The standard view is that William Bury was 5 feet 3½ inches tall. This is the height given in Euan Macpherson’s The Trial of Jack the Ripper (1) and William Beadle’s Jack the Ripper Unmasked (2) and these authors are evidently using the February 12, 1889 editions of The Dundee Advertiser and The Dundee Courier, the two newspapers that provided the most extensive coverage of the Ellen Bury murder and Bury’s subsequent trial, as their sources for this.
Recently, however, I discovered a prison record which indicates that Bury was actually 5 feet 2 inches tall. Register no. 2795 in West Yorkshire Prison Records, 1801-1914 shows that a William Henry Bury spent two weeks in prison in 1884 after being convicted of vagrancy. While there was more than one William Henry Bury alive in the United Kingdom at that time, there are a number of reasons to believe that this was the William Henry Bury who is the subject of this website. The prison record indicates that the age is right (25), the hair color is right (brown), the occupation is right (warehouseman) and the place of birth is right as well (Stourbridge). Further, the place of committal is given as Dewsbury, and according to an article in the February 16, 1889 Staffordshire Advertiser, Bury “is said for some time to have been at Dewsbury”(3). The prison record, giving an official measurement of 5 feet 2 inches for Bury, should be preferred as a source over the Dundee newspapers. Interestingly, some of the newspapers which covered the Ellen Bury murder did give Bury’s height as 5 feet 2 inches. For example, this is the height given for Bury in the February 12, 1889 issue of the Aberdeen Journal.
So why would the Advertiser and the Courier report that Bury was 5 feet 3½ inches tall when he was actually 5 feet 2 inches? After conducting some further research into the 1889 newspaper coverage of Bury, I came across an article which appears to resolve the discrepancy. A March 19, 1889 article in The Dundee Advertiser notes that Bury was “5 feet 3½ inches in his boots” (4). The 5 feet 2 inches measurement, then, apparently refers to Bury’s height in his stocking feet, or his true height.
Does Bury’s revised height of 5’2″ change anything about the relationship between Bury and the various eyewitness descriptions in the Jack the Ripper case? Elizabeth Long said that the man she saw with Annie Chapman was “a little taller than the deceased” (5) (Chapman was 5’0″), so her height estimate continues to be a match with Bury. Joseph Levy said that the man he saw with Catherine Eddowes “might have been three inches taller than the victim” (6) (Eddowes was 4’11”), so his description continues to be an excellent match with Bury as well. Israel Schwartz stated that the man he saw was 5 feet 5 inches. If Bury was 5 feet 3½ inches in his boots, then with the hat he was wearing, he would have been over 5 feet 4 inches tall, so Schwartz’s height estimate remains a very good fit with William Bury, too. Joseph Lawende gave different height estimates for the man that he saw, ranging from 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 9 inches, so Bury, at a little over 5’4″ in a hat, is obviously now less of a match with Lawende’s estimate than he was before. Levy and Lawende, however, both looked at the same man. Levy’s estimate is more likely to have been accurate than Lawende’s estimate, as Levy was using a yardstick (the woman) to determine the man’s height. Lawende appears to have simply overestimated the height of the man that he saw.
(1) Macpherson, Euan. The Trial of Jack the Ripper. Edinburgh: Mainstream (2005): 19.
(2) Beadle, William. Jack the Ripper Unmasked. London: John Blake (2009): 50.
(3) “Murder by a Former Resident at Wolverhampton.” Staffordshire Advertiser (16 Feb. 1889). Casebook: Jack the Ripper. https://forum.casebook.org/forum/ripper-discussions/suspects/bury-w-h/236-bury-s-whereabouts-in-august-1888. Post 1.
(4) “Dundee Circuit Court. The Princes Street Tragedy.” Dundee Advertiser (19 Mar. 1889): 2.
(5) Evans, Stewart P. and Keith Skinner. The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion. N.Y.: Skyhorse (2009): 110.
(6) Ibid., 259.