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Was Francis Tumblety Jack the Ripper?

Posted by Jenny Phillips, Jack the Ripper Tour Guide on Thursday, May 14, 2020 Under: Jack the Ripper

Was Francis Tumblety Jack the Ripper?

 A man of dubious character to be sure, as at 15 he was selling pornographic books and papers on the canal packet boats. He apparently disappeared from the area, returning years later he advertised he was ‘a great physician’, but he was really a man who sold potions from the back of a wagon. One of these, for pimples, was very effective and made him a fortune.  A boastful flamboyant man, who held sumptuous dinner parties in his tastefully furnished apartment in Washington, intimate with many members of the Army and War Department, when they asked why there were no ladies present, he replied. “No, I don’t know any such cattle and if I did I would, as your friend rather give you a dose of poison than take you into such danger.”

 He would later show the company anatomical specimens in a cupboard, including women’s wombs. He hated women because he had married young, to an older lady who was very flirty even on honeymoon. Some months later, on the rough side of town he saw his wife entering the house of a known brothel keeper with a man. The marriage ended in divorce! He was later arrested for poisoning someone with one of his potions, he was also a suspect in the murder of Abraham Lincoln. However, he always managed to stay one step ahead of the law running between America and Canada.

It is thought that he may have been the subject of a letter written by Inspector J G Littlechild, one of the investigating officers in the case of Jack the Ripper. He wrote to G Sims: “I never heard about a Dr D in connection with the murders but I did hear about a Dr T (sounds the same) an American Quack called Tumblety”.

The letter, discovered by Stewart Evans prompted his book “Jack the Ripper, The First American Serial Killer.” Further investigation showed that Tumblety was here, and rumoured to be the ‘lodger’ living in Batty Street. The landlady noticed her tenant with a bloodstained shirt on the double event 30 September 1888.

He arrived in Liverpool in 1888 and then went to London. He was known to the police here as a Fenian sympathiser. There had been a bomb attack on Scotland Yard, and so they were looking for anyone connected. On 7 November 1888 he was arrested for gross indecency (found with a man in a public toilet) and he would have been bailed the same or the next day. Now he was known as a ‘psycopathia sexualis’, he was arrested again on 12 November in connection with the murder of Mary Kelly and bailed to appear on the sixteenth. Using the name of Frank Townsend, he fled to Boulogne and from there back to New York. He was important enough a suspect for the British police to send a posse of officers there. However, they denied that they were looking for him for the murder, and just said he had jumped bail.

 An intriguing man to be sure, but not Jack the Ripper. The evidence was purely circumstantial; there was nothing concrete. At 6 foot tall, a flamboyant dresser with an American accent, I think he would have found it impossible to melt into the background in an area inhabited mainly by small (5ft 6ins average height) underfed Jews, Irish and English men!

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