Orsam Books

Tumblety's Arrest

This article is a follow-up to my article in Ripperologist 163 entitled 'The Prosecution of Francis Tumblety' based on some new information.

It will be recalled that I revealed in my Rip article that the prosecution of Francis Tumblety at the Old Bailey was conducted by the National Vigilance Association on behalf of Tumblety's four alleged male victims.

This, of course, casts serious doubt on the notion that Tumblety was arrested by the police on suspicion of being the Whitechapel murderer and then prosecuted for sexual offences discovered during that investigation.

It will be recalled that, according to the New York World, which first broke the story of Tumblety's supposed arrest and prosecution in its 18 November 1888 issue:

'The police could not hold him on suspicion of the Whitechapel crimes, but he will be committed for trial at the Central Criminal Court under the  special law passed soon after the Modern Babylon exposures'.

The Boston Herald of 25 November 1888 subsequently stated:

'When the London police arrested him the other day on suspicion of being the murderer he said that he belonged in New York. The police found that they could not get enough evidence against him to hold him for trial, but they succeeded in getting some sort of a charge, sufficient to hold him under one of the special laws passed after the "modern Babylon" exposures, which created so much excitement a couple of years ago. The doctor's identity was for a time concealed after his arrest, but the police, who took the liberty of hunting up his lodgings and ransacking his private effects discovered easily who he was...' 

According to the New York Daily Tribune of 4 December 1888:

'It is a fact that after he was discharged for lack of evidence from the accusation of being implicated in the Whitechapel horrors he was re-arrested in London for a violation of the "Maiden Tribute" act, and released under 500 pounds bail.'

So it was being said that Tumblety had been arrested on suspicion of being the Whitechapel murderer but because there wasn't sufficient evidence to hold him on this charge he was charged instead with offences against young men under the Criminal Law Amendment Act. Apparent confirmation of this sequence of events was found in the London Evening Post of 10 December 1888 which stated:

'Tumblety was taken into custody on November 18 on suspicion of being the Whitechapel murderer, and his lodgings being searched by police, he was detained on the charge for which he should have taken his trial to-day.' 

The London Evening Post also said on 16 February 1889:

'Dr Francis Tumblety...was arrested in London on suspicion in connection with the London murders, but...was released immediately it was found there was no evidence to incriminate him...Dr. Tumblety was afterwards taken into custody on another charge, arising out of certain correspondence which was found in his possession, that he was committed for trial at the Old Bailey... '

As the person who first discovered the Evening Post articles, I initially thought they were accurate but I'm now coming to the conclusion that they are not.  The obviously incorrect date of 18 November in the first Evening Post story for the arrest of Tumblety seems to have been derived from the date of publication of the New York World's story (and was included in a New York World report of 27 November 1888) suggesting that the London newspaper's information came from the American press rather than any police sources.  

In my Rip article, I wrote of the improbability of the National Vigilance Association prosecuting Tumblety following an arrest by the Metropolitan Police in circumstances where the Metropolitan Police could have prosecuted Tumblety themselves.  I made the point that 'there is some evidence to suggest that relations between the Metropolitan Police and the NVA were rather frosty at the time'.   In this respect I noted that William Alexander Coote, writing in 1916, referred to 'the opposition' of the police and other authorities to the NVA's work in 'the early days' (which likely includes 1888 bearing in mind the association was only formed in 1885).  I also noted that Robert Anderson was critical of the NVA in a note he wrote in 1890 saying, 'it is sometimes difficult to recognise them or work with them'

Some new evidence has now been discovered which supports the notion that the Metropolitan Police would not have co-operated with the National Vigilance Association in 1888 nor have relied on them to prosecute a Ripper suspect.


On 15 March 1886, Ralph Thickness, the secretary of the National Vigilance Association, wrote to the Home Secretary requesting that the government offer a pardon for anyone who could provide information leading to the conviction of offenders in the case of Louisa Hart who had been committed for trial at Marylebone Police Court on 9 March (in a prosecution initiated by the police) on a charge of 'aiding and assisting a man unknown in carnally knowing Rose Shires, a girl under the age of 13'. The NVA believed that the offer of a pardon could secure the assistance of a certain individual known to them, who they believed could provide material evidence in the case. 

The Home Secretary consulted the Assistant Commissioner of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard, James Monro, who informed the Home Secretary on 18 March 1886 (HO 144/167/A42639) as follows:

'I should deprecate having anything to do with the National Vigilance Association in this case. This association is simply the Pall Mall Gazette and Mr Coote, the organizing secretary, has on more than one occasion, attempted on Mr Stead's behalf, to tamper with my inspector who has charge of the case.  Any association of government in conducting this case either with Mr Stead or Mr Coote, or the National Vigilance Association, in the way of offering a reward or a free pardon, is in my opinion much to be deprecated' .

Furthermore, it was noted by the Home Office that:

'Director of Public Prosecutions entirely agrees  with Mr Monro's opinion, so far as it deals with the action and duty of the police.  Will decline to be associated in any way with either Mr Stead, Mr Coote or the National Vigilance Association'.

Hence both in Scotland Yard and in the Treasury Solicitor's office where the DPP was based, there was clearly strong resistance to the National Vigilance Association being involved in police cases. 


On 15 December 1886, Ralph Thicknesse, the secretary of the National Vigilance Association, wrote to the Home Office requesting that the Secretary of State receive a deputation on the subject of prosecutions by the Treasury Solicitor (HO 136/34).  Although that letter has not survived, the NVA appear to have been unhappy with the lack of prosecutions under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.  In his reply of 23 December 1886, the Home Secretary requested that the NVA set out its complaint in writing.  This was done and provided to the Home Office on 30 December.   The Home Secretary forwarded the NVA's document to the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Charles Warren, and to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Augustus Stephenson, and, upon receiving their responses, the Home Office wrote to the NVA on 30 March 1887 to say that the Home Secretary 'has made full enquiry into the matters of the complaints therein made, and that after careful consideration he fails to find that they are justified by the facts' (HO 136/35).

The NVA's request for a meeting with the Home Secretary was consequently refused. 


As I noted in my Rip article, there is evidence of the Director of Public Prosecutions taking on cases initiated by the National Vigilance Association (but not vice versa).  In the DPP register for 6 November 1888, we find that Mr Coote of the National Vigilance Association forwarded case papers to the DPP after William Henry Turner had been committed for trial at the Bristol Assizes on a charge of selling obscene pictures in a prosecution they (the NVA) had initiated (DPP 3/8).  However, while accepting and successfully prosecuting the case, the Treasury had to inform the NVA on 30 January 1889 that, despite Turner's conviction, they could not agree with the NVA's application that the fine imposed on Turner at the Bristol Assizes be applied towards the costs incurred by the NVA in conducting the initial prosecution of Turner (T15/39).

* * * * *  

We can now see, therefore, that Warren, Monro, Anderson and the Director of Public Prosecutions all viewed the National Vigilance Association in a negative light, albeit that Monro wasn't at Scotland Yard in November 1888, so his views aren't strictly relevant.  It is particularly relevant that the National Vigilance Association was viewed within Scotland Yard as little more than a branch of the Pall Mall Gazette because that newspaper was regarded as extremely hostile to the police by Sir Charles Warren who had unsuccessfully attempted to have it prosecuted for sedition during his time as Commissioner.  Although Sir Charles had resigned on 9 November he was still acting as Commissioner at the time of Tumbley's committal for trial. We can see that the Home Secretary refused even to meet a delegation of the National Vigilance Association to discuss their complaints about prosecutions.  To my mind, this all makes it inconceivable that Scotland Yard would have involved the National Vigilance Association in any way with the prosecution of Francis Tumblety if their belief was that Tumblety was or might have been the Whitechapel murderer.   The fact that the National Vigilance Association did conduct the prosecution of Tumblety at the Old Bailey, therefore, and was presumably responsible for initiating proceedings, means that the story of Tumblety's arrest (by the Met Police) on suspicion of having committed those murders is likely to have been false.

In the past, I've always thought that there was a good chance of Tumblety having been arrested on suspicion because, after all, many men were arrested and released. Tumblety seems to have been someone who liked prowling around at night in the shadows and his behaviour could well have attracted the suspicions of the police.  Tumblety himself said he was arrested for the Whitechapel murders but he also said that he spent two or three days in prison, something we know was the case for the sexual assault charges (at a minimum), suggesting that Tumblety was going along with the story of his arrest on suspicion of being Jack the Ripper to cover up the fact that he had been arrested for sexually assaulting four young men.

We must seriously consider the idea that the prosecution of Tumblety was initiated by the National Vigilance Association and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Whitechapel murders.  I have a suspicion that when, on 17 November 1888, the story broke of a medical man having been arrested at Euston station on suspicion of being the Whitechapel murderer, this got confused by an American journalist with the fact of Dr Tumblety having been committed to trial at the Old Bailey a couple of days earlier and the two separate stories blended into one.  See The Euston Incident  for more on this. Suddenly Tumblety was mentioned in the press as a Ripper suspect when he had never been one in reality.  All the fuss in the newspapers (including Tumblety's supposed collection of female anatomical parts) naturally reached Scotland Yard, hence Chief Inspector Littlechild considered Tumblety a viable suspect, albeit that one of the reasons he did so was because there were no more Ripper murders after Tumblety left England (a thought which he could not have had until some time later).

One might, of course, wonder why two Scotland Yard police officers were witnesses at Tumblety's trial if the prosecution was initiated by the National Vigilance Association.  The answer to this is almost certainly that the NVA would have obtained a warrant for the arrest of Tumblety from a magistrate with the police being compelled to execute that warrant.  An example of Mr Douglas Norman, the NVA's solicitor, applying to Mr L.J. De Eyncourt for a warrant at Westminster Police Court for the arrest of an individual keeping a disorderly house can be found in the police files at the National Archives (in MEPO 2/209).  This warrant was intended to be executed by the Metropolitan Police (although, in the event, there was a legal issue as to whether, in cases applying to disorderly houses only, it was the responsibility of the Parish Constable to do this).


I don't think that it makes any difference to the case against Tumblety whether he was or was not arrested on suspicion of having committed the murders.  We know that so many men were arrested for no good reason and then released that it's of really no significance to the case against him. Littlechild didn't suggest in his letter to Sims that there was a particle of evidence against Tumblety for which he could have been arrested.

But it seems to me to be more and more likely that the London correspondent of the New York World was mistaken in saying that Tumblety was arrested on suspicion of the Whitechapel murders.  If I'm wrong and he was arrested on suspicion, it would appear that there was no connection whatsoever between that arrest and his subsequent arrest (on a warrant probably obtained by the NVA) on the indecency charges. 

20 November 2021