Was William Bury Delusional?

William Bury committed a murder that can be linked to the Jack the Ripper murders through signature analysis.  Two chalked messages, apparently written by Bury, were found at the back of his residence in Dundee, “Jack Ripper is in this seller” and “Jack Ri(p)per is at the back of this door.”  When executioner James Berry visited Bury in his cell, he indicated that Bury “talked as if he thought himself to be one who stood head and shoulders above every other criminal who had passed through my hands.”  Is it possible that William Bury was simply mentally ill and was suffering from a delusion that he was Jack the Ripper?  Let’s review the evidence.

At Bury’s trial in Dundee, numerous people provided testimony regarding their experiences with Bury, both prior to and following Ellen Bury’s murder.  None of them stated anything which would suggest that Bury imagined himself to be Jack the Ripper.  When Jack the Ripper was mentioned by Marjory Smith and David Walker in conversations with Bury in Dundee, Bury avoided the subject.  To Smith he said “I do not know so much about that,” which shows that he was not delusional, while to Walker he apparently said nothing at all.

There are some newspaper articles which claim that Bury either confessed or attempted to confess to the Ripper murders following his arrest.  One newspaper article includes a quote from a senior official at Scotland Yard in which the official remarks that Bury “talks in a rambling incoherent way about the being the author of the London horrors.”  But newspaper articles at the time often included exaggerations, fictions or incorrect information, and even if Bury had attempted to confess to the Whitechapel murders, that would not necessarily mean that he was caught up in a delusion that he was the Ripper.  After Bury had been sentenced to death, and prior to his execution, he would have been under close daily observation, but there appears to be nothing in the accounts of his behavior during this period which would suggest that he was absorbed in a fantasy that he was the Whitechapel murderer.

What ends the matter completely, however, is something that Bury himself said.  At Bury’s trial, Lt. James Parr, who spoke to Bury at the Dundee police station where Bury reported Ellen’s death, testified that Bury told him that he feared “he would be apprehended as Jack the Ripper.”  This clearly indicates that Bury was not suffering from a delusion that he himself was Jack the Ripper.