FOR well over a century, many people have tried to solve the mystery of the identity of Jack the Ripper, with more than a hundred suspects investigated by police, authors, journalists and ordinary members of the public.

The Whitechapel Murders, as they soon became known, took place in London in 1888, and it is generally agreed that five of the killings – the so-called canonical murders – were carried out by the same man using the same modus operandi (MO). Other killings around the same place and same time did not feature the Ripper’s MO of cutting his victim’s throat and then mutilating her.

Could it be the case that Jack the Ripper was actually caught and hanged in Dundee on April 24, 1889? Was William Henry Bury, who was convicted of murdering his wife Ellen in a basement flat in the city in February 1889, the real Ripper?

It is a fascinating story and I am grateful to Euan Macpherson, author of two books on the subject, for his assistance with this account which will end with the question – do you think Bury was Jack the Ripper?

The first salient fact is that Bury was a proven murderer. He went to trial for the crime, was found guilty, and before he was hanged, he confessed to the killing to a clergyman. So no question about it – William Bury was a killer. Furthermore, after killing his wife he mutilated her body with a knife, slashing open her abdomen. No other suspect in the Jack the Ripper case was a proven murderer who used the same MO – only Bury.

Macpherson and other researchers and journalists all point to the extraordinary coincidences surrounding Bury, such as the timings of the last year of his life.

William Bury was born in Stourbridge in Worcestershire on May 25, 1859. He was certainly an unfortunate child. His father was killed in an accident with a horse and cart before Bury was even one-year-old. His mother went mad and was committed to an asylum just days before Bury’s first birthday and she died there in 1864.

Bury was raised by his uncle and at the age of 16 he found work in a warehouse as a clerk, proving that he was at least literate. He ran up a debt and was sacked, and was also a thief, who was dismissed from his next job for stealing, after which he seems to have had numerous jobs in the Midlands and may even have had a spell in prison until the autumn of 1887, when he moved to the East End of London and got a job delivering sawdust for a man named John Martin.

Living in Martin’s house, which was claimed to be a brothel, he met Ellen Elliot, who was working there, too – whether or not she was a prostitute is uncertain. Martin kicked out Bury over an unpaid debt and Ellen went with him, for she appears to have genuinely fallen in love with Bury, and they were married in April, 1888.

Ellen was already aware that her husband could be violent when drunk, and their new landlady, Elizabeth Haynes of Swaton Road, Bow, in East London, caught Bury kneeling on Ellen threatening to cut her throat. Haynes threw them out, forcing Ellen to sell a share in a railway company that she had inherited from an aunt. They repaid Bury’s debt to Martin and William got a horse and cart and went back to work for his old employer. Martin would later testify that Bury was then infected with venereal disease – he was a regular visitor to the brothels and back streets of Whitechapel – and had passed it on to Ellen. Bury underwent the cure for his VD but continued to drink heavily and assault Ellen, usually because she would deny him money, and in the latter half of 1888 he was most certainly in East London when the Ripper murders began.

The five “canonical” murder victims were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. They were all prostitutes who were killed between August 31 and November 9, 1888. There is little doubt that they were killed by the same man. An FBI profiling operation in the 1980s stated that hatred of prostitutes was a possible motive, and Bury possibly killed

and mutilated them in revenge for his VD.

There were witnesses who saw a man, usually described as dishevelled, in the vicinity of each murder. All except one stated that the height of the suspect was just over five feet – Bury was five feet two inches in his sticking soles.

The press began to link the killings and it was a journalist who coined the term Jack the Ripper, and the furore over the murders exploded just as the police investigation moved into a higher gear with dozens of suspects being rounded up and interrogated. Possibly fearing arrest, Bury persuaded his wife that they should leave London and a friend was told they were emigrating to Australia. Instead Bury decided to go to Scotland, and told a reluctant Ellen that he had been offered a job in a jute factory in Dundee – a complete lie which he fabricated with a forged document.

What happened next is undeniable as the details were conclusively proven at Bury’s trial which received extensive publicity in the Dundonian press.

Bury and his wife travelled by boat to Dundee, arriving in the city on January 21, 1889, when they rented a room above a bar in Union Street for eight days before moving to a squat in a basement flat at 113 Princes Street. Bury was still drinking heavily and made a drinking companion of a painter and decorator, David Walker.

On Monday, February 4, Bury bought a length of rope and then went to view cases being heard at the sheriff court. Sometime on February 5, he murdered Ellen, strangling her with the rope and mutilating her abdomen. He crammed her body

into a packing case, breaking her

legs to do so.

On February 10, Bury was with Walker who asked him if there were any reports of Jack the Ripper in a newspaper Bury was reading. According to court reports, at that point Bury took fright and threw away the paper in which a lead story was about a woman committing suicide by hanging. That evening Bury went into Dundee Central police station and told officers that his wife had committed suicide.

The police immediately went to the basement flat and found Ellen’s body. They also found the murder weapons – the rope with Ellen’s hair in the fibres and the large pen knife which Bury had not even bothered to clean. He was charged with murder, and pled not guilty. The High Court trial before Lord Young was short and straightforward, taking place in a single day on March 28, 1889. One doctor testified that Ellen could have hanged herself, but the evidence against Bury was overwhelming. John Martin and Elizabeth Haynes were brought from London to testify about Bury’s savage treatment of his wife, and David Walker supplied the details of their drinking session on the day Bury went to the police. Two doctors gave the gruesome details of Ellen’s injuries and said they could not be self-inflicted.

THE jury found him guilty but recommended clemency – opposition to the death penalty was a major cause in Dundee. Lord Young asked them to reconsider and at 10.40pm they returned to declare Bury guilty by unanimous verdict.

The judge had no option with his sentence. Pronounced “for doom” William Bury was told he would suffer death by hanging.

There were several aspects other than the MO which linked Bury to the Ripper murders. At the basement flat, police found graffiti which read “Jack Ripper is the back of this door” and “Jack Ripper is in this seller (sic)”. It has never been established who wrote the graffiti but it seems somebody suspected Bury even before the killing.

Bury himself said that he had failed to go to the police for five days because he feared he would be arrested for being Jack the Ripper.

The Dundee detectives alerted the Metropolitan Police but for some reason, they carried out only perfunctory enquiries, probably because they were fixated on the theory that Euan Macpherson explains: “Why can we never find Jack the Ripper? Is it because we are looking for something that does not exist? Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde in 1886; it was being performed as a play in The Royal Lyceum Theatre (London) as the murders were being committed.

“Who are the main suspects for Jack the Ripper? They are all posh Westenders leading a double life by visiting London’s East End after dark: The Duke of Clarence, Sir William Gull (surgeon to Queen Victoria), Montague Druitt (barrister), Walter Sickert (artist). All of these suspects fit the “Jekyll” template. Jack the Ripper cannot be an uneducated Eastender; he must be a respectable Westender leading a double life.”

Over the years it has been claimed that the Ripper must have had some medical knowledge, but that theory has never held much water as a common butcher would have known what to do – and Bury was reported to have worked in a butcher’s shop or abattoir.

Back in 1889, appeals for clemency were made to the Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord North, but he turned them down. In prison, just days before his execution, Bury confessed to an Episcopalian clergyman, the Reverend Edward Gough, that he had indeed killed his wife. Gough persuaded Bury to write a confession, which he did two days before his execution.

He wrote that he had strangled Ellen during a row over money and had started to dismember her body but could not continue and had shoved her body into a crate to dispose of it later. He confessed he had made up the suicide story.

On April 24, 1889, William Bury became the last man to be hanged for murder in Dundee. He went to the gallows in a cool and collected manner where he was hanged by the executioner, James Berry. Berry wrote to a friend two days later: “I have just arrived back from Dundee where I have had an Execution of a fine young full develloped (sic) man of good stature. He was the last man that I should judge to carry out such a murder or mutilation case I never was so taken in before with such a cool and collected thought to the last all that saw his end was astonished at his nerve.”

Macpherson says: “So why does a Jack the Ripper mystery exist today? The London Metropolitan Police may not have wanted to admit that the Dundee police had caught this man that they could not catch.

“Nowadays, there is a Jack the Ripper industry – tour guides, books, films – centred around the East End of London and a financial interest in keeping the mystery unsolved.”

So let’s review the evidence. The five definite Jack the Ripper murders began within a few months of Bury arriving in London and ceased when he left, but there was a Ripper-style murder by Bury in Dundee shortly afterwards. And again that most salient fact – of all the suspects for the murders of Jack the Ripper, only one is known to have committed murder with the same MO as the Ripper, and that was William Bury.

Macpherson believes Dundee’s links to Jack the Ripper should be acknowledged and commemorated. He is convinced that William Bury was the Ripper and says the evidence is very strong. There is no real forensic evidence surviving from 1888, and a cold case review isn’t possible -– the tenement has been demolished.

So was the last man hanged in Dundee really Jack the Ripper?