One of the most enduring modern mysteries is determining who exactly might have been behind a series of 1888 serial killings in London’s Whitechapel district. The murders have been attributed to an unknown figure who has colloquially come to be known as “Jack the Ripper” due to his preferred method of horribly mutilating his victims. Numerous attempts to identify the killer have been made in the nearly 130 years since the killings took place, but none have been successful due to a lack of concrete forensic evidence. However, many of the known clues lead to one young woman, Mary Jane Kelly, believed to have been the last known victim of Jack the Ripper.
Little is known about the young woman known as Mary Jane Kelly and by various psuedonyms, but enough evidence exists to suggest she had turned to prostitution out of desperation after the death of her husband in 1879. Nine years later, she was found murdered and gruesomely disfigured in London on November 9, 1888. Because the Jack the Ripper murders ended after her death, much research has focused on definitvely identifying Mary Jane Kelly in order to find a motive in those who were close to her. To that end, historians from the University of Leicester launched The Mary Jane Project to try and determine her identity once and for all.
Their efforts lead them to St. Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone in East London where Mary Jane Kelly was buried ten days after her death. The researchers intended to exhume her remains in order to collect DNA evidence, but found that it would be impossibleafter surveying the cemetery. In their published report, the team concludes that locating and exhuming Mary Jane Kelly’s remains would be a “herculean effort” that would require hundreds of other graves to be exhumed in the process – that is, if legal permission for each grave could be granted by next of kin. Furthermore, the gravestones in the cemetery are relatively new and have been moved several times over the last hundred years, meaning the exact location of Mary Jane Kelly’s remains is unknown.
According to a University of Leicester press release, this means that the true identity of whoever is in Mary Jane Kelly’s grave will likely remain a mystery:
All said, the number of unknown variables mean that there is still no guarantee that Mary Jane Kelly is buried within the hypothetical search area, and unfortunately, even if she is, it is very likely that her grave has been disturbed or destroyed by more recent grave digging.
Due to the daunting prospect and probable impossibility of such a feat, researchers have given up chasing the trail of clues extending from Mary Jane Kelly – for now, at least. As this was one of the most promising leads in the still unsolved Jack the Ripper case, it looks like this mystery might be one for the history books.