Will the real Mary Jane Kelly please stand up?

DATED: 21.03.14

The intriguing mystery of Jack the Ripper’s final victim. Crime historian Richard C Cobb ponders the great mystery of Jack’s final victim.

For over 125 years the murders in Whitechapel committed by Jack the Ripper have baffled the world. Who was he? Where did he go? What were his motives?

Parallel to this greatest of mysteries lies the equally fascinating question surrounding the identity of the most famous of his victims, Mary Jane Kelly.

This mystery victim has been portrayed in movies by such beautiful women as Heather Graham (From Hell 2001) and Lynette Anthony (Jack the Ripper mini-series 1988).

There are very few facts that can be proved about the life of Mary Jane Kelly. Most of them were provided for us by Joseph Barnett her lover at Miller’s Court where she lived and died in 1888. Most of her story could be fiction, so as with all people that elude genealogical detection, we must proceed with caution.

She was described as 5ft 7ins tall, good looking, with blue eyes, a fresh complexion, and very good head of hair that reached to her waist. She was stout, and allegedly had two protruding false teeth. She had a smart appearance, and wore a distinctive maroon shawl, and she would sell flowers to help earn a living. Her friends said she was educated and a popular character who offered sound advice to her younger friends. Out of kindness, she often invited them to stay at her room on a cold night if they were in need of shelter.

According to Joseph Barnett, she was born in Limerick in Ireland. Her father’s name was John Kelly, and she had six brothers and one sister. At a very young age, the family moved across the Irish Sea to live in Wales. John Kelly found employment in the ironworks. A brother named Henry served in the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards.

A Short-lived Marriage

At the age of 16, Mary was married to a collier named Davis but he was reportedly killed in an explosion up to three years after the marriage. From there Mary Jane Kelly went to stay with a cousin. (Some researchers speculate this cousin may have been the cause of her resorting to prostitution.) For eight to nine months she was an inmate of the Cardiff Infirmary for an unspecified reason.

Arriving in London

Mary Kelly is next heard living in Spitalfields, East London. She took lodgings in Thrawl Street, and in 1887 met with Joseph Barnett a porter at Billingsgate market.  They lived together at George Street, Paternoster Row in Dorset Street, Brick Lane, and finally a small room at 13 Miller’s Court rented from her landlord of Dorset Street, named John McCarthy. In August 1888, Joseph Barnett lost his job and Mary went back to the streets to earn the lost income. Barnett decides to leave her and vacates the Miller’s court house.


At 10.45am on 9th November the body of Mary Jane Kelly was discovered horribly mutilated in her small room in Millers court. The final victim of Jack the Ripper. So horrendous were her injuries that Joseph Barnet could only identify her by the eyes and ears.

No family could be found to claim her body and 125 years of research has drawn a blank.

Since that time rumours have circulated, investigations have been followed and Mary Kelly’s place in crime history is assured. Countless movies, novels, documentaries, stage plays and comic books have all helped to glamourize her appearance, she is the ultimate victim who the detective rushes against the clock to save. She is the enigma, the puzzle and the opposite side of the coin to the mystery of Jack the Ripper; the unknown victim, for the unknown killer.

If you get the time why not join our Jack the Ripper tour as we visit the site of her untimely demise and ponder as to the life she had. Perhaps in time the Real Mary Jane Kelly will be revealed. Perhaps then may her ghost be finally laid to rest.


 7 Days a Week

AT 5:00PM & 7:30PM

Tour Duration

1 hr 45 mins


The Jack the Ripper Casebook