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The Mysterious Frank Townsend

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  • The Mysterious Frank Townsend

    Hi All,

    Five days before the steamship La Bretagne slipped anchor at Le Havre en route for New York descriptions of Tumblety appeared in the US press.

    "His own face is covered with pimples, and although his features are otherwise regular, his appearance on this account is somewhat repulsive. He is a large and heavily built man, standing fully six feet in his stockings." [New York World, 19th November 1888]

    "He was of striking personal appearance, being considerably over six feet in height, of graceful and powerful build, with strongly marked features, beautifully clear complexion, a sweeping mustache, and jet-black hair." [New York Times, 19th November 1888]

    "He is about fifty-five years old, tall and rather heavy, and looks as if he painted his cheeks and dyed his hair, heavy mustache and side whiskers." [New York Herald, 19th November 1888]

    Tumblety travelled under the assumed name of Frank Townsend, which is confirmed by Tim Riordan's discovery of La Bretagne's passenger manifest—

    Roll 528, List 1616, Line 36
    1888 3 Dec. ship La Bretagne; Havre to New York

    No. 36
    Name Frank Townsend
    Age 45
    Sex M
    Calling no occ[upation]
    Citizenship USA
    Destination NY
    Loc of Pass. 1st Place
    # of bags 4

    La Bretagne docked in New York at 1.30 pm on Sunday 2nd December.

    It would have been difficult for anyone not to recognize such an imposing figure disembarking from La Bretagne, yet the Frederick News [Maryland], Tuesday 4th December 1888, reported—

    "According to the detectives he arrived on the French steamship La Bretagne, from Havre, and although there were a dozen or more reporters on the pier when he landed, all failed to recognize him."

    New York World, Tuesday 4th December 1888—

    "When the French line steamer La Bretagne, from Havre, came to her dock at 1:30 Sunday afternoon two keen-looking men pushed through the crowd and stood on either side of the gangplank. They glanced impatiently at the passengers until a big, fine-looking man hurried across the deck and began to descend. He had a heavy, fierce-looking mustache, waxed at the ends; his face was pale and he looked hurried and excited. He wore a dark blue ulster, with belt buttoned. He carried unders his arm two canes and an umbrella fastened together with a strap.

    "He hurriedly engaged a cab, gave the directions in a low voice and was driven away. The two keen-looking men jumped into another cab and followed him. The fine-looking man was the notorious Dr. Francis Twomblety or Tumblety, and his pursuers were two of Inspector Byrnes's best men, Crowley and Hickey."

    The most interesting thing about this story [plus those of the New York Times, New York Herald and New York Tribune] is why it didn't break until Tuesday 4th December. One of the most notorious characters of the past thirty years, a charlatan, quack doctor, possible suspect in the London Jack the Ripper murders, a $1500 bail jumper on charges under the "Modern Babylon Act" had arrived in America on Sunday 2nd December, yet nothing appeared in the New York press on Monday 3rd December.

    Equally interesting is the perspective of the New York World story. Who wrote it? Was a New York World reporter standing on the dock watching Crowley and Hickey [two of Inspector Byrnes's best men] as they followed the man with "a heavy, fierce-looking mustache, waxed at the ends" who no other reporters recognized as he "hurriedly engaged a cab, gave the directions in a low voice and was driven away"?

    Did a New York World reporter follow Crowley and Hickey as they "jumped into another cab and followed him"?

    Did a New York World reporter watch as "Dr. Twomblety's cab stopped at Fourth Avenue and 10th Street, where the doctor got out, paid the driver and stepped briskly up the steps of No. 75 East 10th Street, the Arnold House. He pulled the bell, and, as no one came, he grew impatient and walked a little further down the street to No. 81. Here there was another delay in responding to his summons, and he became impatient that he tried the next house No. 79. This time there was a prompt answer to his ring and he entered. It was just 2:20 when the door closed on Dr. Twomblety and he has not been seen since"?

    The story reads more like a clumsily-constructed police communique.

    The New York Herald added the detail that Tumblety had "a small steamer trunk placed on the box" of his cab. Presumably, after paying off the cab driver, Tumblety hauled this and his "two canes and an umbrella fastened together with a strap" up and down East 10th Street as he searched for lodgings, starting at No. 75 before doubling back on himself by calling at No. 81 before No. 79. And why was Mrs. McNamara at No. 79, "a fat, good-natured old lady and a firm believer in the doctor who is an old friend" his third choice of landlady? Why didn't Tumblety go straight to her house?

    La Bretagne docked at 1.30 pm. By 2.20 pm Tumblety was inside Mrs McNamara's lodging house in mid Manhattan, door closed, never to be seen again. Forty minutes to disembark a transatlantic steamship and clear immigration and customs when all baggage and hand-baggage had to be gathered together on the dock for inspection and signed declarations of ownership presented to the customs inspector? That's good going, especially considering that La Bretagne carried 390 1st Class passengers.

    Tumblety could have speeded things up by opting to have inspection of his baggage [except for the small steamer trunk] postponed. Such baggage was sent to the appraiser's store for later inspection.

    This he appears to have done, for on Monday 3rd December "the bell of No. 79 was kept merrily jingling all day long . . . Mrs. McNamara at first said the doctor was stopping there. He had spent the night in his room, she said, and in the morning he had gone downtown to get his baggage. He would be back at 2 o'clock." This tallies with the entry on La Bretagne's passenger manifest which records that Frank Townsend had "4 bags".

    Mrs McNamara next told the New York World that "the doctor had not been in her house for two months; that he was abroad, poor dear gentleman, for his health; she had heard some of those awful stories about him, but bless his heart, he would not hurt a chicken! Why he never owed her a cent in his life, and once he had walked up three flights of stairs to pay her a dollar!" And later the same day that "she had no idea who Dr. Twomblety was. She didn't know anything about him, didn't want to know anything about him, didn't want to know anything and could not understand why she was bothered so much."

    So who was the person Crowley and Hickey had followed from the docks to Mrs McNamara's house, the six foot tall man with the "heavy, fierce-looking mustache, waxed at the ends" who had crossed the Atlantic on the steamship La Bretagne?

    The New York World reported on Tuesday 4th December 1888 that—

    "He [Tumblety/Townsend] must have kept himself very quiet on the La Bretagne, for a number of passengers who were interviewed could not remember having seen any one answering his description."

    And on a more circumspect note the New York Times, same date, reported—

    "The man who is supposed to be Tumblety came over on the steamship as 'Frank Townsend', and kept in his stateroom, under the plea of sickness." [my emphasis]

    New York Herald, Tuesday 4th December 1888—

    "Although he shipped under a false name, Chief Inspector Byrnes knew of his coming and had the arrival of the French vessel watched."

    A dime gets you a dollar if it was Tumblety who cabled Byrnes, saying: "Arriving New York, December 2, La Bretagne ex Havre, under the name Frank Townsend".

    So from who or where had Byrnes got this information? Who else knew Tumblety was travelling to America under an assumed name, a trump card the bail-jumping doctor would surely have played very close to his chest?

    In his excellent Casebook dissertation "Tumblety Talks" Roger Palmer opines—

    "Over the next several weeks [following his arrival] Tumblety's exact whereabouts remained unknown. It is sometimes argued that he sat cozily and openly in New York City and could have been easily contacted by Scotland Yard. Such was not the case. Tumblety did not resurface in New York for nearly eight weeks . . ."

    So where was he? Not only had Tumblety outwitted Scotland Yard; it seems he had also outwitted New York's finest.

    I would respectfully suggest that one possible reason for Tumblety's eight-week hiatus is that he was not the passenger who arrived in New York as Frank Townsend; that Tumblety arrived in New York some time later in January, having had more important things with which to occupy himself on behalf of HMG in the meantime.


    Last edited by Simon Wood; May 2, 2009, 03:55 PM. Reason: spolling mistooks

  • #2
    Spectacular work,Simon !

    A dime gets you a dollar if it was Tumblety who cabled Byrnes, saying: "Arriving New York, December 2, La Bretagne ex Havre, under the name Frank Townsend".

    So from who or where had Byrnes got this information? Who else knew Tumblety was travelling to America under an assumed name, a trump card the bail-jumping doctor would surely have played very close to his chest?

    This is exactly what I have come to conclude in regard to Tumbelty's trip as well...but not nearly as succintly as you have..... that Tumbelty was responsible for the leaks to Byrnes all along. Those three varied descriptions of him in three New York papers on the same day are alarming.

    Hopefully, this will inspire others to discuss the issues you have raised here.
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    • #3
      Hi Howard,

      Thanks for the compliment.

      Just so we're square, I was arguing against it being Tumblety who tipped off Byrnes. Sorry, I should have made things clearer.

      I was actually thinking more of it being Anderson, who lent credence to Tumblety by attaching importance to SF Police Chief Crowley's offer to send specimens of Dr T's handwriting. Against what was Anderson going to compare Dr T's handwriting? Not the GSG. And surely not Dear Boss or Saucy Jacky, which the cops had decided was the work of an enterprising journalist.

      I reckon that Tumblety, having been caught four times with his pants down [strange that the cops didn't prosecute him for his July offence against Albert Fisher until November], decided to cooperate with the authorities rather than face two years hard labour, which would have really screwed his spotless reputation.

      The whole episode is far dirtier than any of us imagine.




      • #4
        No problem Simon...I would still push for Tumbelty having something to do with the word getting to Byrnes.
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        • #5
          'Bless his heart, he wouldn't quack like a chicken' and he was covered in pimples (Shame the old ointment didn't work!)

          Fantastic stuff Simon!...JTR I'm sure (as we can be) he wasn't but 'er .....

          Quite a 'character' - in the absence of another phrase- shall we say!

          (All this 'trousers down 'etc etc stuff is odd to say the least!! and that's before we get to the rest of it!!!)

          Suz x


          • #6
            Tumblety was 57 years old in 1888 - strange that he would put 45 years old for FT and be able to pass as such...


            • #7
              Well spotted, Nemo. That niggling little detail went straight over my head.


              • #8

                Tumblety was 39 years old when he boarded the Nevada in Sept 1869. But he put down that he was 32 years old on the ship's passenger manifest.

                He was 50 years old when he boarded the Arizona in April 1880. But the passenger manifest showed him to be 40 years old.

                He was 57 years old when he sailed on the City of Rome in October 1887. But the passenger manifest showed him to still be 40.

                So it was to be expected that he would give a false age when sailing on the La Bretagne, too. The "Tumblety photograph" that Tim found was printed when the 'doctor' was about 41 years old. But Tumblety could have passed for a man who was in his late 20's in that photo. He was a guy who looked younger than he was.


                • #9
                  A dime gets you a dollar if it was Tumblety who cabled Byrnes, saying "Arriving New York, December 2, La Bretagne ex Havre, under the name Frank Townsend."

                  I agree with the odds that Simon set for that wager. Odds of 10-1 sounds about right. If you bet a dime on the belief that Tumblety personally tipped off Byrnes about the La Bretagne, then you should collect at least a dollar if that turned out to have been true. But hey, a 50-1 shot just won the Kentucky Derby yersterday. So you can't say that these long shots don't score once in awhile.

                  And if you wager on the belief that the European authorities notified Byrnes about the La Bretagne, I'd think you'd have to put down about $10 to win yourself a buck.

                  Howard, according to Post 2 you've concluded that Byrnes received his La Bretagne information from Tumblety. I'll open up my drawer and privately mail you a little something about Inspector Byrnes and his handling of fugitives from justice who ship from Europe to New York. In the past, I've only a showed this material to Stewart and two other Ripperologists. So you'll be the 4th guy to see it. After reading it, you may want to modify your conclusion a bit.

                  I liked the point Simon made about how there were hardly any La Bretagne news items in the Monday December 3rd newspapers. There were a few reports that claimed the La Bretagne arrived on Dec 3rd and not Dec 2nd. But most of the reports claimed the ship arrived on Dec 2nd.

                  We have heard that the Frank Townsend who sailed on the La Bretagne may not have been Tumblety. How about the patient named Frank Townsend who died in St. John's Hospital in St. Louis on May 28, 1903? Will he get looked into next? Actually, I had a nice time reading all of this today. People can go right ahead and keep digging. I'd like to hear more about it.


                  • #10
                    Hi Joe,

                    The New York [plus Washington] papers I've been able to find were unanimous on the date of La Bretagne's arrival at Pier 42—

                    New York World [Tuesday 4th December]—Sunday
                    New York Times [Tuesday 4th December]—Sunday
                    New York Herald [Tuesday 4th December]—Sunday
                    New York Tribune [Tuesday 4th December]—Sunday
                    Washington Evening Star [Monday 3rd December]—Yesterday




                    • #11

                      Since we're all on the same team about the facts regarding Tumbelty...or any characters in the all means,enlighten me at your leisure.

                      Thanks....and I hope you had some cash down on the 50-1 longshot in the Derby.
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                      • #12

                        Briefly,not to take up anymore space on this thread on this issue...but I am aware that its a fact that Scotland Yard requested a handwriting sample from SF police chief Crowley and that the British may have been responsible for Byrnes being told of Tumbelty's arrival in December.

                        However, what I should have said before is that since Tumbelty went under a false name when he fled... it may have been possible that the British weren't responsible for informing Byrnes ..if they had looked for "Tumbelty" since he fled under the name Townsend.
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                        • #13
                          So if the Frank Townsend on the ship was not Tumblety, is he supposedly impersonating Tumblety at Tumblety's behest?

                          (It may be a reason for his knocking on the "wrong doors" to lodgings when he arrived if he was just following written directions from Tumblety)

                          I can't see someone agreeing to impersonate Tumblety under the circumstancesbut then Tumblety does seem to be very persuasive

                          I thought Tumblety was thin/lanky, not a "big" man which at least implies some broadness to his body shape - and could we expect Tumblety to be pimply? - lol

                          I suppose we could, considering the efficacy of his potions

                          I would have thought Special Branch were still on Tumblety's trail and supplied the information regarding his movements

                          PS Thanks for the previous info Joe regarding Tumblety's trait for lying about his age


                          • #14
                            Just a minor observation on why Tumblety would have favored the pseudonym "Frank Townsend" for his ocean passage: If his luggage bore the initials "F.T." for Francis Tumblety, that name would have suited him real fine. Of course, this runs idea counter to Simon's line of reasoning that the "Frank Townsend" that arrived in New York was not Tumblety. It would make more sense for Francis Tumblety aka Frank Townsend to travel with his own luggage, wouldn't it?

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                            • #15
                              I mentioned that a "few reports" claimed that the La Bretagne arrived on Dec 3rd. One of which was the Dec 4th Brooklyn Daily Eagle. That newspaper reported that the La Bretagne arrived yesterday.

                              The other source of reference was the La Bretagne's passenger manifest which had the French steamer arriving in New York on Dec 3rd. All other sources that I've seen state that the ship arrived on Sunday Dec 2nd.

                              In addition to the newspapers that Simon shared with us on Post 10, The Trenton Times also reported that the La Bretagne arrived on Sunday. And let's not forget the Evening Chronicle of St. Louis. That newspaper interviewed the owner of a New York hotel (the Cornish Arms.) The owner said, "A man came to my house Sunday evening and gave the name Dr. Tomanly. He said he came on the French steamer Bretagne."

                              My thoughts on this have pretty much remained the same over the years. I'd say that the La Bretagne arrived on Sunday Dec 2nd. I think the ship's passenger manifest showed an incorrect date.

                              As for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's article, I think it was written on Monday Dec 3rd but was printed on Dec 4th. So when its writer claimed that the La Bretagne arrived "yesterday" he meant it to be Sunday Dec 2nd. That's just my opinion.

                              Howard, there was an international police system that was firmly established by 1888 that dealt with escaping fugitives of justice who boated from Europe to New York. Check your private e-mail box today. You'll see that the system would get put into action by the European police authorities and not by the bail jumpers.