IN COLD BLOOD
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
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.