Putting a face to Mary Jane

An artist has put a face to the name of Jack the Ripper’s final victim, who is buried in Leytonstone

Mary Jane Kelly

Timothy Warner’s drawing of Mary Jane Kelly, believed to be the final victim of Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper

Is this the face of Jack the Ripper’s final victim?

On 9th November 1888, Mary Jane Kelly’s badly mutilated body was discovered in her East End bedroom by someone sent to collect the rent she owed. Her face was almost unrecognisable, having been slashed in all directions with parts of her nose, cheeks, eyebrows and ears being removed.

While the circumstances of Mary Jane’s death differed in several ways to that of Jack the Ripper’s previous victims – making her the subject of numerous alternative theories – she is the last murder victim to be firmly associated with the notorious Victorian serial killer.

Little is known about the life of Mary Jane Kelly, who at around 25 was by far the youngest of the Ripper’s victims. She was believed to have been born and raised in Limerick, Ireland, moving to London in her early 20s to work in a brothel.

Mary Jane was buried at the only Roman Catholic graveyard in East London – St Patrick’s Cemetery in Langthorne Road, Leytonstone. Her obituary stated that “no family member could be found to attend the funeral” although, as her shocking death made national news, hundreds were said to have turned out for the occasion. Nonetheless, without a family to pay for a headstone, Mary Jane’s grave was not believed to have been marked and the exact location of her burial position in the cemetery remains unknown.

In 1986 Leyton resident John Morrison arranged for a headstone to be placed at the spot he believed to be Mary Jane’s final resting place, but modern historians have dismissed its location as inaccurate.

Two years ago a team of researchers at the University of Leicester were commissioned to investigate the death of Mary Jane and finally confirm her true identity via DNA testing, dispelling the various alternative theories that have sprung up in the intervening 130 years. The team were unsuccessful, however, with the uncertainty over the grave location making it too difficult to exhume her remains. They calculated that a search of the cemetery would entail digging up an area thought to contain as many as 400 bodies.

Following this latest disappointment for those still investigating the story of Mary Jane Kelly, an artist from West London decided to pay his own tribute to her. Timothy Warner has used the photograph of her body and other descriptions of her appearance from the time to draw what he believes best represents Mary Jane’s face. While impossible to corroborate without DNA evidence, Timothy has concluded from his studies that the ‘long wiggly strips of hair’ attributed to Mary Jane suggest she may have had someone of East Indian descent in her bloodline.

Timothy sent his drawing to the Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow Village, where a file of newspaper cuttings relating to Mary Jane has been kept by the official Waltham Forest Archives. He said: “I wanted to give this poor lady an identity, which had been stolen from her. She should get her face back.”

Both Timothy’s drawing and the cuttings, which include a report by the Walthamstow and Leyton Guardian of Mary Jane’s murder the day after she was killed, are now available to see at the archives in Vestry Road.

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