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The Mysterious Dr Gabe

The first medical man present at 13 Miller's Court to examine the dead body of Mary Jane Kelly on 9 November 1888 was Dr George Bagster Phillips.  As the divisional surgeon for 'H' Division, his appearance on the scene was to be expected.  Dr Thomas Bond, the former divisional surgeon for 'A' Division, also arrived, having been instructed a couple of weeks earlier, on 25 October 1888, by Scotland Yard to provide a medical opinion as to the amount of surgical skill and anatomical knowledge possessed by the murderer.  These two doctors were joined by Dr Frederick Gordon Brown, the City Police surgeon, who had examined the body of Catherine Eddowes, and Dr William Profit Dukes, a local doctor, and obstetrician, of 75 Brick Lane, Spitalfields.

So far there is nothing obviously strange about these doctors (and their assistants) being inside Miller's Court on 9 November 1888 as they all could be said to have had a reason for being there.  But what about Dr John Rees Gabe who was also present at Miller's Court?  He lived over in St Pancras, at 16 Mecklenburgh Square, and was the medical officer for the London Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.  What was he doing in Whitechapel that day?

For Simon Wood, the answer is obvious: he was there to attend to a child who was reported to have been living with Mary Jane Kelly at the time of her death.  Indeed, for Mr Wood, Dr Gabe's presence at the scene of the murder that day proves the existence of the child.

But does it?

Before looking at who Dr Gabe was (or was not), we need to consider the evidence for the existence of Mary Kelly's child, or rather the child who was reported to have been living with her.   According to Simon Wood, in his 2015 book, Deconstructing Jack:

'In an interview with the Star, 10th November 1888, Joseph Barnett said-

'Kelly had a little boy, aged about six or seven years, living with her.'

On the face of it, this looks like good evidence to support the existence of a child even if, as Wood is keen to point out, nothing was said by Barnett about him in his evidence at the inquest.

Unfortunately for Mr Wood's theory, however, a close examination of the Star's report of 10 November 1888 reveals that Joseph Barnett never said anything about a little boy.  What the Star did was merge two separate interviews with Barnett and then, at the end of the second paragraph recounting these interviews, added some information about a child that had already been published earlier that day in the Times (as well as other newspapers) which was expressly stated to have come from a source other than Barnett.

That information in the Times of 10 November 1888, which was was both unsourced and unconfirmed, stated (after reporting an account of what Barnett had said):

'Another account gives the following details: Kelly had a little boy, aged about 6 or 7 years living with her, and latterly she has been in narrow straits, so much that she is reported to have stated to a companion that she would make away with herself, as she could not bear to see her boy starving.'

The unsourced story had, in fact, originated on the afternoon of the murder and found its way into the Star and the Echo on 9 November.  In the Star's version the age of the boy is different:

'The victim is a woman who lived by the name Mary Jane and she lived in the room in which she has been murdered, with a man and her little son - about 10 or 11 years old.'

But in the Echo of 9 November, the age is given as six or seven (and the child is said to be Kelly's):

'The murdered woman had one child, a little boy of between six and seven. The little fellow lived with his mother. This poor child was sent out this morning, when the mother returned to the room with the assassin. The gossip of the neighbourhood, or rather of the very court in which the house is situated, is to the effect that the man who is suspected of having committed the murder sent the child out to buy sweets and playing he found the place in commotion, for his mother had been discovered lifeless and bleeding, and the murder had fled.'

The story that the boy had been sent out on an errand by the murderer found its way into the Times of 10 November which pointed out that: 'There is no direct confirmation of this statement'. Simon Wood quotes a New Zealand (!) newspaper which claimed the boy had been found and corroborated the story but couldn't recall the man's face.

Had this rumour been true it would have enabled the police to calculate the time of death.  After all, you can't send a six or seven year old boy out to buy sweets at 2am on a cold November night for eight hours. Certainly, such a child would have been able to say whether he had been sent out in darkness or daylight so it would have been a huge breakthrough in the investigation.

The Globe  of 10 November clarified the position:

'Further inquiries show that Kelly had no son. The boy who lived with her belonged to a woman with whom she was very friendly, and who stayed with her on several occasions'.

So we now have a story to the effect that Kelly had looked after another woman's son on a few occasions but there is nothing to suppose that this boy was living with Kelly on the day she was murdered.

Moreover, research by Casebook forum poster Wickerman suggests that the story of the woman with a child might have been a case of mistaken identity by the newspapers on 9 November because some of them seemed to be describing a woman who lived on a second floor room with her child.

Whether it was a case of mistaken identity or not, there is no good evidence at all to suggest that any child was with Kelly on the day/night of her murder.

But how does Dr Gabe fit in?  As a doctor who was professionally involved in treating abused children, does not his presence at the scene of the crime, coming all the way from St Pancras, indicate that he was there to treat a young boy?

Well, just hold on a moment.  What do we know about Dr John Rees Gabe?

Churchill's Medical Directories for the years 1878 to 1889 tell us that he gained his L.S.A. (Licentiate of the Apothecaries Society) in 1876, having studied at the London Hospital.  After brief periods of employment as Junior House Surgeon at Poplar Hospital and resident Medical Officer at Queen Adelaide's Dispensary in Stamford Hill he was, for two years from 1877, the clinical assistant at the London Hospital. He also appears to have been the clinical assistant at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children during this period. In 1879, he gained his M.R.C.S., to become a  Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and was appointed the resident medical officer of the London Dispensary at 21 Church Street, Spitalfields.  He was living at that address when he married Marion Fincham in March 1880 and was still there when his two daughters were born in 1881 and 1883.

Until now it has been assumed that when Gabe left 21 Church Street to live in Mecklenburgh Square in 1884 he also left his position as medical officer at the London Dispensary to become the full time medical officer for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.  I can reveal that this was not the case and that Dr Gabe continued in his role as the medical officer of the London Dispensary.  

At it happens, Dr Gabe did not start working for the SPCC until about 1886, after he gained his M.D. in Brussels in 1885, to become a doctor of medicine, but this was only a part-time position and he remained the resident medical officer at the London Dispensary, despite also being employed by the SPCC (and also, subsequently, by the Third District of the Holborn Union).  He was, therefore, employed by the London Dispensary at Spitalfields in November 1888.

This is from the 1888 edition of Churchill's Medical Directory (the 1889 edition says the same thing):

Churchills Medical Dictionary 1888.jpg

And this is from the 1890 edition of Kelly's Medical Directory (the 1889 edition says exactly the same thing but spans over two pages so is not as easy to reproduce):

Churchill Medical Dictionary 1890.jpg

As can be seen, Dr Gabe is clearly listed as being the Resident Medical Officer of the London Dispensary in both directories and, thus, held this position at the time Mary Jane Kelly was murdered.

Church Street, where the London Dispensary was based, could hardly have been closer to Dorset Street, off which Miller's Court was located, as can be seen from the below map: 

Map of Church Street.jpg

So we now have a perfect explanation for why Dr Gabe attended along with another local doctor, Dr Dukes.  As the resident medical officer, Dr Gabe, could easily been present at the London Dispensary during the afternoon of Friday 9 November so that when the word went round the local area for assistance from medical men, he answered the call. It could really be that simple.

Simon Wood has drawn attention to the fact that, according to a directory he has produced, the surgeon was in attendance at the London Dispensary only on Wednesdays and Saturdays but, as can be seen from the entries in the directories, Dr Gabe was not the surgeon.  He was the medical officer, so he could have been at the London Dispensary any day of the week.

He was, of course, also the medical officer for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and this gave him a reasonably high profile because he would be instructed by that society to give evidence at prosecutions for child abuse, but this high profile, and his consequent appearance in news stories in this role, appears to have misled Simon Wood into thinking that this was all he did.  Clearly Dr Gabe must have spent a fair portion of his working time in Whitechapel.  All he did in 1884 was move to live in a nicer area of London and must have regularly travelled the relatively short distance of 2.5 miles to Church Street in Spitalfields. 

The fact that we now know that Dr Gabe was the medical officer at the London Dispensary at all times between 1880 and 1890 means that he was almost certainly the doctor referred to as 'Dr Gale' in a report in the Birmingham Daily Post of 27 December 1887.  There are a number of confirmed examples of Dr Gabe being mistakenly referred to as 'Dr Gale' in newspaper reports around this time period; the Birmingham Daily Post of 27 December 1887 reported that 'Dr Gale', i.e. Gabe, was present when a man reported to be called Joseph Farrant (but whose surname was actually 'Tarrant') died at the London Dispensary a few days earlier. 

The death certificate of Joseph Tarrant reveals that he did indeed die at the London Dispensary on (Wednesday) 21 December 1887.  A review of the medical and post office directories confirms that there was no Dr Gale living or working in London at the end of 1887. 

A Dr Arthur Knight Gale can be placed in London in 1886 but the Medical Register for 1888, Churchill's Medical Directory for 1888 and Kelly's 1888 Directory for Staffordshire all contain entries showing that Dr Gale was then in Staffordshire (having set up a practice with Dr Edward Fernie in the High Street in Stone, in Staffordshire, called Fernie and Gale).  As the 1888 directories would all reflect information as at December 1887, we can be confident that the Dr Gale referred to as being at the London Dispensary in the newspaper report in December 1887 was Dr Gabe, although it hardly matters considering that Gabe is now known to have been the medical officer of the London Dispensary in 1888.

But his working in close proximity to where the victim lived is not the only reason why Dr Gabe might have been called to Miller's Court that day.  For his entry in the 1888 and 1889 Medical Directory reveals that he was a fellow of the British Gynaecological Society:

Medical Dictionary 1888.jpg

This news will come as no surprise to readers of the Jack the Ripper A-Z which has correctly stated that Gabe was a gynaecologist for some years.  

Gabe was, in fact, a founding Fellow of the British Gynaecological Society which was founded in 1884 and incorporated in March 1885 (see volumes 1 and 2 of the British Gynaecological Journal).

An expertise in gynaecology could, on its own, account for Dr Gabe's arrival at Miller's Court if the other doctors present had suspected that Kelly might have been pregnant at the time of her murder, or wanted confirmation from a specialist that she was not pregnant.  It is certainly interesting that of the two local medical men (Dukes and Gabe) who came to the scene, ignoring the divisional surgeon (Phillips), one was an obstetrician (i.e. Fellow of the Obstetrical Society of London) and the other was a gynaecologist (i.e. Fellow of the British Gynaecological Society).

Furthermore, with the killer seemingly focused on the uterus, specialised knowledge of this part of the body might have been helpful to the other attending medical men.  Second opinions, especially from specialists in their field, I would suggest, are always welcome by any good doctors.

In his book, Simon Wood says that despite the generally accepted version of Mary Jane Kelly's murder ruling out the presence of a child, he is confident there was a young boy involved and that:

'there appears to be little doubt that he was the reason for the presence of Dr John Rees Gabe'. 

Well, there may be little doubt inside Simon Wood's mind but it is hard to believe that anyone else will agree with him.  There must be considerable doubt that Dr Gabe's presence at Miller's Court on 9 November can be explained by a young boy whose existence is no more than a myth conjured up in the hours after Mary Kelly's murder when facts were scarce and reporters were desperate for stories. 

His theory doesn't even make sense on the face of it.  Why would the medical officer of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children have been required at Miller's Court at all?  Where was the cruelty?  Who was going to be prosecuted?  If there was no cruelty, or injury to the boy, what purpose could Dr Gabe have served in attending on a child? He was not a child psychologist, he was a surgeon.  But more importantly, if he had been called there to attend to a terrified child, what on earth was he doing neglecting that duty and examining the dead body of Mary Jane Kelly?  It just doesn't make any sense.

One might ask why it is important to Simon Wood that there was a child for Dr Gabe to treat on 9 November 1888.  This is a good question because he doesn't make clear in his book how the existence of a child is of any significance.  We can only assume that the importance for Wood is that no child was mentioned at the inquest - and Wood gets excited about anything not mentioned at inquests because it feeds into his world view that there was a police cover-up surrounding all the murders.  So it seems to be that this issue is all about the police suppressing yet another fact, even if it is impossible to say why they would have wanted to do such a thing.

However, the fact is that there was no child, so there was no cover-up.  Dr Gabe was the resident medical officer of the Dispensary just around the corner from Dorset Street and someone with gynaecological knowledge to boot.  We don't need a child to explain why he came to Miller's Court.  

See also: The Gynaecologist Society


First published: 2 November 2015

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