Mary Jane Kelly (c. 1863 – 9 November 1888), also known as Marie Jeanette Kelly, Fair Emma, Ginger and Black Mary, is widely believed to be the fifth and final victim of the notorious unidentified serial killer Jack the Ripper, who killed and mutilated prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London during the late summer and autumn of 1888. She was about 25 and living in poverty at the time of her death.
Reports of the time estimated her height at 5 feet and 7 inches (1.70 metres). Her hair colour is somewhat uncertain although she was nicknamed 'Ginger'. She has been variously reported as being a blonde or redhead. Her reported eye colour was blue. Detective Walter Dew, in his autobiography, claimed to have known Kelly well by sight and described her as "quite attractive" and "a pretty, buxom girl". Sir Melville Macnaghten (1853 - 1921) of the Metropolitan Police Service, who never saw her in the flesh, reported that she was known to have "considerable personal attractions" by the standards of the time. She was said to be fluent in the Welsh language.
Compared with other Ripper victims, Mary Kelly's origins are obscure and undocumented, and much of it is possibly embellished. According to Joseph Barnett, the man she had most recently lived with, Mary had told him she was born in Limerick, Ireland — although whether it was the county or the city is not known — around 1863, and her family moved to Wales when she was young.
Barnett reported that Kelly had told him her father was named John Kelly and worked in iron works; his county of employment was reported as being either Caernarfonshire or Carmarthenshire. Barnett recalled Kelly mentioning having six or seven brothers and at least one sister. One brother named Henry Kelly supposedly served in the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards. She once stated to her personal friend Lizzie Albrook that a family member was employed at the London theatrical stage. Her landlord John McCarthy claimed that Kelly received infrequent correspondence from her mother in Ireland as late as 1888. However, Barnett denied this.
Both Barnett and a reported former roommate named Mrs. Carthy claimed that Kelly came from a family of "well to do people". Carthy reported Kelly being "an excellent scholar and an artist of no mean degree".
Around 1879, Kelly was reportedly married to a collier named Davies who was killed two or three years later in a mine explosion. No researcher has yet been able to trace the accuracy of this statement.
A report of the 1888 London press of Kelly being a mother has led a minority of Ripperologists to suggest the birth of a younger Davies between 1879 and 1882. The story contains several factual errors however, including the claim that she supposedly lived on the second floor. It is likely that news reports initially identifying Lizzie Fisher (or Fraser) as the victim are the source for the rumour. Fisher did live on the second floor and did have a 12 year old son.
Kelly reportedly stayed for a while with a cousin in Cardiff. She is considered to have started her career as a prostitute there. There are no contemporary records of her presence in Cardiff. Kelly herself claimed to have spent much of her stay in an infirmary.
Kelly apparently left Cardiff for London in 1884 and found work in a brothel in the more affluent West End of London. Reportedly, she was invited by a client to France but quickly returned, disliking her life there. Nevertheless she liked to affect the name of "Marie Jeanette" Kelly after this experience.
By some, Kelly had been known as "Fair Emma", although it is not known whether this applied to her hair colour, her skin colour, her beauty, or whatever other qualities that she had. Some newspaper reports claim she was nicknamed "Ginger" after her allegedly ginger-coloured hair (though sources disagree even on this point, thus leaving a large range from ash blonde to dark chestnut). Another paper claimed she was known as "Mary McCarthy", which may have been a mix up with the surname of her landlord at the time of her death. Gravitating toward the poorer East End, she reportedly lived with a man named Morganstone near the Commercial Gas Works in Stepney and later, with a mason's plasterer named Joe Flemming.
When drunk, Kelly would be heard singing Irish songs; in this state, she would often become quarrelsome and even abusive to those around her. Barnett first met Kelly on 8 April 1887. They agreed to live together on their second meeting the following day. In 1888 they both moved into 13 Miller's Court. Barnett worked as a fish porter at Billingsgate Fish Market, but when he fell out of regular employment and tried to earn money as a market porter, Kelly turned to prostitution again. A quarrel ensued over Kelly's sharing of the room with another prostitute, and Barnett left on 30 October, more than a week before her death, while continuing to visit Kelly.
Witnesses gave various descriptions of Kelly's activities in Dorset Street during the late hours of 8 November and the early hours of 9 November:
On the morning of 9 November 1888, the day of the annual Lord Mayor's Day celebrations, Kelly's landlord John McCarthy sent his assistant, Thomas Bowyer, to collect the rent. Kelly was several weeks behind on her payments. Bowyer knocked on her door but received no response. He reached through a crack in a window and pushed aside a coat being used as a curtain and peered inside. What he discovered was a horribly mutilated corpse.
Kelly's body was discovered shortly after 10:45 am. Her body was found lying on the bed in the single room where she lived at 13 Miller's Court, off Dorset Street in Spitalfields, London. Neighbours' reports of hearing a solitary scream in the night suggested she may have been killed somewhere around 4:00 am. Reports have it that a woman was heard to shout simply: 'Murder!'
The Manchester Guardian of 10 November 1888 reported that Sgt Edward Badham accompanied Inspector Walter Beck to the site of 13 Miller's Court after they were both notified of the murder of Mary Kelly by a frantic Thomas Bowyer. It is generally accepted that Beck was the first police official to arrive at the Kelly crime scene and Badham is believed to have accompanied him, but there are no official records to confirm Badham being with him.
A woman named Caroline Maxwell claimed to have seen Kelly alive at about 08:30 on the morning after the murder, though she admitted to only meeting her once or twice before; moreover, her description did not match that of those who knew Kelly more closely. Maurice Lewis, a tailor, reported seeing Kelly at about 10:00 that same morning in a pub. Both statements were dismissed by the police since they did not fit the accepted time of death; moreover, they could find no one else to confirm the reports. This contradiction was used as a plot device in the graphic novel From Hell (and subsequent movie adaptation) in which someone else is mistaken for Kelly and murdered in her place.
Edward Badham was also on duty at Commercial Street police station on the evening of 12 November 1888. The inquest into the death of Mary Kelly had been completed earlier that day, when around 6 pm, a man named George Hutchinson arrived at the station claiming he had seen Kelly with a man of 'respectable appearance' on the night of her death. Badham took Hutchinson's initial statement that evening.
Dr. Thomas Bond and Dr. George Bagster Phillips examined the body. Her death certificate was registered on 17 November, naming her "Marie Jeanette Kelly otherwise Davies".
Dr. Thomas Bond, a police surgeon from A Division, was called in on the Mary Kelly murder. His notes read as follows:
Dr Bond also stated that the knife used was about an inch wide and at least six inches long, but did not believe that the murderer had any medical training or knowledge. In his report he concluded
Kelly was buried in a public grave at St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery on Langthorne Road, Leytonstone E11, on 19 November 1888. Her grave was no. 66 in row 66, plot 10.
Her obituary ran as follows:
Kelly's grave was reclaimed in the 1950s. John Morrison erected a large, white headstone in 1986, but marked the wrong grave. Morrison's headstone was later removed, and the superintendent re-marked Kelly's grave with a simple memorial in the 1990s.
A small minority of modern authors consider it possible that Kelly was not a victim of the same killer as the other Whitechapel murders. At an assumed age of around 25, she was younger than the other canonical victims, all of whom were in their 40s. The mutilations inflicted on her were far more extensive than those on other victims, but she was also the only one killed in the privacy of a room instead of outdoors. Her murder was separated by five weeks from the previous killings.
Bruce Paley, in Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth (ISBN 0-7472-5218-1) proposed that her lover Joseph Barnett may have been the Ripper.