On February 3, a mock retrial of William Bury for the murder of his wife Ellen Bury took place in Dundee, Scotland. Lord Hugh Matthews, a Scottish Supreme Court justice, commanded the trial. The two sides, mooting societies from the University of Dundee (prosecution) and the University of Aberdeen (defense), were each able to call a forensic pathologist as their expert witness, the prosecution calling Dr. John Clark and the defense Dr. Richard Shepherd. Presented with conflicting medical evidence, the jury was divided and William Bury was acquitted of the murder.
It’s important to note that William Bury’s confession to the murder does not seem to have been admitted into evidence at the retrial, and so the verdict should not be taken too seriously. The jury was presented with the evidence that was available at the time of Bury’s original trial, and Bury only confessed to the murder a few days prior to his execution, after his request for a reprieve had been denied. In both the original trial and in the retrial the medical evidence was closely contested, and so we are fortunate to have William Bury’s confession as proof that he committed the murder. While Dr. Shepherd put forward a spirited effort on behalf of the defense, he failed to show that Ellen Bury could not have been murdered.
Bury, then, remains the murderer of his wife, and while there will be some in the Ripper community who, unfortunately, will seek to exploit this acquittal as a means of casting doubt on the identification of Bury as the Ripper, the real lesson learned in Dundee was that modern forensic pathology was unable to undermine Bury’s confession. I applaud the parties involved in the staging of the retrial and I hope that it will lead to an increased public awareness of Bury and of his now established relationship to the Ripper murders.