People and Groups

Dr. Francis Tumblety: One of the Best Jack the Ripper Suspects

Hidden from history for over a century, Scotland Yard took seriously the possibility that an American doctor was the notorious Jack the Ripper. The suspect’s name was Dr. Francis Tumblety. He was an eccentric American Indian herb doctor from New York City, who was in London at the time of the murders. He was arrested, and after posting bail, he sneaked out of the country, sailing back to New York City. The murders stopped.

Since they had nothing on Tumblety for the murders upon his arrest, Scotland Yard soon charged him with a convictable misdemeanor offense in order to hold him. This was not an extraditable charge in the United States, thus, Tumblety was safe from being forcibly taken back to England. Six months later in July 1889, another casual prostitute was murdered, and at the time, Scotland Yard believed she was also the victim of Jack the Ripper. Since Tumblety was in New York, he was taken off the suspect list, soon to be forgotten. It was only later that experts agree this 1889 murder was not at the hands of Jack the Ripper.

dr. francis tumblety

An Interesting Letter

In 1993, retired Suffolk Constabulary police officer and crime historian Stewart P. Evans uncovered a private letter dated September 23, 1913. It was written by Chief Inspector John Littlechild, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch at the time of the Whitechapel murders, which was addressed to famous journalist George R. Sims. In it, Littlechild revealed that Dr. Francis Tumblety was an important suspect just after the Mary Kelly murder. He stated to Sims that ‘amongst the suspects’ Dr. Francis Tumblety was ‘a likely one’.

Stewart Evans then discovered that Tumblety’s arrest on suspicion was indeed in contemporary newspapers, especially in the U.S. dailies. Newspaper reports claimed that Tumblety was initially arrested on suspicion of the Whitechapel crimes, but when the police had insufficient evidence to hold him, they re-arrested him on a misdemeanor charge of gross indecency and indecent assault.

Dr. Francis Tumblety was in the habit of having sexual rendezvous with young men, an illegal act in nineteenth century England. During his arrest, Tumblety had in his possession a correspondence, which allowed Scotland Yard to pursue a gross indecency and indecent assault case against him.

The Controversial Dr. Francis Tumblety

Dr. Francis Tumblety was a relatively well-known, even notorious figure in middle nineteenth-century North America. He was born in Ireland around 1833, and in the 1847, he immigrated with his family to Rochester, New York, on the coffin ship, Ashburton, during the Irish potato famine. As a teenager, he was employed as a steward by a self-proclaimed ‘French cures for sexual diseases’ Rochester doctor and peddled his sexually-explicit literature on the Erie Canal boats. Soon after, a travelling/newspaper advertising Indian herb doctor, named Rudolf Lyons, set up a temporary office in town, which immediately attracted the attention of young Tumblety. When Lyons left, Tumblety followed, and he quickly learned the trade.

By 1855, Francis Tumblety started on his own in Detroit, Michigan, as a full-fledged Indian herb doctor, but continued the practice of selling French cure literature for sexual diseases. Although untrue, he also claimed to have received a medical diploma through a medical school, and started signing his name with MD. Thus, began his highly successful traveling/advertising business, leaving Detroit and traveling through Canada from Toronto to St. Johns and eventually making his way to New York City by 1860.

Tumblety’s Notoriety Grows

His chosen profession ensured that his name was seen constantly in daily newspapers in every city he traveled to and practiced in. In any public setting where countless eyes were upon him, Tumblety displayed his flamboyant Liberace-type character. Although nearly all accounts describe him as peculiar, the fact that he was constantly called upon and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars, suggests his antics were, in part, smart business practices.

For example, as he came upon a new city in the United States and Canada, he would enter circus-style, wearing a gaudy outfit and riding a beautiful horse, followed closely behind by a valet and two large dogs.He continuously found himself in legal problems because of his use of MD in his signature and practicing without a license. In 1860 while in St. John, a patient died in his care, and he was charged with manslaughter. Instead of facing the music, Tumblety left Canada under the cover of darkness, eventually settling in New York City.

After the defeat of the Union forces at the first major battle of the American Civil War just outside of Washington DC, on July 21, 1861, Major General George B. McClellan was appointed by President Lincoln as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, responsible for the defense of the capital. It was at this time, Francis Tumblety began his ‘two year sojourn’ at Washington DC, stating in his biography that he partially made up his mind to tender his ‘services as a surgeon in one of the regiments.’

Herb Doc or Surgeon?

Contemporary newspaper reporters repeated his boast of being on McClellan’s surgical staff. Once he arrived, it was reported in the papers he was promenading up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, but interestingly, he did not flood the papers with his usual newspaper advertising campaign as a famous Indian herb doctor prior to his arrival. Instead, he waited six months and began his campaign in 1862. This change in business practice makes sense, since he was attempting to convince the General that he was a surgeon, not an Indian herb doctor.

The problem for Tumblety was, he was not a surgeon, and therefore, he did not have a medical diploma. Unsurprisingly, he did the next best thing; invite the General’s officers to an illustrated medical lecture, a practice prominent surgeons performed in the nineteenth century in order to demonstrate their credibility. At the lecture, he revealed to the officers his anatomical collection, specifically, his prized collection of uterus specimens; the same organ that was taken by Jack the Ripper from two of his victims.

The Collection of Uterus’s

The man who saw Tumblety’s uterus collection was New York City lawyer and Civil War reptile journalist/spy Charles A. Dunham. Dunham stated to a New York World reporter on December 1, 1888, that he was a colonel at the time he met Tumblety in the capital. His position as one of the General’s officers would have been the reason why Tumblety invited him to the lecture. The General’s officers were his eyes and ears. Once the General rejected him by the end of 1861, Tumblety left for two months, but returned and decided to practice his money-making venture; beginning his Indian herb doctor advertising in February 1862.

Did Dunham lie to the reporter about Tumblety having an anatomical collection and giving the medical lecture? Interestingly, just before Tumblety arrived in DC, he was seen in New York City with pictures of anatomical specimens posted outside his Broadway Street office, “which look as if they might once have formed part of the collection of a lunatic…” (Vanity Fair, August 31, 1861) Further, Tumblety made his way to Buffalo, New York, after his two year sojourn at the capital, and it was reported in the Buffalo Courier Tumblety gave medical lectures, ‘with Thespian emphasis.’

The Move to London

In the 1880’s the incessant traveler was in the habit of spending half the year in England, and in May of 1888 – the year of the Ripper murders – Tumblety sailed across the Atlantic making residence in West End London. During the murders, he was arrested on suspicion for the Whitechapel crimes, which occurred sometime before he was taken into custody on November 7, 1888, for gross indecency and indecent assault. He was immediately brought up in front of Marlborough Police Court Magistrate James L. Hannay for his remand hearing in order to determine if he should remain in custody at Holloway Prison until his committal hearing, scheduled one week later. Hannay had the discretionary powers to give Tumblety bail. On November 9, 1888, just one or two days later, Mary Kelly was murdered.

Tumblety had his committal hearing on November 14, 1888, and Magistrate Hannay listened to the evidence and agreed the case should be brought up to the judge at Central Criminal Court, scheduling it for November 20, 1888, following a grand jury review. Hannay set bail at £300, and on November 16, 1888, Tumblety posted bail and was released from Holloway Prison, free to walk the streets. Did Hannay set bail at the earlier remand hearing, allowing Tumblety to be free at the time of the Kelly murder? If the magistrate set bail at the later committal hearing for the same offense, he likely did the same at the earlier remand hearing, especially since the case against Tumblety was still being prepared for the committal hearing. The fact that three Scotland Yard officials considered Tumblety a suspect AFTER the Kelly murder supports this.

Fleeing England

After posting bail, Tumblety slipped into the English shadows. On November 20, Tumblety instructed his lawyer to request postponement, which was approved and scheduled for December 10, 1888. Interestingly, Tumblety had approximately £260 transferred to him from his New York bank on November 20. He sneaked out of England to Boulogne, France, by November 23, 1888, embarked the transatlantic steamship La Bretagne at noon in Havre, France, on November 24, and arrived in New York City on December 2 1888. Because the charge was a misdemeanor offense, Tumblety could not be extradited back to England.

When Alice Mackenzie was murdered six months later on 17 July, 1889, Scotland Yard believed she was the victim of the Whitechapel fiend. Since Tumblety was in New York City, this likely convinced many that Tumblety was not Jack the Ripper. Tumblety was soon forgotten about. It was only later that most accept Mackenzie was murdered by someone else.

Tumblety had two personas. Publicly, he was this ubiquitous, eccentric, aristocratic medical professional, but privately he was a narcissistic loner, frequenting the slums of every city seeking encounters with young men. On countless occasions, Tumblety found himself in legal trouble, defending against various charges, even assault.

The Main Reason Tumblety Became a Suspect

The primary reason reported by journalists for Tumblety being a Whitechapel murders suspect was his unusual hatred of women, which is exactly what Littlechild stated in his private letter, “…his feelings toward women were remarkable and bitter in the extreme, a fact on record.” Littlechild’s recollections were surprisingly detailed and accurate about Tumblety being a suspect after the Kelly murder, his bitter hatred of women, and the sequence of events of him being arrested for gross indecency and charged at Marlborough Street Police Court, being remanded on bail, posting bail, then escaping to France.

Scotland Yard identifying Tumblety in France could only have come from officials in Litttlechild’s Special Branch division, which explains why he knew of Tumblety’s escape. He then makes a blatant error, “He shortly left Boulogne and was never heard of afterwards. It was believed he committed suicide…” Tumblety made it safely back to New York and died in 1903. The amazing accuracy of his earlier comments suggests this error was not due to a lapse of memory, but due to him not being directly involved in the Tumblety case after his identification in France.

Tumblety preferred young males for sexual companionship, and was reported to have an unusual hatred of women, or misogyny, beginning in his teenage years in Rochester, New York. He was reported to have stated women were a curse to the land and even blaming them for all the trouble in the world. He considered them impostors, decoying young male youths away from their intended lovers; older men.

Breaking News

The journalist who broke the story of Tumblety being arrested on suspicion of the Whitechapel crimes was the New York World’s London ‘Special’ correspondent, E. Tracy Greaves, in his Saturday, November 17, 1888, news dispatch. The report was actually a weekly update on the Whitechapel murders investigation one week after the murder of the last victim, Mary Kelly on November 9, and was composed of four separate and distinct stories.

Although Greaves, an all-American reporter based in London, used the British dailies as a source for his own reports, in this case, none of the four stories are found in any British newspapers. In fact, the lead story about the arrest on suspicion of Sir George Arthur, Greaves stated that the story was kept out of the papers. American reporters also used the police as their source for the Whitechapel investigation and Greaves even admitted to having a Scotland Yard informant. Further confirmation that Greaves’ source for Tumblety being arrested on suspicion being Scotland Yard was his phrasing in the stories, such as, “The police say…” and “It occurred to two policemen…”

In an interview with a New York World reporter in New York City in January 1889, Tumblety admitted not only to getting arrested on suspicion but being in Whitechapel at the time of the murders, “I happened to be there when these Whitechapel murders attracted the attention of the whole world, and, in the company with thousands of other people, I went down to the Whitechapel district. I was not dressed in a way to attract attention, I thought, though it afterwards turned out that I did. I was interested by the excitement and the crowds and the queer scenes and sights, and did not know that all the time I was being followed by English detectives.”

dr. francis tumblety

Michael L. Hawley is the author of The Ripper’s Haunts (April 2016) and lectured at the April 2016 Jack the Ripper Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

Other Details

Two other Scotland Yard officials mention Dr. Francis Tumblety as a murder suspect after they had completed their case against him for gross indecency and indecent assault by November 20, 1888. Assistant Commissioner Robert Anderson sent private cable dispatches to at least two US chiefs of police – San Francisco’s Patrick Crowley and Brooklyn’s Patrick Campbell – asking for all information they had on Whitechapel murder suspect Dr. Francis Tumblety.

A misconception is that Anderson requested handwriting samples, but this did not occur, he asked for all information. Crowley did offer handwriting samples and Anderson accepted them. He sent these cable dispatches on November 22, before they realized Tumblety had sneaked out of the country.

Also, when Inspector First Class CID Walter Andrews was in Toronto, Canada, on December 11, 1888, a reporter asked if he knew Tumblety in reference to the murder case. Andrews stated, “Do I know Dr. Tumblety, of course I do. But he is not the Whitechapel murderer. All the same we would like to interview him, for the last time we had him he jumped his bail. He is a bad lot.” Even though Andrews stated Tumblety was not the murderer, why did he still want to interview him? Getting an interview for the gross indecency case would have been fruitless, since he could not be extradited. If further information acquired helped in the murder case, he could have been extradited.

On December 4, 1888, two separate journalists, one from the New York World and the other from the New York Herald, independently reported on an English detective staking out Tumblety’s residents. One report stated that the English detective told a bartender that he came over to get the chap that committed the Whitechapel murders.

[content-egg module=Amazon]

Could Francis Tumblety Be Jack the Ripper?

If the Whitechapel murders were sex crimes, then Dr. Francis Tumblety was not Jack the Ripper. Although, it is true that most male homosexual sado-sexual serial killers prey upon men, as with Jeffrey Dahmer, in the case of Dr. Francis Tumblety, the evidence shows his serial offender motive would have been different. His motive would have been anger-retaliatory, i.e., unusual hatred of women.

Some modern experts do not see the Whitechapel murders as sexually-based or even sadistic. Forensic pathologist, Dr. William Eckert MD, investigated the Whitechapel case in 1989 and concluded that the motive was anger-retaliation exhibiting non-sadistic behavior. Forensic scientist and criminal profiler, Dr. Brent Turvey, PhD, also observed the victims of the Whitechapel murders and did not see a sexual motive, but anger-retaliation, specifically, misogyny.

Interestingly, in January 1888, the year of the murders, Dr. Francis Tumblety told a Toronto mail reporter that he was in constant dread of sudden death for kidney and heart disease. How coincidental that the three organs taken from the Whitechapel victims were the uterus, kidney, and the heart.

Michael Hawley

Michael Hawley holds a master’s degree in invertebrate paleontology and secondary science education from the State University of New York, College of Buffalo, and a bachelor’s degree in geology and geophysics from Michigan State University. His is the author of the nonfiction book The Ripper's Haunts (April 2016) and has published ten research articles in Ripperologist, Whitechapel Society Journal, and Casebook Examiner. He is also the author of Curse of the Bayou Beast (fiction, 2015), Jack’s Lantern (fiction, 2014),The Ripper’s Hellbroth (fiction, 2013), and Searching for Truth with a Broken Flashlight (nonfiction, 2010). He has been involved in genealogical research since 1992, which ultimately led to his interest in Ripperology research. He is a commander and naval aviator in the U.S. Navy (retired), and is currently enjoying a career as a secondary earth science and chemistry teacher at Tonawanda City High School. He resides with his wife and six children in Greater Buffalo, New York.

  • JFR

    It was Maybrick 😉