Crimes of Passion: Joseph Barnett as Jack the Ripper

Madeline McKeever

Lavaughn Towell

First Seminar 1973-09

27 April 2009

Crimes of Passion: Joseph Barnett as Jack the Ripper

Only the mystery of Jack the Ripper’s identity surpasses the horror of his acts committed in 1888. Identifying Jack the Ripper does not simply rely on a name, however. To fully comprehend the man responsible for Whitechapel’s infamous crimes, motivation must be examined. For researchers and historians in the case, there are as many motivations as suspects. Most commonly, Jack the Ripper is categorized as a serial killer who took pleasure in killing. Leanne Perry of Ripperoo matches the patterns of the Ripper’s murders to the step-by-step pattern of a serial killer.  But perhaps, Jack the Ripper had a purpose accompanying his crimes. Perhaps, he reached this purpose¾ending the killing spree with the death of Mary Kelly on November 9, 1888 (Sugden 315). Perhaps Mary Kelly’s was the destination, and Jack the Ripper the journeyman. Why, then, must the other victims each face their mutilated ends? It became clear to the police and public that Jack the Ripper’s terror held passion behind it as the viciousness in each murder increased. This passion came from a man who not only fits the Ripper FBI profile but also has legitimate motivation for the crimes¾Mary Kelly’s boyfriend, Joseph Barnett.

Barnett was established in the center of Whitechapel since he was born in 1858. In 1864, Barnett’s father died, and soon after, he mother abandoned the family. Author Bruce Paley notes in Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth that, “ potential murderers became solidified in their loneliness first during the age period of eight to 12” (9). Additionally, out of all the factors contributing to this isolation “most important is the abscense of a father” (9). The absence of a father for guidance could have led to a lack of identity as a man for Barnett. Without a mother, Barnett’s opinion of women would be negative, particularly because his mother abandoned them, most likely due to heavy drinking or “the inability to cope” with raising her five children (Paley 8). A speech impediment called echolalia affected Barnett as well (Ryder).

Elements of his life beyond his control set up Barnett as a match for the FBI profile. Barnett spent his entire life in Whitechapel. According to the contemporary mould of the Ripper, the killer “knew the East End streets well as demonstrated by his ability to avoid detection” (Paley 213). There were no opportunities for social growth for Barnett, as he was a fish porter from the East End. Even as a child, Barnett must have explored the streets, especially without a parent’s supervision. Also, a speech impediment called echolalia affected Barnett. This caused him to repeat the last words spoken to him replying to a question (Ryder). For example, “Are you Jack the Ripper?” “Jack the Ripper? No, I am not Jack the Ripper!” This impediment could have resulted in an improper upbringing by other children. Barnett had no real adult figures, therefore making the impediment a cover over insecurities.

Also fitting the FBI profile is Barnett’s intelligence and schooling. His care-taking brother, Daniel, placed him in school. He was taught writing, reading, and arithmetic. Paley states “handwriting was taught in the copperplate style” (11).  Paley also notes that, “many serial killers are intelligent men, often employed in menial jobs far below their true intellectual capabilities” (218). Barnett had some education, but because of his speech impediment, he most likely felt limited. Like their father, Barnett’s brothers were fish porters. Barnett was destined for this role as well. Once again, Barnett most likely felt limited, and in turn, frustrated.

Just because Barnett matches the FBI profile does not indict him as Jack the Ripper. However, his connection to Mary Kelly and psychological need for her in his life places him as a top suspect. The first Whitechapel murders of Martha Tabrum and Emma Smith in spring of 1888 proved as inspiration for the crimes that Barnett would commit. However, to realize the reason for the canonical victims’ murders, one must first look at the intense relationship between Kelly and Barnett.

At the time of Smith and Tabrum’s death, Kelly and Barnett had been together for one year. Their relationship was sparked when Barnett came to her as a customer. Furthermore, they decided to move in together the very next day. Barnett stated “I lived with her, until I left her, on very friendly terms” (Paley 31). Kelly and Barnett would live on his finances without Kelly having to solicit. It became apparent that Barnett did not want Kelly on the streets. An extremely independent, educated, and attractive woman, Barnett saw Kelly as a “terrific catch” (Paley 31). By offering her a place to stay, protection as a male, and a way to keep off the streets, Barnett felt that he had a control over her¾control that he was never able to offer anyone. To an extent, Barnett treated her with meats and money. Additionally, both Kelly and Barnett regarded themselves with superiority over the other East Enders. Kelly was known for being “aloof” and “never associated with anyone.” Barnett was seen as “very respectable for his class” (Paley 30). The couple could have found a common esteem in the poverty stricken area.

Barnett’s urge to control Kelly and Kelly’s drinking often led to heated arguments. Barnett testified, “As long as she was with me and had my hard earned wages, she was sober” (Paley 41). After moving about the East End, the couple settled in Miller’s Court. Because Kelly did not have a job, she had a considerable amount of time to drink while Barnett was working. When the duo was forced to spend time together, Kelly told her friend Julia Venturney that she “could not bear him” (Paley 41). Additionally, she received visits from her old flame, Joseph Fleming, and other prostitutes¾something that Barnett was extremely critical of. Barnett regarded prostitutes as “immoral women” that led a “bad life” (Paley 42). His interest and ambition to care for Kelly most likely derived from his belief that she was above the others in the East End.

The murders that began with Smith in April 1888 affected Kelly. Paley writes, “Kelly’s reaction to the two local murders would have been particularly strong, due to the close identification that she must have felt with the victims, with whom she may have been acquainted” (Paley 44). Corresponding with these events was the one occasion that could have forced Barnett to lose his beloved Mary. In July 1888, Barnett lost his fish porter license, reportedly for theft (Ryder). After working at Billingsgate Market for ten years, the only likely possibility for his dismal is theft. This event left Kelly with very little choice. To continue not only drinking, but keeping a place to stay, Kelly would resort to the streets.

With taking back to prostitution and the murders taking place, there was undoubtedly fear in Kelly. Barnett stated at her inquest, “She used to ask me to read about the murders. I used to bring the newspapers all home and read them. If I did not bring one, she would get it herself and ask me whether the murderer was caught. I used to tell her everything of what was in the paper” (Paley 48). Barnett saw the fear stricken Kelly questioning her choice to resort to prostitution. This recognition, mixed with Barnett’s anger after Kelly began living with another prostitute sparked Barnett’s next actions. 

The Ripper murders began when Mary Ann Nichols faced her end on August 31, 1888. Her body was found, bruised, with her throat slit (two cuts). There were also several cuts through the lower part of the abdomen. Her body was found at Buck’s Row at 3:45 A.M. Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn stated that the killer was left-handed, used the same instrument for all wounds, and had some anatomical knowledge (Jakubowski 19).  Her death was timely with Smith and Tabrum’s, creating the sensation that one killer was terrorizing the East End¾a concept that would help Barnett’s ambition.

The Ripper murders began when Mary Ann Nichols faced her end on August 31, 1888. Her body was found, bruised, with her throat slit (two cuts). There were also several cuts through the lower part of the abdomen. Her body was found at Buck’s Row at 3:45 A.M. Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn stated that the killer was left-handed and used the same instrument for all wounds (Jakubowski 19).  Her death was timely with Smith and Tabrum’s, creating the sensation that one killer was terrorizing the East End¾a concept that would help Barnett’s ambition.

The second Ripper murder of Annie Chapman began the speculation and patterns that have established the murder today. It was with Chapman that the idea of Jewish involvement and Masonic involvement, separately, began. On September 8, 1888, Chapman was found with her left arm “across her breast” and her legs up, knees “outward,” with her feet on the ground.  As for injuries, her small intestines were to her right shoulder, however, they were attached. Part of the stomach was to her left shoulder. “The throat was disserved deeply” and “the incision of the skin was jagged.” The killer removed her uterus. Facing the right and swollen, her face revealed that her tongue protruded through her teeth (a sign of strangulation). The body was cold, most likely dead for two hours, and there was “a large quantity of blood” (Sugden 87).

The murder of Annie Chapman inspired the idea that the murderer had anatomical knowledge. Because of the sure skill of the cuts and the removals, Dr. George Bagster Phillips said that the injuries would take longer than a quarter of an hour. He said the cuts would take him “the best part of an hour” (Ryder). Paley writes that after the murders, Dr. D. G. Halsted, positioned at the London Hospital at the time of the murders, stated, “The great surgical skill which Jack the Ripper used to apply to his female victims could easily been picked up by a man accustomed to boning and filleting fish” (67).

Not too long after, on September 30, 1888 came the double event¾an occurrence that arouses doubt in Barnett’s potential as the Ripper. Both Liz Stride and Catherine Eddowes were murdered in the East End. However, it can be easily debated that only one of the women was a Ripper victim. Stride did not fit the Ripper victim profile. First, Stride’s throat was not strangled before cut. Second it appears that Stride’s murderer was right-handed, though a left-handed killer cut all other victims. Additionally, the other murders were in quiet, off-set areas. Stride was murdered on a bust, well-lit street. Most importantly, Stride was murdered on the same evening as Eddowes. The chances of the Ripper committing both crimes without being caught on the police-filled streets are extremely unlikely (Ryder). However, the circumstances of Eddowe’s murder follow the pattern of the Ripper. Forty-five minutes after Stride had been discovered, Eddowes was found at Mitre Square. The body was on its back, with the arms to the side. The throat had been slit and the intestines drawn out of the abdomen. The face was mutilated completely (Jakubowski 41). Terror continued throughout the East End.

The actions of the Ripper seemed to be accomplishing Barnett’s intent. Kelly remained off the streets, and the murders ceased for the month of October. However, on October 30, 1888, Barnett and Kelly had a heated argument at their lodgings at 13 Miller’s Court. A window was broken near the door, and Barnett left to stay at Bishopsgate. The disagreement sparked when Kelly allowed a prostitute, Julia Van Turney, to stay with them (Ryder). Later, she allowed another prostitute, Maria Harvey to stay. At this point, Barnett had attempted to do all that he could to keep Kelly from associating with the women he despised, despite being unemployed. At her inquest, Barnett stated, “I shouldn’t have left her if it had not been for the prostitutes stopping at the house. She only let them because she was good-hearted and did not like to refuse them shelter on cold bitter nights” (Ryder). Despite the argument, it appears that the week before Kelly’s murder, Barnett consistently tried to reach out to her, “giving her money and seeming to be on good terms with her” (Ryder).

During the night of Kelly’s murder, Barnett did in fact see her. Reportedly, he stopped by at 7:00 P.M., but returned to Buller’s Boarding House by 8:00 P.M., where he played whist until he went to bed at 12:30 A.M. (Ryder).  At 2:00 A.M., George Hutchinson, Kelly’s friend and client, sees her escort a dark, foreign looking man into her quarters. He waits until 3:00 A.M. before leaving. Nothing is amiss. It is possible that Barnett discovered Kelly with the man or after she was with the man. In heated passion, desperation, and confusion, Barnett attacked Kelly in a manner mirroring that of the other victims used to frighten her. At this point, Barnett could do nothing more to keep her as his own. Therefore, no one would have her.

At 10:45 A.M., Thomas Bowyer discovered Mary Kelly as he came to collect her rent. Her body was naked on her bed, inclined to the left. Her left arm was close to her body, but the right arm “abducted” from the body and at an angle across the abdomen. Her legs were wide apart. The flesh from the abdomen, breasts, and thighs was removed. The neck was severed to the bone and her face was unrecognizable. Her uterus and kidneys and intestines were about the body. Kelly’s heart was missing (Ryder). The missing heart marks the difference between Kelly’s murder and the other victims. While all reproductive organs were concentrated on in the murders, only Kelly was missing a heart. Additionally, Kelly’s location does not match the victim pattern for a reason. She was murdered in her home, because Barnett found her there.

Most importantly, after Kelly’s murder, the Jack the Ripper killings cease. Agreed by many Ripper investigators and the FBI profile, a killer that attacks at the Ripper’s level does not simply stop. Either Mary Kelly was the final, chosen victim or the Ripper was caught or killed. Also, at the time of the murders, Barnett was 30 years old, 5’7” with a medium build. He had a fair complexion with a moustache and blue eyes. This description matches that of various witness statements with various Ripper victims.

Barnett was the first witness called at Kelly’s inquest. The press noted that Barnett “spoke with a stutter, and evidently labored under great emotion” (Paley 197). One paper reported his habit of echolalia. From Kelly’s murder to the inquest, Barnett altered his reason for leaving Kelly multiple times. Initially, he told Investigator Abberline that he left “in consequence of not earning sufficient money to give her, and her resorting to prostitution” (Paley 198). However, to the press and at the inquest, Barnett claimed that it was “because she took in an immoral woman” (Paley 198). In fact, he was adamant that his unemployment was not a factor in their difficulties. This is most likely to reassure his control over Kelly, despite her death.

After Mary Kelly’s murder, little is known of Joseph Barnett. His addresses are known, and in 1906, he received a fish porter’s license at Billingsgate Market. He married a Louisa who’s surname is unknown. Barnett died in 1926. He was a man ignited by passion with enough gull to kill many to save the one he desired to protect. Whether killing multiple or just one, it is evident that Barnett contributed to the Whitechapel murders in more than just bloodshed.


Work Cited

Jakubowski, Maxim. The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper. Philadelphia: Running Press,


Paley, Bruce. Jack the Ripper. London: Headline Book Pub, 1996.

Perry, Leanne. “Step-By-Step Pattern of a Serial Killer.” Ripperoo: Issue Nine. 2000.

Ryder & Johnno, Stephen P. “Casebook: Jack the Ripper – Joseph Barnett.” Casebook: Jack

the Ripper – Joseph Barnett. 1996. 04 Apr. 2009


Sugden, Philip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers,



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