Monday, November 16, 2009

Suspect: James Kelly (1860-1929)

Just today I watched an interesting documentary we had recorded off of the Discovery Channel which was about the Carrie Brown ("Old Shakespeare") murder in New York and its possible connection to Jack the Ripper. The suspect du jour was James Kelly. I decided to read up on Mr. Kelly.

An illegitimate son of a single mother and raised by his grandmother, James Kelly entered the upholstery trade early in life. From an early age, he suffered mood swings and complained of severe headaches. Kelly was a frequenter of the East End prostitutes. He married Sarah Brider in 1883, and within a few months she was dead, stabbed in the neck. Apparently, Kelly discovered that he had some veneral disease which he was self-medicating for, and apparently he had become convinced that Sarah was a prostitute and had infected him, although in all likelihood the disease was a product of his earlier ways. during his attack on Sarah, he also threw her mother across the room when she attempted to save her daughter. He had previously believed Sarah had some sort of sexual deformity.

Kelly was due to be hanged, but at the last minute he was declared to be a paranoid schizophrenic by a doctor from Broadmoor Asylum. He was admitted to Broadmoor later that year. It is interesting that when imprisoned and condemned, Kelly refused to believe he would be hanged. He claimed that God had a mission for him.

A gardener and violinist in the asylum, Kelly and another patient named George Shatton came up with a daring plan to escape. The two fashion keys from metal scraps found in the asylum gardens and use these to escape. Kelly has been on the run for an hour before his escape is discovered. This was in January, 1888.

Kelly's whereabouts are unknown for the next 39 years. An aged and sickly James Kelly reappeared at Broadmoor in 1927. Many of his movements in the intervening time are known, but all surface from the reports of Kelly himself and cannot be confirmed. It is theorized by some that while in Broadmoor, he discovered where his disease originated and swore vengeance on the prostitutes of Whitechapel.

As early as February, James Monro, chief of the Metropolitan CID, took an interest in Kelly.

On November 10, 1888, the day after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, the home at 21 Cottage Lane was visited by police and Mrs. Brider questioned about his whereabouts. A note in one of the police files dated November 12 made it clear that police should make all effort to ascertain James' whereabouts. The note was written by someone with the initials CET.

Kelly's own admission places him in London between June and November of 1888. In November, he walked from London to Dover and boarded a ship for France, where he stayed until 1891. Later movements can place him in New York in January, 1892; in New Orleans in January, 1896; back in England (mainly Guildford) for several years; Vancouver ca. 1900-1901; then back to England (north London). In 1907, he was formally discharged by Broadmoor on account of his not being captured. He claimed to have moved back and forth over the Atlantic several more times until 1927.

In short, Kelly is a very good suspect. The only problem with his status is himself. Can we really take for granted the word of a paranoid schizophrenic as to his whereabouts?

The Kelly theory is dealt with in book form in Prisoner 1167 by Jim Tully.


  1. I saw the documentary as well, and I think Kelly is a reasonably solid suspect--I like him much better as a suspect than Joseph Barnett or any others on the list. If only there were some surviving writings of Kellys'; the handwriting could be compared to the "From Hell" letter.

  2. his not a lunatic, his not crazy cause if he is he cant plan the escape he is in fact a cunning man plus he hide as the name of john miller and
    hide for 40 years uncaught so i would say he is a strong suspect

  3. Can't they compare his confession to the from hell letter?

  4. someone being insane, does not mean they cannot be cunning. Insanity does not mean that
    they will not hide or use deceptions.
    Tis only in the minds of prosecutors that want a conviction rather than a committal; and hollywood that crazy people are mindless drones