9 November 1888. Another day, another dead prostitute in London’s East End. This time the mutilated corpse was found in a sordid room in Spitalfields. Detectives would later piece together that the deceased was an attractive, buxom, blue-eyed woman, 5ft 7in high, aged about 25. They were less certain about her hair colour; she wore it waist length and dyed it so often that her clients knew her variously as ‘Black Mary’, ‘Ginger’ and ‘Fair Emma’.
Her name was recorded as Marie Jeanette Kelly; others knew her as Mary Jane Kelly.
She was said to have been born in Limerick, Ireland, of respectable parentage and raised in Wales as one of seven or eight siblings.[i] And yet, despite extensive searches and media coverage at the time of her murder, no relatives ever came forward to claim kinship.
Indeed she would almost certainly have been entirely forgotten but for the belief that she was the fifth and final victim of the notorious Jack the Ripper.
In this world, there are as many theories about the identity of the Ripper as there are about who killed JFK or why the Titanic sank.
And fresh to the top of this pile is an intriguing new book called ‘The Real Mary Kelly’ (Blink Publishing, 2015) by Dr. Wynne Weston-Davies, FCRS, an anatomical surgeon based in London. He believes the luckless Mary was his great-aunt, that her real name was Elizabeth Weston-Davies and that she was a former lady’s maid to the Marchioness of Londonderry.
And, just to round it off, his deductions have lead him to identify Jack the Ripper as Mary/Elizabeth’s estranged husband, a failed journalist called Francis Spurzheim Craig.
Dr. Weston-Davies begins his argument with a forensic analysis of the tiny morsels known about Mary’s family and early life, most of which were obtained during the inquest that followed her murder.
A key testimony was provided by Mary McCarthy, a madam whose well-attended brothel stood on Breezer’s Hill, a dark, cobbled, gaslit alleyway near the entrance to the East End docks. She recalled how the deceased came to work for her in 1886, having introduced herself as Mary Jane Kelly. She said she was born in Limerick but moved to Wales as a child when her father went to work in an iron works.[ii] There was talk that she was one of eight siblings with a brother in the Scots Guards. Someone else recalled a visit by another brother called Johnto.
She appears to have spoken Welsh and to have had a reasonable education; Mrs McCarthy recalled her as an artist of ‘no mean degree.’ She also dressed well, never venturing out in public without ‘a spotlessly laundered apron.’ Indeed, the girls who worked alongside her said she had formerly worked at an upmarket French brothel in Kingsbridge in the West End and that her clients had included a rich gentleman who once took her to France.
Mrs McCarthy’s sister added that while sober Mary was ‘one of the most decent and nicest girls you could meet’ but she became a maniac when drink was taken.
And yet, earlier in 1886, for reasons unknown, she had suddenly moved to the East End, the poorest and most crowded part of the capital. Before she arrived at Mrs. McCarthy’s, she had at a riverside brothel in Wapping run by a Dutch widow known as “Mrs. Buki”.[iii]
Towards the end of 1886 Mary left Mrs McCarthy’s in the company of an old man who some thought was her father, although others say she took up with a plasterer and lived on Bethnal Green. Within months she had hooked up with Joe Barnett, a kindly, out-of-work Billingsgate fish porter who remained her lover until shortly before her death.
After the murder, Barnett was summoned to identify Mary’s body. He later told how they had met at a pub in Spittalfields on Good Friday 1887. Having roamed from one lodging house to the next for a year, they finally settled in a grim, overcrowded cul-de-sac in the spring of 1888.
She had made no secret of her life as a prostitute. She told Barnett she was the widow of a Welsh miner called Davies who had been killed in a mining explosion three years earlier. Extensive searches for a man called Davis who married a Mary Kelly or who died in an accident at this time reveal nothing.[iv]
Barnett said he did what he could to bring in money through labouring odd-jobs but it was never enough and eventually Mary went back on the streets to raise some extra cash. He became increasingly unhappy and when she invited another prostitute to share their room, he upped and left on 1st November 1888.
Eight nights later, Mary was murdered by Jack the Ripper.
There were many aspects to the above story that caught Dr. Weston-Davies’ attention. He was particularly interested in how, before her move to the East End, Mary had been employed by a French madam at an upmarket brothel in the West End. Her Welsh origins, her brother Johnto and her use of the name Davies also impressed upon him.
And this has led him to conclude that Mary’s real name was Elizabeth Weston-Davies and that she was the older sister of his grandfather John, known as Johnto.
Born in 1857, Elizabeth was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Edward Davies, a slate quarry owner from Montgomeryshire, Wales. Her mother Anne had once been lady’s maid to Mary Cornelia Edwards, the daughter of a prosperous Montgomeryshire landowner. In 1846 Miss Edwards married George Vane-Tempest, heir to the Marquess of Londonderry.
Following Edward Davies’ premature death, Anne called upon Mary Cornelia – now Marchioness of Londonderry – who agreed to take on her young daughter Elizabeth as a lady’s maid. This was sometime in the mid to late 1870s.
As such, Elizabeth bore close witness to the antics of the elite who came to the lavish Bohemian parties held at Londonderry House in London’s Mayfair during the early 1880s. Among those who came, says Weston-Davies, were Héleine and Frederica Maundrell, two sisters who ran a series of upmarket French brothels in London that catered to the British passion for Gallic prostitutes.
In 1884 Lord Londonderry unexpectedly died of bronchitis aged 63 and his heartbroken widow declared her intention of leaving London, never to return. Faced with a dilemma as to whether to accompany her mistress to the country or start anew in London, Elizabeth broke rank and offered her services to the Maundrells who duly accepted her into their brothel at Collingham Place in Kensington at which point, proposes Dr. Weston-Davies, she began wearing expensive French gowns and adopted a French name, à la Marie Jeanette.
In December 1884 her sojourn as a high class prostitute ended when she met Francis Spurzheim Craig, a 47-year-old journalist and draughtsman who had put together the Cambridge version of the A–Z gazette. His father was ET Craig, a high profile public health engineer of leftist political persuasion.[v] More relevantly to Dr. Weston-Davies, the elder Craig also had a penchant for dissecting human bodies in order to ‘gain access to its innermost secrets’, apparently with his only son watching on.
The younger Craig’s career had fallen apart in 1875 amid accusations of plagiarism and Dr. Weston-Davies believes the man was showing strong signs of schizophrenia by the time he met and fell in love with Elizabeth. Nonetheless, Elizabeth impulsively agreed to marry him on Christmas Eve, 1884, and he took her on a trip to Paris.
Within three months the couple had parted. In the wake of their separation, Craig hired a private investigator who discovered that his heavy drinking wife was back working as a high class hooker for a lady called Ellen Macleod. Craig’s obsession, says Dr. Weston-Davies, rapidly metamorphosed from love to hatred as he tried to track her down with a divorce petition.
And then one day Elizabeth vanished. When Craig was tipped off that she had moved to the East End, he too moved there and renewed his hunt. He also began filing reports on the goings on of East End police courts for the newspapers. All this coincided with a spate of three brutal murders of East End prostitutes by a group known as the ‘High Rip’ gang.[vi]
Dr. Weston-Davies postulates that reporting on the ‘Whitechapel Murders’ fuelled Craig’s psychopathic mind and gave him the perfect contrivance to murder his wife. Armed with the knowledge of human dissection he had learned from his father, and a long, sharp knife, he would murder several women, including Elizabeth, and make it look like the work of a deranged serial killer.
On 31 August a prostitute called Polly Walker was found in Whitechapel with her throat and abdomen slashed. Eight days later, a second prostitute was found nearby with her head virtually severed and her intestines draped over her shoulder like ‘a macabre necklace.’ The murderer clearly knew a thing or two about human anatomy.
Dr. Weston-Davies maintains that it was also Craig who sent a taunting letter to the Central News Agency on 27 September, written in red ink, in which he introduced himself as Jack the Ripper and promised fresh bodies soon.
Three days later the Ripper struck again and two more disembowelled prostitutes were found.
While London panicked and the Ripper theories began to multiply, the murderer himself sharpened his knives one last time. He struck in the cold, wet, small hours of 9 November. His victim was Marie Jeanette Kelly, or, if Dr. Weston-Davies is correct, Elizabeth Craig (née Weston-Davies), murdered in her own room in Spitalfields. When police broke in, they found her body hideously chopped up and, perhaps pertinently, her heart missing.
In the thirteen decades since her murder, nobody has ever pinpointed who Mary Jane Kelly was, save that most accounts agree she was a respectable woman who had fallen by the wayside. That she called herself Kelly and claimed to be from Limerick was enough to ensure the authorities buried her in a Catholic cemetery.
No relations came to the funeral but it is Dr. Weston-Davies’s belief that his grandfather strongly suspected that the Ripper’s fifth – and ultimately final – victim was his sister Elizabeth. At the time of the murder, Johnto Weston-Davies was a master cabinet maker working with Maples, the prestigious luxury furniture company. However, within a very short time, he began drinking heavily and in 1892 he resigned from Maples ‘of his own accord’. He later moved to Australia but returned to England where he drowned himself in 1932. Before he died he apparently told his son John how his sister had been a high class prostitute in London and that she had come to ‘a bad end.’
Suicide was also the fate of Francis Craig, the man Dr. Weston-Davies believes to have been Jack the Ripper. Craig had left the East End nine months after Mary’s murder and continued to report for the Indicator and West London News, becoming its editor before he retired in 1896 to look after his widowed mother. In 1903, he cut his own throat but botched the effort so that it took four days for him to die
As of August 10th 2015, Dr. Weston-Davies’s proposition has been taken seriously by the UK Ministry of Justice, which has indicated it will grant him an exhumation license for Mary’s grave on the basis that he is her nearest living relative. It is his hope that a DNA test will prove Mary was his grandfather’s sister. If that transpires to be so, that would also strengthen his theory that Craig is the killer.
The license is conditional on him producing a letter from a laboratory willing to do the DNA testing. He must also post a notice of the exhumation on the grave for three months.
However, the biggest hurdle is finding the right grave as doubts have recently emerged as to whether the headstone over her grave in at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Leytonstone, actually marks the site. Discussions are now underway between the cemetery authorities and relevant experts such as forensic undertakers and archaeologists to answer this conundrum.
None of Jack the Ripper’s victims have ever been exhumed.
Buy ‘The Real Mary Kelly’ (Blink Publishing, 2015) by Dr. Wynne Weston-Davies from Amazon here.
With thanks to Dr. Wynne Weston-Davies and Karen Browning, Head of PR, Blink Publishing.
[i] It has been estimated that in 1880 between 70 and 80 percent of the prostitutes in London were Irish, the legacy of all the years of famine and emigration.
[ii] Friends said she enjoyed singing sentimental Irish ballads although a song called ‘A Violet Plucked from Mother’s Grave’ which she was heard singing on the night she died was erroneously referred to as an Irish song in the press after her murder.
[iii] “Mrs Buki”’s brothel was just off ‘The Highway’, a celebrated red-light district that ran alongside the Thames.
[iv] She also told him she was 25, meaning she would have been born in about 1864 but this cannot be taken as fact either.
[v] The elder Craig had served as Secretary of the Ralahine Community in County Clare from 1831–33. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralahine
[vi] In the first eight months of 1888, three East End prostitutes were brutally murdered in a series of attacks, attributed to the ‘High Rip’ gang, disaffected, unemployed youths. One of these attacks coincided with a bizarre amendment to Craig’s divorce petition in which he crossed out a paragraph that detailed the goings on at Ellen Macleod’s brothel. Why