First Seminar 1973
April 26, 2009
The true identity of Jack The Ripper has eluded police investigators for over 100 years. Even after extensive inquest by the FBI and other prominent organizations, the perpetrator still has not been discovered. Dozens of people have been considered suspects over the years, yet one stands out as particularly suspicious. James Kelly, a known killer, is the most likely suspect as of today. His venereal disease poses a unique set of emotional problems, which may have lead to his misogynistic tendencies. The London police’s deliberate cover up of his escape from Broadmoor leaves many questions as to the danger he posed to society. His whereabouts during the Ripper killings are largely unknown, and Kelly was unwilling to inform investigators of his movements during that time period. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that James is The Ripper, such as his serious mental instability, his severe mood swings, as well as the brutal murder of his wife. Throughout the years the information against Kelly has accumulated and he is now one of the prime suspects in the most notorious crime in history.
Our story begins April 20, 1860, when a young girl named Sarah Kelly gave birth to an illegitimate child whom she named James. Sarah was a fifteen-year-old prostitute from Liverpool, who clearly had no business mothering a child. The child’s father, a clerk named John Miller, abandoned Sarah, leaving her to make the difficult decision of how to care for her young son. She, with the insistence of her family, decided to leave young James in Preston, to be raised by his grandmother Teresa. Teresa raised James to believe that she, not Sarah, was his biological mother, not revealing the true circumstances surrounding his birth for many years. Until age fourteen, James led a fairly normal existence, choosing to work as an upholster’s apprentice rather than attend formal schooling. James’ peaceful life came to an abrupt halt in 1874 when his biological mother Sarah Kelly passed away, leaving her ‘natural son’ a large sum of money. It became Teresa’s burden to tell James the truth about his birth, which came as an obvious shock to the fourteen-year-old boy. Tully asserts that James’, “whole world was turned upside down” when he was made aware of his past, and signs of mental instability soon began to surface. Also, it was around this time that James was made known of the existence of an insane cousin on his mother’s side; a fact that haunted him in his later years (Tully, 4).
James grew up in a fairly modest middle class home; therefore the introduction of the inheritance caused the family to make some serious changes. The inheritance included a total sum of 25,000 pounds, which was to be given upon James’ twenty-fifth birthday (Casebook). James relied on his inheritance throughout his life, choosing to depend on the availability of his mother’s fortune, rather than accepting full time employment. At the time of her death Sarah left her son money specifically for his education. Shortly after learning of his inheritance, James left his position as an apprentice and enrolled in Dr. Robert Hufworth’s Commercial Academy, where he learned accounting and clerical skills (Tully). He finished his education at age seventeen and was given a position as a pawnbroker in Liverpool. Around this time relatives and his employer began to see a change in James’ demeanor, and an overall depressed nature characterizing his personality. His employer sees Kelly acting irrationally and says he experiences severe mood swings as a result (Casebook). Tully states, “gradually, symptoms of mental instability began to appear. His work was unstable and any comparatively minor incident was enough to send him into a rage” (Tully, 5). Due to his deficient mental state, James decided to move to London in 1878, and return to his previous trade as an upholster.
James Kelly arrived in London in late 1878, to a slow economy with very little opportunity for men of the upholstery trade. James was not entirely successful in finding employment as an upholster, so he performed odd jobs throughout London for approximately two years. During those two years James frequented pubs and used prostitutes regularly. This philandering behavior caused James to contract a venereal disease, most likely syphilis, which caused much humiliation in his marriage later in life. His mental problems worsened due to his alcohol use and the progression of his venereal disease. In December of 1881 James met Sarah Brider, the woman that would change the course of his life forever.
Sarah Brider, a young religious girl, captured James’ heart in an instant, leaving him lustful and enamored with her charm. Sarah’s mother later described her by stating, “she was a pious girl, a thoroughly good-living girl; she was very reserved, she never spoke to a person in the street. She never misconduct herself in any way” (Tully, 15). Sarah’s naivety and kind heart seemed to lure Kelly in a way he had never experienced in his previous relationships. Days after meeting one another, Brider and Kelly moved into the Brider home, although they lodged in separate rooms and shared virtually no private time. This complete lack of intimacy bothered Kelly, yet he was determined to wait until his charm won young Sarah’s heart. Approximately six months passed and still the couple had not consummated their relationship. James began to feel enraged by Sarah’s unwillingness to comply with his sexual needs, and for a short time considered moving back to Liverpool and leaving his relationship behind. Tully states, “there were moments when Kelly’s frustration at being denied what was so freely available elsewhere neared the explosion point” (Tully, 19). This situation caused James to fall into a deep depression and exhibit violent mood swings and outbursts.
It was around Christmas 1882 that strange headaches and auditory discharge began to plague Kelly’s daily life. He soon came to the realization that he has contracted a venereal disease months earlier during a frolic with a London prostitute, and resolved to treat the problem himself. With the discovery of the disease, Kelly’s behavior changed dramatically. He lashed out at his beloved Sarah with hardly any provocation. She began to fear that James would leave her, and assumed his violent temper was the result of sexual frustration, not a venereal disease. Thus in December of 1882 Sarah resolved to surrender to James’ unrelenting sexual advances. The event left the couple in shambles, when James was unable to penetrate the (most likely) virgin Sarah. James was inexperienced with the workings of a true lady, therefore he was not prepared for his inability to complete a task he had done multiple times with prostitutes. Casebook simply states, “Despite being sexually experienced, Kelly has only slept with low-class prostitutes, and neither one has had any kind of sex education. He is not prepared for how different sex with a virgin will be” (Casebook). Needless to say, Kelly was outraged with the entire evening, demanding that Sarah visit a doctor. Little did she know that in just six months time she would be lying dead in a London hospital.
On the evening of June 21, 1883 Sarah made the dreadful mistake of arriving home late from work. She failed to meet James on the street on her way home, which infuriated him and sent him into a jealous rage. He assumed his wife was with another man and had infected him with his sickness; in reality she had gone to a pharmacy to acquire liniment oil for James’ venereal disease (Magickalmind). His rage toward Sarah flared to an entirely new level and he threatened to kill her for her ignorance. After a brief verbal altercation, in which Sarah refused to forgive James, he grabbed her around the shoulders and throat (as if attempting to strangle her..?). After finding a pocketknife on a nearby table, he began stabbing her about the throat. Tully states, “he began digging away with the knife as if bent on further damage” (Tully, 33). This event obviously helps to fuel our current accusations that James Kelly is the Ripper. The similarities are hard to dismiss and the evidence against him only grows after his wife’s murder.
Sarah Brider died three days later due to the severe injury to her neck, for which Kelly was charged with murder. He plead not guilty by reason of insanity, yet was convicted on August 1. One week later the superintendent of Broadmoor examined Kelly and determined that he was in fact mentally deficient. The man diagnosed Kelly with paranoid schizophrenia, which allowed him clemency in his wife’s murder trial. He was certified insane and entered Broadmoor shortly after the murder on August 24, 1883. James was to spend the remainder of his life at the asylum, but with the help of a fellow inmate, escaped after just three years of imprisonment. After James’ escape became known to the Bradmoor staff they were determined to hide their failure from the public. They made little attempt to recapture the escaped convict, and James spent several years without fear of recapture. In 1901 James entered the British Consul and resolved to turn himself into the authorities. When the information about James Kelly was relayed to the London police, they seemed to have lost interest, so he remained uncaptured for another 26 years. Finally, on February 11, 1927 Kelly was accepted back into Broadmoor due to this poor physical condition and his apparent mental instability (Casebook).
The Broadmoor staff as well as the Metropolitan Police’s deliberate attempt to cover up Kelly’s escape from Broadmoor shows that they may have known the danger he posed to the whole of society. There is evidence that a small number of police felt that further effort should have been taken in the recapture of such a dangerous individual. Casebook states, “On November 12, 1888 someone with the initials CET enters a note in Kelly’s Metropolitan Police file suggesting that the detectives investigating the Whitechapel Murders should look into what steps have been taken to recapture Kelly” (Casebook). Despite this note, no further effort was made to discover Kelly’s whereabouts. The London police also suspected James Kelly during the initial Ripper investigation. Casebook asserts that, “On November 19, 1888, the day after the Mary Kelly murder, detectives raid 21 Cottage Lane and question Mrs. Brider as to Kelly’s whereabouts” (Casebook). Clearly the police had reason to suspect James capable of murder, due to the killing of Sarah Brider and his pension for violence. Casebook asserts, “The raid on 21 Cottage lane shows that at least someone in the Metropolitan Police must have suspected him” (Casebook). Other reasons for Kelly’s suspicion include his explosive personality, which could clearly be triggered by the most minute situations. James’ sexual appetite also adds to his suspect. He was a known user of prostitutes and became incredibly enraged when he was unable to perform with his wife. His anger seems tied at times to his need for sexual gratification, yet many things, including his venereal disease, kept him from being able to acquire that gratification. Perhaps it was the venereal disease, which caused Kelly to kill the women he deemed responsible for his misery. Some believe that his severe mental problems were the result of his disease, and that mental instability sent Kelly onto a murderous rampage against any and all women.
There are several reasons against suspecting James Kelly as Jack the Ripper. One such reason is that Kelly’s movements after his escape from Broadmoor are largely unknown. Kelly volunteered information to the police about such things as where he was living, working and his mental after his re admittance into the facility in 1927, yet there is no way to corroborate his statements. There were also large lapses of information in the information that James gave the police, especially during the time of the Ripper murders. London police investigators and Ripperologists alike feel that Kelly could have falsified some, if not all, of this information. Since the police verified none of Kelly’s statements, it is difficult to determine if he truly had anything to hide. This information, although convincing, does not negate the overwhelming amount of evidence suggesting Kelly is truly Jack the Ripper.
James Kelly’s involvement in the Ripper killings is quite apparent when the facts of the case and his character are considered. Kelly was a deeply troubled man with little or no control over his emotions, which caused violent outbursts toward those around him. The only known suspect to have had a murder record; James had a pension for violence towards women which could not be controlled. His violent mood swings were often tied with sex or the prospect of relations with women, which could have been a catalyst for James murdering innocent London prostitutes. The similarities between the brutal murder of his wife and the known Ripper murders are hard to overlook, which only add to reasons for his suspect. Similarities such as fatal neck injuries and violent bruising around the head and face help to tie Kelly’s behavior to the Ripper murders. Both the Ripper murders and the murder of Sarah Brider were sexually charged, vengeful and full of misogynistic undertones, which possibly stem from James’ contraction of a venereal disease. All of this information helps to support the theory that James was a troubled individual who was capable of murder and mutilation. Clearly the police realized the danger that Kelly posed, yet were unwilling to take the necessary steps in secluding him from the public. Unfortunately the police’s ineptness led to the brutal murders of five London women who were unable to convict their killer. Ultimately the true murderer remains unknown, yet the most probable of suspects appears to be known killer and short-tempered schizophrenic, James Kelly
“Jack the Ripper.” Web. 26 April 2009. <http://www.magickalmind.com/dorian/rippermain.html>
Ryder, Stephen P. (Ed.). “James Kelly.” Casebook: Jack the Ripper. Accessed: 26 April 2009. http://www.casebook.org/suspects/jameskelly.html
Tully, James. Prisoner 1167: The Madman Who Was Jack the Ripper. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1992. Print.