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On November 24, 1888, Irish-born quack Francis Tumblety boarded the steamship La Bretagne in Le Havre, France, under the alias 'Frank Townsend.' By all appearances, 'Townsend' was just another steerage passenger bound for New York, but there was one difference: In later years, Chief Inspector John Littlechild of Scotland Yard would reveal that the absconding Irishman was 'among the suspects' in the Whitechapel murders. "Tumblety was arrested at the time of the murders in connection with unnatural offenses," Littlechild confided to journalist G.R. Sims, "charged at Marlborough Street, remanded on bail, jumped his bail, and got away to Boulogne."(1) The Chief Inspector did not elaborate, but his admission that a suspect managed to skip the country suggested a police blunder of colossal proportions.
Tumblety, meanwhile, passed his Atlantic crossing below deck, feigning seasickness. When La Bretagne docked in New York Harbor on the afternoon of December 2nd he disembarked in a "hurried and excited" manner, while two cops from the New York Police Department stood on either side of the gangplank. Across town, an English detective was already keeping surveillance on Mrs. Mary McNamara's 79 East 10th Street residence, a lodging-house Tumblety was known to frequent. On Wednesday, December 5th, James Rush, a carpenter living across the street, told an inquiring reporter that a man fitting the Irishman's description had bolted in the early morning hours, disappearing in an "uptown car."(2) "Dr. Tumblety has Flown," the headlines blared.
Rush's account, however, remains in doubt. An obscure national tabloid, The Evening Chronicle, published a short interview with a Mr. Roberts, the proprietor of the Cornish Arms, a rundown hotel at 11 West Street. Roberts's account strongly suggests that Tumblety had, in fact, given everyone the slip the very night he landed in New York. "A man came to my house Sunday evening [December 2]," Roberts told the reporter, "and gave the name of Dr. Tomanly. He said he came on the French Line steamer Bretagne. This morning he came downstairs and said that he had concluded to go out of town. I did not think anything of his going at the time until I read the evening papers that such a man was being sought after, and then the thought struck me that perhaps he was the doctor who has been suspected of being the Whitechapel fiend."(3)
Over the next several weeks Tumblety's exact whereabouts remained unknown. It is sometimes argued that he sat cozily and openly in New York City and could have been easily contacted by Scotland Yard. Such was not the case. Tumblety did not resurface in New York for nearly eight weeks-and only then by the clumsiest of accidents.
The night of January 27th, 1889, was wet and windy, and thus it was with considerable surprise that a lodger at Mrs. Helen Lamb's house, 204 Washington Street, Brooklyn, was disturbed by a pounding on the front door and the ringing of the electric bell. Out on the stoop was a young man who wished to speak to "Dr. Twombly." The lodger knew no such man, but a moment later a tall gentleman that everyone knew as 'Mr. Smith' walked up the sidewalk. 'Smith' had engaged rooms at Lamb's ten days earlier and was taking all his meals there.
On seeing 'Smith,' the young man lit up.
"How'y you do, Dr. Twombley!'
Tumblety, aka Twombly, aka Smith, pulled the young man quickly aside and whispered in his ear. The other lodgers then watched as the doctor gathered his trunks, paid his bill out of a large roll of notes, and fled into the rainy night. The Brooklyn Eagle published the story the following morning, January 28th.(4)
Having been "outed," Tumblety met with a reporter from Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, and submitted to an interview in his old rooms in Manhattan. Sometime ago, when I showed this interview to one of the our best-known historians of the case, he called it "spectacular." It is an apt description, for beyond a few stray sentences by the exonerated John Pizer, it is the only known account of a major police suspect giving his version of why he was investigated for being "Jack the Ripper.' It is reprinted here for the first time.
HE WORE A BIG SLOUCH HAT
Dr. Francis Tumblety, the celebrated Whitechapel suspect, after two months silence has given his version of why he was accused of being Jack the Ripper. He says it was owing to the stupidity of the London Police, who arrested him because he was an American and wore a slouch hat. He is preparing a pamphlet defending himself and giving a history of his life.
After months of profound silence Dr. Francis Tumblety, whose name in connection with the Whitechapel crimes has become a house-hold word, has at last consented to be interviewed and give his version of how he came to figure so prominently in the most remarkable series of tragedies recorded in the long list of crimes.
The doctor landed in New York on the 3rd of last December, and from the moment that he set foot in New York he was under surveillance. An English detective, whose stupidity was noticeable even among a class not celebrated for their shrewdness, came over especially to shadow him, and scores of reporters tried in vain to see him. As soon as he got off the ship Dr. Tumblety went direct to the house of Mrs. McNamara, No. 79 East Tenth Street, and he has been there ever since. Mrs. McNamara is an old Irishwoman whose fidelity to the doctor is remarkable, and 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, and if it were not for the fact that the doctor voluntarily came forward and made his own statement no one would have known whether he was in New York or New Zealand.
The 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. Finding himself no long pursued, the doctor concluded to satisfy the public by making a complete statement himself. With this object in view he has carefully prepared a pamphlet giving a history of his life.
It will be a refutation of all the charges that have been made against him.
The pictures that have been published of Dr. Tumbley in London and New York give a very good idea of him. 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. 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 traveling cap. Altogether, he gave the appearance of a prosperous Western farmer. He wore no jewelry.
Dr. Tumblety talks in a quick, nervous fashion, with a decidedly 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.
"My arrest came about this way," said he. "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.
I happened to be there when these Whitechapel murders attracted the attention of the whole world, and, in the 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."
"Why did they follow you?"
"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."
The doctor produced from an inside pocket two magnificent diamonds, one thirteen carats and the other nine carats, both of the purest quality, and a superb cluster ring set in diamonds. He said that, in his opinion, his arrest was due, in a measure, to the police desiring his diamonds and thinking they could force him to give them up.
"How long were you in prison?"
"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."
"What do you think of the London police?"
"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. 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 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."
"You are accused of being a woman-hater. What have you to say to that?"
This seemed to amuse the doctor a great deal. He laughed loud and long.
Then he said.
"I don't care to talk about the ladies, but I will show you one little evidence that I am not regarded with aversion by the sex. I will first explain how it came to me. I had received a letter of introduction to a lady of rank, a duchess, who was then at Torquey, which is several hundred miles from London. I presented my letter and was invited to breakfast with her. When I came I presented her with a bouquet of flowers and she picked up a quill which was lying on the table near by and dashed off the following stanzas extempore:
To Dr. Francis Tumblety, M.Ed.:
Thanks for the lovely rosebuds sent.
Its beauty may be fleeting,
But not its sentiment.
And its charming beauty
Nor colour cannot last,
It will be a pleasant duty,
In memory of the past,
To guard the faded flower,
When you have gone from me,
In memory of the hour
You came to sweet Torquey (pronounced Tork-kee).
"Now that doesn't look like a woman-hater, does it?" said the doctor, with a look of pride.
The doctor then exhibited a number of letters from well-known people certifying to his character and integrity. One general endorsement was signed by A.L. Ashman, proprietor of the Sinclair House; Dr. E.P. Miller, C.T. Ryan, Dr. Alfred Wynkoop, and J.C. Hughes, of 753 Broadway. He had any number of letters from merchants, physicians, lawyers, bankers, and business men. Some of the letters he showed were from patients in England. One was from a gentleman named Bowers, connected with the Midland Railroad, who told him that his former medicines had done his father a great deal of good, and who urgently requested the doctor to forward some more. Another letter was from W.H. Eccleston, of Finsbury Park, who wrote him a glowing letter of thanks for his services, and said that all his friends looked upon the doctor as having saved his life. In talking about his standing in England, the doctor said:
"If it were necessary I could show you letters from many distinguished people whom I have met abroad. 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 harm, and I know of a great many I have helped."(5)
While the precise meaning of this bizarre interview will no doubt be hotly debated in future years, I merely wish to offer two or three brief observations.
One is struck by the uneasy clash between Tumblety's strange and ridiculous personality, and the obvious seriousness with which Scotland Yard viewed him as a suspect. Tumblety's denials obviously tell us nothing. The innocent and the guilty defend themselves with equal fervor. Tumblety, however, not only admits to being a suspect in the murders, he inadvertently reveals having traveled into Whitechapel from a remote location. "With thousands of others," he argues- but thousands of others were not named as "very likely" suspects by a Chief Inspector. Tumblety also acknowledges that detectives followed him in London, and implies their interest continued after his return to America. His most important admission, perhaps, is having spent "two or three days" in police custody. This cuts to the heart of the matter.
When Evans and Gainey's 1995 book The Lodger first revealed Tumblety as a contemporary police suspect, researcher Andy Aliffe discovered a court calendar, in tabular form, that showed Tumblety had been arrested for four counts of gross indecency and four counts of indecent assault on November 7th-the same charges alluded to by Littlechild. A further entry showed Tumblety being bailed on November 16th. Critics quickly proclaimed that this exonerated Tumblety, for had he been in custody the course of those nine days he surely could not have murdered Mary Kelly on November 9th. Tumblety's own statement, however, disproves these speculations.
Stewart Evans has argued-correctly-that the court tabulations indicate that Tumblety was allotted police bail-a procedure that quickly released a suspect from custody, but required him to return to the station in one week's time to be formally charged.(6) The mechanism of police bail did not allow a man to be held for "two or three days." What is often ignored is the fact that a warrant was also issued for Tumblety's arrest on November 14th-which certainly wouldn't have been the case had he already been in custody! Taken together, this indicates that Tumblety was picked up on November 7th, held briefly, and released. Failing to appear after the allotted seven days, the warrant was then issued. We know that two bondsmen came forward to act as sureties for the £300-the record dates this to November 16th- and a court date for the gross indecency charges was set at a pretrial hearing on November 20th. All of this would indicate that the police managed to pick Tumblety up on the warrant sometime between November 14th and November 16th. Thus, he was held for "two or three days" in total-the 7th, 15th, and/or the 16th. The undeniable implication is that Tumblety was not in police custody at the time of the Kelly murder.
Tumblety's reference to the corrupt and controversial New York Police Chief Thomas Byrnes is particular interesting, not merely as a bit of transparent bootlicking of the local heat, but as an indication that Tumblety had closely followed the Whitechapel murders while in London. "Why, if Inspector Byrnes was over in London with some of his men they would have had the Whitechapel fiend long ago," says Tumblety. This is an allusion to Byrnes' arrogant comments as published in The Star, shortly after the murders of Eddowes and Stride. "I would have taken 50 female habitués of Whitechapel and covered the ground with them. Even if one fell a victim, I should get the murderer," Byrnes crowed. "But-pshaw! What's the good of talking? The murderer would have been caught long ago."(7)
The British "testimonials" Tumblety produced for the reporter are evidently genuine, and confirm that he still occasionally practiced "medicine" in London in the early 1880s. Several men named Bowers worked for the Midland Railway in England. W.H. Eccleston is William H. Eccleston, a young railway clerk, who did, in fact, live in Finsbury Park, Islington. Tumblety could not, however, have been a member of the Beefsteak Club. Beyond the unlikelihood of such a snooty London club allowing him in, the Beefsteak was intimately connected to Henry Irving's Lyceum Theatre-famous among students of the Ripper case for its production of Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By 1888, one of its more prominent members was Thomas Hall Caine-a now well-known writer who had been seduced and manipulated by Tumblety in the mid-1870s. Caine's correspondence shows that he had long since washed his hands of the doctor, and his presence in the Beefsteak Club certainly disallows Tumblety's.(8)
What is to be made of these rambling statements of boiled beef and dyspepsia? Tumblety's comments are bizarre, to say the least. One must be struck, particularly, by their inappropriateness. Nowhere does he seriously address the charges laid at this feet, and he even suggests-without the least scintilla of credibility-that Scotland Yard was after his money. These are surely the comments of a man well experienced in using bombast and eccentricity as a defense mechanism. Despite Tumblety's promise to prepare a pamphlet to "defend himself," his eventual 1889 pamphlet does nothing of the sort. It is an impossibly incompetent affair, irrelevant of any purpose, filled with tedious and plagiarized travel monologues, a hodgepodge of testimonials-his cure-all for every criminal offense-and, oddly, near the end a brief discussion of Bright's Disease-the same condition from which some believe Kate Eddowes suffered. Tumblety's only direct allusion to his London arrest was a grandiose and megalomaniacal comparison between his own tawdry escape and the ordeals of the Irish Home Rule parliamentarian, Charles Stewart Parnell.(9)
An odd business.
1 John Littlechild to George R. Sims, 23 September, 1913, reprinted in Stewart P. Evans & Paul Gainey, Jack the Ripper: the First American Serial Killer (1995) p. 275-276.
2 The New York World, 6 December, 1888
3 The Evening Chronicle (St. Louis) 6 December, 1888.
4 Paul Begg has suggested that the young caller was Tumblety's protégé Martin McGarry. It is a reasonable surmise.
5 The New York World, 29 January, 1889
6 See Evans & Gainey, pg. 270-271.
7 The Star (London) 4 October, 1888.
8 The 1881 UK Census places William H. Eccleston
9 Dr. Francis Tumblety--Sketch of the Life of the Gifted, Eccentric and World Famed Physician (Brooklyn, 1889). See p. 87
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9 Dr. Francis Tumblety--Sketch of the Life of the Gifted, Eccentric and World Famed Physician (Brooklyn, 1889). See p. 87