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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Did Jack the Ripper help assassinate Abraham Lincoln?

Is this blogger using a provocative title to draw in readers?

It's not completely off-base. Bear with me.

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, police arrested a circle of his fellow conspirators. They didn't stop there, of course, and went on to arrest or question hundreds of people who knew the conspirators. When a president is killed, the police throw their net pretty wide.

One person caught in that net was Francis Tumblety of St. Louis, a quack doctor who may or may not have known conspirator David Herold. Tumblety was soon released after police found no evidence that he was involved in the assassination.

This wasn't Tumblety's first or last run-in with the law. The eccentric "doctor" made a good living selling bogus medicines such as "Tumblety's Pimple Destroyer" and "Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills", and dressed flamoyantly in military-style clothing. This got him into trouble during the Civil War because it was illegal for civilians to wear anything that looked like a uniform. He was also charged with manslaughter in Canada over the death of one of his patients.

Tumblety spent a fair amount of time in London, living in Whitechapel. He gained a reputation for his hatred of women, claiming he had fallen in love with and been jilted by a prostitute. He kept a collection of uteri in his home that he showed male guests in order to "prove" the inferiority of the female sex.

Tumblety was arrested in London for four counts of having homosexual encounters, something that was illegal until quite recently. He was also suspected in 1888 of being Jack the Ripper. He had an all-consuming hatred of women, some medical knowledge as the murderer was supposed to have had, and was in the neighborhood during the murders. When he fled the country under an assumed name, the murders stopped.

Of course he might have fled the country because of the crimes for which he was charged, but the London police were suspicious enough to have him followed once he got back to the United States. Modern Ripperologists consider him a top suspect, and while it seems unlikely that he had any part in Lincoln's killing, it's intriguing that the most famous assassination and the most famous serial killer of the nineteenth century could have been linked.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Did he serve jail time here for any of those crimes? And were there ever any Jack the Ripper style murders in America?

  2. Oh, that IS creepy! It's like one of those seven-degrees-of-separation things. (Except this seems a lot closer than seven.)
    Great post, Sean! :-)

  3. It's at least interesting that one can speculate about a link.

  4. Nope, he skipped the country (and lost his bail money) before he went on trial. Researchers have tried to pin various stateside murders on Jack the Ripper, but the evidence isn't concrete. In truth nobody knows with any certainty which suspect was really the Ripper. I suppose we'll never know. That's one of the enduring appeals of the Jack the Ripper story.

  5. There is a book on him called, "Jack the Ripper: First American Serial Killer" by Stewart Evans and Paul Gainey. I read it many years ago and can't remember much details, but I do seem to remember enjoying it and they did make a case for him being the Ripper.


    1. I'm reading it right now. It makes a compelling, although not airtight argument.

    2. I don't think anyone will ever make an airtight argument about Jack. That is one of the reasons why I have always had a morbid interested in it.


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