The Life and Crimes of Francis Tumblety

Today I feel very honoured that Michael L. Hawley, Author of The Ripper’s Haunts –  a book that I heartily recommend for the sheer depth of its research – has agreed to provide us with a distillation of his research into major Jack the Ripper suspect Dr Francis Tumblety.

So, without further ado, I am pleased to hand over to Michael.


By Michael L. Hawley

Stewart P. Evans, a retired Suffolk Constabulary police officer, crime historian, and collector of crime related paraphernalia – not to mention a man who is one of the most respected  names in the field of ripperology – purchased a number of old letters from an antiquarian book dealer in February 1993.


A photograph of Detective John Littlechild.
Detective Chief Inspector John George Littlechild

One of the letters was a private, hand-written missive  which had been written by Chief Inspector John Littlechild, and which was dated September 23, 1913.

Littlechild was a member of Scotland Yard’s inner circle during the period when the Whitechapel murders were taking place in the East End of London; and, as the head of Special Branch between 1883 and 1893, he might not have had hands on experience of the actual ripper investigation, but he most certainly had access to and daily contact with those officers who were conducting the enquiry and would, therefore, have been privy to their thoughts and opinions on the case.


The letter which Stewart P. Evans acquired was addressed to the journalist George R. Sims (1847 – 1922), a man who had been writing about the murders almost since they had begun in 1888.

In Littlechild’s letter to Sims, Stewart P. Evans noted that the detective made reference to a  Jack the Ripper suspect who, up until the point, had evaded the attentions of modern investigators into the case.

That new suspect was New Yorker Dr. Francis Tumblety.


As part of his reply to a question about a specific suspect from the journalist – Sims, incidentally, appears to have been asking about Montague John Druitt – Littlechild wrote that “amongst the suspects” Dr. Francis Tumblety was “a very likely one.”

Francis Tumblety was a notorious personality in the 19th century.

He was born in Ireland around 1833, and immigrated as a teenager to Rochester, New York, in 1847.

His brother was a steward for a local physician, which prompted him to pursue the same occupation.

He found work with Ezra J. Reynolds, alias W. C. Lispenard, a Rochester self-proclaimed doctor who treated “French cures for sexual diseases.”

Reynolds gave the young Tumblety the job of peddling his sexually-explicit literature on the Erie Canal boats just outside of town.


Soon after, a charismatic thirty year old travelling/newspaper advertising Indian herb doctor named Rudolf Lyons opened up an office in downtown Rochester, and this new venture had soon caught the attention of Tumblety.

When Lyons left Rochester, Tumblety was only too pleased to follow him and he proved an extremely eager apprentice, so much so that, by 1855, Tumblety begun his own office in Detroit, Michigan.

Not only did he advertise and operate as an Indian herb doctor, but he also took a page out of Reynolds’ playbook and sold French cure literature for sexual diseases.


The established medical community were not impressed by these types of unlicensed medical practitioners who peddled miracle medicines and cures for which they made all manner of unverified, not to say dubious, claims:- and they referred to them as “quack” doctors.

Tumblety was fully aware of this unsavory title, and to sidestep it, he used the post-nominal letters M.D. in his signatures and advertisements,  giving the false impression he had graduated from a credible medical school.

But, what really set Tumblety apart from other quack doctors was his gift for acquiring free advertising through grandstanding.

He was a tall, handsome young man with a long flowing moustache, and he dressed and acted in a very eccentric, flamboyant manner.

At scheduled intervals, Tumblety would stroll along the busiest city streets in a gaudy outfit walking one or two large dogs with a valet dressed in similar fashion in tow.

This business model proved an unmitigated success and, as he expanded his business  into Canada, he had soon become incredibly wealthy and, thanks to his gift for self-aggrandisement and self-publicity, he was able to charge high rates for his services and prescriptions.


However, his business methods and bold claims soon wore thin with local residents and competing physicians alike, and, in order to maintain a steady flow of clients, he was forced to move from town to town.

In Toronto, in 1857, he was successfully prosecuted for practicing without a license, a fact that was immediately reported in the Toronto newspapers.

Poor publicity continued to haunt him in Montreal the following year, and after establishing an office in Saint John in 1860, a patient died under his care.

Facing a charge of manslaughter, Tumblety slipped out of Canada under the cover of darkness and made his way to Brooklyn and New York City, where he soon settled.

During the 1860’s, with semi-permanent residences established in both Brooklyn and New York City, he travelled the country repeating the same business formula across America that had proved so successful for him in Canada.

Additionally, he began to advertise himself as the “Pimple Banisher”, inventor of a cure for pimples.


It was at this time Tumblety began employing young men as his valets/assistants, not unlike his own teenage experience with Ezra Reynolds and Rudolf Lyons.

Although there is no direct evidence Reynolds or Lyons solicited sex from Tumblety, Tumblety was known to have had sexual relations with his young valets, which occasionally led to him falling foul of local laws that required the intervention of a lawyer to keep him out of jail.

His first young valet was Mark A. Blackburn, who assisted him for years at his Brooklyn office and likely operated the Pimple Banisher mail order business while Tumblety opened up offices in other cities.

Blackburn’s impact upon him was significant enough for Tumblety to remember him in his will in 1903.

However, Tumblety lost Blackburn to the opposite sex; Blackburn’s first marriage occurring in 1866 and his second in 1873.

A later young valet, Martin McGarry, reported that Tumblety would constantly warn him about women, stating, “He could not bear to be near them. He thought all women were impostors, and he often said that all the trouble in this world was caused by women.”


After the defeat of the Union forces at the first major battle of the American Civil War near Washington DC, on July 21, 1861, Major General George B. McClellan was appointed by President Lincoln as Commander of the Army of the Potomac.

It was at this time, Tumblety began his “two year sojourn” in the Capital, stating in his biography that he partially made up his mind to tender his “services as a surgeon in one of the regiments.”

Curiously, prior to his departure from New York, he was seen by a Vanity Fair reporter with multiple 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…”

Upon his arrival, he did not begin his usual Indian herb doctor ad campaign.

This unusual change in business practice actually makes sense, since he was concealing his Indian herb doctor persona in an attempt to convince the General that he was a qualified surgeon, and in so doing, gain much needed legitimacy to use the title of MD, effectively bypassing – at least in his mind – the requirement for a medical diploma.

Being recognised by the United States Army as a surgeon would have been a medical profession coup.


Tumblety’s main stumbling block, however, was that he was not a surgeon,  and thus he could not present a medical diploma to the General’s medical staff.

However, he circumnavigated the issue by inviting the General’s officers to an illustrated medical lecture.

Giving medical lectures illustrated with anatomical specimens of their own design was a common practice for competing surgeons in the nineteenth century.

It demonstrated their skill level and legitimacy.

At the lecture, Tumblety revealed to the military audience 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 man who saw Tumblety’s uterus collection was New York City lawyer and Civil War reptile journalist/spy Charles A. Dunham.

There can be no doubt that Dunham had the ability to fill a newspaper with lies, as he had done twenty five years previously in his capacity as a Civil War provocateur and he would later speak at length about Tumblety in an interview he gave  to a  New York World reporter in December 1888.

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, effectively, his eyes and ears.

Unfortunately, Tumblety’s plan failed and, with the General having refused to enlist his services, Tumblety headed back to New York at the end of 1861 where he restrained for two months.


However, by February 1862, he was back in Washington, and had re-embarked upon his money-making venture and was soon advertising himself as the Indian herb doctor in the Washington papers in February 1862.

Then, in the spring of 1863, he made his way to Buffalo, New York, and a reporter from the Buffalo Courier stated that Tumblety was giving medical lectures, “with Thespian emphasis.”


Beginning in 1869, Tumblety began his European trips and in July 1873, he opened up an office in Liverpool, requiring him to stay in England for months at a time.

By this time Tumblety had shed the Indian herb doctor persona, and in Liverpool he advertised himself as the “Great American Doctor”, a title he used until his publicised retirement in 1888.

Throughout the 1870’s and 1880’s Tumblety continued his long stays in England, operating an office for his herbal medical practice.

He was even reported to have offices in London up until the year of the Whitechapel murders (188) situated in both the West End and East End.


Tumblety was sick and his advertised cures all diseases did not work on him.

In May 1888,  he made his way to London.

Four months beforehand he had been interviewed in Toronto, stating to a reporter that he “was suffering from a kidney and heart disease, and that he was constantly in dread of sudden death.”

Curiously, two of the organs taken by Jack the Ripper were reported to have been the kidney and the heart.


Francis Tumblety was initially arrested “on suspicion for the whitechapel crimes” sometime before he was taken into custody for gross indecency and indecent assault on November 7, 1888.

According to the newspaper reports, there was not enough evidence against him for the murders, so they attempted to get him off the streets by re-arresting him with the winnable misdemeanour case of gross indecency and indecent assault.

The London newspaper The Evening Post (Feb 16, 1889) stated:-

“The [New York] World is probably not aware that Dr. Tumblety was afterwards taken into custody on another charge, arising out of certain correspondence with young men which was found in his possession…”

As mandated by British law, Tumblety was brought up in front of Marlborough Police Court Magistrate James L. Hannay within 24 hours of his November 7, 1888, arrest for his remand hearing.

This step was to determine if he should be remanded, or placed into custody, at Holloway Prison until his committal hearing one week later or be allowed bail.

Hannay did indeed have the discretionary powers to issue bail.

On November 9, 1888, just one or two days later, Mary Kelly was murdered.


Hannay set the committal hearing for November 14, 1888, where he listened to the evidence presented by both sides.

He became convinced that the case warranted committal up to the next level, Central Criminal Court, presided by a judge.

The court date was scheduled 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.

The journalist who broke the story of Tumblety being arrest on suspicion was the New York World’s London ‘Special’ correspondent, E. Tracy Greaves, in his Saturday, November 17, 1888, news dispatch.

Greaves did not know about Tumblety posting bail a day earlier and he even believed that he was still in custody on November 21st

In view of this, Greaves clearly never met Tumblety in London and likely received the story from a “Scotland Yard informant” he periodically used on the Whitechapel investigation, and indeed Greaves’ stated, “The police say…”

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 after hearing the whole case, he likely did the same at the earlier remand hearing.


Additionally, the fact that three Scotland Yard officials, Assistant Commissioner Anderson, Chief Inspector Littlechild, and Inspector First Class Andrews, considered Tumblety a suspect AFTER the Kelly murder supports this assertion, since all three would have known if Tumblety was able to murder Kelly or not.


On November 20, Tumblety’s lawyer successfully convinced the judge to postpone the gross indecency trial to December 10, 1888.

Interestingly, on November 20, Tumblety had approximately £260 transferred to him from his New York bank.

According to Chief Inspector Littlechild, Tumblety was then spotted in Boulogne, France, likely on November 23.

It makes sense that Littlechild was aware of the Boulogne sighting, because the only Scotland Yard detectives in France at the time were assigned to his Special Branch division.

The warrant issued on Tumblety for escaping was dated December 10, 1888, when he was a no-show at his trial, thus, Scotland Yard’s interest in Tumblety being in France in November could only have been for the Whitechapel murders.


On November 24, 1888, he embarked the transatlantic steamship La Bretagne at noon in Havre, France, and on December 2, 1888, he was observed disembarking the La Bretagne in New York Harbor.

Because the Central Criminal Court case was for a misdemeanour offence, Tumblety could not be extradited back to England.

On the very next day two reporters from competing New York newspapers spotted a Scotland Yard man staking out Tumblety.

This detective claimed to have followed Tumblety across the Atlantic because of the Whitechapel murders case.


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 at the time, this likely convinced many that he was not Jack the Ripper.

Tumblety was soon forgotten about.

It was only later that most accept Mackenzie was murdered by someone else.

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 he also admitted 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.”


The primary reason reported by journalists for Tumblety being a Whitechapel murders suspect was his unusual hatred of women.

This is corroborated by Littlechild in his letter to Sims, stating, “…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.

Howver, 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.


If the Whitechapel murders were sex crimes, then Francis Tumblety was not Jack the Ripper.

Most male homosexual sado-sexual serial killers prey upon men, as with Jeffry Dahmer.

However, two modern experts do not see the Whitechapel murders as sexually motivated or even sadistic.

Forensic pathologist, Dr. William Eckert, M.D., investigated the Whitechapel case in 1989 and concluded that Jack the Ripper’s motive was anger-retaliatory and even exhibiting non-sadistic behavior.

Forensic scientist and criminal profiler, Dr. Brent Turvey, PH.D., studied Whitechapel murders and also did not see a sexual motive, but anger-retaliatory, specifically, misogyny.

This fits perfectly with Francis Tumblety, a man with an unusual hatred of women.

Recall, he blamed the opposite sex, especially prostitutes, for decoying teenage boys away from their intended sexual partners, older men.

In Tumblety’s entire life, he never had an enduring friendship with anyone other than young men.

With Tumblety convinced sudden death was around the corner in the very year the murders occurred and carrying a bitter anger and hatred of women, blaming them for the ills of society, snapping in an anger-retaliatory response by mutilating and harvesting the very organs linked to him certainly allows one to understand why Scotland Yard considered him a Jack the Ripper suspect.

Michael L. Hawley
Author of The Ripper’s Haunts

A big thank you to Michael for his generosity in sharing his researches.

If you would like to purchase a copy of his excellent The Ripper’s Haunts, you can do so via this link.