The Mystery Of Caroline Maxwell

The body of Jack the Ripper’s final victim, Mary Kelly, was discovered at around 10.45 on the morning o Friday the 9th of November, 1888.

When the doctors finally got into the room in which her body was lying on the bed, they were of the opinion that the time of death had been between 2 and 4 o’clock that morning.

This was certainly borne out by two of her neighbours who claimed that they had heard a cry of murder at a little before 4 a.m.

However, later that day, a lady came forward who claimed that she had actually met Mary Kelly at between 8.3 and 9 am, thus contradicting the medical opinion about the time at which her murder had taken place.


On the 9th of November, the actual day of the murder, Mrs Maxwell made a police statement that was taken down by Inspector Abberline.

She was, she said, the wife of Henry Maxwell, a lodging house deputy at 14 Dorset Street, Spitalfields, directly opposite the entrance to Miller’s Court.

She told Abberline:-

“I have known deceased woman during the past 4 or 5 months, she was known as Mary Jane…I was on speaking terms with her although I had not seen her for 3 weeks until Friday morning 9th [about half past 8 o’clock] instant, she was then standing at the corner of Millers Court in Dorset Street.


I said to her, what brings you up so early, she said, I have the horrors of drink upon me, as I have been drinking for some days past.

I said why don’t you go to Mrs Ringers and have a half pint of beer.

She said I have been there and had it, but I have brought it all up again at the same time she pointed to some vomit in the roadway.


I then passed on, and went to Bishopsgate on an errand, and returned to Dorset Street about 9am and I then noticed deceased standing outside Ringers public house, she was talking to a man, age I think about 30, height about 5 ft.5 in, stout, dressed as a Market Porter, I was some distance away and am doubtful whether I could identify him.

The deceased wore a dark dress black velvet body, and coloured wrapper around her neck.”


Caroline Maxwell’s claim to have met Mary Kelly at between 8.30 and 9.30 am on the 9th of November was at odds with the opinions of several doctors who were suggesting that the murder had taken place several hours before.

She was, therefore, called as a witness at the inquest into Mary Kelly’s death, which took place here at Shoreditch Town Hall on Monday the 12th of November, with Coroner Roderick Macdonald presiding.


Having testified that she had known the deceased for about four months, and that she had spoken with her on only two occasions, she was interrupted by the Coroner, who, noting that her sightings contradicted the time of death suggested by Dr. Bond, and the two neighbors, warned her:-

“You must be very careful about your evidence, because it is different to other people’s. You say you saw her standing at the corner of the entry to the court?”

Mrs. Maxwell was not in the least bit phased by the doubt being cast on her statement, an stuck to her story throughout a vigorous cross-examination from the coroner.


Various theories have been put forward to explain how Mrs. Maxwell could have met with Mary Kelly several hours after the latter had been murdered?

Some hold that Caroline was lying and that she was simply seeking her fifteen minutes of fame. However, all the press reports about her depict her as a credible witness.

It should also be remembered that she was interviewed on the day of the murder by the extremely experienced Inspector Abberline, and he appears to have had no reservations about her veracity as a witness.

Indeed, she was considered important enough to be called to testify at the inquest into Mary Kelly’s death, and, despite the fact that the Coroner warned her to be very careful about your evidence, she stuck to her story, even when he reminded her that she was testifying under oath.


There is, of course, the possibility that, just as the police suspected, Mrs. Maxwell did meet Mary Kelly, but on the preceding day as opposed to on the morning of the murder.

Yet her police statement was given at some stage on the day of the murder, and she appears to have been adamant that the meeting had occurred earlier that day.


Another explanation could be that an encounter did take place just as Caroline Maxwell recalled, but that it wasn’t Mary Kelly that Mrs. Maxwell met, she did, after all, say that, although she knew Mary Kelly, she had, in fact, only spoken to her on two occasions.

Inevitably it has been suggested that she saw Mary Kelly’s ghost, whilst conspiracy theorists posit that Caroline did indeed meet Mary Kelly, and that the woman whose body was discovered on the bed in Miller’s Court was that of someone else.


Of course, today, it is impossible to judge how trustworthy Caroline Maxwell’s claims were.

On the face of it she seems to have been a consistent and reliable witness who stuck to her story throughout her time in the spotlight.

The case of Caroline Maxwell leaves us with yet another of the many mysteries that permeate the ripper case, and, just like so many of the mysteries, this one too seems unlikely to ever be solved.