Mary Pearcey

Some thought she was Jack the Ripper.

Not much is known about the early years of Mary Eleanor Wheeler Pearcey, other than she was born in England around 1866, and that her father was convicted of murder and executed when Mary was in her teens. The effect this had on young Mary’s psyche can only be guessed at.

Mary Pearcey

Was Jack the Ripper actually Mary Pearcey?

Her traceable history begins with her illicit connection to John Charles Pearcey, a local carpenter. Although Mary and John never married, she began using his surname as her own — and would continue to do so for the rest of her life.

That union didn’t last long, due to Mary’s numerous affairs. John would only put up with so much. Mary soon moved out of John’s home and moved into the lodgings of Frank Hogg. Her union with Frank was more harmonious, although both of them had affairs during their time together.

It soon became clear that Frank was having affairs when he told Mary that one Phoebe Styles was pregnant with his child and that he would be marrying Phoebe.

Mary did not take this news well at first. But Frank promised that their sexual relationship would continue despite his marriage, so Mary was appeased.

But not for long.

Not long after Phoebe gave birth to a daughter, Mary decided she did not want to share Frank with anyone, and she may have envied Phoebe’s public position as Frank’s legal wife.

Phoebe apparently knew of Mary, although it is not clear if she knew of Mary’s continuing sexual relationship with Frank.

Mary invited Phoebe to tea, and the two met up (with the baby) in Mary’s lodgings on October 24, 1890. In the middle of the afternoon, neighbors heard sounds coming from Mary’s home: screams and glass breaking and general chaos. One of the neighbors ran out of her home and called to Mary over the fence, asking if everything was all right. She got no response, and Mary’s house was quiet until darkness fell.

At 7:00 that same evening, a woman’s dead body was found carelessly tossed along some pavement near a rubbish heap. There were superficial wounds to the head and a deep and fatal slash across the throat. Soon after, the body of a baby was found, apparently smothered. The bodies were quickly identified as those of Phoebe and her baby.

Because several people knew of the proposed tea at Mary’s, the police went to Mary’s house and found blood stains on the walls, on some clothing, and on some cutlery. When asked where the blood had come from, Mary weakly replied that she had been killing mice.

Mary was quickly arrested.

The case was clearly open and shut, and Mary was tried, convicted, and executed in December.

Before she died, Mary Pearcey left an intriguing mystery. In her last days, she asked that an ad be placed in a Madrid newspaper that said:

mecp last wish of mew, have not betrayed mew.

She never confided the meaning of this cryptic message, and no one has ever come up with a clear theory. Is it a message to some kind of accomplice in the murders? And why Madrid, since it seems Mary had never left England in her life?

Mary rested in peace until 1939 when author William Stewart suggested that Mary was, in fact, Jack the Ripper. He pointed out that the throat wound inflicted on Phoebe was remarkably similar to those of the Ripper victims. He also mentioned the fact that at the time of Mary’s trial it was noted that Mary was remarkably strong for a woman. Some other Ripperoligists would postulate that a woman walking around Whitechapel at night with blood on her clothes would easily be dismissed as being a midwife. No less than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stated that Jack could have been a Jill.

This all might have been considered preposterous until 2006, when DNA testing was performed on the saliva on the backs of stamps of some Ripper letters that experts believe to have been genuinely sent from the killer. That new DNA evidence seems to indicate that the stamps were, indeed, affixed by a woman.

Mary Pearcey”, Wikipedia, pulled 5-Jan-12
“Crimes of Passion”, Igloo Books Ltd
Mary Eleanor Wheeler Pearcey”, Casebook: Jack the Ripper website, pulled 3-Jan-12

Share Your Thoughts

Doug MacGowan

Doug MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published five books on the topic of historic true crime. In his free time he enjoys reading.

Historic Mysteries