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December 7, 2021 35 mins

Mary Jane Kelly's life ended brutally in a small room in Whitechapel - but what journey brought her to East London? She sold sex in her final years - but was she born to a rich family or was she the teenage bride of a coal miner? Had she been tricked into sex slavery abroad, escaped and gone on the run from her criminal traffickers? Was Mary Jane Kelly even her real name?

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:15):
Pushkin. Mary Jane Kelly is hiding. A man from her
troubled past has come looking for her. Stalking the dark
and miserable neighborhood she calls home, asking after her in
its dingy pubs, making sinister inquiries among the young women

who work these streets by the dogs. This middle aged
man seems determined to find Mary Jane. He tells people
he is her father. Whoever he really is, his presence
means danger for the young woman. Hiding is familiar to
Mary Jane, and she's good at it. Whenever acquaintances and

companions ask her for her life story, she offers up
misty half truths. Even her friends and lovers don't really
know her. The enigmatic Mary Jane holds her cards close
to her chest, and for good reason. She may be young,
but in her twenty three or so years, she's made

some fearsome enemies. Perhaps the sudden presence of this unwelcome
pursuer prompts her to move on. For Mary Jane soon
packs her bags and heads to a new address, each
move taking her closer and closer to Whitechapel and closer
and closer to her murderer. I'm Hallie rubin Holt, you're

listening to bad women. The Ripper retold a series about
the real lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper,
and how we got their stories so wrong. One side
mane plenty, and friends too by the score. Then fortune

smilder upon me. I now one pass my door alone,
and not to have Harne seems to lonely. I'm compliever broken.

By the eighteen eighties, a discreet sort of party was
becoming fashionable in certain rich London circles. Wealthy gentlemen would
clamor to receive an invitation to a private ball, health
and smart function rooms in the city's affluent west End. There,
forty men would meet forty women. The men alone would

be charged an admission fee to cover the cost of
the room, higher the band and the supper. To the
casual observer, this gathering of gentlemen in top hats in
evening dress and beautiful young women in ballgowns and jewels
would have hinted at nothing untoward. In fact, as an
anonymous sexual adventurer known only as Walter wrote in his memoirs,

there was little about this type of hall that might
be described as immodest or irregular, except that no introductions
were needed, and men asked any woman to dance, and
women did not hesitate to ask men to dance. However,
following supper the tone changed. The men kissed the women's

shoulders as they waltzed. One or two couples would even
dance a boardy poker. The dancing became romping, and concupissance
asserted itself. Suggest of talk was now the order of
the night. Eventually, the evening came to an end. Couples

peeled off and departed in their carriages, only to continue
their rebels and private at the women's lodgings in the
city's leafy suburbs. This was the face of high class
vice in London. Mary Jane Kelly, or a woman calling
herself Mary Jane Kelly, entered this demimonde of silk dresses,

champagne and oysters at some point between eighteen eighty three
and eighteen eighty four. The luxuries of this existence may
have been familiar to her, but then again they may not.
According to one version of Mary Jane's tail, she was
born in the West of Ireland in around eighteen six three.

Her father took the family across the Irish Sea to
settle in Wales when she was very young. She claimed
to have been one of nine children. At sixteen, she
said she'd married a coal miner that he died a
year or two later in an explosion. Such a tale
would have been readily believed, since mining disasters took an
awful toll un Welsh pit villages. One blast in the

summer of eighteen eighty killed every single worker at the
New Risker Colliery in an instant. The shockwave claimed the
lives of around one hundred and twenty colliers, woodworkers and masons,
even the thirteen year old boys who sat alone in
the dark opening and closing the pit's many doors. The
explosion tore off the men's clothes and ripped apart the

dozens of pit ponies that worked alongside them. Widowed, Mary
Jane went to the city of Cardiff, where she had family.
She stated that she fell in with a female cousin
who followed a bad life. Only then came her move
to London. Sometimes, though Mary Jane offered a variation on

this origin story, she was Welsh and her parents, who
had discarded her, still resided at Cardiff. To confuse matters Further,
some of those who knew Mary Jane said that she
was originally from a well to do family. One of
her neighbors believed she had a female relation in London.
It was on the stage. Mary Jane also told acquaintances

that she had a two year old child who would
have been born around eighteen eighty three, when she was
also supposed to have spent eight or nine months in
an infirmary in Cardiff. No trace of this child has
ever been found, nor is there any record of its fate.
An extended stay at a publicly funded general hospital was
highly unlikely at this time, so if Mary Jane did

indeed spend several months in an infirmary Indiff, this probably
would have been at a private establishment, perhaps reformatory for
fallen women or an asylum, which would have been the
appropriate recourse for a middle class daughter who had transgressed
the social norm by engaging in sex outside marriage. Mary

Jane's life before her arrival in London amounts to a
collection of disconnected snapshots, none of which has ever been verified.
No Kelly's or Mary Jane's matchup in censuses or parish
records in Wales or in Ireland, nor has any record
of her minor husband ever been found. The only conclusion

that might be drawn is that the tales of Mary
Jane Kelly's life, even her name, were fabrications. She may
have borrowed real components of her identity from someone she knew,
or even dreamt them up entirely herself. This phenomena was
fairly common for women who practiced her profession sex work.

It's so easy for people to hide and to completely
reinvent themselves in this period. It's before official identity documents,
it's before any kind of state surveillance. Really, Julia Late
is an expert on the Victorian sex trade, and it's
incredibly easy to change your identity. People picked up names
and took them back off like clothes. This might be

aided by a move to another town and an alteration
in dress and manners, but certain features of one's history
were more difficult to conceal. A higher quality of education,
for instance, left an indelible mark an individual. Schooling came
across not only in their ability to read and write,
but in their speech, they're bearing their interests, and often

in their artistic or musical accomplishments. While the poor had
access only to the most basic instruction. The rising middle
classes sought to distinguished themselves socially by investing in the
education of their children so that their progeny might bear
the stamp of respectability. According to those who knew her,

this distinction seems to have made itself apparent in Mary Jane.
One of her landladies in London remarked on her high
level of scholarship, while also commenting that she was a
capable artist. At this time, training and drawing was only
given to girls at fashionable young ladies schools, lending weight
to the idea that Mary Jane hailed from a respectable,

well to do family. More interesting, still, no one who
knew Mary Jane noted any regional accent, possibly as a
result of elocution lessons, and those who inquired about her
origins had to be told she was Welsh or Irish.
You would not have supposed, if you had met her
on the street, that she belonged to the miserable class

as she did, remarked a missionary who knew her in
East London. Was always neatly and decently dressed, and looked
quite nice and respectable. Of all the holes in Mary
Jane's account none is so gaping as that which explains
how or why she left Cardiff to join the sex
trade in London's West End. At roughly twenty one years old.

The sex trade was present in most parts of the metropolis,
and by the early eighteen eighties it also began to
move nearer to train stations, areas with transient populations and
lodging houses. But the West End comprised the highest concentration
of commercial sex in London, which was also entangled with
a growing entertainment industry. London's theater land was located here, too.

Newly illuminated by twinkling electric lights, people from all walks
would come to enjoy nightlife in the West End, making
it a popular circuit for soliciting. As a newcomer, it
would have proven difficult for Mary Jane to negotiate an
immediate entry into the upper ranks of the sex trade
without the help of personal contacts, but perhaps a friend

gave Mary Jane the name of a madam, because she
was soon working under the auspices of a French landlady
whose boarders were offered opportunities to make the acquaintance of
middle and upper class gentlemen. These lodgings were in the
chicest part of town, which had acquired a reputation as
a haven for the so called artistic set, who indulged

in sin discreetly behind shutters and dark velvet drapery. Assignations
might occur by chance meeting. On one occasion, the anonymous
memoiist Walter gained an introduction to a discreet London brothel
by exchanging classes with its madam while on train. After

he struck up conversation, she informed him that she was
a dressmaker and employed only the prettiest girls at her
place of business. Before disembarking, she handed him a card
for her dress shop and invited him to call and
try on like gloves. Walter was certain that she drummed

up a good amount of trade by approaching men in
railway carriages and on public transport. Other meetings might be
arranged through an exchange of letters. A very rich man
would write to the brothel madam. A lot of these
brothels catered to what was called flagellation, so what we
would today call s and m. There was this real

trend in England that posh Englishmen really liked flagellation, and
women made quite a lot of money doing it. Mary
Jane would likely have had a high class clientele. As
a young woman in her twenties, with blue eyes and long,
luxuriant hair, she would have found no obstacle to making
a good living in the center of town. There's a

range of things she could have been doing, but she
definitely would have been making a fair amount of money. Then,
who sought the company of women like Mary Jane through
a landlady procurus would have expected to commit to an
evening of entertainment in addition to receiving sex. A client
would have paid the sum of five pounds up front

and then taken her to dinner the following evening. Compared
to the wages of the time, five pounds would translate
to over three thousand dollars today. At venues like Saint
James's restaurant known as Jimmy's or the Cafe Deller Europe,
women and their male companions sat down to dine in
smoke filled, mirrored and palm fronded rooms where they were

tended by French and Italian waiters who were noted for
their discretion. After gorging on oysters, deviled kidneys, and roast beef,
all washed down with champagne. Mary Jane and her client
would have traveled by hackney cap or carriage, either to
an equally discreet hotel or back to her own bed.

Such liaisons might also involve a trip to the theater,
music hall, or races. In exchange for the pleasure of
Mary Jane's company, her client would expect to be billed accordingly.
The price generally involved the purchase of trinkets as well
as cash. Women also made themselves known to potential clients

through public display. They would appear in the galleries of
certain music halls and theaters, in addition to promenading in
the streets. The Alhambra Theater catered to every rank of
women in the sex trade. On any given night, there
might be over a thousand women present. Access to the
promenade encircling the ground floor of the auditorium cost a shilling.

It cost more to get closer to the stage, but
according to one visiting American author, catching the performance wasn't
the prime attraction, for the space was choked, with men
and women walking past each other, looking the stage, drinking
of the bars, chafing each other in a rough way,
and laughing loudly. He ventured into the other sections of

the theater, too, rising higher and higher until he reached
the cheapest seats far above the stage. When a woman
goes to the sixpenny gallery in the Alhambra, she is
indeed lost, beyond all hope of rescue. I came down, disgusted.
The sixpenny gallery was not for Mary Jane, who referred

to herself as Marie Jeannette and accumulated numerous expensive dresses,
she would have been accustomed to elegant gentlemen making her
proposals and promises, buying her gloves and jewelry, and spoiling
her with fine food and drink. The savviest women in
the sex trade understood that their youthful allure was fleeting,

and that in order to capitalize on their worth, it
was essential to seize every opportunity put before them. So
when a mysterious gentleman offered to take Mary Jane to Paris,
she agreed. Unfortunately, this visit to France would turn out
to be no vacation. The ripper retold, will be back

in just a moment. Victorian travelers sent their lugger John separately,
so Mary Jane packed most of her expensive wardrobe into
a trunk, expecting it to be forwarded to her new

address in Paris. But the baggage was never sent, and
perhaps its failure to arrive alerted Mary Jane to the
possibility that she had been deceived. The trafficking of women
between Britain and continental Europe was a lucrative enterprise, aided
by the expansion of the rail and shipping networks. Just

as London became a receiving hub for young women from France,
Belgium and Germany to meet a domestic appetite for variety,
so English girls were shipped out to brothels abroad. Those
involved in international sex trafficking worked discreetly and carefully, so
that a woman destined for overseas trade would not guess

what awaited her. It's probable that Mary Jane's French landlady
had some role in sending her to Paris, and that
she colluded with the mysterious gentleman to place her in
a brothel. Fare whatever the scenario, she seemed certain enough
that Mary Jane would have no need for her trunk
of pretty gowns when she arrived at her destination, likely

a state sanctioned brothel or meison close. Some women were
duped into foreign prostitution, but others who were already in
the sex trade and looking for a change, went abroad
to such establishments willingly. However, once at a maison close,
a woman's own belonging might be taken away and replaced
with new silk dresses and other finery, adding to an

impossible debt she now owed her employer. Such ruses had
been common practice in brothels for centuries and would just
as likely to catch seasoned sex laborers off guard as
they were to entrap the novice. They would get their room,
they would get their clothes, they would potentially get their
ticket to Paris. But it was all money's owing, and

that debt could be manipulated to be greater than what
it originally was. These forms of debt bondage affected migrant
people all over the world in the late nineteenth century,
who would have to pay migration agents, pay the steamship
ticket off, pay off the person who found them their job.
This was a kind of exploitative system in which many
many people were caught, including women who were selling sex

life at a maison close was tightly regulated in order
to keep the streets free of the evils of prostitution.
The law restricted women's movements in and out of the
brothels where they worked. They were only permitted in public
during certain hours. Even then, they were not allowed to
congregate in groups, loiter near their doors, or even make

themselves visible through their windows, which were to remain shuttered.
What's more, all new recruits were expected to register with
the police demur or Morality Police, and to submit to
twice weekly examinations for venereal disease. If indebtedness for a
brothel was not enough to break a traffic to woman's will,

the strict laws governing her personal freedom would complete the process.
Once caught within the rigid jaws of a foreign maison close,
a woman on her own, without friends, and unable to
communicate in French would have had little hope of escape.
By Mary Jane Kelly's day, the trafficking of women had

become something of a cause celeb However, only certain victims
were deemed deserving of sympathy and of protection under the law.
The idea that innocent women were being compelled into the
sex trade and forcibly shipped overseas, gripped the public imagination,
and was extravagantly sensationalized in the press. Adeline Tanner was

in some ways the original victim of trafficking, in that
it was her story that launched the whole thing. In
eighteen seventy eighteen eighty, nineteen year old Adeline was a
recently unemployed domestic servant when a respectably dressed man struck
up a conversation with her in a railway waiting room.
He plied her with drink and introduced her to a

man named Eduard Roger. After a short conversation, Roget told
her he had taken a great fancy to me, that
he would like to take me to Paris, and if,
after seeing his grand house I would like to be
his wife, he would marry me. A more experienced young
woman might possibly have sensed the direction of travel, but

nineteen year old Ada Lene was a virgin and sheltered one.
Dazzled and intoxicated, she enthusiastically agreed. Of course, Adeline had
been tricked. Roget wouldn't be her husband, but her pimp.
She was not destined for Paris, but for a brothel
in Brussels. Before departing England, she was issued with a

false identity. Upon her arrival in Belgium, she was informed
that her papers were in fact illegal and she would
be immediately arrested if she attempted to flee. Adeline eventually
escaped her traffickers and spoke about her experiences as part
of an investigation into this illicit trade. And it's really

interesting reading her testimony in which she does appear as
a very innocent victim and she is being asked by
a panel of men to narrate her abuse and victimization
for the sake of proving that it existed. They craft
her story and encouraged her to craft a story as
this kind of performance of ideal victimhood, ignorance and innocence

and vulnerability and guilelessness and naivete. The controversial journalist W. T. Stead,
whose Crusading newspaper we've mentioned often in this series, published
a powerful investigation into the commercial exploitation of children for sex.
All those who are squeamish and all those who are prudish,
and all those who prefer to live in a fool's

paradise of imaginary innocence and purity will do well not
to read the Powell mal Gazette of Monday and the
three following days. This series of articles was entitled The
Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. Stead invoked hyperbolic subheadings like
the violation of Virgins and how girls are bought and ruined.

These virgins are mostly of tender age, being too young
in fact, to understand the nature of the crime of
which they are the unwilling victims. These outrages are constantly
perpetrated with almost absolute impunity. Instead, wanted to show how
young girls could be bought from their parents and dispatched

to brothels, so he staged just such a transaction himself.
He orchestrated the purchase of a thirteen year old virgin
girl named Eliza Armstrong, who he called Lily in his
newspaper expose. Because he was always one for heavy handed metaphors,

and he used the story of Lily or Eliza Armstrong
to prove this buying and selling of young virgin girls
in Britain was rife and very possible. But then, for
the sake of his metaphor, he insisted on having Lily
or Eliza, I should say he insisted on having Eliza
forcibly inspected for virginity. He arranged her assault in the

name of protecting girls, and it makes me so angry
whenever I think about it. When it came to light
at rather than just reporting on a tragic case, Stead
had actually arranged for the purchase of Eliza, rival newspapers
called for his head. He was found guilty of abduction

and procurement and sentenced to three months in prison. Even
though Lily's story was pure fabrication, Stead's articles proved incredibly popular,
stirring a moral panic that British girls were being sold
into so called white slavery. But by English law, women
like Mary jen Kelly were not to be classed as

victims of trafficking. Only women and girls who had previously
been ignorant of sex could hold the identity of victim.
I fully believe that she was defrauded to Paris, that
she ran into a very coercevie, potentially even abusive situation
when she arrived, and that she found it difficult to
get out. This is, by any definition, what would call trafficking.

For the law to say that it was impossible to
traffic a woman who was already a prostitute rendered the
law itself practically obsolete. But it also tells us again
a great deal about who gets to be an ideal
victim and who doesn't get to be a victim at all.
Mary Jane somehow managed to wriggle free from the snare

that had been laid for her, and spent no more
than a fortnight in Paris. If she was well educated,
as has been suggested, she would have possessed at least
a basic grasp of French, enough perhaps to communicate with
an amenable client or with the police. According to French statute,
any customer who suspected illegal trafficking might make an appeal

to the police Demurs, who were bound by law to
release any English girl detained an abroadl against her will,
even if she has not paid her debt. Setbacks such
as this would not have been taken lightly by the
traffickers who lost money when their so called human parcels escaped,
nor would they have liked knowing a young woman was

at large who could attest to their crimes. Pimps and
trafficking gangs were not people with whom to trifle. They
felt no compunction at removing and inconvenient witness if it
helped them escape the law. Mary Jane had somehow outrun
her captors in Paris, but her new life in London

would be neither tranquil nor safe. The rippery told would
be back in just a moment. At first glance, the

Ratcliffe Highway, close to London's docks, offered an innocent mercantile impression.
The first stretches of the street were stuffed with every
shop and outfitter a mariner might wire. However, further down
the highway, its truer character was revealed. Cheap lodging houses,

music halls, pubs, and opium dens replaced the ship's chandlers,
and the thrumming sound of sin grew ever more audible.
The Ratcliffe Highway had its own identity and economy, driven
by the steady influx of sailors who stalked at streets
in search of drink and sex. Rousing polka melodies hung
in the air, punctuated by the smashing of glass and jaws.

The spilling of drink and blood were regular occurrences among
its salty visitors. It was in this neighborhood that Mary
Jane washed up, had it been safe for her to
return to the West End to show her face in
Piccadilly or the Haymarket, she might simply have continued in
her previous luxurious existence. Instead, she had little choice but

to turn eastward. Luckily for her or the east ends
of London, the Ratcliffe Highway and the Haymarket were just
universes away from each other at this time. If Mary
Jane was hiding from her traffickers, they were unlikely to
start looking for her. In this grim and desolate district.
She took up lodgings in the house of Elizabeth Bocou,

who rented rooms to women who sold sex. How much
of her past she revealed to her new madam is unknown,
but if Kelly was not Mary Jane's real surname, then
it may have been at this point that she adopted it.
If her pursuers were hunting for a welshwoman, it might
have been sensible to assume a common Irish name for

Mary Jane. The clientele and practices on the Ratcliffe Highway
would have been rather different to those she had been
accustomed to in the West End. One social reformer observed
the particular protocols of the area when a ship arrives
in the docks, so many of the women as are disengaged,
go down to the entrance and there and then endeavor

to invague or the seamen. These attachments would last for days.
A sailor's chosen girl would accompany him hither and thither,
always in the neighborhood, carousing by night and sleeping by day.
When a seafarer's purse was empty or his shore leaf
had ended, there was always the next shipload to greet,
unless a replacement could be found in a pub or

on the street. More of this noted that women from
the Ratcliffe Highway appeared to tout for trade more brazenly
than those in the West End or other parts of
the city. The demand for commercial sex quite literally swelled
with the tide, so that even the police found it
difficult to regulate prostitution. Women who sold sex walked the

streets openly without much fear of the authorities. Mary Jane
may well have spent her evenings in the public singing
rooms in order to drawn seafaring custom. Most of these
smoke filled drinking dens were decorated with a nautical theme,
their walls dauged with crude seascapes, anchors and mermaids. As

singer's belted out tunes about lovely lasses left ashore. Most
of the audience spoke Swedish, Danish, German, Portuguese, Spanish or
French and didn't understand a word of what was being sung. Still,
they were happy to slump on the wooden benches, drink
the bar dry, and fondle their girls until a fight

broke out. Perhaps desperate for money, Mary Jane seems to
have enlisted missus Boku to help her reclaim that missing
trunk of expensive dresses, which had failed to follow her

to Paris. Mary Jane could not have felt easy about
returning to a part of town where she was known,
and a sense of trepidation must have gnawed at her
as she traveled west with her new procurus for support.
It's unlikely that this risky trip paid off. In all probability,
mary Jane's trunk would have been sold off long ago.

Worse still, the visit seems to have attracted unwanted attention,
for shortly afterwards, a man pitched up on the Ratcliffe Highway,
seeking Mary Jane and claiming to be her father. Although
they were almost certainly not related. She seems to have
avoided him successfully, but his presence must still have been

a source of intense anxiety. Adding to this strain, Mary
Jane began quarreling with her landlady the dispute mary Jane's
drinking habits, as in the more expensive West End, an
evening's entertainment along the Ratcliffe Highway revolved around drink. However,

savvy women in the sex trade would tipple with care.
Unfamiliar customers could be dangerous. To fill one with booze
was like playing Russian roulette. A woman could never predict
what sort of client a man would be once intoxicated.
If she was fortunate, he might slip into a stupor.
If she was less so, he might beat her senseless.

Her best defense was to remain as sober as possible.
But drink also offered a convenient escape from a miserable existence.
It obliterated the horrors of intimacy with a man who
was physically repellent, and it quieted, even for a short time,
feelings of self loathing, guilt, pain, and traumatic memories of violence.

Mary Jane was likely to have drunk throughout her career
in the sex trade, but after her return from France,
her usage became problematic. Missus Bocu's sister in law said
Mary Jane was one of the most decent and nicest
girls when sober, but she became very quarrelsomilar, you see
when in toxic head. Missus Boku would have been accustomed

to drinkers. Even so, Mary Jane's indulgence in intoxicance soon
made her an unwelcome friend. Mary Jane left, however, she
did not go very far. McCarthy's, a nearby establishment, was
almost identical to missus Bocu's concern, except that its offer

of a legal drink and female company was used to
lure in unwary sailors and rob them. Sometime between late
eighteen eighty six and early eighteen eighty seven, a plasterer
called Joseph Fleming fell in love with Mary Jane. A
construction worker, was no match for the rich gentleman who

so recently must have swooned for her, but she seems
to have returned Fleming's affections. Marriage might even have been discussed.
At any rate, Mary Jane left the environs of the
docks and moved in with him, but Fleming's powerful protestations
of love were no assurance of his kindness. It is

said he ill used Mary Jane, prompting her to uproot
once again. But where to go. Nearby was a neighborhood
full of cheap housing and densely populated with people who
didn't pry into anyone's past that closely. So packing up
the tatters of her once fine wardrobe, Mary Jane moved

to the edge of Whitechapel. Surely there she might hide
safe from any pursuers with murder in mind. Bad women.
The Rippery Told is brought to you by Pushkin Industries
and me Hallie Rubinhold, and is based on my book

The Five. It was produced and co written by Ryan
Dilley and Alice Fines, with help from Pete Norton. Pascal
Wise Sound designed and mixed the show and composed all
the original music. You also heard the voice talents of Bencrow,
Melanie Gutridge, Gemma Saunders and Rufus Wright. The show also
wouldn't have been possible without the work of miel La Belle,

Jacob Weisberg, Jenguerra Heather Fane, Carla mcgliori, Maggie Taylor, Nikolemarino,
The Tal Mullard, Eric Sandler, and Daniella La Khan. With
special thanks to my agents Sarah Ballard and Ellie Karn
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