Final Paper: James the Ripper

James the Ripper

Above all other suspects considered in the Ripper murders, James Kelly stands out as the most likely killer. Due to his mental instability and capacity to murder another human being, Kelly appears to possess the qualities of a killer. Kelly proved he had the ability to get away with wrongdoings when he escaped from the Broadmoor Asylum in 1886. He is connected with the Ripper murders by his quest for revenge on Sara Brider through her sister Mary Brider (aka Mary Kelly). James Kelly is the most plausible suspect due to his insanity and hatred for women.

Through a series of traumatic events, James Kelly began his hatred for women at a young age. He was 15 when he found out that the woman he thought was his mother was actually his grandmother. Teresa, Kelly’s grandmother, was left to raise him once his mother left to find her own way and eventually became a prostitute. This revelation of the truth caused Kelly to become angry and confused thus starting him on his road to insanity. Shortly after Kelly found out the truth about his mother, she died of a liver disease. She left him money in a will that was used in order for Kelly to attend Dr. Robert Hurworth’s Commerical Academy. Not long after Kelly got acclimated to his school, the trustees of his mom’s will moved to work with a pawn broker. The constant uprooting of Kelly’s life possibly caused him to feel like he did not belong anywhere. Soon after becoming a pawn broker, his grandmother died causing Kelly to be left alone. His work began to be unreliable, and any small incident would send him into fits of rage. His mental instability was becoming very apparent through his incapacity to handle life rationally (Tully 2-6). This sequence of distressing events caused Kelly to not only worsen in his mental state but to move completely away from Liverpool.

Moving away from Liverpool did not help Kelly’s mental state, and in fact, may have made it worse. He searched all over the East end of London looking for work, and kept to himself. Then Kelly met a man named John Merritt who introduced Kelly to drinking and prostitutes. It was during this time that Kelly lost his virginity to a prostitute. Because he was forbidden by his faith to have sex before marriage, Kelly’s attitude toward the prostitutes was contemptuous. He could have sex with the prostitutes to relieve his sexual frustration and then have nothing to do with the women he had such hatred for throughout his life. The satisfaction that Kelly was looking for could not be found in prostitutes and he realized that he was on a path of self-destruction. It was at this time he left London and returned two years later in 1881, resuming his self destructive ways (Tully 10-14). It seemed that no matter where Kelly went his mental instability followed him and further debilitated his rational stance on life.

While in London, fate stepped in for Kelly and brought Sarah Brider into his life in 1881, which one would think could stabilize Kelly’s emotions. The two seemed fairly happy and by the beginning of 1882, the two were living with Sarah and her family at 21 Cottage Lane (Eddleston 217). Kelly began to cut down his drinking and began to spend more time with Sarah and her family (Casebook). It seemed that Sarah had made Kelly a better man but it was only a matter of time until Kelly’s need for sexual fulfillment brought back old demons. On June 4 1883, the two got married and problems began to arise in their marriage (Eddleston 217). Sarah could not fulfill Kelly’s sexual needs and he claimed she had a malformation (Tully 20). It is not certain whether Kelly caught a venereal disease before or after his marriage with Sarah but his disease was the cause of a big fight that broke out between the two (Casebook). After Sarah’s mom found syringes and ointment that Kelly was using to treat his venereal disease, she asked Sarah if she knew of Kelly’s disease. It was at this time that Kelly flew into a rage and accused Sarah of giving him the venereal disease (Tully 29). On June 18, 1883 Kelly tried to make up for his behavior by taking Sarah out once she returned from work. When she did not show until 9:00, over an hour late, Kelly got very angry. He dragged her into the parlor and threatened to stab her with a carving knife unless she disclosed where she has been all night. When she told Kelly that she was out getting medicine for his disease he let her go and began to sob (Casebook). Not only does this instance show Kelly’s negative view on women but his immediate violent reaction proves that he is more than capable of murder. On Thursday June 21, 1883, Sarah returned home from work at her usual time and she and Kelly began to argue for an unknown reason. Kelly threatened Sarah and called her a whore then he dragged her head down to the floor and stabbed her with a pocket knife in the throat and continued to dig at her with the knife causing further damage. When Sarah’s mother tried to help, Kelly threw her over the bed and knocked her unconscious and then ran into his room (Tully 33). This demonstrates that Kelly was certainly capable of committing a crime with viciousness and insanity. It seemed that Kelly’s hate for women had been taken out on his undeserving wife, proving that nothing could stabilize his erratic behavior.

Kelly’s behavior exhibited such insanity that it is not hard to believe him as the Ripper himself. On the morning of June 22, 1883, Kelly was charged with attempted murder. The charge was later changed to murder when Sarah died at half past ten on June 24. Kelly did not believe he would be sentenced to death because he believed that God had a mission for him (Casebook). This mission could possibly be to rid London of the women he thought so little of throughout his whole life. He was set to be executed on August 20, 1883 but on the 17th he was reprieved and was sent to Broadmoor Asylum (Eddleston 217). He started out on Block four of the asylum with the suicidal and quite mad. Kelly did not respond to treatment and felt that he had done nothing wrong, further showing his insanity and lack of remorse for his actions. He kept to himself and was considered a quiet young man with signs of religious mania (Tully 52). His lack of contact with woman was the likely reason for his somewhat good behavior in the asylum because women were the spark that ignited his insanity. Without being surrounded by women, Kelly was able to maintain a calm exterior and move his way forward in the institution with good behavior. He was given a violin and a private room and he joined the asylum band. With Kelly’s good behavior he was rewarded more freedom within the walls of the asylum. A normal man would use this for good, but the insane Kelly would find a way to use this to his benefit in the worst of ways. A quite insane man was about to be on the run.

Not only was Kelly mentally unstable but he also possessed quite mischievous qualities. Around 1887, Kelly meets George Stratton in the asylum and the two devise a plan for escape. Kelly and Stratton designed keys from metal they found in the garden by observing the keys that hung from the warder’s belt (Casebook). The keys were hidden in Kelly’s violin case to make a calculated escape. The two men waited until darkness fell and then Kelly put on his suit giving the appearance that he was going to attend band practice, and made his escape between 6:30-7:30pm on January 23, 1888. He climbed over a six foot tall wall and made his way over a perimeter wall and then was on the run (Tully 61-62). Although this was very calculated, unlike the Ripper murders, this proved that Kelly had endurance needed when he was determined to get his way. At 7:30pm, the guards noticed Kelly was missing but they did not begin a search. Sometime later, Scotland Yard was notified to start a search for James Kelly but he had more than a half hour start on his pursuers. By the time that authorities were notified, Kelly was long gone. The police never really made a serious effort to catch Kelly until February 3 of that year. They published a notice in the Police Gazette that contained so many inaccuracies that it showed the haste in which it had been written (Tully 72). The authorities played down the escape by saying that Kelly had been acting rational, previous to the escape, which proved that Kelly could act normal enough to deceive the public as a means of fitting in without being noticed after his escape. Kelly’s mischievous ways helped to escape from prison only to hit the streets with a vengeance.

In order to understand the reason James Kelly could be thought of as the Ripper, it is necessary to first understand the motive that he might have had. It is my belief that James Kelly killed Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes all in search of Mary Brider (aka Mary Kelly). This was the reason that after Mary Kelly was killed, the murders stopped. Sarah Brider (Kelly’s wife) may have had a sister, Mary Brider, who lived in the East end, making her way as a prostitute. It was believed that Mary Brider took her sister’s surname to work the streets. Therefore Mary Brider would have been Mary Kelly (Tully 325). If this is true, then it is very plausible that James Kelly went in search of Mary Brider to get revenge on her for the imagined grievances of Sarah and her mother. It is possible that James Kelly searched the East end for Mary and when he found out she was a prostitute, those women became a focus of search for Mary. It is very likely that each of the women could have reminded him in some way of the hatred he had for women with loose morals. If James Kelly were on a mission, much like escaping from the asylum, then he would have been unstoppable and would have crushed anyone in his path. He had so many imagined wrongs that had been done to him that it only added to the rage he had inside of him, thus explaining the ferociousness in which he attacked his victims. The prostitutes he killed may have just been causalities in Kelly’s quest for vengeance. Mary Ann Nichols would have been the first woman he approached in his search for Mary Brider. She had more bruising, which could have been because of Kelly’s inexperience and initial frustration in his search for his final victim. Annie Chapman would have been the next woman he approached, and she was left with severe mutilation and her intestines showing which literally could have meant that these women made him sick to his stomach; this was his way of proving it. Elizabeth Stride’s murder was less severe, with only her throat slit, but it must be kept in mind that these women were most likely just in his path and not direct targets, so Kelly probably did not go into the murders with any intentions. Catherine Eddowes was also mutilated, which shows that Kelly may have been getting more frustrated with his unsuccessful attempts to find Mary Brider. The last victim, Mary Kelly (aka Mary Brider), had the worst mutilations because this would have been Kelly’s ultimate goal; to make Mary pay for what her family had done to him. This would account for why the other murders were located in the streets; they were less personal, while Mary’s was in her bedroom, because it was very personal. This would also account for the reason the murders stopped; Kelly had reached his final objective and had finished out what he thought was his destiny.

Although his motive makes perfect sense, it is still essential to look at the profile of the Ripper and see what connects James Kelly to being the killer. Some of the main reasons that Kelly fits the profile of the killer are because he hated women, particularly prostitutes. He also fits the profile of a serial lust killer, he had excellent knowledge of the geography of the East end, and he had sharp knives and ripping chisels as the tools for his trade. He also fit the age, being 27 or 28 (Tully 339). He fits the profile of the killer because he was a white man, between the ages of 25-35, he had a disturbed childhood with a mother who had questionable morals, he felt inferior due to an unstable childhood and stunted emotional growth, he had low self-esteem, he had a strong sexual urge, he appeared quite ordinary and inoffensive, he had been in a marriage that did not work out, he had been sexually frustrated, and lived or worked in the area of which the first murder was committed (Tully 311-312). He was a loner, and did not get along with women well except for his wife, but even that didn’t last long showing that Kelly could not keep a stable and rational relationship with a woman. It seems that Kelly was being an egotistical male to overcompensate for his lack of control in his life in general. It could be assumed, do to his lack of female relationships, that most women found Kelly’s strange social behavior unattractive; this is the reason for his unleashing of anger upon them in the Ripper murders. It could also be that with each prostitute he had relations with, his self esteem was lowered knowing that the prostitutes were the only form of female attention that he was receiving. His intense self-loathing would also account for the way he took out his anger on the prostitutes. Perhaps if he had love and affection as a youth, things would have turned out differently for him. The strict religious beliefs of his grandmother and the subsequent discovery of his grandmother’s lies, concerning his biological mother, resulted in his lack of faith in the female race. The shuttling of young James from family to family and place to place further contributed to his self-loathing. One has to wonder if some of the blame for his despicable actions lies with both his mother and grandmother. These two women were central figures in the formation of James’ beliefs and personality at a young age. His lack of a male figure to look up to may have also contributed to the psychological problems that James had in his adult life. His lack of ability to form lasting and healthy relationships was greatly impaired by the mistakes the adults in his life made. The only way he knew how to resolve the issues he had with women was to be violent, thus resulting in the deaths of Sarah Brider, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Brider (Kelly). The profile of James Kelly seems to hold many qualities that the Ripper must have had in order to act out these atrocious crimes.

James Kelly stands out as the most likely suspect to be the Ripper because of his apparent insanity and obvious capacity to kill another human being with no lasting remorse. Kelly appears to possess most of the qualities the Ripper would possess, including the availability of the murder weapon itself. His escape from the asylum showed that he did not believe he did anything wrong to his wife and he was on a true mission to get revenge of those he believed deserved the wrath of his anger. His main tie to the murders is in his pursuit of revenge on Mary Brider, who he believed should share the supposed pain that was inflicted upon him by Sarah and her mother. James Kelly is the most plausible Ripper suspect due to his apparent mental instability and severe dislike for women.

Works Cited

Eddleston, John J. Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2001.

“James Kelly.” Casebook: Jack The Ripper. 1996-2009. 15 Apr. 2009


Tully, James. Prisoner 1167 The Madman Who was Jack the Ripper. New York: Carroll & Graf,



4 Responses to “Final Paper: James the Ripper”

  1. I have a question…don’t know if this has ever been posed before, but it seems rather rudimentary. I don’t recall it ever having been answered. If James Kelly is the most likely suspect, why hasn’t the handwriting from his original journals ever been compared to the “From Hell” letter? Why are we only shown transcripts?

  2. Also, an actual photo of Kelly in his youth is in the public domain Why do we need to take an old photo of him and do a reverse aging to see what he looked like? Finally, a drawing of the Jack the Ripper suspect appeared in the London newspapers that virtually no one ever refers to…and it looks exactly like Kelly in the only photo we have of him as a young man.

  3. Battery Operated Face Cleansing Brush Electric

    Final Paper: James the Ripper | Jack the Ripper’s London

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