Sunday, November 9, 2014

TRIBUTE: Rest in Peace, Mary Jane Kelly, 5th victim of Jack the Ripper, 9 November 1888, and an Irish beauty far from home



This is Duval Street (formerly Dorset Street) in East London, England today. The murder occurred around where the buildings start just between the second and third garage door on the right. At the time of the murder the street was about 7 metres further back than it is today. The building with the garage doors was constructed in 1929 as an extension to Spitalfields Market. The only old building visible here (at centre of the picture) was a women's night refuge in 1888 and is now part of the University of London. If you had been looking out of those windows in the early morning of 9 November 1888 you might have seen a murderer rushing silently out of Miller's Court and into the pages of history.
Mary's room from Miller's Court
At 10.45am on the morning of 9 November 1888, the retired Indian army officer Thomas Bowyer looked through the window of the tiny backroom of 13 Miller's Court which was actually the back room of 26 Dorset Street (now Duval Street), East London. He was there to collect outstanding rent from the 26-year-old Irish prostitute Mary Jane Kelly on behalf of the landlord John McCarthy who ran the chandler's (provision shop) next door to the front entry of Number 26. Next to 26 Dorset Street there was a narrow passageway around 7 metres long and 0.9 metres wide which opened up into a courtyard called Miller's Court. Mary Jane Kelly's bedroom door was the last door of Number 26 entering on to the passageway. Her two bedroom windows faced to the back and looked out over the courtyard. Thomas Bowyer got the shock of his life to see the mutilated body of Mary cut up with pieces on the bed and placed in various other locations around the room. Most of what we know about Mary came from her ex-lover Joseph Barnett who separated from her only about a week before the murder. It has been impossible to trace Mary through existing records and her relatives never came to the funeral. Barnett said that she was married very young to a miner in Wales called Davies or Davis who was killed in a mine accident. She then moved to Cardiff with a cousin before drifting to the West End of London and later to the East End. If the story is true she would have arrived in London around 1884. She is widely believed to have been the fifth victim of Jack the Ripper, whose last killings (Elizabeth Stride and Catharine Eddowes) were on 30 September 1888. Jack was never caught and his real name was never known.

Miller's Court passageway
One interesting fact about the murder of Mary is that Mrs Caroline Maxwell and Maurice Lewis both claimed to see Mary alive and well between 8.30am and 10.15am. In Mrs Maxwell's case she even claimed to talk to Mary who complained to her about being "the worst for drink" and pointed to some vomit on the sidewalk. However, this testimony remains a mystery as the doctors believed Mary to have been killed around 2am to 8am. In the movie "From Hell" (2001), starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, Mary is not killed and instead she escapes to Ireland and lives in a house by the sea, a great escape from the poverty and depression of the East End of London. This story is not impossible as Mary's body was so mutilated that Barnett may have been wrong and it might have been another woman killed in her place as it was known that she allowed other prostitutes to share her room. Mary came to the big city full of hopes and dreams but in the end the city killed her. To an Irish beauty who died far from home in a grimy room in East London (or maybe not), this is our tribute to you [by Jack Frost].
The Ten Bells Pub on the corner of Commercial Street and Fournier Street (now Church Street), Spitalfields, which was a favourite haunt of Mary Jane Kelly. The pub still functions today under the same name. This picture was taken in 2001.
This is a famous picture of the most dangerous street in London, Dorset Street, which appears in Jack London's 1902 book The People of the Abyss.
Duval Street today (2006) looking east towards Commercial Street

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