Caroline Maxwell

From Jack the Ripper Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Witness at Mary Jane Kelly's inquest.

Wife of Henry Maxwell, a Lodging House deputy of 14 Dorset Street, Spitalfields.

In her initial statement, taken on 9th November 1888, she said she had known Kelly for about four months and believed her to be 'an unfortunate', earning her living in that way since Joseph Barnett had left her. Mrs Maxwell and Kelly were on speaking terms.

She saw Mary at the corner of Miller's Court between 8.00am and 8.30am on the morning of 9th November 1888, saying she was sure of the time as she was taking some plates her husband had borrowed back to the house opposite. She spoke to Kelly, asking her why she was up so early, to which Kelly replied that she had the horrors of drink upon her as she had been drinking for some days previously. Mrs Maxwell suggested she go and have a drink in 'Mrs Ringers' (The Britannia), but Kelly replied that she had already done so and brought it up, pointing to some vomit in the road. Maxwell left, saying that she pitied her feelings. From there she went on an errand to Bishopsgate.

On returning, Maxwell saw Kelly again at about 8.45-9.00am outside the Britannia talking to a man. He was about 30 years of age, stout of build, about 5ft 5ins tall and dressed like a market porter. As she was quite a distance away, she did not believe she would recognise him again. Kelly was wearing a dark dress, velvet body and a maroon shawl.[1]

At the inquest (12th November 1888), Maxwell was warned by Coroner Roderick MacDonald, stating "You must be very careful about your evidence, because it is different to other people's."[2] Her testimony added a few other details to her original statement; that she had only spoken to Mary twice; that the man seen with Kelly was wearing 'dark clothes and a sort of plaid coat'; that the man was not wearing a tall silk hat and that if he was, she would have noticed.[3]

Caroline Maxwell's account of her meeting with Kelly is controversial in that it puts the encounter several hours after the supposed time of death, which Dr Thomas Bond put as being around 1.00-2.00am[4]. Dr George Bagster Phillips deduced that death occurred much later, around 5.15-6.15am[5], but even so, this is still over two hours before Maxwell's encounter. It is quite possible that she was wrong in her timing of the incidents described though she was adamant about the time on account of the returning of the borrowed plates.

Some 50 years later, Walter Dew commented:

"If Mrs Maxwell had been a sensation seeker - one of those women who live for the limelight - it would have been easy to discredit her story. She was not. She seemed a sane and sensible woman, and her reputation was excellent. In one way at least her version fitted into the facts as known. We knew that Marie had been drinking the previous night, and, as this was not a habit of hers, illness the next morning was just what might have been expected."[6]

In any case, Maxwell's claims (and those of Maurice Lewis, who believed he saw Mary even later that morning) have inspired a number of theories surrounding Mary Kelly's death, including the idea that it may not have been Mary she was talking to or even the notion that the doctors were wrong.

The debate continues.


  1. Kelly inquest papers - MJ/SPC, NE1888, Box 3, Case paper 19 (London Metropolitan Archives)
  2. Daily Telegraph, 13th November 1888
  3. Kelly inquest papers - as above
  4. Report by Dr Thomas Bond, 10th November 1888 - HO 144/221/A49301C, ff.220-3
  5. The Times, 12th November 1888
  6. I Caught Crippen: Memoirs of Ex-Chief Inspector Walter Dew CID, Walter Dew (Balckie and Son 1938)