Jack the Ripper and Abraham Lincoln – Tony McMahon | Blog Tour Author Post | #JackTheRipperAndAbrahamLincoln @tonymcmahon_TV @matadorbooks @RandomTTours

An astonishing connection between two of the 19th century’s greatest crimes.

A fraudulent doctor, Francis Tumblety, is implicated in both the 1865 assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the 1888 Jack the Ripper killings. It seems incredible that Jack the Ripper could have been involved in killing President Lincoln, but the evidence is revealed in this book.

We delve into a murky underworld in America’s Gilded Age and the poverty ridden slums of London’s Whitechapel district following the murderous trail left by Tumblety. A flamboyant huckster, well known in the newspaper gossip columns, whose celebrity masked his homicidal tendencies.

Arrested over the Lincoln assassination then released while others were hanged on the scaffold. Put behind bars briefly by Scotland over the Jack the Ripper killings but then makes a daring escape. The proof is overwhelming that Tumblety was one of the most dangerous criminals of the 19th century.

My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the tour invite. Jack the Ripper and Abraham Lincoln is published by Troubadour Books (12 May 2024) and available in ebook (including Kindle Unlimited) and paperback formats. Jack the Ripper is a part of British history that has always interested me and I’m grateful to Tony for the fascinating guest post below, which I hope you enjoy.

by Tony McMahon

Jack the Ripper – American and LGBT?

Astonishing new evidence in my book, Jack the Ripper and Abraham Lincoln, reveals that an Irish American – Francis Tumblety – arrested as a Jack the Ripper suspect in 1888 was also briefly jailed as a plotter in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

How he evaded the hangman’s noose on both occasions is bound up with his sexuality as an openly gay man and a celebrity doctor in north America (the United States and Canada). Tumblety was the nineteenth century equivalent of a social media influencer or TV medic. From Detroit to Montreal and Toronto to New York, everybody knew about this relentlessly self-promoting character, styling himself The Indian Herb Doctor. His fame, which he worked hard to achieve, gave him access to powerful networks he used to protect himself from prosecution.

Being LGBT and half-Irish myself, I was fascinated to discover how Tumblety nurtured relationships with people in key positions of influence based on either his sexuality or ethnicity. He projected a flamboyant and garish identity, dressing in a ridiculous cavalry uniform as he processed down the street, and creating multiple backstories removing all traces of poverty and deprivation from his origins.

His ceaseless flow of paid-for classified advertisements in the newspapers asserted that he was a friend of the author Charles Dickens and had testimonials from the French Emperor Napoleon III, and other worthies. He even had a medical degree from Trinity College, Dublin. All of this was fiction. But in this regard, he was no different from thousands of others trying to climb the greasy pole in the tough world of nineteenth century America. Tumblety even grudgingly admitted to having borrowed his public relations tactics from the legendary showman, P.T. Barnum.

Like many celebrities in our own time, though, Tumblety had a dark side. From early in his career, legal problems and police investigations dogged him. We can sympathise with the relentless harassment he faced from police, courts, and private detectives over his gay cruising, which is referred to explicitly at the time, yet seems to have embarrassed some modern Ripperologists. Engaging in what is now termed ‘gay erasure’, they have sought to airbrush out what is glaringly obvious in contemporary newspaper reports, police, and court records.

Where we simply cannot sympathise with Tumblety are the acts of violence that landed him in legal trouble repeatedly. I have uncovered at least two cases of manslaughter, one in Canada and the other in Liverpool, England. In the Canadian case, Tumblety attempted to steal the dead man’s organs from the mortuary, thereby removing key evidence, before fleeing on horseback across the border into the United States. Incredibly, despite later returning to Canada, the prosecution was never resumed. There is also clear evidence that he assaulted patients, young male employees, and a male sex worker in New York as well as attempting to perform illegal abortions, for which he had no medical qualifications.

So, how did he avoid prosecution? On two occasions, a city mayor and a district attorney showed up in person to stop legal proceedings and allow Tumblety to depart a free man. In 1888, he was in London when Scotland Yard arrested him over allegations of ‘gross indecency’ with four men. When they conferred with police counterparts across the Atlantic, they became convinced that Tumblety was Jack the Ripper. Yet, as he had done in Canada over the manslaughter case, Tumblety fled. This time on a ship to France and then New York. On arriving in Manhattan, the NYPD and state attorney stymied all attempts at extradition. Why? In the book, I offer evidence for how Tumblety had used the considerable fortunes he made from his medical business to buy protection and develop networks.

Because of his sexuality and over-the-top character, The Indian Herb Doctor has been derided by modern Ripperologists and historians as a preposterous self-publicist. Yet when he was arrested in 1888, and in the years after he returned to the United States, he was viewed as a very credible Ripper suspect by those who had known him for decades; both American and British police; private detectives like the Pinkerton agency; and journalists. As I show, it was discussed openly – though only in the American newspapers – that he worked with a Texan ‘valet’ to commit the Whitechapel murders and that he may have been involved in a string of earlier killings in Texas as well as a Ripper-style murder that occurred in Manhattan not long after his return.

My interest in Tumblety was initially piqued by the fact that he was implicated in both the 1865 assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the 1888 Jack the Ripper murders. I spend some time in the book looking at his movements in those two key years. Astonishingly, I found one interview with a retired police officer in 1914 that proves Tumblety was on “intimate” terms with the man who fired the bullet into Lincoln: John Wilkes Booth. He also employed one of the other plotters, David Herrold, in his medical business. And, as if that was not enough, the 1914 interview contains the bombshell claim that Tumblety introduced Mary Surratt to Booth – the female plotter hanged alongside Herrold after the assassination. Little wonder that Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, issued the order to have Tumblety incarcerated and questioned.

Every decade of Tumblety’s life that I investigated threw up new leads and unbelievable stories. The recurring theme is his sexuality. For that reason, I give serious consideration to claims made by Tumblety in a slim volume, self-published autobiography where he described his relationship with President Lincoln and senior army officers, as well as Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward, as “intimate”. Was this simply the romantic language of the time as some suggest? I think not. It will boil the blood of some Lincoln historians but I re-open a century long debate over the dead president’s own sexuality and how Washington’s theatres brought wealthy gay men into close, and clandestine, contact.

This is a book heaving with detail and footnoted evidence, yet I’ve endeavoured to ensure it remains a page turner. As a journalist and TV historian, I’ve enjoyed the process of research immensely. There are factors that point to Tumblety’s guilt in the Ripper killings that time and space do not allow me to elaborate on here. Not least the impact that syphilis had on his mind and body. I dispense with the notion that being gay meant he was not motivated to kill women. What I point to, without giving too much away, are clues he left in his own writings about being a frustrated and humiliated man of medicine as well as horrific accounts that Tumblety owned a collection of uteruses – which was one of the reasons Scotland Yard elevated him to a prime suspect.

Jack the Ripper and Abraham Lincoln takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the American Civil War, Gilded Age, and on to the streets of Victorian London following a truly larger-than-life character who you will be left in no doubt was involved in two of the most appalling crimes of the 19th century.

• Tony McMahon is an experienced investigative journalist, news and features editor, and consultant to governments and NGOs on issues like countering violent extremism and counter terrorism. A former BBC producer and Sky News reporter before becoming a communications consultant working with government clients (Home Office, US State Department) on issues like radicalisation and extremism-related violence.

• For the last decade, he has been a regular contributor on TV history and science documentaries covering a wide range of issues and originating programme ideas. This includes multiple episodes/seasons of William Shatner’s The UnXplained (Prometheus/History), Secrets of the Royal Palaces (Viacom/Channel 5), Truthseekers (Big Media/History) and Forbidden History (LikeAShot/UKTV and Sky History).

• The idea to investigate Francis Tumblety arose after being invited to talk about Jack the Ripper on Sky History’s 2022 documentary series: William Shatner’s The UnXplained. During the research process ahead of filming, the linkage between the Lincoln assassination and the Jack the Ripper murders emerged.

• He has written two biographies with black British themes – his biography of the late middleweight boxer Errol Christie – No Place To Hide (Aurum Press) was shortlisted for best sports biography of 2011 and long-listed for the William Hill prize.

• Tony was born in Walthamstow, east London, and has been fascinated by the Jack the Ripper story all his life. The main protagonist, Francis Tumblety, was both LGBT and Irish heritage – like the author – but that is where the similarity ends!

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