Jack the Ripper AKA Francis Tumblety?
Jack the Ripper AKA Francis Tumblety?
Siobhan Pat Mulcahy
His identity has never been established. Over the years, doctors, butchers, Polish anarchists, sailors on leave, black magicians, a fish monger, a boot-finisher, a midwife, a Liverpool cotton broker and a royal duke – Prince Eddy, eldest son of the future Edward V11 – have been paraded as suspects.
Today, Britain’s Metropolitan Police believe there are only four credible suspects - one of them being Irish – a man called Francis Tumblety.
Genuine suspects are far fewer than the prolific authors of the genre would have us believe. To reduce them to only those with a genuine claim having been nominated by contemporary police officers, we are left with a mere four.
Aaron Kosminski, a poor Polish Jewish resident in Whitechapel; Montague John Druitt, a 31-year-old barrister and school teacher who committed suicide; Michael Ostrog, a Russian-born thief and confidence trickster and an Irish-American “quack” doctor called Francis Tumblety.
Ripperologists have known that Tumblety was born “somewhere in Ireland” but until now his place of birth and his family’s origins have been a mystery – that is, until an appeal in The Anglo-Celt brought the long-awaited answer.
A Cavan woman, who wants to remain anonymous, has claimed she and her family traced their genealogy back to a James Tumulty born in Killycollie in 1776. The town is now known as Baileborough.
She says her ancestor was married to a woman named Margaret (from Kerry) and the couple had 11 children – the youngest being the aforementioned Jack the Ripper suspect.
Everything this woman says fits with the little-known facts about Tumblety’s early life. Francis Tumblety’s father James died in Rochester, New York in 1851 aged 74 years. This would mean he was born in Ireland circa 1776-7. James and Margaret Tumblety gave birth to the infamous Francis Tumblety.
“I don’t want my name in the paper or even my whereabouts known and I don’t want to be associated with somebody who might have killed prostitues. I still live in Cavan and I don’t want to be hassled about this,” she says.
The Cavan woman’s paranoia is understandable. (She contacted me from an untraceable phone).
By the time her ancestor had reached old age, Francis Tumblety had a criminal rap sheet as long as your arm. He had been suspected, arrested or convicted for an array of petty and serious crimes. These included common assault, gross indecency, assault with force of arms, peddling pornographic material, impersonating a military officer, selling forged military discharge papers, carrying out a botched abortion, manslaughter, assassinating a President, spreading Yellow fever, membership of the IRB or Fenians and the most serious crimes of all — the Jack the Ripper murders.
Francis Tumblety came from a very large family. He was born to James and Margaret Tumblety sometime around 1830-3, the youngest of 11 children: Patrick, Lawrence, Jane and Bridget (twins), Alice, Margaret, Ann, Julia, Elizabeth, and Mary. The birthplace of these children is now assumed to be Baileborough.
By the time of the Irish Potato Famine, almost all of the family (including nine of the children) had emigrated from Ireland to either England or the USA, and by 1847, only mother Margaret Tumblety, baby Francis and his sister Ann remained in Ireland.
They set sail from Dublin to Liverpool and on to New York on the Ashburton coffin ship – listed under the name “Tumbleton” - and arrived in New York on June 21, 1847.
By that time, other members of the Tumblety clan already lived in Rochester, New York and were listed with all the various spellings of the name.
(Originating from Ireland’s border counties Cavan, Fermanagh and Down, there are various derivations of the name such as Tomalty, Tumulty, Tumuelty and even Twomblety.)
In 1844, Lawrence was listed as a gardener. Another brother, Patrick, was listed as a fireman in 1849. Father James was listed as “retired “and his death was recorded on May 7, 1851 aged 74 years.
First impressions of Francis Tumblety in New York are not very good. Neighbours and acquaintances in Rochester described him as “a dirty, awkward, ignorant, uncared-for, good-for-nothing boy... utterly devoid of education.” According to the Rochester Democrat newspaper “Sometime in adolescence he began working at a small drug store run by a Dr Lispenard, who ‘carried on a medical business of a disreputable kind’. He was also known to peddle pornographic literature on the canal boats.”
Around 1851 (just after his father’s death), he left Rochester and set himself up as a “herb doctor” even though he had no qualifications. His exact whereabouts in these early years remain unknown though his “medical” business must have prospered because from 1854 onwards Mr T gave the impression he was a man of considerable wealth.
Tumblety advertised his medicines in local and national newspapers and offered to send products by post. Over the years, he claimed his “herbs” could cure everything from pimples to liver or heart disease.
The drugs he sold included Irish moss, sarsaparilla, cayenne pepper, painkillers, mandrake, balsam of fir and other homeopathic potions. The problem was that some of the ointments were laced with either mercury or arsenic. This led to some of his patients having serious complications and in a few cases, they died.
Tumblety pops his head up in Montreal in 1857 when he was arrested for attempting to abort the pregnancy of a local prostitute. In court, it was alleged he had sold her a bottle of pills and liquid, but after some long-winded legal haggling, no trial was ever undertaken
In September, 1860, he was found guilty of manslaughter in New Brunswick, Canada when a patient he was treating for kidney disease “died from poisoning” but just before he was due to be sentenced, Tumblety disappeared.
Tumblety was also arrested for “gross indecency” (a 19th century term for homosexual acts) in almost every large town or city he visited. Homosexuality was illegal at the time.
Assassination of Abe
In the 1860s, he became a suspect in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and spent a week in jail awaiting his fate. Tumblety was a man who used alias names and at the time he was gadding around as “Doctor Blackburn”. The real Blackburn was suspected of spreading yellow fever across north America, but it was a case of mistaken identity, Tumblety was released without charge.
Around this time, he was also arrested for selling pornographic material to soldiers, impersonating a military officer (by wearing military medals and a uniform he did not own) and for selling forged discharge documents to soldiers.
Aversion to women
War correspondent, Colonel Dunham – who was himself a reprobate and a bit of a charlatan – claimed to have dined at Tumblety’s home during the American Civil War.
During the meal, Tumblety gave the impression he “hated women” and that as a young man, he had unknowingly married a prostitute who wanted to continue her trade after the wedding. Dunham claims that after dinner, Tumblety brought him into his office where he showed him a display cabinet full of womens’ wombs in glass jars.
“Nearly a half of one of these cases was occupied exclusively with these specimens, ” Dunham claimed in a newspaper interview after the Whitechapel murders.
By the 1870s, Francis Tumblety was a man of means and could travel or live wherever he liked. He wrote several autobiographies which he published himself. These glorified his life as a “doctor” and gave him a chance to boast about his travels in Europe. In his books, he claimed to know Charles Dickens, Napoleon III and the kings and queens of Europe.
He also claims to have visited Dublin, Queenstown (Cobh), and Kerry, and one of his gentlemen friends, a Mr McGarry, claimed to have visited “Inniskillen Falls” with Tumblety (known today as Tullydermot Falls) in 1882.
Tumblety was a big fan of Charles Stewart Parnell and in his writings he hints that he funded Parnell’s campaign for Home Rule in Ireland.
It is also known that he stayed a the Northern Hotel, New York which was managed by Fenian sympathiser Jeremiah O’Donovan-Rossa.
Indeed, the Brooklyn Eagle (1890) reported that he was under suspicion on “account of his supposed connection with the advanced branch of the Irish national party in New York.”
Jack the Ripper Suspect
Francis Tumblety was living in Whitechapel London at the time of the brutal slaying of five prostitutes in 1888. According to the ex-head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch, Det Chief Inspector, JG Littlechild “to my mind he was a very likely suspect”.
Littlechild confided his thoughts about Tumblety’s guilt in a letter dated September 23, 1913 to crime journalist and author George R Sims.
He was arrested in late November and charged with acts of gross indecency when he appeared in court. It was while he was out on bail for these offences that police began to seek his whereabouts for the Whitechapel murders. Once again, Tumblety managed to do a runner.
In November 1888, Tumblety fled from London, first to France and then to the USA. He sailed on the La Bretagne from Le Havre and arrived in the USA on December 3 1888 - using one of his alias names “Frank Townsend”.
Though Scotland Yard sent officers to the US in his wake, Tumblety once again evaded capture. His bolt-hole in Rochester was a guest house run by a Mrs McNamara, who did her best to mislead the police and to keep them “off the scent”.
A year passed and when the heat had died down, Tumblety was brazen enough to give an interview with the New York World about the Whitechapel murders. He admitted that he was living in the area at the time, that he dressed down (instead of wearing his usual flamboyant clothes) so that he could blend in with the locals, and that he did indeed wear an American slouch hat fitting a witness description of the killer, but he said he was outraged that anyone could possibly think he was the murderer.
Gradually, Scotland Yard lost interest in him as the Whitechapel killer and they returned to England without ever arresting him in America.
But Tumblety decided he would have the last word on the matter.
He wrote several articles and letters to newspapers calling the media “vile” and “vicious” for reporting him as a suspect.
He even wrote a poem defending himself which was published in the New York World on February 9, 1889:
‘Among the loathsome vices of the age,
The most revolting to the saint and sage
Is that of slandering an honest name,
And robbing virtue of her spotless fame.
The flying rumors, gathered as they rolled,
Scared any tale was sooner heard than told;
And all who told it added something new,
And all who heard it made enlargements too -
In every ear it spread, on every tongue it grew.’
Tumblety was arrested one final time in Washington (December 1890) for a vicious assault against a young man who had apparently tried to rob his jewellery.
Otherwise, in the 1890s and until his death in 1903, Tumblety kept a low profile.
He did what most rich Americans do today. He travelled across the continent in search of the sun – to Texas, California and Florida. Whenever he returned to Rochester, New York.
But even in death, Tumblety was a slippery character. When he knew he was going to die, he booked himself into St John’s Hospital, St Louis aged 82 years under the name “Mr Townsend” — the name he had used to escape Whitechapel, London. Medical records show he was suffering from valvular disease of the heart.
The St Louis Republic reported “he was without a relative or intimate friend at his bedside. Even within the shadow of death he exacted from the lawyer, and the Catholic priest, a promise of secrecy.”
Tumblety died after a fall on May 28, 1903 leaving an estate valued at more than $100,000 (around $1.5 million in today’s money).
The problem was, he had written several last will and testaments.
In one will, he left $10,000 to Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Ireland for charitable purposes. He also left between $5-10,000 to several of his nieces in Rochester, New York and Liverpool, England.
In another, he left a mere $1,000 to Cardinal Gibbons and the same amount to the “Home of the Friendless” in New York while the residue of Tumblety’s estate was to go to relatives living in Rochester NY, California, Texas and Ireland. This second will became legally binding and Cardinal Gibbons found himself out of pocket to the tune of $9,000.
Tumblety loved to wear bling when he was going out on the town and many items of jewellery were found among his possessions after his death - gold rings, bracelets, necklaces and other high-value items were listed by lawyers Henry Clews & Company.
Amongst the gold gems they found two cheap brass rings which seemed out of place with the other valuables. The brass rings were valued at only a few dollars whereas the other items were valued at hundreds of dollars.
It did not dawn on the officials that the two brass rings were identical to those taken as “trophies” from the body of one of Jack the Ripper victims — Annie Chapman. London police were not informed of the find and no investigation into the origins of the two brass rings ever took place.
Francis Tumblety managed to take his secrets with him to the grave. Today his body is buried in Holy Sepulcher cemetery in Rochester, New York.
If any Anglo-Celt reader has further informaton about the Tumblety family’s life in Ireland in the 1820s and 1830s (before emigration) contact The Anglo-Celt or email email@example.com
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