|A Ripperologist Article
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 15, February 1998. 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.
It was on Monday 19th November in 1888 that the mortal remains of Mary Jane Kelly, Jack the Ripper's fifth and final known victim were taken from the Shoreditch mortuary and interred at St Patrick's Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone.
Since the horrifying facts of Mary Jane's death were revealed at the inquest, a great wave of sympathy for the unfortunate girl was felt in the area. No relatives came forward and Joseph Barnett, her one-time live-in lover, had not the means to meet the cost of her funeral. Thus it was that Mr H Wilson, the Sexton attached to St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch, put his sympathy into practical form and met the total cost of the funeral himself.
Mary Jane was laid into a polished oak and elm coffin with metal fittings. The following words were engraved on the brass coffin plate: 'Marie Jeanette Kelly, died 9th November 1888, aged 25 years'. Two wreaths of artificial flowers and a cross made up of heart seed were placed on the coffin, and it was put into an open hearse drawn by two horses and followed by two mourning carriages.
An enormous crowd had gathered outside the mortuary throughout the early hours of that morning, completely blocking the public thoroughfare, and a large number of police constables were placed there to keep order and protect property. The lone bell of St Leonard's began tolling at noon and this appeared to draw all the residents of the neighbourhood together, along with the already vast crowd waiting outside the mortuary.
There were many women in the crowd. Some drawn there by sadness and grief, and others by curiosity which related to the horror of the manner in which poor Mary Jane had died. The wreaths and cards on the coffin were Inscribed by many friends who had used the same public houses as the murdered girl.
When the coffin appeared at the main gates of St Leonard's, borne on the shoulders of four men, the waiting crowd became visibly distressed. Some of the men and women surged forward In an effort to touch the coffin as it passed. Women with tears streaming down their faces were screaming "God forgive her". and every man there removed his hat and stood with bared head In respect for this poor dead Irish girl. It was reported that the sight was quite remarkable and that the emotion shown by the crowd was natural and unconstrained.
Two mourning carriages followed the hearse. One containing Joseph Barnett, a female representative of his former Landlord, John McCarthy, and another woman. The other held five women, some of whom had given evidence at her inquest and were 'unfortunates', like Mary Jane. These mourners had prepared themselves for the ordeal by having a couple of drinks in a public house close to the gates of St Leonard's before the ritual began.
After a tremendous struggle with the crowds, the open hearse, with the coffin fully exposed to view, set off at a very slow pace and the whole crowd appeared to move simultaneously in attendance. The police constables on duty had great difficulty In obtaining free passage for the small procession through the mass of carts, vans and tramcars which had been brought to a standstill by the crowds.
The distance from St Leonard's to St Patrick's Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone was approximately six miles. As the small funeral procession made It's way along Whitechapel Road the crowds on either side were described as 'very great'. In fact the scene was said to be remarkable due to the hundreds of men and women who escorted the coffin. This number rapidly thinned away when the procession reached the suburbs where the horses pulling the open hearse and following carriages broke into a steady trot.
Mary Jane's funeral procession arrived at St Patrick's at two o'clock. The body was met by Father Columban OSF (Order of St Francis), who was accompanied by two acolytes and a cross bearer, at the door to the little chapel of St Patrick, and the coffin was carried to an open grave in the north eastern corner listed as No 16, Row 67.
Joseph Barnett and the weeping women who had accompanied him as principal mourners knelt by the graveside while Father Columban read the service. There was still a large gathering of people outside the locked gates who were denied entry while the burial service was taking place. After the service, Barnett and the mourners visited' The Burbeck' public house which still stands close to the cemetery gates today.
The plot In which Mary Jane was interred is found behind the little chapel of St Francis in the grounds running north-east towards the perimeter railings. The rows of graves in that public plot started by the perimeter railings at row 'nought', and continued consecutively along to the rear of the chapel, ending at row 89, a total of 90 rows in all. This numbering pattern was laid down when the cemetery opened in 1861 and remained until 1941.
The ground was reclaimed in 1947 and the exact location of the individual rows, including Mary Jane's grave, were lost. When the ground was re-numbered in rows ready for reuse, a revised row-numbering system was introduced, which put row one close to the chapel - the opposite end to where it had once been when the cemetery had opened. Today there is no row 'nought.
John Sears is the current cemetery super-intendent, and through his dedicated research into the cemetery records while comparing them with headstones which are still standing on old graves by the walls, he was able to find the correct location of the old row 67. From there it was relatively simple to pace out the position of Mary Jane's original resting place. During my conversation with John, he told me that the area of this gravesite is just a rough location, with a tolerance factor of approximately 3 feet: left or right of the centre line of the grave now considered by many, including himself, to be Mary Jane Kelly's true burial place.
And so in this year of 1997 Mary Jane Kelly now lies in row 22 under the 1947 numbering system.
In 1988, while searching through some old disused headstones from the early 1890s, John Sears, who is himself a skilled stonemason, came across one which was crowned with a Celtic Cross. The former inscription on the stone was unreadable, but in an act of kindness and pity John cleaned it and having done so, he carved the following Inscription on the restored blank headstone:
"The Prima Donna of Spitalfields"
and last-known victim of Jack the Ripper.
Died Fri 9th Nov. 1888.
When he had done this, John placed it on the now accepted site of Mary Jane's grave, but within just a few hours, the headstone was kicked at and the narrow stem of the Celtic Cross was broken. In sadness, John removed the broken headstone from the grave.
Thus, even In death, after 100 years, Mary Jane Kelly's memory was outraged by vandalism. The result being that the poor girl was not permitted to rest in her eternal peace. Indeed, how unfortunate she was, not only during her short and tragic life, but also in her innocent sleep of death.