One of the most plausible Jack the Ripper suspects to have emerged in recent years is Dr Francis Tumblety. There were many suspicious circumstances surrounding this individual which caused him to come to the attention of the Metropolitan police during the Ripper manhunt.
Tumblety was born about 1833. By 1850, he was apprenticed to a doctor in Rochester, New York. He earned extra money by hawking pornographic books to workers on the nearby canal. This dual life set the pattern for Tumblety’s subsequent life.
Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Tumblety moved around Canada and the United States posing as a doctor and claiming to have secret knowledge of mystic medicines from India. He was arrested in Canada for performing illegal abortions, and again when a patient died suddenly. In 1865 he was in Missouri using the false name of Dr Blackburn when he was mistakenly taken for the real Dr Blackburn, who was wanted in connection with the murder of Abraham Lincoln, and was arrested again.
Tumblety then moved to Britain and by the summer of 1888 was living in London, again posing as a doctor. The police began investigating him in August, although the notes from the investigation have been lost. This may be due to the rumours that an American doctor had approached the pathology museum seeking to buy women’s uteruses. Due to the nature of the Jack the Ripper murders, this line of enquiry would have been taken very seriously indeed by the police. Was Tumblety the American doctor seeking these body parts?
On 7th November, he was arrested for what appears to have been unnatural offences, which may have included homosexual rape or normal homosexual relations – both of which were illegal at the time. He was released on bail, which meant he was free to commit the murder of Mary Jane Kelly on 9th November 1888. He was rearrested 3 days later on 12th November and held on suspicion of the Kelly murder.
Tumblety was bailed again on 16th November and this time fled first to France, then back to the United States. The New York Police moved in, but Tumblety vanished. He turned up in 1893 in Rochester, New York, and died 10 years later as a wealthy man. Because the Scotland Yard files have been lost, nobody now knows why he was charged with the murders. He frequently expressed a hatred of women, allegedly because of a doomed youthful romance. However, the fact that he was given bail indicates the evidence against him was not strong.
Several years later, the head of the Special branch, John G. Littlechild, voiced his concerns about Tumblety in a letter to a journalist. He claimed that the Doctor was a likely suspect and that a large dossier existed which contained evidence against him. Unfortunately, if this file existed it has either been lost or it is still locked away in the vaults of the Special Branch gathering dust for the last 130 years. It would really be something to locate the file to see exactly what the police knew about this most interesting of suspects.
Tumblety was a habitual liar from a broken home and was obsessed with self-importance. If he was the Ripper, then his characteristics would be similar to the profile of a serial killer.
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