapel murders
and Jack the Ripper


Mary Jane Kelly

Was it Mary Jane Kelly who was murdered in 13 Miller's Court?

At what time was Mary Jane Kelly attacked?

What happened in 13 Miller's Court?

Was Mary Jane Kelly another victim of 'Jack the Ripper'?

Cutthroat - a detailed analysis of the neck wounds to the Whitechapel Murder victims
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I have seen the body, and I identify it by the ear and eyes, which are all that I can recognise; but I am positive it is the same woman I knew.

Testimony of Joseph Barnett at the Inquest into the death of Mary Jane Kelly on 12 November 1888 as reported in the The Daily Telegraph 13 November 1888

On 9 November 1888 the extensively mutilated body of a woman was found lying on a bed in a lodging room at 13 Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street, Whitechapel. Her clothes were folded neatly on a chair but there were indications that other clothing had burned in the hearth. The woman was a prostitute and Joseph Barnett, the man with whom she had lived for twenty months, identified her as Mary Jane Kelly. The couple had spit up a few days earlier after a row over her allowing the room to be used by other prostitutes.
     Kelly had bled to death from a wound to her neck and because of the nature of the murder it was immediately linked to others with similar characteristics. Mary Jane Kelly was considered to be another victim of Jack the Ripper, but there are doubts surrounding this assertion.
By relying principally on crime scene and post mortem information and secondarily upon other witness testimony it is possibly to explore alternative scenarios in an attempt to get closer to the truth. Inevitably, delving into the details elicits rather more questions than answers but that is the nature of any investigation relating to Jack the Ripper.  

Was it Mary Jane Kelly who was murdered in 13 Miller’s Court?

Because the body discovered in room 13 Miller’s Court had such extensive facial mutilations there was inevitably speculation as to the reliable identity of the woman. Barnett testified that he was only able to identify her by her ear and eyes, but he was nonetheless ‘positive’ that it was the same woman he knew. John McCarthy, the lodging house keeper had known Kelly for ten months and also ‘had no doubt about her identity’. No relatives of Kelly were located, although it is doubtful that they would have been able to provide any more reliable evidence of identification. The police seemed in no doubt that the corpse was indeed that of Mary Jane Kelly. Inspector Abberline in a written report on the murder said after the inquest that ‘a number of witnesses were called who clearly established the identity of the deceased’.
The situation was, however, confused by two witnesses who claimed to have seen Kelly as little as 45 minutes before the body was discovered in Miller's Court. This evidence suggests that Kelly was not killed until between 10.00 am and 10.45 am on the morning of 9 November and thus much later than the other Ripper victims. Speculation has also surrounded the possibility that Kelly returned to her room in the early hours and discovered the body of another prostitute who was in her room and that she used the opportunity to escape from her identity.
Unfortunately, wherever there exists an element of doubt in this business there will also exist a conspiracy theory or some other distraction in favour of the simple course of events that is more likely to be the truth. Witnesses are notoriously unreliable and mistaken sightings or timings can easily throw an investigation off course. On balance it seems that there was not an elaborate deception and that the body in the room in Miller’s Court was that of Mary Jane Kelly.

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At what time was Mary Jane Kelly attacked? 

Unfortunately there is no firm evidence upon which to base the time of Mary Jane Kelly’s death. The initial examination of the body did not reveal any relevant information; hardly surprising since it was not examined until almost three hours after it was first discovered. And the inquest was woefully inadequate in not seriously addressing the matter of timing although I suspect that the police had rather more information at their disposal than was made available at the inquest. There are two possible timings for the murder and these are set by witness sightings of Kelly during the morning of 9 November. As with any other witness statements these sighting have to be regarded with caution since no witness is ever truly reliable, and some may be biased or even have ulterior motives for deception. The timing of the murder may be relevant as far as the identity of the killer is concerned, but even before examining the details it is relevant that daytime murders were not part of the Ripper's modus operandi, and the fact that Annie Chapman was murdered just after dawn was an exception that proved to be far too risky. 
The most likely opportunities for Kelly’s murder were between the hours of 2.45 am and 7.30 am, or much later at between 8.45 am and when he body was discovered at 10.45 am. There is no way of knowing how accurate the times stated by witnesses are. Spitalfields church clock chimed on the quarter hour, so presumably estimated timings were relevant to that, but in the matters discussed here, a difference of five minutes either way can be crucial.
There were various sighting of Kelly on the evening of 8 November and in the early hours of 9 November:

  • 11.45 pm: By interpretation of the statements by Mary Ann Cox and Elizabeth Prater and allowing a little latitude for timing it seems that Kelly returned to her room at around 11.45 pm on the evening of 8 November and went inside with a shabbily dressed man who carried a pot of ale in his hand.

  • 1.00 am: Kelly, presumably accompanied for at least some of the time with the man, stayed in her room until around about 1.00 at which time she went out again.

  • 2.00 am: The last reasonably reliable sighting of Kelly was made by George Hutchinson at 2.00 am. Hutchinson spoke with Kelly, whom he suggested he knew, and she asked him if he could lend her sixpence. He had no money so she moved off and spoke with another man whom she then took back with her to Miller’s Court. Hutchinson was surprised to see Kelly with a man so well dressed which is why he took such an interest. His interest ended at around 2.45 am – 3.00 am when he left the scene. Hutchinson was apparently seen in the vicinity of the entrance to Miller’s court by Sarah Lewis at 2.30 am; she noticed the time by the Spitalfields church clock.

  • 4.00 am: Lewis reported that she woke up at 3.30 am (she heard the clock strike) and at around 4.00 am she heard a female voice cry ‘murder’ and the sound seemed ‘at our door’. Lewis was staying at number 2, Miller’s Court, just across the passageway from number 13 and upstairs on the first floor. Elizabeth Prater who was also awake at the time also reported a suppressed cry of ‘oh murder’ and described it as a faint cry coming from the court. It is interesting to note that Prater, who was directly above Kelly’s room, heard only a faint cry, whereas Lewis, who was just across the passageway from Kelly’s door, heard a loud cry. If this cry emanated from Kelly’s room then there is a possibility that the door was open at the time.

No further sound was heard from Kelly’s room. Lewis remained in the Court until late afternoon and Prater was up at 5.00 am and in the public house by 6.00 am. She returned to her room at some unspecified time then slept until 11.00 am when presumably she was woken by the activity surrounding the discovery of the body. Cox was in her room until at least 6.15 am. There is a report that at 7.30, Catherine Pickett, a flower seller who also lived in Miller’s Court, went to Kelly’s room in order to borrow something but received no response.
  Prater is quite adamant that she heard no sounds other than the cry of ‘murder’ and in particular she was not disturbed by noises of furniture being moved around. Interesting to note, however that both Prater and Lewis woke up or were awake without specific reason at around 3.30 am and it could be that they were disturbed by noises or activities of which they were not conscious, and other than for reasons of being disturbed by a cat or just waking up because they could not sleep.  
Cries of ‘murder’ in the middle of the night were probably not a rarity in the environs of Spitalfields at the end of the nineteenth century, so it is probably not surprising that because there was only one cry heard by two witnesses, neither took any particular notice. It is noteworthy that these were neither screams nor cries for help that would be a more instinctive response from a woman who was in fear of her life. Evidence from the crime scene quite convincingly indicates that there was no struggle prior to or during Kelly’s death, thus there would be no cries for help from the victim. In any event, Kelly was killed by a deep cut to the throat that would have effectively silenced her, even if it did not completely sever the windpipe. There is a plausible possibility that the cry of ‘murder’ was made by someone other than the victim; another woman who perhaps discovered Kelly’s mutilated body at around 4.00 am but was not prepared to stay around and left the scene in panic.  Perhaps one of Mary's fellow prostitutes entered the room and discovered the body then left for fear of being implicated in some way. With the door open, light from the gas lamp immediately outside would have illuminated the otherwise darkened room sufficiently for anyone entering to witness the scene and would also account for the apparent difference in the volume of the cry between Lewis and Prater who both heard the cry. There is evidence that Kelly shared her room with other women, Maria Harvey, who had stayed overnight with Kelly on more than one occasion, so she would be well aware as to how the apparently locked door could be opened.
On the basis of this interpretation of witness reports it would seem likely that Kelly was murdered some time between 2.45 am and 4.15 am if the cry of ‘murder’ came from the victim or from someone who entered her room; or between 2.30 am and 7.30 am if the cry was unconnected with Mary Kelly’s murder.
As already mentioned, there were also reported sightings of Mary Jane Kelly later on the morning of 9 November by Caroline Maxwell and Maurice Lewis, but if Kelly was out and about and not lying dead in her room, then she must have left before 7.30 am when Catherine Picket reportedly called and received no answer. However, there were no further sightings of Kelly that morning in spite of the fact that she would have been on the streets for something like three hours. This tends to lessen support for the reported sightings by Maxwell and Lewis. Furthermore, if Maxwell did see Kelly that morning then it is also likely that Lewis saw her which meant that just thirty to forty-five minutes lapsed from the reported sighting by Lewis to the discovery of the body, which is probably insufficient time for Kelly to meet with her killer, return with him to her room, undress and fold her clothes and place them neatly on a chair at the foot of the bed, and for the killer to then indulge in an act of extreme, though not especially skilful, butchery and slip away before Thomas Bowyer peered in through the window. Had the corpse been examined as soon as the police surgeon arrived on the scene at 11.15 am instead of over two hours later at 1.30 pm, the temperature and extent of rigor of the body would have at least given an idea as to whether the murder had just been committed or whether the killer had struck much earlier in the morning. Also, if the woman seen by Maxwell was indeed Mary Jane Kelly, then because she had just vomited it is fair to assume that her stomach was empty at 8.15 am and probably also half an hour later when she was observed outside the Britannia. The body of the woman found in Miller’s court had a partly digested meal of fish and potatoes in her stomach, so at some point during the following two hours Kelly must also have taken a meal.
It is just about possible that Mary Kelly was still alive at least until 8.45 am and possibly until 10.15 am on the morning of Friday 9 November. In reality, however, it seems far more likely that both Maxwell and Lewis were simply mistaken and that they saw someone resembling Kelly that morning. Lewis’s account only ever appeared in a newspaper and he was not asked to give evidence at the inquest and Maxwell, by her own admission, had only ever spoken to Kelly on two previous occasions. Apart from the fact that much has to happen in a relatively short span of time, any killer who was intent upon savaging his victim in the manner of that inflicted upon Mary Jane Kelly would have been foolish to attempt his activities during daylight hours when the risk of been seen and been caught were far greater than under the concealment of darkness. 

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What happened in 13 Miller’s Court?

Mary Kelly’s ground floor room in Miller’s Court measured approximately 12 feet by 10 feet with a single point of entry, two windows, one smaller than the other with broken panes, and a hearth. Within the room there was a bedstead, two tables, a chair, and a cupboard. Kelly was a prostitute and used the room for such purposes to earn a few pennies with which to buy beer and food. She did not regard paying the rent as a priority. Joseph Barnett had known Kelly for some twenty months and had lived with her in that room for ten months. Barnett did not approve of her activities as a prostitute and moved out nine days earlier to live in nearby lodgings and then to Gray’s Inn Road the day after Kelly’s murder. At Kelly’s inquest Barnett gave evidence to the effect that he had moved out ‘because she [Kelly] had a woman of bad character there, whom she took in out of compassion.' Barnett saw Kelly the day before her murder, but insisted that their parting had been on friendly terms.
It probably would not have taken the killer more than 10-15 minutes to commit his awful crime from the moment that the knife made the first wound to Kelly's neck. Judging by reports as to the distribution of blood on the wall and beneath the bed, the victim had her head to the top right corner of the bed when her right carotid artery was severed and she remained in this position while bleeding to death. She would probably have been unconscious in less than a minute and although the rate of blood loss would have lessened as blood pressure dropped, death would have ensued minutes later as the body exsanguinated. It appears as though the killer surprised his victim, but even so it would have been necessary for him to restrain her with one hand, possibly with his right hand over her mouth, while inflicting the fatal cut to her neck with a knife held in his left hand. An appreciable amount of the blood accumulated in one place - in the bedding and on the floor at the top right corner of the bed - which suggests that the killer waited until his victim had stopped breathing before commencing mutilation.
The body at this time would be lying on the right side of the bed from which there was no access because the bed was, according to Dr Phillips the police surgeon, ‘close against’ the partition wall. It would make no sense for the killer to reach across the bed in order to perform the mutilations, so he pulled the body closer to him so that it was ‘two-thirds over towards the edge of the bedstead nearest the door.’  Without knowing the depth and direction of cuts it is difficult to estimate the position of the killer when he carried out his work but it is reasonable to assume that much of his work was conducted from the left side of the bed.
Evidence from the crime scene and from the post mortem examination of the body is of little value in predicting the time of death in this instance. In view of the unclothed and dissected state of the corpse, the extreme blood loss, and the broken window, heat loss from the body would have been rapid but at least any residual warmth and indications of rigor would have been of some predictive value had the body been examined immediately upon discovery. The observation at post mortem examination that the stomach of the victim contained the partially digested remains of a meal of fish and potatoes could also have been of some value but only in general terms because food can remain in the stomach for between 2 and 4 hours depending on a number of variables. However, since there was no indication as to when the victim ate this meal then the time of death cannot be extrapolated even in broad terms.
There is little doubt that Mary Jane Kelly's killer would have needed some light by which to work, especially when inflicting the initial wound, which could not be accurately delivered in total darkness. Even with the curtains drawn it is possible that enough light entered the room from the gas lamp in the passageway, directly opposite the door to room number 13. No door is a perfect fit and some light may also have entered the room past the curtains since lamplight would also have shone into the Court. The light level within the room from this source would have been low but the room almost certainly would not have been in total darkness. When Cox returned to her room at 3.00 am she saw no sign of a light from Kelly’s window and heard no sound, but Kelly was probably inside her room with a man by this time. Cox also heard no cry of ‘murder’ in spite of the fact that she claims not to have slept at all that night, although her room was towards the far end of the Court.
There are only two realistic scenarios for how Kelly and her murderer came together; one involves her meeting the killer and taking him back to her room and the other involves the killer entering her room while she slept. There were no reports of noise coming from the room and no indications that a struggle took place. There were negligible identifiable defensive wounds to Kelly, apart from a minor superficial cut to the thumb that had bled, and abrasions to the back of the hand that were not typically defensive in nature, but could have been inflicted as Kelly put up a reflex defence. Thus, she was either killed while asleep, or taken by surprise and instantly overpowered. Kelly’s position on the far right of the bed at the time the fatal wound was inflicted tends to suggest that someone else was on the bed beside her just prior to her death. But in the case of a premeditated killing it is extremely unlikely that the murderer would have removed his own clothes just in case he needed to make a hasty retreat from the room. It could be that Kelly’s murder was not premeditated even though the killer obviously carried a knife. Suffice to say that carrying a knife would have been a common enough practice among some elements of the population of Spitalfields, and although such does not imply an intention to murder, it does make the likelihood of a spontaneous over reaction rather more likely. Kelly and her murderer may or may not have engaged in sex prior to the attack but it is fairly likely that Kelly would have slept soundly for a while considering her drunken state, and this would make her a very easy target.
     A plausible scenario is that Kelly and a client returned to her room, they undressed and had sex on her bed, Kelly fell asleep with the aid of the alcohol in her system, and the killer dressed to leave then killed her. This would have placed her murder some time towards the later end of the time frame and would fit the absence of any light seen in the room by Cox at 3.00. The killer would perhaps have needed to dispose of some of his heavily contaminated clothing before stepping out onto the street, so he burned them in the hearth. Burning clothing does not provide a very good light source and I doubt that such was the reason for the fire in the hearth. After all, a candle was present in the room and by accounts was less than half used, so if the killer needed additional light then it is more likely that he worked by candlelight.
     Was it possible for a stranger to enter the room and attack Mary Jane Kelly while she slept? It was certainly possible for someone to enter the room and kill Kelly in this way, but that person could not have been a total stranger. Testimony from Joseph Barnett confirmed that the only door to the room had a lock to which there was no key. The door lock was not a dead lock type of mechanism that required a key to secure it, but a spring-loaded latch type mechanism that automatically 'locked' when the door was closed. The lock required a key to open it and allow entry, but not to secure it. But the occupants of number 13 did not need a key to gain entry. Inspector Abberline said at the inquest that; 'Barnett informs me that [the key] has been missing for some time, and since it has been lost they have put their hand through the broken window and moved back the catch. It is quite easy.' Apparently, no one who arrived at the murder scene knew or realised that the door could be opened so easily via the broken window which is why the door was forced in order to gain entry. But Barnett and Kelly were surely not the only people who knew how to unlock the door; Kelly’s fellow prostitutes whom she allowed to use the room together with several men whom they each took back to the room must also have know how to gain access. If Mary Kelly was indeed alone in her room, in a deep alcohol assisted asleep, and without the additional security of a table in position behind the locked door, as seemed common practice in that district, then it would be possible for someone with knowledge to lift the door latch by reaching in through the broken window and gain access. Light would flood into the room from the gas lamp on the wall immediately opposite the door and the killer would have sufficient light by which to inflict a fatal wound to he neck. This done he could close the door and continue unhindered, with or without the assistance of a lighted candle. All could be done in relative silence.

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Was Mary Jane Kelly another victim of ‘Jack the Ripper’?

Very little is known about Mary Jane Kelly. Much of the story of her life, such as there is, came from Kelly herself via her boyfriend Joseph Barnett. Kelly was reportedly born in Limerick in 1863 and then she moved from Ireland to Caernarvonshire or Carmarthenshire in Wales in her early childhood. Her father, John Kelly, was employed at an ironworks and Mary Jane met and married a collier circa 1879. Within two or three years of marrying, Mary Jane’s husband was killed in a mining accident at which point she allegedly lived in Cardiff and turned to prostitution as a means of support. She was, according to Barnett, ‘in an infirmary there for eight or nine months’, although whether she was working there, or a patient is uncertain. From Cardiff, Kelly moved to London circa 1884 and by account she worked in a West End brothel during which time she made a brief excursion to work in France. After a couple of weeks in Paris she returned to London and moved to the East End. No single part of this story has been independently verified. There is no documentary evidence that Kelly or any of her family lived in Wales or that she was involved in a formal marriage ceremony. The only fragment of her story to be substantiated was her involvement in West End brothel since she supposedly returned there with a former landlady Mrs Buki in an attempt to recover some expensive dresses that almost certainly not hers to recover. Mary Jane Kelly is an enigma and although she reportedly received letters from her family in Ireland, no family member identified her body or attended the funeral - or at least none was reported to have done so. There is every possibility that what Kelly told Barnett was a complete fabrication and we cannot rely upon any aspect of it.
     Several circumstances of the murder of Mary Kelly do not fit well with the other Ripper murders, and elements of the signature established in other murders are absent from that of Kelly. These discrepancies have been  briefly mentioned in the section dealing with the interpretation of findings and are discussed at length in the book By Ear and Eyes.
     On balance of the available evidence it would seem that Mary Jane Kelly was not murdered by the same man who was responsible for the series of murders that included Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes, and probably also Alice McKenzie and Frances Coles. There are just too many differences to allow Kelly's inclusion in the series and there are significant reasons to suggest that she may have been murdered in mistake for another woman. Indicators in support of this scenario come from the recollections of the artist Walter Sickert. Although Sickert clearly had no involvement in any aspect of the murders and no connection with any of the Ripper victims, he did have information that he misinterpreted and information that others have since misinterpreted. This information, considered at length in By Ear and Eyes is crucial to understanding a complex situation that culminated in the murder of Mary Jane Kelly by someone wishing to disguise her death among the series. The murder and mutilation of Mary Jane Kelly was at best a crude approximation of the Ripper murders and exhibited no anatomical or dissecting skills whatsoever. Mary Jane Kelly was most likely murdered by the man who accompanied her back to her room at shortly after 2.00 am, as witnessed by George Hutchinson, but the man was not ‘Jack the Ripper’.

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Additional links and resources


A detailed examination of the neck wounds to each of the victims was published in the September 2005 edition of Ripperologist. You can read the article here as a .PDF file by following the link below.


Image of Mary Jane Kelly reproduced by kind permission of the Metropolitan Police

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