|Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide|
|This text is from the E-book Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide by Christopher J. Morley (2005). Click here to return to the table of contents. The text is unedited, and any errors or omissions rest with the author. Our thanks go out to Christopher J. Morley for his permission to publish his E-book.|
Joseph Barnett was named as the Ripper by authors Bruce Paley in his book Jack The Ripper The Simple Truth, and by Paul Harrison in the book Jack The Ripper The Mystery Solved.
Born on 25 May 1858 at 4 Hairbrain Court, less than a mile from the heart of Whitechapel, to John and Catherine Barnett, who had originated from Ireland, but like an estimated 1 million of their fellow countrymen had fled the poverty and famine there to seek a better life for themselves in England and America. The Barnett's moved to the East End of London, and lived first at Hairbrain Court, and later at 2 Cartwright Street, Whitechapel. John Barnett worked as a fish porter at Billingsgate market, and died from pleurisy at the age of 47, in July 1864. Joseph was the fourth child, and third son, the other children were Denis born 1849 in Chalk Kent, Daniel born 1851 in Whitechapel, Catherine born 1853 in Whitechapel and John born 1860 also in Whitechapel. Shortly after her husbands death Catherine Barnett, for reasons not known, fled the family home and completely disappears from all the official records, leaving her eldest son Dennis to take over as head of the family. This he was to do until March 1869 when at the age of twenty he married a local girl, Mary Ann Garrett. The couple left the East End and settled in Bermondsey, they would have two children, both sons, Denis and John. The responsibility of being the new head of the family now fell to seventeen year old Daniel. Life proved a struggle and in 1871 the family moved a mile north to Great Pearl Street, which had a reputation as one of the worst streets in the East End. Daniel, with the support of his sister Catherine, did their best in difficult circumstances and made sure both Joseph and John attended school.
Joseph was considered quite articulate and could read and write, though suffered from a speech impediment and a psychological disorder known as echolalia. This disorder causes a person to repeat the last words spoken to them.
Joseph, like his father before him began working as a fish porter at Billingsgate market, and on 1 July 1878, along with his brothers Denis and John, received his market porters licence. Work as a porter consisted of unloading and transporting fish, the working day would begin at 5.00am and a steady worker could earn as much as £3 per week.
Barnett was working at Billingsgate market, when on Good Friday 8 April 1887, he met a young prostitute named Mary Kelly. At the time Kelly was living in Thrawl Street, and was known to walk the streets around Aldgate and Commercial Street, so it is quite likely his first meeting was as a client. They arranged to meet the following day, and quickly decided to live together, first in George Street then at Paternoster Row, Dorset Street, so named because it was the street where paternosters rosary beads where made and sold. Evicted for spending the rent money on drink, the couple moved again, first to Brick Lane then finally in February/March 1888 to 13 Millers Court 26 Dorset Street, where they rented a room at a rate of 4s 6d per week.
Millers Court was a tiny room, about twelve feet square, with it's own entrance. The room was so cramped that when the door was opened it would bang against the bedside table. It was classed as furnished, the furnishings consisting of little more than a small tatty rug, a bed, a couple of small tables, a pail and washstand and two dining-type chairs. Opposite the door was a fireplace, and to the left of the door, and at right angles to it, were two windows, one of which was close enough to the door as to be able to reach through it and unbolt the door. Between numbers 26 and 27 Dorset Street, and opposite Crossingham's Lodging House, was a three foot wide opening that was the entrance to Millers Court. There were six houses in the narrow court, and number 13 was the first door on the right. They were let by John McCarthy and were known locally as McCarthy's rents. The other tenants of the court were Henry Maxwell, a night watchman and his wife Caroline. Lizzie Albrook, a friend of Kelly's, Julia Venturney also a friend of Kelly's, Elizabeth Prater who lived in the room directly above Kelly, and Mary Ann Cox, a widow who was described delightfully by the Star newspaper as, 'A wretched specimen of womanhood'. John McCarthy denied any knowledge that Kelly was a prostitute or that his premises were used for immoral purposes. This statement however is unlikely, as Cox and Prater were quite open about being prostitutes, therefore it is likely McCarthy was fully aware of what his tenants got up to, but simply turned a blind eye to the situation as long as the rent was paid. Barnett and Kelly lived at Millers Court fairly comfortably, Barnett's wage providing them with a decent standard of living, comfortable enough so that Kelly did not have to walk the streets, Barnett forbidding her from resorting back to prostitution.
Despite appearing calm, their relationship was punctuated by frequent rows, often the result of Kelly's drinking. It was said of Mary Kelly that when in liquor, she was very noisy, otherwise was a very quite woman. Neighbours who knew them spoke of a friendly and pleasant couple, who gave little trouble unless drunk. Barnett was described as, 'a very inoffensive man'. It was a drunken Mary Kelly who smashed a couple of window panes in their room during a quarrel, it was these broken windows that Thomas Bowyer, sent by John McCarthy to collect what rent arrears he could, peered through and discovered her mutilated body.
Barnett told the Daily Telegraph 13 November 1888 that, 'Kelly was too tender hearted and would allow the poor miserable women whom she knew to come in occasionally and share the room in which they lived'. According to the newspaper, the argument which caused him to leave was allowing a miserable creature named Harney (presumably Maria Harvey) to share their small bed for two consecutive nights. The reporter was informed that even after Barnett left Kelly, he had not given her up entirely, and that they lived separately on reasons of incompatibility. When he had money, he used to call and share it with her, and was on his way to see her on the morning of her murder to give her three pence.
Barnett was described by the newspaper as, 'A very wretched specimen of the human race'. When Kelly's body was discovered the door was locked and had to be forced, leaving many to speculate that the killer either had a key and locked the door behind him on leaving, or was at least familiar with the geography of the room. Barnett claimed that the key had been missing for sometime and a possible explanation is that it had simply been lost by either Kelly, or Barnett perhaps when drunk. Entry was gained by reaching through the broken window, moving aside the dirty old muslin curtain and pulling back the bolt. Some have speculated Barnett took the key with him when he left, so he could gain access if and when he so desired.
Elizabeth Prater, who lived in the room above Kelly, reported that Barnett and Kelly had an argument on the 30 October between 5 and 6pm, which caused Barnett to move out.
It has been claimed that Barnett harboured a strong dislike of prostitutes in general, and Kelly's friends in particular. Maybe he considered that they would tempt her back into prostitution. Kelly, much to Barnett's consternation, was still receiving visits from her ex-lover Joseph Fleming, who gave her money and made no secret of the fact that he wanted her back.
In July/August 1888 after working at Billingsgate market for over 10 years, Joseph Barnett was sacked, for reasons that are not clear, though was most probably theft. It has been claimed that Barnett liked giving Kelly gifts, so it is quite probable Barnett was stealing produce from work, which in turn helped save his wages to enable him to treat her. With Barnett's wage now gone, so had their comfortable lifestyle, Barnett began selling oranges, and Kelly resorted back to prostitution, as she was by this time 29s in arrears with her rent.
There has been speculation that the reason her landlord, John McCarthy allowed Kelly to fall behind with her rent was that he was actually her pimp, there is however no evidence to support this. Though Barnett and Kelly were no longer lovers, he would continue to visit her almost daily, and would give her money if he had it. She would ask him to read her the newspaper accounts of the Ripper murders (presumably Kelly could not read) and was anxious to learn if the Ripper had been apprehended. She appeared to be frightened of someone other than the Ripper, though would not say who. According to Julie Venturney, a friend of Kelly's, Mary said she could no longer bare Barnett and was fond of a man named Joe, presumably Joseph Fleming. It was said Fleming still visited Kelly and hoped they would get back together, even though she was at the time in a relationship with Barnett. Barnett, despite the relationship ending, was still hoping for a reconciliation and turned to his older brother Daniel for support and advice on winning Mary back. Daniel went to see Kelly on the night she was murdered, but it was to no avail, she was murdered in the early hours of Friday 9 November 1888.
Barnett was questioned by Inspector Abberline for four hours and had his clothing checked for bloodstains. When he was questioned it was reported he was in an agitated state, though the police appeared to be satisfied that he had nothing to do with the murder, and he was released. Barnett told the police that he had visited Kelly at Millers Court about 7.45pm, on the night she was murdered, chatted for a while, apologised for having no money to give her then parted on good terms. He then went back to his lodgings at Bullers Lodging House 24-25 New Street, Spitalfields, where he played 'Whist' until half past twelve, before retiring to bed. Mary Kelly was murdered sometime between 4 and 5.45am, or according to some disputed eyewitness sighting of Kelly, even possibly later. Barnett's alibi is then not exactly watertight. Barnett, at the mortuary when viewing Mary's body, identified her by her hair and eyes, and not as some reports have claimed by her ears and eyes. At the inquest, Barnett was described as, well groomed with a neatly trimmed moustache, top hat, coat and cravat. His appearance prompted the Star newspaper to remark that, 'He looked very respectable for someone of his class'. After the murder he went to stay with his brother Daniel and his sister at 21 Portpool Lane, Holborn.
The theories that propose Barnett as Jack the Ripper go something like this. Barnett, after reading about the murder of Martha Tabram, killed the other prostitutes in a similar manner, in an attempt to scare Kelly off the streets, as he was losing control over her, and when this failed he killed her. There is also some who believe that Barnett was not Jack the Ripper, but killed Mary Kelly during a quarrel then mutilated the body in a way he believed, from the press reports, the Ripper mutilated his victims, thus disguising it as a Ripper murder.
In 1888 at the time of the Ripper murders, Joseph Barnett was 30 years old, 5ft 7"tall, of slender build with a moustache, fair complexioned with blue eyes.
In his favour as a Ripper suspect, Barnett knew the area well, having lived in the East End all his life, knew one of the victims, Kelly, and had a violent quarrel with her a week before her death. Also, the key to their room appears to have disappeared when he moved out. He may have lied when he said he never saw Kelly again, after 8pm on the night she died, and may have been the man seen in the Horn Of Plenty public house. He may also have lied about the reason he and Kelly parted. The real reason being that Kelly had begun to dislike him, and had no further use for him, after the loss of his well paid job.
Against Barnett being the Ripper is that he had no record of violence, there is also no evidence that his work as a fish porter required him to actually gut the fish, thus acquiring any rudimentary anatomical knowledge. Living in such a confined space as Miller's Court with Kelly, and later her associates, he would have had nowhere to hide his knife, or the body parts removed from his victims.
The plausibility of Joseph Barnett being Jack the Ripper depends on whether the Ripper's motive was rejection and sexual jealousy, and if you believe a serial killer could suddenly stop his bloodlust and live quietly for the next 38 years of his life, which is exactly what Joseph Barnett did. He died at the age of 68 in November 1926 at 106 Red Lion Street, Shadwell, London, three and a half weeks after his wife Louisa. There is no record of the couple having children.
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