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(c) 2004

Mrs. Buki

There are five murders, which were committed in the late summer and autumn of 1888, which are generally accepted as attributable to the same hand. Collectively these five women - Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly - are often termed the "canonical victims." Of course, as is often the case in areas of Ripper research, there is by no means universal agreement that all these women were killed by the same perpetrator.

The person whose presence on this list is most commonly doubted is Elizabeth Stride, it being argued that her inclusion arises from its synchronicity with the Eddowes murder and not from the nature and characteristics of the crime itself which, undoubtedly, differed in extent from the other four cases. The most commonly accepted explanation for this by those who would include Stride as a "canonical" victim is that the killer was interrupted in the midst of his ghastly ministrations, fled the scene and vented his frustrated bloodlust on Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square.

It must also be mentioned that an earlier murder victim - Martha Tabram - who was killed just over three weeks before Mary Ann Nichols, has been, and still is, considered by some researchers to be worthy of consideration as a victim of the same killer. Tabram was often listed in hindsight by the contemporary press as a victim of the Whitechapel murderer as were two later women, Alice McKenzie and Frances Coles.

However, the last of the "canonical" victims, Mary Jane Kelly, has become probably the most studied and many of the theories regarding the Whitechapel killer and his motives feature Kelly as a lynchpin in their narrative. This is, in my opinion, for two main reasons. If the five "canonical" victims were the only five who died at the hands of the Whitechapel murderer, then Kelly was his last victim and so becomes pivotal in attempting to answer one of the most frequently asked questions - why did he stop?

This in turn leads to the second reason. Many theories, both contemporary and later, tried to explain the Whitechapel killings in terms of a rational, comprehensible motive. If Kelly was indeed the last victim, it is but a small step of logic to assert that the killings stopped because Kelly was the focus and culmination of these acts. Certainly this was by far the most comprehensive and extensive of the murders, the mutilations on Kelly being horrific in their extent and savagery. But was this because the killer had finally tracked down the ultimate object of his insane search, or was it because this murder, which was the only one which did not take place out in the open air, gave him the privacy and the leisure to indulge his demented desires to the full?

Many theories make Kelly the focus of a logical narrative that has been woven to explain the murders. For example, the chain of events in the Dr. Stanley theory springs ultimately from the assertion that Kelly infected the doctor's son with syphilis. Kelly has been cast as nursemaid to a royal offspring, witness at a morganatic wedding - in fact if one looks at theories as a whole in which Kelly features, it is amazing she had time to fit it all in!

The ironic and frustrating thing is that Kelly remains the most studied and the least known of all the victims. About the other four "canonical" victims a good deal is known about their background, family and details of their lives. They have been traced in sources of data outside of the papers relating to the case, e.g. in census data. About Kelly there is simply nothing. Nil. Nada. There is not one firm, provable sighting of Mary Jane Kelly in any information source.

The only account we have of Kelly's life prior to her murder comes from the man she lived with until shortly before her death, Joseph Barnett, with some small details confirmed or added from the accounts of friends and acquaintances of Kelly. But not one of the assertions in this account of her life - that she was born in Limerick circa 1863, moved to Wales when young, married aged 16, was widowed in some kind of mining accident, came to London circa 1884, worked in a West End brothel, visited France - none of these, nor any of her supposed details can be verified from the available sources.

Of course there are possible sightings in the census and BMD data, but none are by any means definite. Looking for evidence of Mary Jane Kelly is rather like seeing oneself in a cracked mirror - you think you have found what you are looking for but there is some fact, some detail that simply will not fit.

The character of Mrs. Buki was purportedly a former landlady of Mary Kelly when she moved to East London. An article in The Star newspaper of 12 November, 1888, has this to say:

"Her first experiences of the East-end appear to have commenced with Mrs. Buki, who resided in one of the thoroughfares off Ratcliff-highway, now known as St. George's-street."

The surname Buki is a most unlikely looking one, and with good reason, namely that it did not exist! There is not one census entry under this name nor any birth, marriage or death either. There are therefore, logically, only two alternatives. Either Mrs. Buki and her involvement with Kelly is a complete invention, both the story and the name, or the name as reported has been misspelt.

The Star does not name its source for this part of the Kelly story but it is worth noting that in both his police statement and his inquest testimony Barnett did not name or refer to Mrs. Buki. In my opinion, the most likely explanation for the odd name and its spelling is that The Star's nameless source was an acquaintance of Mary Kelly who was interviewed by a Star reporter and the name was written down as said, phonetically.

If this was the case, then we must look at what names could be mistakenly transcribed as BUKI. This depends on whether the U in the name was long or short. If short, the name would have been pronounced as Bucky, Buckey or something similar. If the U were long, the name would have sounded like Booky, Bookey, etc. We have two other pointers that may help:

1) We are looking for a woman who at some point in the early to mid 1880s lived on or near the western end of what was previously known as the Ratcliff Highway.

2) There is no indication that Mrs. Buki came forward at the time of the murder either to given evidence to the police or to speak to the press. Another former landlady of Kelly, Mrs. Carthy, did come forward to give her version of some of the events in Kelly's earlier life. Of course, Mrs. Buki may have had her own reasons for not coming forward, but this may indicate that Mrs. Buki, by 1888, had either left the area or had died.

Now, with regard to the area where Mrs. Buki purportedly lived in the early to mid 1880s, The Star says she lived in one of the thoroughfares off Ratcliff Highway, now known as St. George's Street. The western end of the former Ratcliff Highway (later known just as The Highway) was known at various times as St. George's Street or, more simply, as George Street. I have seen references in 1896 and 1902, which name the street as St. George's Street, as does The Star article above.

However, the Ordnance Survey map of the area for 1894 (reference London Sheet LI, Middlesex Sheet XVII.7) clearly refers to this street as George Street, running from south of Wellclose Street to Dellow Street. In fact this street, with regard to the Whitechapel murders, has two further points of interest. To the western end of George Street there ran to the south Breezer's Hill, another road in which Kelly allegedly lived and which we shall be looking at later. Also to the north, about halfway along George Street, a narrow road led into Prince's Square where stood the Swedish Chapel frequented by Elizabeth Stride and which had on occasion given her financial aid.

However, back to Mrs. Buki. I assembled a list of possible names for which BUKI could be a phonetic rendering. Some of these variants proved simply not to exist but the "short list" of possibles came down to Buckey, Buckie, Buckee, Booky, Bookey and Bookie. Of the census returns available, the nearest in terms of date to the period in which I was interested (early to mid 1880s) was the 1881 census.

Although this search threw up a number of women in the East End - such as Rose Buckey aged 24 living in a lodging house in Osborn Street, Sarah Buckee aged 37 born in Shoreditch and Mary Buckey aged 27 living in Bath Place, Shoreditch - there was, in fact, only one woman living in the area in which I was interested.

Her name was Matilda Buckey and in the 1881 census she is listed as living at 1 George Street. The full household as reported in the census return is as follows:

Head - Alfred Buckey aged 52 born Bethnal Green, a tea cooper.

Wife - Matilda Buckey aged 46 born Bethnal Green, a silk weaver.

Their children are listed in 1881 as Alfred aged 20, a cabinetmaker, Matilda aged 19, a silk weaver and Walter aged 15, a scholar. All three children are listed as born in Bethnal Green.

Looking back to the 1871 census, we find the family living at a barber's shop at 29 Club Row, Bethnal Green. The household listing shows the following:-

Head - Alfred Buckey aged 42 born Spitalfields, a tea warehouseman.

Wife - Matilda Buckey aged 37 born Bethnal Green, a silk weaver. Their children in 1871 are listed as Alfred aged 10 and Walter aged 5, both born in Bethnal Green. We now come forward to the 1891 census return i.e. the one following the Kelly murder. If the speculation above as to why Mrs. Buki did not come forward has any truth in it, we would expect to find that Matilda Buckey had either moved to another area or was deceased. The Buckey household listed in 1891 as living at 53 Seabright Road, Bethnal Green, and details are given as follows:

Head - Alfred Buckey aged 60 born Bethnal Green, silk weaver. Alfred is listed as widowed. The only one of his offspring still listed, as living with him is Walter aged 24 whose occupation is now listed as a groom and coachman.

So, what happened to Matilda Buckey? A search of the BMD registers reveals that Matilda's death, at the age of 53, was registered in Whitechapel in the 3rd quarter (July to September) of 1887, reference Volume 1a page 237.

Of course, it cannot be stated that Matilda Buckey WAS Mrs. Buki. All that can be said is that IF Mrs. Buki did exist that Matilda Buckey is the only person so far found whose surname is phonetically compatible with that of Mrs. Buki and who was living in the right area at the right time and who would not have been able to come forward to give evidence or be interviewed at the time of Kelly's murder, as she herself had died in the previous year, 1887.