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Weird History Wednesday: Jack the Ripper

Weird History Wednesday: Jack the Ripper

Written by Sara Rising

For our first Weird History Wednesday of 2016 we take a closer look at Rochester's connection to one of the most famous serial killers in history - Jack the Ripper. 

-The family name on the headstone itself is mispelled "Fransis Tumuelty" instead of the correct name "Francis Tumblety."-

[Photo Credit: Sara Rising]

Meet Francis J. Tumblety, an Irish –born American “quack doctor” and believed perpetrator of the Whitechapel Murders. Tumblety’s unscrupulous past has roots right here in Rochester. Not to mention his permanent address at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery near Kodak Park. 

Tumblety was born in 1833 and moved with his family to Rochester when he was small child. Evidence of his objectionable personality and taste go back to his teenage years when he was known to peddle pornographic literature on the canal boats of Rochester. He also found brief employment at a small clinic run by Dr. Lispenard, a well-known local quack doctor who is said to have “carried on a medical business of a disreputable kind (Rochester Democrat and Republican, Dec. 3, 1888).”

Within a few years of working for the clinic, Tumblety left Rochester for Detroit where he began practicing as an “Indian herb doctor.” Tumblety’s first run in with the law came in 1857 while living in Montreal when he attempted to abort the pregnancy of a local prostitute by selling her her a combination of pills and liquid. However, after some legal maneuvering, Tumblety was released. A few years later, in September of 1860, he once again found trouble when a patient of his died while taking medicine prescribed by Tumblety. He escaped arrest by fleeing to Maine. From there he travelled to Boston, where he began what would be a long-running trademark: a kooky doctor dressed in military garb and who rode a white horse, sometimes leading two greyhounds before him. He didn’t remain in Boston long, however, and would soon travel to various other cities to continue building his ruse as a wealthy and prominent druggist.

Tumblety was also well-known by many to be a fervent misogynist, with a strong hatred of prostitutes in particular. This loathing, he stated, was based on his early marriage to a woman whom he later discovered was a prostitute after secretly following her to a brothel.

During a dinner party at Tumblety’s home in Washington one evening, he was asked if any women had been invited. According to the guest by the name Colonel Dunham, Tumblety replied with “No, Colonel, I don’t know any such cattle, and if I did I would, as your friend, sooner give you a dose of quick poison than take you into such danger.” He then led guests to his study, where he showed off tiers of shelves with glass jars and cases, filled with anatomical specimen, mostly from women.

After a series of additional brushes with the law (including being arrested in connection with the Lincoln assassination) Tumblety left America for London.

On November 7, 1888 Tumblety was arrested and charged with eight counts of gross indecency, only to be released on bail that day. Then, on November 12th Tumblety was arrested on suspicion of the Whitechapel murders. He posted bail, again, on November 16th and fled under the alias Frank Townsend to France, and eventually New York City. Scotland Yard sent an investigator to New York to track him down. However, with no conclusive evidence against him, the case was eventually dropped.

In 1993, crime historian Stewart P. Evans discovered a letter written in 1888 by Chief Inspector John Littlechild, who at the time of the Jack the Ripper crimes had been head of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Irish Branch. In response to a question from a journalist regarding a possible suspect by the name of "Doctor D" Littlechild says he knows nothing of a suspect by that name, but “…amongst the suspects, and to my mind a very likely one, was a Dr. T…He was an American quack named Tumblety..." Upon discovering this letter, and after years of research, Evans, like many others, is convinced that Jack the Ripper and Tumblety were one in the same.

Much like Netflix’s ‘Making a Murder,’ so much of the evidence in this case is circumstantial. Unlike Steven Avery, however, Tumblety retained his freedom and eventually moved to St. Louis, where he died in 1903. He is buried at his family plot in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery on Lake Avenue overlooking Kodak Park. While we may never know the truth behind this century old mystery, that doesn’t mean we can’t do a little digging ourselves - and if you do, make sure to start in Section 13 of Holy Sepulchre right here in Rochester!

[Credit: Holy Sepulchre Cemetery]


[Photo Credit: Sara Rising]

[Photo Credit: Sara Rising]

Oh, and one piece of evidence to add your Jack the Ripper case file: Before his death, Tumblety checked into a St. Louis hospital where his personal possessions were cataloged. The ledger lists an array of expensive pieces of jewelry, including a diamond ring, and a gold pocket watch, along with two cheap, imitation gold rings – similar to the rings reported missing from the body of Jack the Ripper’s second victim, Annie Chapman.

…or maybe they were simply planted there by the Manitowoc Sheriff's Department (if you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary ‘Marking a Murderer’ go do it now!).


Historic Mysteries:  Jack the Ripper Suspects:  Francis Tumblety 

Casebook: Jack the Ripper 

Wikipedia: Francis Tumblety 

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