A man who would have cut a bizarre figure in any era. A notorious quack doctor. A flamboyant homosexual who boasted of his connection with society's elites. And a leading suspect in the hunt for Jack the Ripper.
Francis Tumblety was a misogynist, imposing physical presence, notorious 'quack' physician and homosexual who would have cut a colourful swathe in any era. In trouble with the law throughout most of his life, he would today perhaps be remembered as only a historical footnote were it not for a letter penned by Inspector John Littlechild to a journalist in 1913.
"I never heard of a Dr D. in connection with the Whitechapel murders but amongst the suspects, and to my mind a very likely one, was a Dr. T. (which sounds much like D.) He was an American quack named Tumblety and was at one time a frequent visitor to London and on these occasions constantly brought under the notice of police, there being a large dossier concerning him at Scotland Yard.
Although a 'Sycopathia Sexualis' subject he was not known as a 'Sadist' (which the murderer unquestionably was) but his feelings toward women were remarkable and bitter in the extreme, a fact on record.
Tumblety was arrested at the time of the murders in connection with unnatural offences and charged at Marlborough Street, remanded on bail, jumped his bail, and got away to Boulogne. He shortly left Boulogne and was never heard of afterwards. It was believed he committed suicide but certain it is that from this time the 'Ripper' murders came to an end."
When this letter was discovered by investigators it gave the world the first serious new Ripper candidate in generations. Stewart P. Evans and Paul Gainey's book on Tumblety and his connection with the Ripper investigation ("Jack the Ripper: First American Serial Killer")
Whether Tumblety was the Ripper is, of course, unknowable. What is certain is that Littlechild was not directly involved in the investigation and so his knowledge of both the case and the suspect must have been second hand at best. Littlechild was attached to the Irish Special Branch and his primary concern was with Fenian terrorism then prevalent in London. A measure of his distance from the case can be seen in his letter where he admits to having 'never heard of a Doctor D in connection with the Whitechapel Murders'. This is almost certainly a jumbled reference to Montague Druitt, who Littlechild would certainly have heard about had he been close to the investigating team.
It is also true that Tumblety's height, dress and general conspicuousness are at odds with the handful of witness statements where the Ripper is thought to have been seen. As a gay man - and relatively old man at the time of the killings - Tumblety also fails to fit the common profile of a serial killer of women.
Against these facts must be weighed the evident suspicion of contemporary detectives: Scotland Yard were prepared to send an inspector to New York to shadow Tumblety when he fled London. Littlechild was clearly not alone in his suspicions about Tumblety and it is possible that more evidence against him existed at the time than we know of today.
Contemporary interviews with those who knew Tumblety attested to a remarkably potent misogyny in the man and one particularly compelling report speaks of Tumblety owning a collection of uteri, which he claimed "came from all classes of women." As The Ripper almost certainly kept parts of his victims' viscera as trophies, there is certainly a gruesome echo with Tumblety if that report was true.