Jack the Ripper: The Suspects

Jack the Ripper: The Suspects

by The Whitechapel Society


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Jack the Ripper: The Suspects by The Whitechapel Society

The latest research on the ultimate whodunnit by the world's leading society for Ripper studies
The Whitechapel Murders of 1888 remain unsolved and hundreds of theories have been suggested as to the killer's identity. However, many of the suggestions naming the infamous Ripper remain ill-informed and ludicrous, until now. The authors of this book are all members of The Whitechapel Society, the world's largest organization for the study of Jack the Ripper. Each has spent many years researching a particular suspect and the results of their latest, cutting-edge investigations are published here for the first time. Based on indisputable facts and concrete evidence, the cases put forward in this collection allow readers to decide exactly who they believe is the man behind the myth. With each chapter discussing a separate suspect in detail, this book is the ultimate guide to one of the most famous criminal investigations in history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752462868
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

The Whitechapel Society is London's premier society for the study of Jack the Ripper and related Victorian and Edwardian social history. They are a worldwide society hosting talks, presentations, guided walks, and book launches.

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Jack the Ripper: The Suspects

By The Whitechapel Society

The History Press

Copyright © 2013 The Whitechapel Society
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7509-5384-9


The Beatification of Joseph Barnett

Mickey Mayhew

For Monique, who found me; and to my babies, Wolvie and Tiggy

Joseph Barnett holds a rather unique position among Ripper suspects; he's the only partner of one of the victims to be seriously considered as a suspect. But, unlike John Kelly and Catherine Eddowes, for instance, Joseph Barnett and Mary Kelly, as a couple, are also the closest we come to painting a picture of domestic harmony amid all the horror and hyperbole of Whitechapel, in 1888. In fact, given Barnett's proximity to the perpetually elusive Kelly, one wonders why he isn't actually held in higher regard – the privileged person who knew the face that, 120-odd years on, can be reconstructed only from witness statements, given that the photographic evidence is just a forlorn mess. But, when Bruce Paley put Barnett forward as a suspect in his book, The Simple Truth, any notions of beatification went by the wayside, as it was suggested that Barnett himself may have been the one responsible for destroying that famous non-face in the first place.

In a nutshell, Paley put forward the hypothesis that Barnett killed the first four canonical victims in order to scare Kelly off the streets, because he disapproved of her lifestyle, and then killed Kelly herself when all these other efforts failed. Her death occurred, according to Paley, after she finally spurned Barnett, a week or so after he'd moved out of the tiny room they shared in Miller's Court, Dorset Street. On the face of it this is possible; in fact, it's fairly plausible. We, as human beings, do crazy things when we're in love, and if the legends of her loveliness live up to the truth about Mary Kelly – no photo other than that of her crime scene is known to exist – maybe we'd understand why Barnett went wild the way he supposedly did. Elevating Barnett to the role of Jack the Ripper may be a touch sensationalist, but there are those willing to settle for his having killed Kelly alone; perhaps in a fit of pique over her return to prostitution. The world of Ripperology remains generous to a tee with the reputations of those it points a finger at.

Joseph Barnett was born and reared within spitting distance of all the murders, at Hairbrain Court, adjacent to the Royal Mint and mere moments from the Tower of London. He was effectively orphaned at an early age, when his father died and his mother seemingly abandoned the family, brought up henceforth by his older brothers. These facts alone are innocuous enough and, indeed, it sometimes seems as if the whole case against him hangs on this loosest of threads. Supposedly, he had a speech impediment – a pronounced stammer or echolalia – that made possible over the years a sort of degeneracy of the personality. For me, the theory falls apart at this first hurdle; which dutifully leads to that dodgy area where innocent men are accused of being the most infamous serial killer in history because of some circumstantial evidence and a soupçon of specially formulated FBI profiling. Whitechapel in 1888 – as the poorest area in London – was full of people who had a lot more to contend with, both physically and mentally, than a stammer. They, as a result, didn't all turn into knife-wielding maniacs. This isn't in any way to do down Barnett's personal experience – of which we know nothing – but Paley's precisely researched pieces on the hardships of East End life, simply don't transfer to putting Barnett on the scene as a serious suspect. In fact, they come across as fleshing out areas otherwise rather bereft of facts. It was a hard world for everybody, full stop. In fact, from all the accounts of Barnett and Kelly's time together, he was anything but the sort of man who went around harbouring a grudge against a cruel and uncaring world. In fact, his whole demeanour and personality positively fly in the face of some of the more fearsome characters and conditions usually conjured up when referring to the Whitechapel of 1888.

Joseph Barnett met Mary Kelly in Commercial Street on the 8 April – Good Friday – of 1887 and they moved in together the very next day. Whilst this may indeed have been borne of economic necessity for her, for him it certainly seems to have been a case of true love. Barnett was old fashioned by our standards; he worked as a fish porter at Billingsgate market, so she didn't have to ply her trade as a prostitute. The arrangement was suffused with an extra sense of nobility, by virtue of the fact that he was saving her, both body and soul, from the streets with his rather ample wage. Again, rather than conjuring up images of a nefarious, knife-wielding killer, I, for one, am far more put in mind of a well-meaning and rather mild-mannered young man; kind of like a downtrodden, Dickensian Clark Kent, clutching his billycock hat before him and fighting a valiant battle with his b's, as he attempts to mollify her concerns over the constant media coverage of the killings. Without doubt, that is how Joe Barnett ought to be seen; a veritable Superman working his fingers to the bone to give the girl he loved the sort of life she deserved, rather than the sordid reality. Unfortunately, the rather random and indiscriminate realm of Ripperology then rears up, citing him as a possible suspect, simply because of his proximity to Kelly, in the hope of solving a series of murders for which there'll never be any real justice, anyway. It's a sort of slander, swaddled up in an all too human concern for closure. One wonders how diligent these social detectives would be if some snazzy research were to direct an accusing digit at their beloved grandfather or uncle, simply because he visited Bethnal Green occasionally and may, or may not, have worn callipers when he was a child.

Barnett and Kelly moved a couple of times in the early days of their relationship, including a stint on Brick Lane, before settling down in the midst of 'the worst street in London' (Dorset Street), making what home they could in No. 13 Miller's Court, a little cul-de-sac that ran off the main thoroughfare. In a room barely big enough to swing a cat – Elizabeth Prater and her kitten, Diddles, residents of the room upstairs, can surely testify to that – they lived in something like domestic bliss for the early part of 1888. By all accounts, Kelly kept off the streets during this period whilst Barnett worked busily in Billingsgate Market, until he had the misfortune to lose his job around the middle of 1888. Bruce Paley put this disastrous turn of events down to theft, one of the few misdemeanours for which a total dismissal was deemed necessary. This could, indeed, have been the case; maybe Mary Kelly was too demanding, even for Barnett's big wage packet, and he had resorted to stealing as a means to keep her in the 'style' to which she had become accustomed. Number 13 Miller's Court may not have been much to look at, but the landlord, John McCarthy, charged a jaw-dropping 4s 6d per week for the 'privilege'. This new set of circumstances put a considerable strain on Barnett and Kelly's somewhat shaky relationship, forcing them to spend much of the day together in their little room, where Barnett could pontificate to his heart's desire on the perils of prostitution, whilst Kelly imbibed increasingly-large amounts of gin in an effort to drown him out. Such a turn of events served only to hasten the end of their somewhat ill-suited relationship, for as much as Joe Barnett may have been her Superman, Mary Kelly was by no means his Lois Lane. If anything, she comes across as a little hard- boiled where Barnett is concerned, with testimony to the effect that she couldn't bear to be in the same room with him. She also saw her former lover, Joe Fleming, from time to time, and summoned a series of female 'friends' to their room to share the meagre space, in what seems to have been a deliberate exercise in driving him out for good. The fact that Barnett continued to give Kelly what little money he had after he'd lost his job, only brightens the hue on his halo as far as I'm concerned. The more cynical might see it as a crude example of someone so unutterably clingy that they can't bear to let go, even when they've been given the boot. The fact was, that from the middle of 1888, Barnett sought almost any work he could in order to keep giving Kelly money, from days spent as a market porter to the occasional stint on the orange markets. Paley hypothesised that the loss of his job and the subsequent lack of money made Kelly's return to the streets imminent, and so Barnett supposedly began his periodic slaughter of prostitutes, in the most ghastly fashion possible, in order to point out to her the perils of such a life.

By all accounts, Kelly was indeed seriously spooked by the spate of killings, begging Barnett to read her the papers after each event. However, even the details of various disembowelments couldn't stop their relationship crumbling, as Barnett's lack of money made their formerly comfortable lifestyle a long-distant memory. Barnett's company seems to have been so intolerable to her that she took in fellow prostitutes – the aforementioned ill-suited 'friends' – to share their room. Perhaps this was partly out of the kindness of her heart, but it also seems a genuine attempt at driving him out. Now that he was earning little or no money he was of no use to her. The final, violent row between them occurred on 30 October, during which Kelly broke several of the windows of their room. This was in consequence of Maria Harvey, a laundress friend of Kelly's, moving into the room Barnett himself moved out, but this didn't deter him from visiting Kelly, on an almost daily basis, and giving her what little money he had. He visited her on the eve of her death, after she'd spent an afternoon mooching around with Maria Harvey. By all accounts, Barnett still loved Kelly so much that he sent his brother Danny to beg her to take him back later that evening, after his own efforts had obviously failed. That she was killed so soon after their split is, of course, the sort of evidence so compelling that it's impossible not to consider him a suspect (but why not his brother Danny; one imagines it will be but a matter of time before a case is launched against him, on the basis of his having tried to reason with Kelly, and then perhaps killing her out of shock over her disregard toward his brother?!). On the other hand, it seems to be just as obvious that without Barnett's protection, Mary Kelly was forced to make her way back onto the streets, where she met her killer. If she'd stayed with him she might have lived, and however meagre Miller's Court might have been, it was still a considerable step up from the succession of common lodging houses or street corners the other canonical victims called home.

Mary Kelly's horrifically mutilated body was found on the morning of the 9 November; it was Barnett who had to identify her, by her eyes and ears alone. He was questioned by police but no case was ever laid against him, and at the time no suspicion seems to have been there either. Barnett was able to come up with a perfectly good alibi, having been ensconced in Buller's lodging house in nearby Bishopsgate. However, the theory maintains, the fact that the door to No. 13 Miller's Court was locked and had to be broken down, was proof of Barnett's having stolen the key; which, apparently, Barnett told Inspector Abberline, had gone missing some time back. Barnett then allegedly contradicts himself by saying that they used the broken windows as a means of gaining access to Miller's Court, reaching in and jiggling the lock. However, Barnett had, in fact, moved out on the night when such a means of entrance would first have taken effect. Why then would he have known about the broken window if he left the day the damage was done? My theory is that Kelly hid the key from Barnett some time previously, as insurance in case she ever wanted to lock him out when he became – as he obviously was from time to time – too much for her. Also, it seems plausible that he discovered the alternative means of entrance on one of his subsequent visits, either from Kelly's mouth or one of her friends; gin loosens the lips that way.

I will concede that it could've been Joe Barnett; indeed, when one thinks back on some of that circumstantial evidence, you come to the conclusion that it almost should've been Joe Barnett. And yet it wasn't. After Mary Kelly's death, Barnett moved back into the obscurity from which he came, living for another thirty-eight years, dying in Shadwell with his common-law wife Louisa in 1926. Men who eviscerate innocent women and mutilate them beyond recognition, who take the time to carve the faces of their victims as they lay sprawled in the relative seclusion of Mitre Square, don't retire to a life of quiet sobriety because the object of their affections fell victim to the culmination of their own crazed desires. To the best of my knowledge, Barnett didn't put so much as a foot wrong 'til the day he died. In fact, I'd go so far as to maintain he never actually put a foot wrong in the first place, outside of maybe being dismissed for swiping one too many mackerel for Mary Kelly's supper. Speaking of mackerel, to probe the theory that little bit more, using FBI profiling, Bruce Paley would have us believe that Barnett would '... have sought a job where he could vicariously experience his destructive fantasies, such as a butcher, mortician's helper, medical examiner's assistant, or hospital attendant; Joseph Barnett's job boning and gutting fish provided the necessary atmosphere wherein he could indulge his morbid fantasies.'

One imagines that your average fledgling serial killer would feel very hard done by indeed, if he had to take out all that frustration on a daily catch of cod and kippers. Other research also repudiates some of Paley's suppositions about Barnett and Kelly's relationship, including comments by Philip Sugden in his invaluable The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, that '... of Joe Barnett she was genuinely fond.'

The point is, we all want to be the one to catch the Ripper; or do we? If we did, it would probably 'spoil the game' for everyone else and pretty much put the kibosh on what is, in some quarters, a massive media industry, not to mention being the bread and butter of many a tour guide. The mystery hasn't left anyone to avenge, irrespective of any nagging sense of social justice we may experience; and, probably, there's no ghastly grave where the fiend lies for us to go and deface, should we so desire, waving our fists in righteous indignation. Instead, with Joe Barnett, as with so many other suspects, we not only haven't caught the Ripper, but have instead hamstrung ourselves by pointing the finger at him in the first place, armed only with a few petty facts and not much else besides. As Paul Begg has said, Barnett has been singled out purely because he was '... suspected as far as one can tell simply because he was there.'

It sometimes seems that the realm of Ripperology has a quota of people it needs to point the finger at on a regular basis, perhaps to soothe its own collective conscience about being so captivated by all this gruesome stuff to begin with. Like the old adage says, you don't need to blow other people's candles out just to make your own burn brighter. Perhaps Paley, with all his rigorous research, really believed in Barnett's guilt. However, he states the obvious without seeming to realise that many of his facts probably fit half the population of the immediate area, before proceeding to use Barnett's love for Kelly as a stick by which to further beat him: '... not in one of the other theories is a direct and indisputable connection actually proven between the suspect and any of the victims. Nor have any other suspects been reliably placed at or near any of the scenes of the crimes.'

Paley uses frequent bullet points in putting forward his FBI theory. In response, here are a few of my own:

1. Barnett had a direct and indisputable connection to Kelly because he loved her, and they were in as normal a relationship as their strained circumstances would allow.

2. Barnett could be 'reliably' placed at, or near, the scenes of the crimes because he lived near them, as did 'x' number of other people of considerably more questionable pedigree; in fact one almost envisions a veritable cornucopia of creepy sorts sitting around just waiting to be slandered!

Now, all this isn't to say that I'm painting Joseph Barnett out to be some sort of saint – we are talking about a man who, along with Kelly, was evicted from their room in Little Paternoster Row for being drunk (one imagines eviction in such an area to be quite a feat). But it is one thing to be in your cups occasionally and quite another to have the placard, proclaiming you to be the most prolific serial killer in history, hung around your neck. We ought really to be feting Barnett, not flogging him; were it not for Barnett Mary Kelly would have been even more of an enigma than she already is. Without Barnett we wouldn't have been furnished with many of the facts of her life which he later gave at her inquest and to the papers:

... he said she had told him several times that she had been born in Limerick but had been taken when she was quite young to Wales, where her father had been employed at an ironworks in Carmarthenshire. She had also mentioned that she had six brothers and sisters; one of the brothers was in the army. When she was sixteen she had married a collier named Davis but a year or two later he had been killed in an explosion.

When I first saw the famous picture of Mary Kelly's crime scene I was left speechless, and I think that sums it up about Barnett, especially with regards to his echolalia. Here I am going along with Christopher Scott, whose view of Barnett in regard to such a condition runs thus:

... we must, for a moment, ponder the psychological condition in which he would have been at the inquest. He was the focus of press attention in the most notorious case of the day, in the formal, imposing setting of an inquest court, giving intimate and unflattering details about the woman with whom he had lived for a year and a half and who only a few days before had been murdered in an appalling and degrading manner. I think a little hesitancy or verbal stumbling on Barnett's part could be forgiven, and, in my opinion, that is why the coroner commented on the manner in which he had given his evidence, for getting through a harrowing and traumatic experience with a modicum of dignity and lucidity.


Excerpted from Jack the Ripper: The Suspects by The Whitechapel Society. Copyright © 2013 The Whitechapel Society. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1. By Mickey Mayhew,
2. By Christine Warman,
3. By Sue Parry,
4. By Adrian Morris,
5. By M.J. Trow,
6. By Philip Marquis,
7. By Chris Jones,
8. By Ian Porter,
9. By Joe Chetcuti,
10. By M.W. Oldridge,
11. By William Beadle,

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