Bury in Two Recent Suspect Overviews

Williams, Paul.  Jack the Ripper Suspects: The Definitive Guide and Encyclopedia.  [Toronto]: VP Publications, an Imprint of RJ Publishing, 2018.

C.J. Morley.  Jack the Ripper Suspects.  CreateSpace, 2018.

In their respective books Williams and Morley have taken on the monumental task of describing the large number of individuals who at one time or another have been suspected of being Jack the Ripper, Williams describing 333 suspects and Morley 365.  It’s of interest to see what they have to say about William Bury.

Williams’ book, the first of the two to be published this year, organizes the suspects by category, and information about Bury is included in the chapter, “Contemporary Killers.”  Williams is aware of the pivotal article by Robert D. Keppel, one of the world’s leading authorities on signature analysis, et al., “The Jack the Ripper Murders: A Modus Operandi and Signature Analysis of the 1888-91 Whitechapel Murders,” as he mentions the article in the introduction to his book, and he also notes my own article, “Identifying William Bury as Jack the Ripper,” which maps the Ellen Bury murder to the signature description published by Keppel and his team of criminologists.  While Williams does not assess the evidence and argument presented in my article, he does state that “objections include that Ellen’s throat was not cut and a belief that Jack the Ripper would not voluntarily have informed the police about Ellen’s murder.”  Both of these objections, however, have already been discredited.  It’s well-known that the M.O. of a serial killer can vary among crime scenes (since the murder of Ellen Bury took place in Bury’s residence, it wouldn’t have been necessary for him to cut Ellen’s throat to make sure that she was dead), and Edmund Kemper is an example of a serial killer who went to the police and informed them about a murder he had committed (Bury, of course, did not confess to murdering his wife when we went to the police, but instead attempted to deceive the police into thinking that she had committed suicide).  Williams’ account of Bury’s life and his murder of Ellen is brief, but accurate, straightforward and well-written.

In his chapter, “The Men who might have been the Ripper,” Williams winnows the field down to those suspects who he believes are the viable candidates for having been Jack the Ripper, and Bury is among the suspects he includes in this group.  As a point against Bury, Williams writes that “Bury was apparently investigated and dismissed,” however this is merely supposition on Williams’ part.  There are no extant police records pertaining to any investigation of Bury for the Whitechapel murders, and so we cannot be sure about what the police did or didn’t do, or what they thought about Bury.  We’re reliant upon newspaper sources, which have to be treated with caution, for what we know about a presumed police investigation, and these do not state that the police were able to definitely exclude Bury.  The newspaper sources give no indication that Dr. George Bagster Phillips, or any of the other doctors associated with the Whitechapel murders, were summoned to Dundee to examine Ellen Bury’s body, they give no indication that Bury was ever placed in an identification parade before any of the witnesses in the case, and they give no indication that the women’s trinkets “of very inferior metal” found in Bury’s trunk, trinkets which did not apparently belong to Ellen, were ever shown to the people who knew the victims in the case.  We can reasonably speculate, then, that the police investigation of Bury for the Whitechapel murders was unenthusiastic and deficient. Bury was 29 at the time he committed the Whitechapel murders and so Williams, in referencing the age estimates provided by Israel Schwartz and Joseph Lawende, errs in not including Bury among those suspects who would have been “about 30 years of age” (p. 241) at the time of the murders.  Williams ends his book by flatly stating, “It is not possible to identify Jack the Ripper from the list of current suspects,” but, like others who claim that the Ripper remains unknown, he fails to provide a worthwhile objection to Bury and to the signature evidence linking him to the Whitechapel murders.

Morley’s book lists the suspects in alphabetical order, and he provides a richly detailed account of Bury, the entry on Bury amounting to 14 pages, easily the longest entry for any suspect in the book (for comparison, Morley allots 4 pages to Montague John Druitt, 6 pages to Aaron Kosminski and 4 pages to Francis Tumblety).  Morley relies to a significant degree on information from newspaper articles, but unfortunately he does not document his sources, limiting the value of his book to serious researchers.  Further, Morley does not always handle the newspaper sources with care.  For example, he writes that “Bury walked into the Bell Street Police Station and announced to Lieutenant James Parr, ‘I’m Jack the Ripper and I want to give myself up,’” which he is evidently drawing from a newspaper source.  In the official transcript of Bury’s trial, however, Parr testified that what Bury actually said to him was that he feared being apprehended as the Ripper.  The two sources being in conflict about what Bury said, preference should of course be given to the court record and not the newspaper article (Paul Begg, Martin Fido and Keith Skinner make the same mistake in The Complete Jack the Ripper A to Z, providing a newspaper account of Bury’s statement to the police and not the more authoritative account from the trial transcript).  Despite providing an impressive amount of detail on Bury, Morley surprisingly does not mention that testimony was presented at Bury’s trial which indicated that Bury was indeed spending time in Whitechapel in 1888.  This is a significant omission.

Morley does mention Bury’s conviction and imprisonment for vagrancy, which I noted on this website earlier this year, although he reports Bury’s height as 5’2½” when Bury’s prison record (found in West Yorkshire Prison Records, 1801-1914) simply states that Bury was 5’2”.  Morley also makes a mistake in providing the text of one of the chalked messages at the back of Bury’s residence in Dundee as “Jack Ripper is At The Back of the Door.”  The message actually reads “Jack Ri(p)per is at the back of this door,” and his transcriptions of both this and the second chalked message at the back of Bury’s residence include capitalization that is not found in the originals.  These mistakes with the transcriptions, although of minor importance, are hard to explain, as the books about Bury by Euan Macpherson and William Beadle both include good reproductions of the chalkings.  In describing the position of Ellen Bury’s body in the trunk, Morley writes that Ellen’s “left leg was broken and twisted to such a degree that the foot rested on the left shoulder,” however at Bury’s trial, Lieutenant David Lamb testified that Ellen’s left leg was bent back so that her foot was over her right shoulder.  Morley concludes his entry on Bury by describing the mock trial of Bury for Ellen’s murder that was held earlier this year in Dundee, but, like others who have reported on the trial, he fails to inform readers that Bury confessed in writing to the murder of his wife, making a retrial unnecessary and nothing more than an academic exercise.

Morley’s entry on Kosminski makes note of the DNA controversy surrounding the “Eddowes shawl,” which suggests that he is interested in the forensic evidence in the case, so it is surprising that in his entry on Bury he displays no awareness or understanding of the signature evidence linking Bury to the Whitechapel murders.  The breakthrough development in Ripperology, and what finally led to an identification in the case, was the point-by-point mapping of the Ellen Bury murder to the complex, multifaceted and unique signature of Jack the Ripper as described by Keppel and his team.  There is a straightforward, forensically-based ID in place in the field now, and any reference account of Bury needs to address this identification if it wants to be taken seriously.

Williams and Morley have both produced worthwhile books that are filled with interesting pieces of information about Bury and the other suspects in the case.  Ripperologists would enjoy having both of these books in their collections.