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December 14, 2021 34 mins

Mary Jane Kelly was the final victim of Jack the Ripper. And the mutilation of her body was more horrendous than in any previous murder. But something also sets her apart from the other victims. Her youth, her reputed beauty and the nature of her death have resulted in a strange cult growing up around her. Even her corpse cannot rest in peace... with some demanding that her bones been exhumed for examination.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:15):
Pushkin. When rent collector Thomas Boyer wraps on Mary jen
Kelly's door, he receives no answer. She's in arrears and

the slum landlord who owns this building has sent him
to settle the matter. Boyer spots a smashed window whose
jagged pane is stuffed with rags. I put my end
through the broken pane and lifted the curtain. I saw
two pieces of flesh lying on the table. Horrified, he

flees and returns to his boss. Another one, Jack the Ripper.
When police officers break down the door to the little room,
they are confronted by a dreadful scene. Mary Jane has
been horribly mutilated. Every part of her body has been defiled.

No one really knew Mary Jane in life and now
in death. It's almost as though her murderer sought to
obliterate her completely. But what happens next is curious. Mary
jen Kelly is somehow set apart from the other dead women.
Her youth, her mystery, her life as a quartersan, and

the grisliness of her death are used to fetishize and
sexualize her. A cult of Mary Jane Kelly emerges, and
its followers would even go as far as trying to
dig up her bones. I'm Hallie rubinhold 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, money
plenty and friends too by the score. Then fortune smilder

upon me. I now one pass my dome, aloney, and
not with her, seems to loney. I'm com fe walk.

We followed Mary gen Kelly to extravagant and decadent parties
in London's fashionable West End, and traced her route to Paris,
where she may have been cruelly tricked into confinement in
a state sanctioned brothel. Then we shadowed her as she
hid from her aggrieved traffickers in the heart of London's
grim East End. We left Mary Jane as she escaped

a volatile love affair with an ordinary working man. With
each of these moves, she was circling closer and closer
to notorious Whitechapel. And then, in March eighteen eighty seven,
another living arrangement presented itself. Mary Jane met twenty nine
year old Joseph Barnet, a blue eyed local man who

sported a fashionable mustache. Not forty eight hours after meeting
Mary Jane, he was in love. He quickly proposed that
they move in together, and Mary Jane agreed. Joe was
a quarter at a local fish market and earned a
good living. Nevertheless, the couple still struggled for money. Both

of them enjoyed a drink, and perhaps this is where
their troubles began. In the roughly eighteen months they were together,
Mary Jane and Joe Barnet moved a dress four times,
living in a series of cramped, shabby dwellings. At one
point they were evicted for drunkenness and for failing to
pay their rent. Eventually they settled in Miller's Court, in

a ten by twelve foot room at the end of
a dark alley. Here Mary Jane charmed her neighbors with
her humor and kindness. They claimed that she was a good, quiet,
pleasant girl who enjoyed singing. She would regale them with
her stories about her time in the West End and
rhapsodize about returning to her people in Ireland. What was

true and what was invented is now unknowable. In a
rare moment of openness. She spoke candidly to her neighbor,
twenty year old Lizzie Albrook. Lizzie seemed enchanted by her worldliness,
but Mary Jane warned her off embarking down a similar path.
She was heartily sick of the life she was laid in,

and then, during the late summer of eighteen eighty eight,
Joe lost his job. The couple again fell behind on
their rent, and their debts began to mount. Perhaps it
was Mary Jane's landlord, a notoriously unscrupulous local business man,
who had a word with her about a return to soliciting.

After more than a year of sharing a bed with
only one familiar partner, she would hardly have embraced this
prospect willingly. For over a year, she had not needed
to inspect a strange man for signs of syphilis. She
had not stood on a corner in the rain without
a hat or a shawl, but having to smile. Nonetheless,

she had not had to consider what she might do
if the unwashed man she had just pleasured refused to
pay her or made her pregnant. It was Joe Barnett
who said she needn't solicit while they lived together, and
that he would provide for them. She must have resented
him for failing on this promise. But however hard Joe tried,

he was unable to find any work beyond odd laboring jobs,
which did not even cover the cost of their rent.
The couple began to argue frequently and furiously. On one occasion,
while drunk, Mary Jane broke a pane of glass in
the window beside their door. In place of a proper repair,
she stuffed it full of rags to stop the draft.

Jack the Ripper's Killingsbury was terrorizing the district. During those
tense months, Joe and Mary Jane read the newspapers daily,
hoping to learn that the murderer had been caught. For
as long as the river remained at large, Mary Jane
offered sanctuary in their little room to friends and acquaintances
from the sex trade. After the fights and recriminations, these

nocturnal guests were the final straw for Joseph Barnet. He
left Mary Jane on October thirtieth, though he said he
felt a great deal of remorse. Mary Jane stayed on
at thirteen Millers Court, but if she felt its grubby,
peeling walls would offer a safe haven from a killer

still on the loose. She was awfully, tragically mistaken. In
spite of their difficulties, Joe obviously still cared for Mary
Jane and hoped they could be reconciled. He took a
bed at a local boarding house and made certain to
look in on her as he continued to search for work.

Early on the evening of November eighth, he knocked on
her door. A candle was burning inside, and Barnet noted
that she was not alone. She'd been chatting with her
neighbor Lizzie, who then excused herself. Mary Jane had just
returned from drinking in the Ten Bells pub, though she
seemed perfectly sober. The couple were together for about an hour.

They may have conversed softly, or quarreled, or given into
their desires, but whatever occurred failed to shift their impasse.
In the end, Joe rose to leave, apologizing to Mary
Jane as he went. I told her that I had
no work and that had nothing to give her, for

which I was very sorry. One neighbor, Mary Ann Cox,
believed Mary Jane then went out and returned her lodgings
later with a man a last saw her alive on
Thursday night at Court to twelve, very much intoxicated, yet
none of the area's publicans claimed to have seen or

served her. That night. Cox stated that Mary Jane and
her company disappeared into her room, though not before she
had uttered the words good night. I am going to
have a song. Then the door bang shut, and a
glimmer of light began to shine from behind her crudely
curtained window. After a moment or so of silence, Cox

heard Mary Jane's voice rise, scenes of my childhood, her
rise before my gaze, bringing wreck collections of by gone
happy days when down in the middle childhood, I would

a rome. No one's left to Jimmy. Now within that
good old home, Cox seemed certain that she heard her
neighbor singing until around one am at least, But as
with so many of the witness testimonies in the Ripper Murders,
there are omissions, questions, and inconsistencies, And what precisely happened

to Mary Jane's male visitor in the course of this
hour and fifteen minute concert is anyone's guess. The small
wilt I plucked from mother's gray A woman who lived above.
Mary Jane claimed that she could hear most sounds clearly

through the thin walls and floor, and at one thirty
am nothing stirred in her neighbor's room. At some point
in the very early hours of November ninth, Mary Jane
decided to bring an end to her day and retire
to sleep. She removed her clothes, piece by piece, a
few shabby items from a once resplendent wardrobe now diminished

by wear hems, dragged along the uneven pavements of white
chapel and fabric splashed with beer and gin all the same.
She folded each article neatly and placed them on her chair.
The flame of her only candle, which she had balanced
on a broken wineglass, would have gutted and bobbed until

snuffed out. The following day, police inspector Abeleine examined the
crime scene and took an inventory of the room. There
were traces of a large fire having been kept up
in the grate, so much so that it had melted

the spout of the ket love. It appeared as if
a large quantity of women's clothing had been burnt. I
could only imagine that it was to make a light
for the men to see what he was doing. The
ripper appeared to have spent considerable time inflicting Mary Jane's wounds.
Her injuries were extensive and elaborate, such that it would

have been difficult for even those who knew her to
recognize her. Certain detail of the murder, deemed too horrific
for any audience, were suppressed from the coroner's inquest, though
many of them were printed by the press around the world.
Foul Fiend resumes his ghastly work in London. The city
has again stirred to its very center, and again mysterious

murder is the cause. And yet, despite the extensive coverage,
not one friend or relation from the past appears to
have recognized her name or any part of her story
enough to come forward and verify her history. Mary Jen
Kelly remained an enigma. Figures like Mary Jane raised questions

of historical responsibility. There are gaping voids in her life story,
and as a historian, I can use my knowledge of
the Victorian world to suggest likely scenarios to fill these gaps,
But without reliable sources names are birth certificates, passenger lists,
or rent b I simply cannot say anything concrete or

definitive that hasn't stopped others. Though writers and filmmakers have
fabricated all kinds of stories about Mary Jane, often presenting
them as fact. She's popular on the Ripper Ology forums too.
Threads about Mary Jane Kelly musing over her injuries and
identity vastly outnumber discussions on any of the other four victims. Crucially,

Mary Jane often receives special treatment. The nineteen sixty five
book Autumn of Terror is a case in point, says
expert on Ripper writings, Rebecca Frost. It calls the first
four victims dregs of wretched humanity. It was among this
flatsum that Mary Kelly drifted borne along by the tide,

yet remaining aloof as befits an Amazon queen. When some
women are called gliding queens while others are dismissed as
drifting trash, it's a certainty that something has gone very wrong.
But more on that. After this short break, all we

know about her is what she told to her boyfriends.
Rebecca Frost is correct. After Mary Jane's murder, Joseph Barnett
became the primary narrator of her life. Story. The little
we know of Mary Jane is thanks to his earnest
but fraught testimony stammered out before a judgmental coroner's jury.
Everyone else has multiple points of comparison, So you have

like Polly's husband can say this, her children can say this,
Kate's long term boyfriend says this, her daughter says this.
But Mary Jane Kelly exists only in the stories she
told about herself. As with the Ripper, a lack of
corroborated knowledge about Mary Jane has made her a blank
page on which to inscribe fanciful theories. Over the years,

it's been suggested that Mary Jane was the victim of
ritual religious sacrifice, or she fell prey to a deranged
abortionist Jill the Ripper. Others claim she faked her own death,
leaving a faceless corpse. Even in the earliest coverage of
the Ripper murders, there was something special about Mary Jane,
something different. She's already separated from the others because she

is younger, and she gets described as being beautiful. We
don't actually know what she looked like because all of
these descriptions says she's blonder, brunette, or she's got black hair,
or she's a righthead, but there's this idea that she
was absolutely young and gorgeous and truly attractive. The reading
public in the Victorian era would have been primed by
the conventions of Gothic literature to appreciate beauty and death

in combination, and to see the dead body as somehow
an object of desire. The death of a beautiful woman
is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world a
Girl and Poe had declared. One enterprising publisher even placed
newspaper adverts for pose novella Murders in the Room Morgue

beside coverage of Mary Jane's death, saying it would be
read with special interest at the present time. Mary Jane
was known to have been involved in the sex trade,
and she was the only victim to have the word
prostitute actually listed on her death certificate. In books and films,

she also tends to be the most overtly sexualized of
the Ripper's victims. She's often played by an attractive Hollywood
star and given a storyline that singles her out. Take
the two thousand and one movie from Hell, where Heather
Graham takes up the Mary Jane Kelly Mantle in this
particular ripper myth, Mary Jane and Inspector Abeline, an opium

addict played by Johnny Depp, are in love. In this fiction,
the doomed women are all friends, and they share the
screen in costumes that owe more to victorious secret than
Victorian poverty. That's not what they would have looked like,
That's not how they would have dressed. But if Johnny
Depp is going to be talking to them and spending

so much time concerned about them, we need to have
that sort of visual indication that these women are worthy
of that time and attention. Not unlike Gothic fiction, which
connected cruelty and pain with beauty and sexual desire from hell,
also links sex and violence. Julia Skelly, an art historian,
remembers watching the film as a teenager. Heather Graham had

this super artificial red hair. I remember that very clearly.
They tried to make it a love story between her
and Johnny Depth, an opium addicted detective, And what I
remember most from that movie was this moment that's supposed
to be sexually titillating, romantic, even God forbid, where Johnny
Depp pushes this woman up against the wall to kiss her.

In hindsight, very much part of this normalization of violence
towards women, where rape behavior on the part of male
subjects is supposed to be romantic. Billy Jensen, a journalist
who focuses on unsolved murders and missing persons, sees the
conflation of violence and sex crop up time and again

in the most popular crime coverage. When you look at
the biggest stories of true crime, the cases are all
about young, attractive females. And I've been in newsrooms and
I've been on TV shows where if the victim is
not up to a certain part, that story is only
going to get five minutes as opposed to thirty minutes.

And when you take a look at Mary Jane Kelly, yes,
she was quote unquote the last victim, and she was
brutalized more than the other women. But I also think
as well it is because of her youth and sexualization
of her. For some Mary Jane's murder also seems to
hold the unique promise of unlocking the entire Ripper mystery.

Mary Jane Kelly is last, and she is the most
brutally murdered, So therefore we want to look at the
question of motive. We want to explain why was she last.
Some authors and ripporologists have answered that question by stating
that Mary Jane must have been the true intended target
of the Ripper killings, and it's all censored around this

idea that Mary Jane Kelly had to deserve it because
she was the most mutilated, this idea that it was personal.
Back in nineteen twenty nine, Australian journalist Leonard Matters published
the first full length book investigating Jack the Ripper. In
Matters account of killing a physician he calls Doctor Stanley,

sets out to avenge the death of a son who
fatally contracted syphilis from Mary Jane Kelly. He's going looking
for Mary Jane Kelly, and he's just killing anybody who
gives him any advice on it so that nobody can
trace his path. But Mary Jane Kelly is the person
he has a personal She's at fault because she didn't

care that she was passing on this disease. The idea
that Mary Jane Kelly was somehow to blame for all
the murders recurs again and again. Often it goes all
the way to the top Mary Jane meets her end
because she's embroiled in some royal scandal. There are several
variations on this theme, which we've touched on before. One

of my favorites because it's absolutely awful but super creative,
says that Mary Jane Kelly was actually pregnant by the
Prince of Wales in John Wilding's nineteen ninety three book,
The Prince's Friends go on a murderous rampage designed at
first to eliminate the secret of Mary Jane's pregnancy. We
get to the point though, where Queen Victoria finds out

what is happening, and she does not want any possible
descendant of her beloved Albert to be murdered, so it
changes to we're going to keep murdering so we can
fake Mary Jane Kelly's death. So she personally chooses Liz
and Kate to die, and then she also puts somebody
in her room that night to be killed and mutilated

to the point where nobody can tell it wasn't her.
She ends up participating in these murders so that she
can go on have her baby and level life of luxury.
Of course, there's not a shred of evidence for any
of this. What others see in Mary Jane's disfigured and
outraged body is the chance to reveal the identity of

the killer from the knife marks left on her bones
during the hours he spent elaborately mutilating her. The ripper
might just have left behind some key evidence, a unique
part of himself that will expose him. Unlike the previous
Ripper victims, she was killed in a private room, were

her murderer lingered that enclosed space was a source of intrigue.
Even in the earliest coverage of the crime, newspapers published
sketches of her room and its layout. The readers to
pull over. You're supposed to be able to sort of
shut off the empathy part in your brain that acknowledges
this was a person and turn on that CSI laser

eyesights that's going to show you all the clues. Seeing
the crimes through the eyes of a detective can be thrilling,
but it can also be dehumanizing. Forensic photography, a relatively
new practice at the time, was used to document the scene.
Mary Jane's lifeless and brutalized form was forever fixed in

two horrifying snapshots you're looking not at even the body
as a whole. You're looking at the wounds, at the injuries,
and you're already starting to tell yourself a story about them.
So if you start with the description of a woman
whose throat was slits, your mind is meant to already
go to was the killer left or right handed? What
weapons did he use? Was it he or she? Can

we tell how tall they were? Everything about that dead
woman is meant to be a signpost pointing you towards
the Mary Jane Kelly. The real flesh and blood woman
has vanished, and the figure in her place belongs to
the realm of make believe. Somehow, this Mary Jane manages
to be both the archetype of youthful charm and beauty

to admire and desire, and simultaneously a defiled object at
which to gork. The ripper retold would be back after
this short break. In the wake of Mary Jane's murder,

the police conducted house to house inquiries and searches, interviewing
possible witnesses about what they had seen and heard on
that fateful night, But nothing concrete or conclusive came of
all these efforts. Doctor Thomas bond, who had conducted Mary
Jane's postmortem, theorized that all the victims must have been
lying down when they were murdered, and profiled the offender

as a man of physical strength and of great coolness
and daring acquired inoffensive looking man, probably neatly and respectably dressed.
Suspects were investigated, but no one was charged with any
of the murders. Yet again, the ripper had evaded captured.
The excitement in the neighborhood is intense, and some of

the low women with whom that street abounds appear more
like fiends than human beings. Terror once more gripped Whitechapel, fermented,
of course by the press. Some parts of the murdered
bodies are missing. Why because this fiend has possessed himself
of as the Indian warrior did the scalps of his victims.

So great was the panic that reportedly the police struggled
to maintain law and order on the streets. At one point,
a mob threatened to lynch a suspicious looking man. It
turned out that this fellow fancied himself as a detective
and had been criss crossing the East End in various
disguises hoping to catch the ripper himself. Even Queen Victoria

intervened with a telegram to the Prime Minister. This new
ghastly murder shows the absolute necessity for some very decided action.
It seemed that the Queen had some theories of her own.
Is there sufficient surveillance at night? The murderer's clothes must
be a saturated with blood and kept somewhere. Has any

investigation been made as to the number of single men
occupying rooms to themselves? Half the cattle boats and passenger
boats being examined. But the Ripper's murderous campaign had apparently
come to an end. Impoverished women continued to be killed
in Whitechapel, but the police did not attribute these murders

to the culprit thought to have claimed the live of
Polly Anny, Elizabeth Kate and Mary Jane. It was supposed
that the ripper stopped killing for various possible reasons. Perhaps
he had died or emigrated, perhaps he'd been locked away
in a lunatic asylum. While ripproology has ill served the
memories of Jack's victims, it ins introduced many other bystanders too.

When popular, albeit reductive vein of riproology is to accuse
Whitechapel locals from professions that employ blades and who also
had mental health problems, to demonstrate how idiotic, tasteless, and
hurtful this approach can be. In a later episode, I'll
introduce you to Jacob Leavey, a Jewish butcher from Whitechapel

who struggled with mental illness and ended his days in
a nearby asylum, leaving a young widow, several children, and
a swirl of unsubstantiated claims that he was the Ripper.
In life, Mary Jane's identity have been whatever she wished
it to be, but in the wake for death she

became whatever Joseph Barnett wished to commemorate. It was he
who insisted that the name on her brass coffin plate
read Mary Jeannette Kelly, a moniker brimming with all the
flounts and flamboyance of a Saturday night in the West End.
In death, Mary Jane became something of a local heroine.

Her open hearse, two mourning carriages, and polished oak and
elm coffin, decorated with two floral wreaths and a cross
of heartseed, was as much a show of defiance against
the killer. As a mark of respect for Mary Jane.
This cortege attracted those wishing to gawk and drink and
exclaim at the carnival of mourning as it passed through

the streets, trailed by publicans and their best customers, as
well as the sorts of females that newspapers called unfortunates.
Women with infants on their hips watched from their doorsteps.
Men removed their hats as she passed. God forgive her,
they were said to have cried out through their sobs.
We will not forget her because she called herself Kelly,

and because she claimed to have been born in Ireland.
Mary Jane was interred at a Catholic cemetery in East London.
A headstone bearing her name can still be found here,
the product of a later campaign to honor her memory. Today,
visitors pay homage to Mary Jane at her supposed graveside,
leaving behind gifts of flowers, candles, and tiny bottles of gin.

But in the one hundred and thirty years since her burial,
Mary Jane hasn't entirely rested in peace. One of the
crowning affronts to Mary Jane's memory have been the attempts
to exhume her body. Her remains in particular are of
enormous interest because he spent more time with her body.

If we had a chance to find her remains. Are
their tool marks on it? Are there knife cuts on it?
What might we learn about what Jack the Ripper did
from looking at her? And what did they miss at
the time, which would have been a lot. A few
years ago, crime writer Patricia Cornwell reached out to my
friend doctor Torry King, a leading expert on genetics, who

had led a successful project to identify the remains of
English King Richard the Third, and she just said, look,
I am very interested in Jack the Ripper? Is this true?
Could we do this? The idea of exhuming Mary Jane's
body was on patricious radar because of a man named
Win Weston Davis, who claimed to be a descendant so

his great aunt, a woman called Elizabeth Weston Davies, who,
as far as we can tell from what he says,
does appear to have become a prostitute in London. She
doesn't appear to be in the eighteen ninety one census,
but that's not uncommon. People do disappear from censuses, and
I understand that there was a family story that his
great aunt had met sort of with a nasty end,

and somewhere along the way this has gotten conflated with
her being Mary Jane Kelly. I find it all incredibly tenuous. However,
he was in the press claiming that if you could
find a lab, he could get a license from the
Ministry of Justice to exhume her remains. Patricia wanted to
know if they could analyze Mary Jane Kelly's DNA and

restore her real name. Yes, that's possible, we could do
genetic analysis. But what's really critical for this is that
you have to know that the remains that you are
looking at are those of Mary Jane Kelly. So that
then brought us to the question of okay, so where
are Mary Jane Kelly's remains. Mary Jane was buried in
a communal grave that at the time was unmarked. She

had a number of people who were buried below her,
and then they put in graves with multiple people all
around her. So this is an eighteen eighty eight years later,
the land was reclaimed and a new burial system imposed,
so her present day headstone probably has no relevance to
the actual location of her remain. You don't know how

the two different kind of grave row systems match with
one another. What you can do is you can kind
of go, Okay, she's likely to have been in this area. Well,
there could be around a thousand over a thousand people
in here. The chances of us being able to come
down on a coffin that says on it, Mary Jane

Kelly is so far out there and ethically so not
right to be potentially disturbing the remains of so many
people to do this, you just wouldn't even break ground
on this project. What was Patricia's response, I mean, she
was she reasonable completely. When we talked this through, we

sort of said, look, you know this is really important.
You have to know that you've actually got Mary Jane
Kelly in order to be able to do the DNA
and elsis to compare with her great nephew. And she
was completely completely on board with all of that. She's like, yep, okay, yeah, no,
coun't go down that, but I'm going to be able
to ask about all of this for myself. I've heard
back from my agent and Patricia has agreed to talk

next time on Bad Women. It's nice to meet you,
however distantly and virtually nice to meet you too. To
be honest, I've been a little bit nervous about it
as well. Jack the Ripper should make everybody nervous. First
of all, if you value your life and your sanity
and your well being, you'll stay as far away from

the subject as you possibly. You know, you may have
similar tales to tell, but it's quite a journey when
you get on it. Bad Women The Ripper Were Told

is brought to you by Pushkin Industries and Me Hallie
rubin Hold, 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's Sound
designed and mixed the show and composed all the original music.
You also heard the voice talents of Soul Boyer, Ben Crow,
Sarah Bows, Melanie Gutridge, Gemma Saunders, and rufus Wright. The

show also wouldn't have been possible without the work of
mir La Belle, Jacob Weisberg, Jenguera, Heather Fane, Carla mcgliori,
Maggie Taylor, Nicolemarino, Natal Mullard, Eric Sandler, and Daniella Lakhan
with special things to my agents Sarah Ballard and Ellie
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