|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 82, August 2007. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.|
A Few Thoughts on the Newly Found Interview With Dr. Tumblety
By Stewart P. Evans
It is not very often these days that anyone turns up a truly relevant contemporary newspaper report that relates to the Whitechapel murders. With his discovery of an article in the New York World of Tuesday January 29, 1889 American researcher Roger J. Palmer has made a valuable find relating to one of the genuine contemporary police suspects. It is an interview with Dr. Francis Tumblety described in the piece as ‘the celebrated Whitechapel suspect’. Suspect he certainly was, as is confirmed, in the ‘Littlechild letter’, by ex-Detective Chief Inspector John George Littlechild of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch who unequivocally describes Tumblety as ‘amongst the suspects.’ Perhaps the oddest aspect of this ‘celebrated’ suspect is the fact that his name was not even mentioned in the British press with regard to the murders, albeit there were at least two references to him in which his name was not given.
This article is very important for more than one reason and it is a great pity that we were not aware of it twelve years ago when the initial research on Tumblety was conducted. In developing a viable case against a named suspect it is, of course, necessary to speculate and hypothesise to a degree. Thus much of a case built up in such a manner will consist of personal opinion and interpretation. It is for this very reason that authors’ arguments made for various suspects are easily attacked and often disparaged. In the case of Tumblety, I was put into the position of basing much of the case against him on such personal interpretation and opinion. It was therefore very nice to see that some of the ideas I had were bolstered by Tumblety’s own words in this article. In my opinion, no evidence will ever emerge that will conclusively lead to a positive identification of ‘Jack the Ripper’. It is very much a case of the interested reader assessing all the evidence that has been revealed over the years and deciding for himself which suspect he favours as the strongest. For me, the Tumblety interview in this article has greatly added to Tumblety’s status as a suspect. This essay is merely a personal retrospective on the case against him as regards points raised in the interview. First off, and probably most important of all, Tumblety confirmed that he was actually arrested as a Whitechapel suspect, rather than for the misdemeanours of gross indecency with which he was eventually charged. This is enlightening, for it would seem that the London police were sanguine of obtaining a confession from Tumblety, probably the only way in which they could prove his guilt (if indeed he was guilty) as there was no witness to any of the murders. And it does not matter if someone is suspected of murder, he still cannot be legally held unless there is hard evidence to justify that detention. According to Tumblety, the main reasons for his arrest were that he was an American and he wore a slouch hat. Thus his description fitted one of those the police had for the alleged murderer, although undoubtedly there were other reasons that Tumblety was either not aware of or did not want to mention.
Tumblety had arrived back in New York aboard the French liner La Bretagne on 3 December 1888, and had immediately ‘gone to ground.’ As the New York World described, his name had immediately become a ‘household word’ in the USA in connection with the recent London murders and ‘from the moment he set foot in New York he was under surveillance.’ The piece also confirmed that ‘An English detective, whose stupidity was noticeable even among a class not celebrated for their shrewdness, came over specially to shadow him…’ Tumblety was a slippery customer, of that there can be no doubt when reading all the accounts of him. He went directly to the house of a Mrs. McNamara at 79 East Tenth Street and remained there under the protective eye of the old Irishwoman who was remarkably loyal to him. According to the New York World ‘…it was due to her vigilance that all efforts to see him personally failed. She was able to throw reporters and detectives completely off the scent…’
It is recorded elsewhere that Inspector Andrews of Scotland Yard, who had recently escorted a Canadian prisoner to Toronto, arrived from Montreal in New York during December in an effort to locate Tumblety. The then head of the New York Detective Department was Inspector Thomas Byrnes. As an Irish American, Byrnes, whose regime was reported to be corrupt would have had little sympathy for an English policeman but, one suspects, would favour a fellow Irish American who was of wealthy means. Be that as it may, Andrews’s attempts to locate Tumblety proved a failure and he soon returned to England empty handed. The American police then ‘lost interest’ in Tumblety and it would have taken some sort of solid evidence against Tumblety before Scotland Yard would have ever contemplated a return trip to trace him. Such evidence, I believe, never existed.
So, by the time the World reporter saw Tumblety at the end of January 1889, they were able to report that ‘The [American] police long since ceased to take any interest in the case, as it became evident that the English authorities had no evidence to hold the doctor.’ True Tumblety had fled bail, but that was in relation to offences of gross indecency which were misdemeanours and not felonies and thus did not come under the international extradition laws. Only in Canada would legislation in regard to fugitive offenders for less serious offences and breach of bail be appropriate. Tumblety could not be touched by the English police while in the USA – and he knew it.
The piece mentions the fact that ‘The pictures that have been published of Dr. Tumblety in London and New York give a very good idea of him’, and this could mean that there are still some reports yet to be found. The next important point in the article is an updated description of the man himself. They wrote –
He is a powerfully built man and stands 6 feet 2 inches in his stockings. His long black mustache has been trimmed close and reaches down in the shape of a thick growth of beard around his chin, which he keeps smooth shaven. His face is ruddy and he has blue eyes.
This is most interesting and confirms an argument that I proposed years ago that his moustache may not have been so prominent in 1888, for it shows that at that time Tumblety was not sporting the huge ‘handlebar’ moustache of the popular image that has been published, but was wearing a close-cut droopy moustache that bordered either side of his clean-shaven chin. The description continued with his clothing –
If he ever dressed sensationally in the past, he does not do so now. Yesterday he wore a dark suit which was by no means new, and a little peaked travelling cap. Altogether he gave the appearance of a prosperous Western farmer. He wore no jewelry.
Again this is fascinating and confirms what I proposed in 1995, that Tumblety in 1888 was not dressing flashily or ostentatiously. This would be confirmed by Tumblety himself. The article continued with fascinating points about this strange creature –
Dr. Tumblety talks in a quick, nervous fashion, with a decided English accent, and at times, when describing his treatment by the English police, he would get up from his chair and walk rapidly around the room until he became calm.
The report then moves on to the actual words of this prominent Jack the Ripper suspect, actually talking about Jack the Ripper and the murders! -
“My arrest came about in this way. I had been going over to England for a long time – ever since 1869, indeed – and I used to go about the city a great deal until every part of it became familiar to me.”
This is also very relevant, for in his own words Tumblety admits a great knowledge of the geography of the whole of London, gained over a period of visiting for the past twenty years. He continued –
“I happened to be there when these Whitechapel murders attracted the attention of the whole world, and, in company with thousands of other people, I went down to the Whitechapel district. I was not dressed in a way to attract attention, I thought, though it afterwards turned out that I did. I was interested by the excitement and the crowds and the queer scenes and sights, and did not know that all the time I was being followed by English detectives.”
This is quite amazing, for here we have a genuine 1888 Ripper suspect actually admitting that he was in Whitechapel at the time of the murders. He gives his reasons for being there and obviously piqued the interest of his interviewer who asked, “Why did they follow you?”
Tumblety replied, “My guilt was very plain to the English mind. Someone had said that Jack the Ripper was an American, and everybody believed that statement. Then it is the universal belief among the lower classes that all Americans wear slouch hats; therefore, Jack the Ripper must wear a slouch hat. Now, I happened to have on a slouch hat, and this, together with the fact that I was an American, was enough for the police. It established my guilt beyond any question.”
Tumblety is surely disparaging the London police here, but it does show that he felt confident that they could not build a solid case against him. As we know the idea of an American Ripper, or an American connection had been aired in the English press during October 1888. Tumblety was developing the idea that he was a scapegoat. From an inside pocket he produced a two magnificent diamonds, one 13 carats and the other 9 carats, together with a superb cluster ring set in diamonds. He felt that his arrest was partly due to the police desiring his diamonds and thinking they could force him to give them to him. Undoubtedly when stopped and searched as a suspect these items would have been found in his pockets if he was carrying them. But it is unlikely that the police would have thought that they could get them off him, and, in the event, they didn’t.
Tumblety replied, “Two or three days; but I don’t care to talk about it.
When I think of the way I was treated in London it makes me lose all control of myself. It was shameful, horrible.”
This is another important point. It supports my contention that Tumblety, after arrest, was not held for over a week until his police court appearance of Friday 16 November. What now seems likely is that he was initially taken in on suspicion of involvement in the Whitechapel murders, for which the police could adduce no hard evidence, and, a day or so later, was re-arrested for the gross indecency offence(s), on Wednesday 7 November, which they could prove. However, as a misdemeanour a gross indecency charge would mean that Tumblety could not be held for more than a day or so and would qualify for a week’s police bail. This too, of course, would tie in with a newspaper report that a warrant was issued for him on Wednesday 14 November.
What does seem rather relevant, in retrospect, is the fact that the London police make no mention of Tumblety’s arrest on suspicion of the murders, whilst Tumblety makes no mention of his arrest and subsequent charging for the gross indecency offences.
There is no doubt left by Tumblety as to what he thought of the English police. He was empatically scathing and abusive – “I think their conduct in this Whitechapel affair is enough to show what they are. Why, they stuff themselves all day with potpies and beef and drink gallons of stale beer, keeping it up until they go to bed late at night, and then wake up the next morning heavy as lead. Why, all the English police have dyspepsia. They can’t help it. Then their heads are as thick as the London fogs. You can’t drive an idea through their thick skulls with a hammer. I never saw such a stupid set. Look at their treatment of me. There was absolutely not one single scintilla of evidence against me. I had simply been guilty of wearing a slouch hat, and for that I was held, charged with a series of the most horrible crimes ever recorded. Why, if Inspector Byrnes was over in London with some of his men they would have had the Whitechapel fiend long ago. But this is all very unpleasant to me, and I would prefer talking about something else.”
In this vicious attack on the London police, Tumblety makes it clear that they had no evidence against him for the murders and that he had no confidence in their intelligence. His nod to Inspector Byrnes of the NYPD echoes Byrnes’ own words about the Whitechapel murders and, perhaps, indicates that the two men had probably met. The interviewer was not finished however, and said, “You are accused of being a woman-hater. What have you to say to that?” Tumblety, in denial, replied with a story about meeting a duchess in Torquay and recited a poem she had devoted to Dr. Tumblety. “Now, that doesn’t look like a woman-hater, does it?” he concluded. However, that despite many newspaper reports of his hatred of women, especially fallen women, and the words of Littlechild in his letter, “…but his feelings towards women were remarkable and bitter in the extreme, a fact on record.”
Tumblety then, in his usual manner, displayed letters from well known people certifying his character. In doing so he stressed, “I am a frequenter of some of the best London clubs, among others the Carleton Club and the Beefsteak Club. I was the victim of circumstances when this horrible charge was first brought, and since then I have been attacked on all sides and no one has had a good word to say for me. It is strange, too, because I don’t remember ever to have done any human being a harm, and I know of a great many whom I have helped.”
We could almost feel sorry for Dr. Tumblety – almost.