Who was Mary Jane?

130 years ago, today a woman who called herself Mary Jane Kelly was murdered by Jack the Ripper. Her true identity, like that of her killer, is unknown. All genealogists have to work with is a story given by her ex-boyfriend, Joseph Barnett, at the inquest. Extensive searches have failed to trace her with that information. There are four possibilities.

  1. Barnett told the truth.
  2. Barnett invented all or part of the story.
  3. Barnett misremembered some of the details.
  4. Mary invented all or part of the story.

Independent sources confirm parts of Barnett’s story about Mary’s life in London before she met him. She must have given him those details. This makes it less likely that he got the information about her earlier life wrong but none of the usual records have been found to support it. We can speculate that she altered facts, such as her name, or omitted a key piece of information but cannot say why.

The bigger question is why none of her friends or family responded to the contemporary publicity. One can only hope that they are now reunited and rest in peace.




The Old Problem of Truancy

The book I am most looking forward to in 2019 is a study of Jack the Ripper and the Thames Torso murders by Drew Gray and Andrew Wise. Gray currently runs the police magistrate blog, covering cases from the 19th century courts. As the subject of my next book, William Onion, was a frequent visitor to the courts I have been following the blog with interest. This week a piece on truancy stood out.

The 1880 education act made schooling compulsory for students under the age of ten and parents were hauled into court if their child was absent. Usually they were fined, even if they had a good reason such as the child being employed. Today about 20,000 parents are prosecuted each year. Some are fined, and others sent to jail. Despite this the rate of unauthorised absence from schools is 1.3%, the highest since records began.

As the policy of prosecution is not reducing truancy, we should be asking if it is the right method and, indeed, if schooling should be compulsory. With fewer qualified teachers and higher class sizes is it really sensible to force more students to attend school when their parents don’t want them there?



Inspired by Invictus

Anyone looking for inspiration this week should have found it in the fourth Invictus Games, taking place in Sydney. Athletes from eighteen countries participated, all being wounded, sick or veterans from the armed forces. Each has their own personal story of overcoming, and defying, adversity to compete in sports that many able-bodied people find difficult.

The event was created by Prince Harry four years ago with two intentions. The first was to demonstrate the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and demonstrate life beyond disability. The second was to ensure that injured troops were not forgotten.

On the evidence so far both aims have been achieved. Congratulations to all those involved.


Should MPs report illegal immigrants?

Last year there were 68 calls from British MPs to the immigration hotline. A group of charities have requested that MPs pledge not to inform on illegal immigrants who seek their assistance, arguing that they have the same rights as everyone else. MPs have a duty, like all citizens, to report illegal activity. However, the people concerned are often victims of more serious crimes and in desperate need of support. The rules are ambigious.

The MP’s code of conduct says that they have a duty to uphold the law and a special duty to act in the best interests of their constituents. The first point would require them to report crime, except that it is the police not a hotline who should be the first point of contact and you don’t see them rushing to report other offences, such as tax evasion. The special duty of care to all their constituents has to include confidentiality but does this override the first point?

Without clearer guidance, the matter will be left to the discretion of the individual MPs. This is not a party issue, either in terms of those who made the calls or those refusing to sign the pledge. Once again it highlights the need for voters to pick their individuals carefully, and not blindly vote on party lines.


Come home Pakistan

This week Pakistan played Australia in front of an empty stadium in the United Arab Emirates, a thousand miles from home. Since the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked in 2009, some countries have refused to tour Pakistan. This is at a time when the future of test cricket is being questioned due to larger audiences flocking to shorter versions of the game. Pakistan’s neighbour, Afghanistan, recently became a test nation and are currently playing their inaugural T20 league, also in the United Arab Emirates.

Pakistan have not lost a test series in their adopted home, but the cost is substantial. $50,000 per day to rent the stadium and that is not recouped in ticket sales. They also have to cover accommodation for both teams. In the past decade it is estimated that the inability to play in Pakistan has cost $200 million. That’s money that could have been invested in developing the game and there are fears that youngsters will lose interest in cricket, without a national team to watch live.

Afghanistan is struggling for money too, and still has security issues. Their rise to join cricket’s elite is remarkable. They are scheduled to meet Pakistan for the first time in 2021 but it is hoped that Pakistan will have returned from exile long before then.

333 Madmen


October is Mental Health month, and for me, it began with the news that my latest book was voted Jack the Ripper Book of the Year at the Jack the Ripper Crime Conference in London. Many of the 333 suspects described in the book suffered from what we might now call mental health disorders. Then the term was insanity. In 1894 Sir Melville Macnaghten named three suspects as more likely murderers than the lunatic Thomas Cutbush and described them all as insane.

Montague Druitt drowned in the Thames shortly after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly. His suicide note said that he felt he was going to be like his mother, who was in a lunatic asylum.  Aaron Kosminski was sent to an asylum after a doctor said that he claimed to know the movements of all mankind and was governed by an instinct that told him to refuse food and eat of out the gutter. Michael Ostrog attempted suicide and was twice sent to a lunatic asylum. A barrister, an immigrant hairdresser, and a Russian conman connected by a policeman’s notes and their mental health.

This unlikely trio are joined by, amongst others, a publican who painted his dog, drunks who falsely confessed to murder, medical students, the East End Poet, and Vincent Van Gogh. Mental Health can affect anyone, and we can all help by raising awareness.

RIP Liz Stride and Catherine Eddowes

This weekend marks the anniversary of one of history’s most notorious crimes. On 30 September 1888 two women, generally regarded as the third and fourth victims of a single killer, were killed in separate incidents in Whitechapel. After these murders the police made public a postcard and letter purporting to come from the killer. He signed these Jack the Ripper.

Most research into the crimes has attempted to identify Jack, who almost certainly wasn’t the letter writer. In recent times some writers have shifted focus to the victims, uncovering facts about the lives of Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and the others. Early next year a book by Hallie Rubenhold, promises to reveal more. Controversially she challenges the conventional view that all the victims were prostitutes, leading to a heated debate on social media.

My preference is to ignore the speculation and only comment when the full details are made available. However, I share Rubenhold’s stated aspiration that we should remember the women as more than victims. 130 years after they died, they are not forgotten.