Born in 1858 and raised in 4 Hairbrain Court, less than a mile from the heart of Whitechapel. Joseph's father, himself a fish porter, died in 1864, and his mother deserted the family soon after. As a result, the children were raised by his older brothers, Denis and Daniel, as well as his sister Catherine. All four of the Barnett brothers were fish porters by 1878, working in Billingsgate Market.
Joseph met Mary Jane Kelly on April 8th, 1887, and the two decided soon after to room together at various locations for the next year and a half. By the time of the Ripper murders, they were living in 13 Miller's Court, Dorset Street. This is the location where Kelly's mutilated body would be found on November 9th, 1888.
July, 1888: Barnet loses his license as a fish porter, apparently for theft.
October 30th, 1888: Barnett and Kelly have a quarrel at 13 Miller's Court, during which a window is broken and Joseph leaves to take up lodgings in Bishopsgate. It is alleged that the quarrel arose because Kelly was allowing a prostitute to share their lodgings.
November 1st - 8th, 1888: Barnett visits Kelly often, giving her money and seeming to be on good terms with her.
November 9th, 1888: Mary Jane Kelly found murdered at 13 Miller's Court.
- 30 years old
- Medium build
- Fair complexion
- Blue eyes
- 5' 7" tall
- Probably had a speech impediment called echolalia, which caused him to repeat the last words spoken to him when replying to a question.
Joseph Barnett was not described as a Ripper suspect until the 1970s, when Bruce Paley first introduced the idea to some colleagues. It was independently forwarded by Mark Andrews in The Return of Jack the Ripper (1977), a fictionalization of the crimes. Paley first published a factual article describing the theory in the magazine True Crime (1982). Paul Harrison published his Jack the Ripper: The Mystery Solved in 1991, forwarding Barnett as the Ripper, but the book was marred by flawed research. Finally, Bruce Paley published Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth in 1995, the culmination of over a decade and a half of research into Joseph Barnett as the Ripper. This book has since become a favorite of Ripper enthusiasts, because of its meticulous research and wealth of detail.
The theory, according to Bruce Paley, is that Joseph Barnett was growing tired of Mary Kelly prostituting herself to other men. He was very much in love with Kelly, and believed that if he could support her through his own work, she would not have to resort to a life on the streets. The loss of his job as a fish porter in June of 1888 brought this dream to an end. Kelly returned to the streets in order to provide for herself, and Barnett became infuriated. In an attempt to "scare" Kelly off the streets, Barnett raged through Whitechapel and murdered a handful of prostitutes in the autumn of 1888. His plot didn't succeed, however, and tempers boiled in late October, culminating in their final quarrel on the 30th. Perhaps realizing that his love for Kelly was not completely requited, Barnett murdered her on November 9th with a frenzy only a scorned lover could possess.
There are a number of linkages between Barnett and the Ripper.
- Joseph Barnett's physical description tallies very well with a number of witness descriptions, particularly in height (5' 7"), age (30), build (medium), complexion (fair) and the presence of a moustache.
- His link with Mary Kelly could explain why the killings ceased after her murder.
- Ginger beer bottles were found in 13 Miller's Court by police on November 9th. In the "Dear Boss" letter, the author says that he "saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with..."
- The mystery of Kelly's locked door (it was locked when police arrived, indicating the killer either had a key or reached through the window to lock it after he left the scene) could be explained either by Barnett's possessing a key or his knowledge of the geography of the room.
- Barnett also fits well with the F.B.I. Psychological Profile of the Ripper:
F.B.I. Psychological Profile
White male, aged 28 to 36, living or working in the Whitechapel area.
Barnett was 30 years old, white, and lived within a mile of Whitechapel for his entire life.
In childhood, there was an absent or passive father figure.
Joseph's father died when he was six.
The killer probably had a profession in which he could legally experience his destructive tendencies.
Barnett was a fish porter, undoubtedly experienced in boning and gutting fish.
Jack the Ripper probably ceased his killing because he was either arrested for some other crime, or felt himself close to being discovered as the killer.
Barnett was interviewed for four hours after the Kelly murder. The police seemed satisfied with his testimony and they don't appear to have suspected him further.
The killer probably had some sort of physical defect which was the source of a great deal of frustration or anger.
According to one contemporary news report, Barnett repeated the last words spoken to him at the inquest. This could be an indication of echolalia, a speech impediment.