Thursday, 10 May 2012

Francis Tumblety: A Man on the Run

1888:A Jack the Ripper Novel is available to buy now from Amazon!

For all the great scientists, inventors and engineers that the Victorian era birthed, it also seemed to be a great time to be an eccentric - a pastime that was not limited to the borders of the British Isles. Perhaps one of the most intriguing of such oddballs is Francis Tumblety; but was he mad, sad, or just plain bad?

Tumblety was an irresistible character to include in 1888 for many reasons. It seems as if he could have wandered off the pages of a Dickens novel and into the streets of Whitechapel. A shameless, arrogant self-promoter; a man who found himself incapable of staying on the right side of the law; a doctor with no qualifications who fled from country to country, selling worthless herbal remedies that were little more than coloured water (if you were lucky); and a man for whom everyday was a fancy dress party.

As a suspect, Francis Tumblety is unlike any other. He was an American, he was probably a homosexual (or, at the very least, had a taste for young men,) and he is the only suspect known to have been suspected by his peers and acquaintances. Perhaps more pertinently, he is the one of the few suspects of whom there is a shred of evidence to support those suspicions.

Questions will always surround this odd figure. "Was he really the Ripper?", "Did he help to plot the assassination of President Lincoln?", "Was that moustache real?"

Like so many aspects of Tumblety's life, his place of birth is a matter of conjecture, but it is generally agreed to be either Ireland or Canada, sometime around 1833. One among eleven children, his parents soon afterward moved the family to Rochester, New York.

Tumblety first found himself in trouble with the authorities for peddling pornographic drawings as a teenager and then ever after found himself at odds with the police. Claiming to be a doctor, the young Tumblety moved from city to city, peddling medical concoctions he claimed to be Indian herbal remedies for curing such maladies as pimples and impure blood.

Sometime around this point, it is believed that Tumblety married, though to whom is unclear. Though one testimony suggests she was somewhat older than him and that the marriage disintegrated when he discovered she was working as a prostitute.

One such medicinal elixir he sold at this time, contained mercury - and it was not long until this wonder drug claimed a victim. After amassing a small fortune from his compounds, Tumblety fled to Maine and then made his way through New England to Boston.

During this period of his life, Tumblety adopted the manner of dress which would come to define him - military uniform, replete with medals of which he had not been rewarded, a helmet, a cane and perhaps most ostentatiously of all, a moustache so grand it attracted attention in an age when facial hair was almost a necessity for men of a certain class. 

Allegations soon arose that Tumblety was working as an abortionist to prostitutes; a career that would have proven as profitable to him as it would be essential to the working women of Massachusetts. He also garnered a reputation for being a rampant misogynist - and for being in possession of a cabinet of human uteri "from every class of woman" - though the testimony in which this was stated seems shaky at best.

Soon Tumblety finds himself a person of public notoriety and moves instead to Europe where he claims to have met such luminaries as Charles Dickens and Louis Bonaparte, (although, the claims of a known liar must always be taken with a pinch of salt.)

After a handful of arrests for "gross indecency" - a coy term that usually referred to soliciting other men, Tumblety returned to America for what was to be the biggest allegation made against his name (at that time in his life, at least.)

A series of ill-conceived business ventures meant that Tumblety was soon mixing with the wrong crowd; perhaps the worst crowd imaginable, as when several members of his new found circle of friends were arrested for conspiring in the assassination of President Lincoln, Tumblety was charged alongside them, (though later acquitted.)

Paranoid that the police were out to get him, Tumblety travelled the country for many years, peddling his wares before skipping across the Atlantic to England. The year was 1888.

His whereabouts and habits in the UK have been a matter of speculation from almost that very same year onwards, and there is good evidence to believe that he may have been "The Batty Street Lodger," - the notorious figure many have claimed to have been almost certainly Jack the Ripper (and a story I will skip over here, as it forms a pivotal part of the novel!)

It is known that he was arrested once again for soliciting a man for sex two days before the murder of Mary Kelly but was out on bail when she was killed. Panicked and convinced he was the police's prime suspect in the slayings, Tumblety escaped to France and then onwards to America.

Perhaps all we can say for sure about Francis Tumblety is that he was a man of dichotomies; a man who married but exclusively reserved his affections for men; a man who was constantly on the run, but dressed in such a manner as to draw the maximum amount of attention to himself; and a man who seems to have lived almost everywhere and yet never once appears to have had a home.

Whatever else can be said about the enigma of Francis Tumblety, I hope to have answered within the pages of my book.

Yours truly,
Charlies Revelle-Smith.

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