Was Jack the Rip­per from Dundee? Euan MacPher­son ex­am­ines the trial of a man who many now be­lieve was the coun­try’s most no­to­ri­ous killer

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Could Jack the Rip­per have been ap­pre­hended in Dundee?

Was the world’s most no­to­ri­ous se­rial killer ap­pre­hended in Dundee? The time was 6:50pm on Sun­day 10 Fe­bru­ary 1889. A man had walked into the Cen­tral Po­lice Of­fice in Dundee with a story that his wife had com­mit­ted sui­cide. The man’s name was Wil­liam Bury and he gave his ad­dress as 113 Princes Street, Dundee. Fifty-year-old David Lamb, who had re­cently been awarded the sum of £1 for dis­play­ing ‘zeal and in­tel­li­gence’ in the con­duct of theft cases, was chief of the De­tec­tive Depart­ment. Lamb now trav­elled by horse-drawn car­riage to Princes Street. Bury’s flat was a base­ment apart­ment, be­neath street level. Sev­en­teen stone steps took Lamb down to the front door. When he opened the door and struck a match, he found him­self in a dingy kitchen which was bare apart from two bits of red cur­tain hang­ing from the win­dow. Lamb pushed open the door of the ad­join­ing room. The rem­nants of a coal fire were still burn­ing in the fire­place, but what im­me­di­ately caught Lamb’s no­tice was the large wooden box in the mid­dle of the room. The floor around the box had been washed. In­side the box was the body of a woman. She was ly­ing on her back; the body had been dou­bled-up and the right leg had been bro­ken in two places to make it fit into the box. There was a deep gash in her ab­domen through which her in­testines were

“The vic­tim lost con­scious­ness and the killer laid her body on the floor

pro­trud­ing. There were also marks of con­stric­tion around the neck. Lamb then sum­moned Dr Tem­ple­man who ex­am­ined the body. Tem­ple­man’s opin­ion was that the woman had been mur­dered, that the killer had ap­proached the vic­tim from be­hind, bran­dish­ing a heavy iron im­ple­ment like a poker. He stunned her with sev­eral blows to the head, put a rope around her neck and stran­gled her. As he was do­ing this, the vic­tim reached over her shoul­der and scratched her killer on the wrist. The vic­tim lost con­scious­ness and the killer laid her body on the floor. He then picked up a knife and slashed open her ab­domen. On Mon­day 11 Fe­bru­ary, Wil­liam Bury was ex­am­ined by James Miller, sur­geon at the Prison of Dundee, who spot­ted scratches on Bury’s right wrist. Bury said these scratches had been caused by a cat. Miller con­sid­ered this to be im­prob­a­ble: the par­al­lel di­rec­tion of the scratches and the in­ter­vals be­tween them in­di­cated to him that the scratches had been caused by hu­man fin­ger­nails. But per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing piece of ev­i­dence was un­cov­ered not by the de­tec­tives but by a jour­nal­ist work­ing for The Dundee Ad­ver­tiser. On in­spect­ing the prop­erty, the jour­nal­ist took a look at the back yard. This is how he re­ported his dis­cov­ery in The Dundee Ad­ver­tiser of 12 Fe­bru­ary 1889: ‘The back premises are led to by a dirty stair, at the foot of which on an old door is the fol­low­ing writ­ten in chalk – Jack Rip­per [sic] is at the back of this door. ‘At the back of this door, and just at the turn of the stair, there is the in­scrip­tion – Jack Rip­per is in this seller [sic]. The jour­nal­ist went on to make the very in­ter­est­ing com­ment that ‘the writ­ing is older than the dis­cov­ery of the tragedy’. If true, this meant it was im­pos­si­ble for a mem­ber of the pub­lic to have heard about the mur­der and then mis­chie­vously put some graffiti on the wall when no one was look­ing. Wil­liam Bury was charged with mur­der and went on trial be­fore the Spring Cir­cuit Court of For­farshire on Thurs­day 28 March 1889. The trial lasted 13 hours and can­dles were lit in­side the court­room as pro­ceed­ings wore on into the evening. At ap­prox­i­mately 11pm, the jury re­turned a ver­dict of guilty. Wil­liam Bury was sen­tenced to death and hanged in Dundee on 24 April 1889. Wil­liam Bury had been born in Stour­bridge in 1859 and grew up in Wolver­hamp­ton. He was known to be liv­ing in Birm­ing­ham in the au­tumn of 1887. In Oc­to­ber 1887, he found work in Lon­don as a saw­dust mer­chant. When he was sacked in March, he car­ried on as a self-em­ployed ‘saw­dust and sil­ver sand mer­chant.’ This was a job that re­quired Bury to load saw­dust onto a horse and cart and take it around pub­lic houses and butcher shops where it would be scat­tered on the floor. The ‘Jack the Rip­per’ mur­ders be­gan in Lon­don in Au­gust, 1888. The last known ‘Jack the Rip­per’ mur­der oc­curred on 9 Novem­ber 1888. Wil­liam Bury trav­elled by boat from Lon­don to Dundee on 21 Jan­uary 1889. There­fore, the ‘Jack the Rip­per’ mur­ders did not be­gin un­til Wil­liam Bury had ar­rived in Lon­don and also ceased when he left. Jack the Rip­per killed his vic­tims in the street and in the early hours of the morn­ing. These women were never heard to cry out. There­fore, it is be­lieved they were stran­gled and that their bod­ies were mu­ti­lated af­ter death. This is re­in­forced by the lack of blood spat­ter at the crime scenes, in­di­cat­ing the heart had stopped pump­ing when the body was be­ing cut open. Wil­liam Bury’s vic­tim in Dundee was his wife. She

was stran­gled and her body was then mu­ti­lated in the ab­domen af­ter death. The modus operandi is the same as that used by Jack the Rip­per. For rea­sons known only to him­self, Wil­liam Bury had writ­ten ‘Jack Rip­per is in this seller’ [sic] on the wall of his base­ment flat in Dundee. When he was in the cus­tody of Dundee Po­lice, he was asked why it has taken him from Tues­day 5 till Sun­day 10 Fe­bru­ary to come to the po­lice. The truth is that it had prob­a­bly taken him this length of time to get a ham­mer, break the bones in his wife’s right leg, dis­pose of the ham­mer, pack her body into the box and wash the floor. How­ever, the an­swer Wil­liam Bury gave was equally in­ter­est­ing. He had said that the rea­son it took him so long to come for­ward was that he was ‘afraid’ he would be ar­rested as ‘Jack the Rip­per’.

“Jack the Rip­per killed his vic­tims in the street and in the early hours of the morn­ing

Mur­der­ous: Jack the Rip­per killed his vic­tims by stran­gu­la­tion be­fore dis­em­bowl­ing them with a knife. Right: In­scrip­tions found on the wall of Wil­liam Bury’s apart­ment in 1889.

Below: Bury in the dock fac­ing charges of mur­der.

Clock­wise from top left: Euan McPher­son’s book on The Rip­per; dec­la­ra­tion of Bury’s hang­ing; in­scrip­tions found on the wall; Bury ap­proaches the hang­ing plat­form with a pri­est hold­ing his arm; the Dundee prop­erty where Bury mur­dered his wife.

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