Reviewed by Audiegrl
The greatest serial killer in history has never been named. But what if we are looking in the wrong place?
The Discovery Channel’s documentary, Jack the Ripper in America focuses on Detective Ed Norris, former head of the NYPD Cold Case Unit, who investigates and uncovers new evidence not seen since the time of the murders. In trying to solve the 118 year old murder of New York prostitute Carrie Brown, he begins to note the similarities between her murder and the famous Whitechapel murders in London. Brown’s murderer had a three-stage MO (strangled, penetrating wound, pulled apart) Because of the unusual and gruesome nature of the crime, the press of the day, immediately began asking the question, “Is Jack the Ripper in New York“. Norris sees the same unusual ‘signature‘ in both the London and New York killers. They both kill prostitutes by strangling, cutting the throat, and eviscerating the body. For Norris this indicates that he might be looking at the same killer.
The key in all cold cases is finding the clues missed by the original investigators. Although, Brown was murdered on April 23, 1891, Norris decides to let a new set of eyes look at the evidence. Enter Dr. Jonathan Hayes, the Manhattan Senior Medical Examiner. Dr. Hayes combs through the autopsy report of Carry Brown. He reaches some interesting conclusions, including a special marking on the body, which I won’t reveal here, you’ll have to watch the show. On August 7th, 1891, another unidentified prostitute is murdered with the same MO as Brown, and pulled from the East river. Visiting the New York Municipal Archives, Norris finds that the old newspapers of that time, reveal another shocking detail. The killer actually wrote to the NYPD, before the murder of Carry Brown. His letter is recreated below:
In 1888, a deranged killer stalked his prey on the streets of east London at night. After 121 years since the murder and mutilation of at least five prostitutes, the case remains unsolved and the true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been known. The world’s greatest criminal investigators have focused on searching for answers in London. However, in the 1890s a series of horrific murders took place across the United States in New York, San Francisco, Galveston and Atlanta, that mirrored the attacks in attacks in the UK. In this one hour special, Discovery Channel’s viewers will witness the new evidence, science and analytical techniques being used to reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper.
Detective Norris wants to get into Jack’s head, and walk in his foot steps. He feels that he was an organized killer that took advantage of the conditions of the time: no ambient street lighting, a black curtain of smoke over the city caused by burning low quality coal, and counting on his victims to naturally take him to the dark, secluded places used in the prostitution trade. Norris takes viewers through a summary of the Ripper murders by using re-enactments and walking through the crime scenes. Next, Norris consults London historian Richard Jones, owner of Ripper Walking Tours and author of Uncovering Jack the Ripper’s London. Jones has spent more than two decades investigating the Whitechapel murders. He asks Jones if any of the serious Ripper suspects had ever traveled to the United States after the death of Mary Kelly. Jones provided him with three names: Severin Klosowski, Francis Tumblety, and James Kelly.
You think that “Jack the Ripper” is in England, but he is not, I am right here and I expect to kill somebody by Thursday next, and so get ready for me with your pistols, but I have a knife that has done more than your pistols. Next thing you will hear of some woman dead.
Jack the Ripper
Norris then consults with Sheila Kurtz, a Forensic Hand Writing Analyst, Master Graphologist and President of Graphology Consulting Group. Kurtz had successfully worked on the Son of Sam case among many others. After reviewing samples of the Ripper’s hand writing, Kurtz identified the writer as a very disturbed individual, who she said, “I wouldn’t want to be in his company“. For additional details on her analysis please visit her blog. The graphic to the left shows the letter was purportedly written in 1888 by Jack the Ripper. Norris then paid a visit to Britain’s National Archives. The archives hold thousands of original documents in the Ripper case. There, Norris discovers a document not previously used in the investigation. A profile of the killer. Sir Robert Anderson, the head of the police Criminal Investigation Departments, asked Dr Thomas Bond, Britain’s top police surgeon in 1888 to examine material connected with the Whitechapel murder investigation. Bond wrote a 19th-century version of a modern day unsub profile, based on personally examining the body of Mary Kelly and reading the autopsy reports on the first four victims. In the report, he describes in detail the type of person they should be investigating. Dr. Bond was sure that all five women had been killed by the same hand, because the throats of all victims had been cut in a similar way and the victims were presumably lying down when murdered. (for additional details on Dr. Bond’s profile, click here to read the report) Norris ultimately uses this 121 year old profile to narrow the three suspects down to one name. James Kelly. In the world of police parlance, Norris says that “Kelly looks good“. In 1883, James Kelly only one month married, argues with his wife and accuses her of being unfaithful. In a psychotic rage, he uses the methods of strangulation and throat slashing to kill her. Kelly is caught, convicted and sentenced to die by hanging. Then his employer comes forward and explains that he believes Kelly is mentally disturbed. Kelly was then examined by a alienist and committed to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Kelly’s psychiatric report has been sealed for over 125 years, until Norris examines it. In 1863, Broadmoor was the first custom-built asylum to house criminal lunatics. In Broadmoor, Kelly is a outwardly a model prisoner, but at the same time he is secretly planning his escape. Working in the asylum’s carpentry shop, he cunningly uses a piece of medal he carved into a key to aid his escape. In January of 1888, Kelly escaped and just disappeared. At that time a series of stabbings and slashing attacks of women start in London. Three victims: Annie Millwood, (February 25, 1888, stabbed repeatedly, but survived), Ada Wilson, (March 28, 1888, slashed in the throat, but survived), and Martha Tabram, (August 7, 1888, stabbed 23 times, did not survive). Norris feels these are the early attempts of Jack the Ripper, who like many serial killers, escalates and only gets more brutal over time. After these three attacks, the first London Ripper murder occurs. Surprisingly, Kelly was once considered a suspect by London police, but after only minimal checking at his old residence, they simply gave up, and were never able to find him. With the huge amount of pressure they were under, the case against Kelly went cold…
First Norris wanted to check to make sure that Kelly’s confession matched up with actual travel records of the day. In Britain’s National Maritime Museum, they kept track of every ship that came to the United States. Kelly said he traveled to America aboard an Anglo-German steamer named the Zaandam that sailed from Rotterdam to New York. At the museum, Norris not only confirmed the ship existed, but that it sailed from Rotterdam to New York on October 7, 1890—two years after the last Ripper murder in London (11/88) and months before the April 23, 1891 murder of Carrie Brown in New York. You might be thinking, “How does a ‘wanted man’ get into the United States without detection?” Professor Dan Citrum is an expert in 19th-century immigration and explains how easily it could have been done. Remember this was before Ellis Island was established, so getting in and out of the country was very easy. No drivers licenses, no passports, and no photo id whatsoever. Many people back then, came to this country to start over, and remake themselves and get lost in the huge crowds of New York city. In his confession, Kelly admits to changing his name once his ship arrives to ‘John Miller‘, one of the most common names both then and now. Kelly used his new name like a disguise to blend in and escape police scrutiny.
Astonishingly, in 1927…forty years later, a much older Kelly voluntarily returns to the insane asylum and began to chronicle his travels. A typed copy of Kelly’s confession letter survives in the National Archives, and Norris is the first detective to read it. In the letter, Kelly describes having “problems dealing with society“, and being “overtaken with feelings of envy, jealousy, and malice“. Kelly states, “the thing has been hard because of all kinds of ‘skank’” (a term he uses to refers to women of low moral character) and “I’ve been on the warpath since I left Broadmoor Asylum.” Also in his letter, he admits to traveling to London after his escape, and more interestingly he tells of traveling to the United States and arriving in New York conveniently before the Carrie Brown murder. He was by profession, a trained upholsterer, and would have known quiet a bit about knives and how to use them effectively for the purpose of murder. Kelly also mentioned traveling to many cities in the US before returning to England and admitted that he came to the US many times over a period of 40 years.
Knowing from experience that many serial killers travel extensively, to avoid detection, Detective Norris plots the cities Kelly claims to have visited against the murders written about in the newspapers. He begins to see similarities in Ripper-like murders committed in other cities: New York NY, Trenton, NJ, Galveston, TX, New Orleans, LA, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD, Jackson, CA, San Francisco, CA, Denver, CO. Each of these murders occurred during the time that Kelly, thorough his confession letter, said he was in that city. Even the city newspapers asked the same question “Is this the work of Jack the Ripper” and “Is this the fiend of Whitechapel?” and “Has Jack the Ripper Invaded Texas at Last“. Detective Norris identified twelve murders across five states in just four years…and remember, Kelly was gone for forty years…you can do the math. To read an amazing collection of news reports, please visit Casebook: Jack the Ripper.
Using a asylum photo of Kelly provided by the National Archives, he was able to see what Kelly looked like at age 67. Norris then contacted Steve Mancusi, a NYPD senior forensic artist who has helped solve the most difficult cases for the last 30 years. He wanted Mancusi to use forensic imaging technology normally used for age-progression in missing child cases, but with this case, he wanted him to reverse the effects of aging, to show what Kelly would have looked like in his 30’s. The striking illustration below on the right is based on their findings.
Both illustrations of Jack the Ripper
The left composite, was drawn based on 118 year old eye-witness accounts of Jack the Ripper in London. They examined different witness statements and used modern day forensics to come up with a portrait of the killer, even indicating what type of hat he wore.
The drawing on the right, is the result of Mancusi shaving 40 years off of James Kelly’s photo at age 67. As you can see, once they added the type of hat mentioned by eye witnesses, the drawings are a very close match.
In the end, there is no doubt in Norris’ mind that he has found Jack the Ripper. We may never know. John Kelly died of natural causes in 1929 inside Broadmoor Asylum and took his secrets to his grave. In my opinion, Jack the Ripper in America was very well done and is a must-see for all forensic buffs and amateur Ripperologists. I’m interested in seeing further research, analysis and discussion of Norris’ theory. Regarding any factual errors in this post, I apologize in advance, and encourage everyone to let me know what needs to be corrected.
Time After Time
On a lighter note, anybody remember the movie “Time After Time” starring Malcolm McDowell, John Warner and Mary Steenburgen? McDowell played H.G. Wells, who uses his time machine to chase his friend, Warner (aka Jack the Ripper) through the streets of modern day (1979) San Francisco. After watching Norris’ documentary, maybe Hollywood’s silly (but entertaining) version of the Ripper story had a sliver of truth to it after all. 😉
The Secret of Prisoner 1167: Was This Man Jack the Ripper? by James Tully
Hat tip and special thanks to Roy Corduroy for his suggestion to add this book to this post. Casebook: Jack the Ripper gives this book a three-starred review:
A triumphant achievement on the part of Jim Tully, well-researched and written. James Kelly is his suspect, a lunatic upholsterer and wife-murderer who is actually in the Guinness book of world records for his escape from Broadmoor asylum. Tully weaves a fascinating story, regardless of your feelings on Kelly as a suspect. Recommended.”