In the year 1888, citizens of London, England, particularly those of the poor district of Whitechapel, were terrorized by a villain whose ghastly deeds have notched his bloody name forever – Jack the Ripper.
The Whitechapel community was reeling from severe economic recession. The stark reality of starvation forced women into the streets as prostitutes. Here they became vulnerable prey. As each victim fell beneath the Ripper’s bloodied knife, the hideous mutilations of the bodies horrified the most seasoned investigators. When the British tabloids printed the gruesome photos, shock and fear turned to anger. Vigilante mobs roamed the streets while Scotland Yard desperately scoured for a man who disappeared into the shadows of the night.
As suddenly as the murders began, they ended – but the identity of Jack the Ripper has remained one of the greatest mysteries of the nineteenth century.
For a century later, these mysteries have given rise to unending speculation. Stewart Evans, a police officer with the Suffolk Constabulary and Paul Gainey, a press officer for the Suffolk Police, believe they now have the answer. Their investigation began with the recent discovery of a letter typed by a former inspector of Scotland Yard naming one Dr. Francis J. Tumblety as the prime suspect of the Ripper slayings. The police, unable to hold him on suspicion of the Whitechapel crimes, succeeded in getting him held for trial under a special law. The elusive Tumblety quickly raised bail, slipped through the tight police surveillance and escaped to France. He travelled to New York, followed closely by a team of detectives from Scotland Yard. In The Lodger: The Arrest & Escape of Jack The Ripper Evans and Gainey, present a well-argued case of how Tumblety fits the place, time and circumstances surrounding the slayings. Drawing from contemporary American newspapers, probate and judicial records, Evans and Gainey have reconstructed the life and times of the doctor in North America previous to and following his daring escape from England. Among the highlights of his fascinating career was Tumblety’s arrest as a conspirator in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. As well, he was once ousted from a hotel in New York City. There were two persons evicted from the hotel that day, the other being Charles J. Guiteau, who three months later assassinated President James Garfield.
For a New Brunswick audience, the most astonishing aspect of Tumblety’s career is that he lived in Saint John and may have claimed his first victim there.
It was a late evening in October, 1995, when I received a telephone call from a friend who had heard that two Suffolk policemen purported to have uncovered the identity of Jack the Ripper – a Dr. Francis J. Tumblety. Six years ago, I published the story of a medical quack by the same name who had briefly visited Saint John before fleeing to the United States to escape manslaughter charges. According to my files, the doctor was subsequently involved in the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln. It was also reported in contemporary New York newspapers that Tumblety had been engaged as a surgeon of General McClelland’s personal staff during the American Civil War. The last reference to Tumblety placed him in Brooklyn, New York, where he had raised the wrath of the Greenwood Cemetery officials in 1865. 1 had wondered what became of Dr. Francis Tumblety after that. Now, I was able to contact Constable Stewart Evans in Suffolk to compare our findings.
That Dr. Francis Tumblety and Jack the Ripper were the same man seemed too incredible to be true. Obviously there was a twenty -eight-year gap between the time he visited Saint John and when the Ripper performed his gory deeds in Whitechapel. But given the small likelihood of two men sharing such a rare alias warranted further investigation. Ron Keith of Saint John was able to provide the documented proof. It was a letter acquired by his father, the late Gerald Keith, some years ago. On December 1, 1888, William Smith, the Deputy Minister of Marine in Ottawa wrote to his colleague James Barber of Saint John :
“My dear Barber…. Do you recollect Dr. Tumblety who came to St. John about 1860 and who used to ride on a beautiful white horse with a long tail, and a couple of grey hounds following after him? Do you recollect how he used to canter along like a circus man? And do you recollect that it was asserted that he killed old Portmore, the Carpenter who built the extension to my house and fleeced me to a large extent? Do you recollect how he suddenly left St. John, circus horse, hounds and all, and afterwards turned up at different places in the States and Canada? He was considered by Dr. Bayard and others an adventurer and Quack Doctor. He is the man who was arrested in London three weeks ago as the Whitechapel murderer. He had been living in Birmingham and used to come up to London on Saturday nights. The police have always had their eyes on him every place he went and finally the Birmingham Police telegraphed to the London Police that he had left for London, and on his arrival he was nabbed accordingly. He must now be 58 or 60 years of age as he left St. John about 1860. He was a tall handsome man and a beautiful rider. When I was in Eastport in 1860 detained by a storm, I met him there and spent part of the day with him. He was very agreeable and intelligent. I do not think he could be the Whitechapel fiend. He now spells his name Twomblety. I believe his original name was Mike Sullivan.”
FRANCIS J. TUMBLETY (also Tumilty or Tumuelty) was born in Ireland about the year 1833. He accompanied his family to North America in the early 1840s, residing with an older brother, Lawrence, who first appears at Rochester, New York in the year 1844. They were joined a few years later by his sister’s family, the Fitzsimons. According to The Lodger, Edward Haywood, a former acquaintance once told an interviewer:
“I remember him [Frank Tumilty] very well when he used to run about the canal in Rochester, a dirty, awkward, ignorant, uncared for, good-for-nothing boy. He was utterly devoid of education. He lived with his brother, who was my uncle’s gardener. The only training he ever had for the medical profession was a little drug store at the back of the Arcade, which was kept by Doctor Lispenard, who carried on a medical business of a disreputable kind.”
In 1851, or shortly thereafter, Tumblety departed Rochester, but re-surfaced about two years later. According to the unpublished chronology, Stewart Evans places him in London, Canada West (now Ontario) in the year 1853. This is supported by the testimonial advertisement which appeared in the Daily Spectator & Journal of Commerce of Hamilton, Canada West, in May 1856, undoubtedly placed by Tumblety himself, but purportedly signed by the editor of the London Atlas, who gives ” . . . testimony as to the very great measure of success which has attended your labours here as a medical practitioner during the few months you have resided among us … and the high reputation which you brought with you from Rochester.”
As early as 1856, Tumblety had polished the skills of his trade. He had adopted the title of the Indian Herb Doctor and made extensive use of local newspapers as his marketing tool. After a stop in Hamilton, he set up shop in Toronto in November, 1856. A month later he announced that “after traversing the United States and Canada [he] has concluded to make Toronto his home for the future.” The decision to settle down is puzzling: it appears out of character and it conflicted with the nature of his chosen trade. Although evidence subsequently emerged exposing his deep hatred for women and his preference for young men, his death certificate of 1903 states that he was a widower. Could this have been connected to his decision to settle in Toronto?
On April 22, 1857, Tumblety claimed to have discovered a new herb, “the medical properties of which were hitherto unknown to the medical faculty that will cure any case of fever and ague in 24 hours by applying it externally.”
Although maintaining his Toronto office, Tumblety made sojourns to Quebec. By June, Tumblety had begun a practice in Montreal. His activities, however, did not escape the eye of the police and he was arrested for attempting to induce an abortion with his medicinal herbs Tumblety successfully raised bailed and returned to Toronto. He was subsequently cleared of the charges by the Grand Jury of Montreal.
On December 7, 1857, Tumblety placed a curious notice in the Montreal Commercial Advertiser in which he declined the invitations made by political figures in Montreal to stand for Parliament in opposition to Thomas Darcy Magee.
In 1859 he departed Toronto.
Captain W.C. Streeter, an old resident of Rochester recalled in 1888:
“He returned to Rochester [about 1860] as a great physician and soon became the wonder of the city. He wore a light fur overcoat that reached to his feet and had a dark collar and cuffs, and he was always followed by a big greyhound. When a boy he had no associates, and when he returned he was more exclusive and solitary than ever. I don’t remember ever having seen him in the company with another person in his walks. When I met him on his return, having known him quite well as a boy, I said, ‘Hello, Frank, how d’ye do?’ and he merely replied, ‘Hello, Streeter’ and passed on. He had become very aristocratic during his absence. The papers had a great deal to say about him and he created quite a sensation by giving barrels of flour and other provisions to poor people. Afterwards he went to Buffalo and did likewise, and I understand visited other cities.”
It is uncertain what drew Tumblety to the port of Saint John on or about the 28th day of June in 1860, just prior to a much-publicized visit by the young Prince of Wales. The port was easily accessible by steamer and the barques and schooners which regularly travelled the Atlantic coastal waters from the ports of Boston, New York and Eastport, Maine.
As he made his way from the docks to the steep incline of King Street, Tumblety would have been an impressive sight. Unlike the dark, furtive figure of the Ripper whose features were hidden by a scarf and black cloak (as depicted in the English tabloids), Tumblety presented a dashing figure. His attire was immaculate, tailored to attract attention. He rode a great white horse followed by his faithful grey hound.
Tumblety’s immediate destination was the American House which fronted King Street, just downhill from the corner of King and Germain streets. The American House was considered one of the finer hotels of the town. Although recently established, its proprietor, Samuel B. Estey was well-known hotel operator. A staunch Baptist, Estey insisted on the adoption of temperate habits while lodging at his establishment.
Having engaged two rooms at the hotel, one to be used as an office, Tumblety applied to the common clerk’s office for a licence to practice. In completing the document, Tumblety recorded that he was a native of Ireland, 28 years of age and an Indian Herb Doctor.
When the application was delivered to the assistant common clerk, it was decided to cross out Indian Herb Doctor and substitute the word druggist. This document was later used as evidence against Tumblety. Unfortunately, Wumblety’s application was destroyed in the Great Fire of June 20, 1877. It otherwise would have provided a rare opportunity to compare Tumblety’s signature with that of the man arrested as Jack the Ripper.
Within a few days, Tumblety appeared in the offices of various newspapers, including the Morning News, the New Brunswick Courier and the Morning Freeman, buying advertising space for weeks in advance.
On July 3,1860 the Morning Freeman announced, “The Indian Herb Doctor from Canada has arrived and may be consulted free of charge at his Rooms in the American House, King Street. The Doctor will describe disease and tell his patients the Nature of their Complaints or illness without receiving any information from them.”
Readers were attracted by his flamboyant headlines such as, “Given Up By All Doctors,” and “Pulmonary Consumption Cured in Last Stage.” On July 26, Tumblety’s favourite motto appeared in the Morning Freeman.
We use such Balms as have no strife With Nature of the Laws of Life; With blood our hands we never stain Nor Poison men to ease their pain. Our Father – whom all goodness fills Provides the means to cure all ills; The simple Herbs beneath our feet Well used, relieve our pains complete A simple Herb, a simple Flower, Culled from the dewy lea These, they shall speak with touching power Of change and health to thee. – F. Tumblety, M.D.
Tumblety knew his market well. In the weeks following, the Morning Freeman advertised the incredible personal testimonials of local inhabitants. Among them were John F. Toland and Miss A. Levin, both cured of consumption. A block maker at Peter’s Wharf had his hearing restored. Peter Hart testified that he was cured of blindness. Alexander Johnston found relief from inflammation of the liver.
While Tumblety attended his duties, the city was making preparations for the arrival of the Prince of Wales. In all directions flag staffs were erected. A large fountain was under construction at Market Square intended to jettison the water to great heights. An assortment of Chinese lanterns illuminated the city. Despite the destractions, Tumblety’s activity had not escaped the attention of the Saint John Medical Society.
The small but well-knit medical community was aghast by the outrageous testimonials which appeared in the advertising sheets and were appalled that Tumblety, whom they considered a quack, should be allowed to prey on the fears of the seriously ill.
On Monday July 30,1860, Tumblety, accompanied by his counsel, David Shanks Kerr and A.R. Wetmore, Q.C., appeared before the police magistrate. The Indian Herb Doctor, was charged with falsely represented himself as doctor of medicine. The magistrate gave the following written judgment:
“That the Indian Herb prefixed to the Doctor is nothing but a delusion and fraud, while at the same time the word Doctor and letters M.D., falsely assumed by the Defendant are admirably calculated to deceive the weary and unsuspecting.”
While the Indian Herb Doctor continued his practice, his lawyers pursued an appeal through the courts. The matter came before Supreme Court Judge Robert Parker and he ruled that the onus rested with the plaintiffs to prove that Tumblety was not a doctor and the decision was reversed with costs.
Tumblety, ever ready to seize an opportunity, was quick to curry public favour. The amount of the fine (20 pounds 30s 6d) he announced would be distributed to the poor. On September 27th, his advertisement begins:
“The peculiar circumstances under which Dr. Tumblety is situated forces upon him the necessity of placing a few of the many certificates before a candid public, whose appreciation of his abilities has opened to him a vast field of philanthropic usefulness and undeniable benefaction. There is indeed, as much room for reform in Medical Jurisprudence as in the Science of Politics. Facts are stubborn things, read them.”
Tumblety, with the help of good lawyers, had escaped his second brush with the law, but his troubles did not end there. On September 17, a letter was submitted to the Morning Freeman by a local physician which read:
“Mr. Editor – Having understood from various parties that a report is in circulation to the effect that a person known as Dr. Tumblety has stated that he cured my son Francis from being lame – which statement I most positively contradict as being without the least shadow of truth, my son never having been under his treatment, nor that of any other person except myself. – T.W. Smith, M.D.”
On August 25, 1860, the following testimonial appeared in the Morning Freeman, purportedly written by Thomas W. Robinson:
“Dr. Tumblety – Dear Sir: For upwards of two years, I have been troubled with a bad cough, night sweats, debility, emancipation, etc. I got so bad that I at times raised large quantities of matter mixed with blood. This frightened me for I thought I had a short time to live. Night after night I used to sweat so that when I came under your treatment I was little better than a withered bud. I have had no distress from my cough since I commenced using your medicine; in five weeks I was completely restored. I have gained upwards of ten pounds of flesh and I am still on the gain.”
These testimonies attracted the attention of James Portmore, a carpenter by trade.
When only six years of age, James Portmore had emigrated from Ireland to Saint John in 1807 with his parents. In 1847, when the number of Irish immigrants arriving at the port of Saint John had reached its peak, James Portmore had been engaged to build a pest house at the quarantine station on Partridge Island situated in harbour. Yet so many were the deaths that the boards intended for the pest house were used instead to build coffins. James had been ill for ten years but early in September, 1860, was unable to attend to his work as a carpenter.
Suffering from the intense pain and complications brought about by a diseased kidney and bladder, Portmore was induced by the testimonials to visit the Indian Herb Doctor from whom he purchased two small bottles of herb mixture. He would take a teaspoon from each bottle, mix it with water and swallow the contents three times daily. The first time he took the dose he exclaimed to his wife, “Oh, that would burn the heart out of a man!” but continued the treatment for a week. As time progressed, Portmore complained that his stomach was burning. He could no longer eat and his bladder condition worsened.
He again visited Tumblety who proscribed another mixture of herbs. Still, Portmore suffered from an inflamed stomach and two days later retired to his bed having lost his appetite entirely. Alarmed at her husband’s deteriorating condition, Mary Portmore sent for Tumblety who arrived at the Sheffield Street residence on the following day. She later testified at the coroner’s inquest:
“When I first saw him, I said to him, ‘You have killed my husband.’ He asked me how he killed him. I said by giving him wrong medicine. He asked deceased how he was. Deceased said ‘I am a dead man.’ ”
Before Tumblety’s arrival at the their residence, Portmore had warned his wife to keep the bottle of herbs for other physicians to examine. Nevertheless, she witnessed Tumblety pick up the bottle from the bedroom table, smell it and put it down. He sent her for water to wash his hands. Upon her return, Tumblety departed the residence, saying that he would return at 4 o’clock with balsam to create an appetite. Tumblety never returned. A few minutes after he left, Mrs. Portmore discovered the bottle missing. Portmore bitterly remarked, “Let the villain take them.”
The Portmores sent for Dr. William F. Humphrey who had visited Portmore in June and had diagnosed a liver ailment. Dr. Humphrey had visited the household occasionally until the first of September. He did not place Portmore under any treatment, believing that removal of a stone he had detected in the bladder would cure him. He arrived accompanied by Dr. LeBaron Botsford and they found Portmore in bed in a semi-conscious state. He was suffering from severe pains in the stomach, excessive thirst and headaches.
Thereafter Dr. Humphrey visited Portmore daily. The treatment included the application of leeches to the stomach. Portmore was administered cold drinks, small pieces of ice, but could not retain the prescribed purgative pills. It was apparent to the visiting physician that Portmore would not survive. On Tuesday September 25, James Portmore died.
Botsford testified three days later: “I believe the acute inflammation of the stomach to be the immediate cause of the death of the deceased. He would ultimately have died of the disease in his kidneys and bladder, but the symptoms immediately prior to his death were not such as would necessarily be consequent upon his disease. Disease of the kidney and bladder does not terminate in inflammation of the stomach.”
On Friday, September 28, Dr. William Bayard, the county coroner convened his jury. Among those examined were Estey, the hotel proprietor, and one James Hamilton. Hamilton had been engaged by Tumblety as a clerk, receptionist and errand boy. The inquest was adjourned to the following morning, but resumed with the noticeable absence of one key participant – Tumblety
It was the testimony of young Hamilton that provided the whereabouts of the Indian Herb Doctor. It was between 10 and 11 o’clock the night of the first sitting of the coroner’s jury that young Hamilton last saw Tumblety. Wearing a cloak, cap and grey pantaloons, Tumblety stopped briefly at the opposite end of the suspension bridge which spanned the Reversing Falls to give last minute instructions to the clerk. Tumblety said that he was on his way to Calais, Maine, but instructed Hamilton not to tell any person which way he went. Thus the Indian Herb Doctor who paraded so elegantly into Saint John was last seen galloping away into the shadows of the night towards the American border, followed only by his faithful hound.
On the September 28, 1860, the coroner’s jury returned the verdict: “That Francis Tumblety on the 25th day of September did feloniously kill and slay one James Portmore.” There was no effort by the Saint John police to pursue the matter.
But the citizens of Saint John had not heard the last from their summer visitor. On October 2, 1860, the Morning Freeman published the following letter.
“I have received notice of the result of the Coroner’s Inquest. I shall return when my business here is finished, earlier if the Authorities desire. I am innocent and anyone charging me with the offence is a liar and a scoundrel. -F. Tumblety, M.D., Calais, 1st. Oct.”
The inhabitants of Saint John, however, were never to see the Indian Doctor again – for Francis J. Tumblety had found greener pastures to peddle his wares in the land of the free.
Written by Daniel F. Johnson