PRISONER 1167 by James Tully


The Madman Who Was Jack the Ripper
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 By turns ponderous and lurid, this book details the careers of Jack the Ripper and asylum fugitive James Kelly without ever making a strong case that the two men are one and the same. Like many a Ripperologist before him, Tully has his own theory concerning the identity of 19th-century London's infamous slasher of prostitutes: James Kelly, ``the only convicted, lunatic, throat stabbing woman killer who was known . . . to have been at large during 1888.'' In the book's most satisfying sections, based on exhaustive original research, Tully documents the life of this little-known Victorian, an upholsterer of illegitimate birth who manages a wily escape from Broadmoor Asylum, where he was sentenced for murdering his wife, only to discover he prefers his cell. Roaming Europe and America for decades, he periodically tries to give himself up but is foiled by the ``Keystone Kops'' incompetence of the authorities until at last, in old age, he returns home to Broadmoor to die. That story would have made a nice moral tale in its own right, but it is followed by a tediously lengthy recap of every bit of evidence about the Ripper murders--mostly old news that does not add substantially to the case against Kelly. When the author finally gets to that case, it boils down to the fact that Kelly was available and had already stabbed one woman; why not more? No positive evidence links Kelly to the crimes, and as the author himself depicts him, Kelly seems too pathetic and half- hearted a player to cast as the granddaddy of serial killers. The claim of an official cover-up also lacks plausibility; the chief evidence is the unsurprising fact that some of the century-old files on Kelly have been partially destroyed. For those who can't get enough of the Ripper, this book will stuff the belly until the next one, with the next theory, comes along.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1997
ISBN: 0-7867-0404-7
Page count: 416pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1997