Mary Kelly – The fifth murder


After a long silence in his operations, the murderer stroke again on the 9th of November, 1888. Differing from his earlier method, he found privacy and time for acting out the fifth murder in its full extent as he murdered indoors. Mary Kelly’s body was discovered in a rented room on Miller’s Court. As she was the only victim murdered indoors, her body was subjected to the most serious mutilations of all. Literally, she had been disembowelled, her inner parts, including her intestines, were all around the room. When the police ordered John McCarthy, the landlord to force the locked door, even veteran reporters had to think twice about how much horror their readers could take without letting the violence out to the streets in the form of mobs and riots. To describe the brutality of the murderer it is important to note that it took hours the police surgeons to find out whether any of the organs had been missing.

Most of the papers mentioned the extraction of the heart as well as other organs, but still avoided to mention the female genitalia.

The Pall Mall Gazette attacked Warren and the government again with its new type of headline: ‘Number Nine’. It is still typical of newspapers to start counting the victims when reporting on serial murder cases. As they had done it before, the local press tried to focus on the victim’s background. The East London Observer called for restraint in its November 10th issue and concentrated on Kelly’s lifestyle. Having enough time to collect all the news, the Sunday papers unleashed all the gore news they could on their readers. Reynolds’s finally mentioned that ‘genital organs’ were missing. The Evening News called this murder case a ‘lust morder’ [sic] and this was not the first time when a newspaper raised this issue as the Star published an inbox letter on the 13th September, where the author pointed at this possibility:

SIR, – It may interest your readers to learn in connection with the Whitechapel murders that a number of parallel cases occurred some seven years ago near Bochum in Westphalia… The papers applied to such a murder the expressive term of lustmord (pleasure murder). My German friend, who reminds me of this case would not feel astonished to hear that the Bochum lustmörder has put in an appearance at Whitechapel. – Yours, &c.

Having heard of the ‘ghastly’ murder Queen Victoria herself telegraphed her cabinet demanding ‘some very decisive action’ – this included her ‘desire’ for gaslight in darker areas of London.

Sensation news competed with the law and order attitude of morning newspapers. The Star crossed a certain border again, having a dramatic and shocking headline: ‘Two Lumps of Flesh Lying on the Table’ published in their November 12th issue.

In this very issue, they unleashed another attack on the roots of these murders, i.e. on the conditions of Whitechapel:

Here is a population thousands of whom live on the brink of starvation; thousands of whom live in one room; thousands of whom have no past, no future, no joy in childhood, no hope for age, no rest, and yet no healthful toil …. Even the workaday blessings of science – light, well-paved streets, decent drainage – they do not know. …. Their physique is deplorable; their want of interest in any subject but what concerns their daily bread is more deplorable still; the absence of gaiety and light and colour in their lives is, perhaps, the most deplorable of all. No tongue can utter the truth about their lives, no pen can picture their lot, and we have not even a chastened Zola to do for London what he, on the whole, manfully and truly did for Paris.

And last but not least, there was a short text on promoting their own circulation on the second page: ‘The circulation of the Star on Friday last reached the Enormous Total of 298, 800 Copies. This number exceeds the total ever circulated in one day by this journal or by any other evening paper.

On the 10th of November the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Charles Warren finally resigned.

Press on the Kelly Inquest

This is the only murder of the case that had been committed indoors therefore the murderer had got enough time to carry out one of the most brutal attack in criminal history. However, it is ironical that the most horrible of all created the greatest silence both in the juridical and the journalistic field.  Mary Kelly’s body was so mutilated that the man who was living with her was only able to identify her by the ears and the eyes. The inquest opened and was closed in a day on the 12th of November. The sudden closure and the silence of the authorities probably can be explained by the fact that the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Charles Warren resigned after Mary Kelly’s death.

The Fleet Street was not prepared for the quick closing and they had to rush to find details. Several newspapers interviewed people who had met or seen Mary Kelly on the night of her death.  The Star was quick to jump to the (false) conclusion that no organs were missing but others, such as the Daily Telegraph, the Globe, The Evening News and the East London Observer did not agree.

Finally, it is worth comparing the November 13th issues of the penny press Evening News and the conservative Morning Post. The Evening News berated Macdonald (the coroner) for failing to identify the missing body parts. Under the sensational subheading ‘Some portions of the body are missing’, they pointed out ‘their fact’ that even during an almost seven-hour long autopsy they had not been able to account for every organ. No body parts were named in this article, but their harsh criticism against the coroner indicated their growing hunger for sensation news. On the other hand, the Morning Post welcomed Macdonald’s decision, which had met with ‘general approval’. The newspaper applauded the coroner for withholding the ‘hideous details’ of Mary Kelly’s death. As for this inquest, the majority of the press did not have many details for a few days. Due to the horrible mutilations, the inquest closed quickly, the reporters had to rely on the inspectors’ descriptions.