Postidentification Ripperology

It’s been nearly five years now since the first publication of the Bury ID and the ID has stood the test of time within the highly partisan world of Ripperology.  There is detailed signature evidence linking William Bury to five of the Jack the Ripper murders.  The specific combination of signature characteristics seen in the Ellen Bury murder and these five murders is so rare that it appears not to have been seen elsewhere within the entire pool of murders committed in Victorian Britain.  Dr. Stuart Hamilton, a well-regarded forensic pathologist in the UK who has provided expert testimony at trials, concurs that there is signature evidence linking Bury to the Whitechapel murders (“Beyond Doubt,” Dundee Courier, Sept. 22, 2018).  Copycat and other explanations of the Ellen Bury murder can be reasonably excluded, and there are supporting pieces of circumstantial evidence, such as the posthomicide burning of the victim’s clothes in the fireplace at both the Ellen Bury and Mary Jane Kelly crime scenes, that serve to confirm that Bury was indeed the Whitechapel murderer.  Two distinguished lawyers in the U.K., Mark Stewart, QC, and Len Murray, a former solicitor to the Supreme Courts of Scotland, have come forward to affirm that an identification has finally been made in the Jack the Ripper case and that Bury can now be named as the Ripper.  Stewart describes the case against Bury as a “classic circumstantial case which like a cable is strengthened with the addition of each individual strand as they are woven together” and Murray, a former defense lawyer, confirms that it has been proven “not just beyond reasonable doubt but beyond all doubt” that Bury was the Ripper (Ibid).  The remarks by Stewart and Murray suggest that we not only have enough evidence now to bring Bury to trial for the Ripper murders, but enough evidence to convict him.

Ripperology is a very contentious field, where passions can sometimes run high, and where proposing a solution to the case is akin to waving a red cape in front of a bull.  It’s remarkable, then, that after five years, the leading minds in the field have all failed to produce a credible or effective criticism of the Bury ID.  While the ID is obviously not yet widely accepted within the field (that will come in time and unfortunately probably require a good deal of turnover within the field), that can be attributed to a number of factors: in some cases, unfamiliarity with and a lack of confidence in signature analysis and signature evidence (even though this type of evidence has been admissible in court and has helped to secure convictions of serial killers), in some cases, emotional resistance to the case coming to an end, and in some cases, a partisan close-mindedness in the service of other suspects and other views of the case.

So now that Bury has been identified as the Ripper, what’s next for Ripperology?

Focus on the unsolved murders.  The main draw of Ripperology has always been the mystery of who committed the murders.  There are some who are drawn to social and historical aspects of the case, and some who even claim (not very believably) to be disinterested in the killer’s identity, but they have always been in the minority in the field.  The Jack the Ripper case is widely regarded as the greatest murder mystery of all time.  But even though Bury can now be identified as the murderer of five of the Whitechapel victims (Martha Tabram, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly), there are unsolved Whitechapel murders that remain.  Alice McKenzie was murdered three months after William Bury’s execution.  Who murdered Alice McKenzie, and why?  Since this murder superficially resembles a Ripper murder, it seems natural that the McKenzie murder should become the next focus of attention in the field.

The murder of Elizabeth Stride also remains unsolved, as there is obviously insufficient signature evidence to link Bury to her murder.  Statistically, however, there is only a remote possibility that Stride was murdered by someone other than Catherine Eddowes, and we now know that Eddowes was murdered by Bury.  Bury closely resembles the man described by Israel Schwartz, and as I have shown elsewhere on this website, there are plausible explanations for why Bury didn’t mutilate Stride’s body and for why he apparently used different knives on Stride and Eddowes on the night of the double event.  While the Stride murder must remain “fair game” for theorists, any speculation about the identity of her murderer should be tempered by the recognition that there is only a very slim possibility that she was murdered by someone other than Bury.

Like Alice McKenzie, Frances Coles was murdered after Bury had been executed, and her murderer therefore remains unknown as well.   Bury could have been the attacker of one or more of Annie Millwood, Emma Smith or Catherine “Rose” Mylett, but at this point in time, at least, we lack a sufficient basis to suspect him of being involved in any of these crimes.  All of these unsolved cases, as well as the mystery of the torsos, who it’s clear now were not the work of the Ripper, should hold the attention of Ripperologists well into the future.

Drop the discredited suspects.  We now know that Aaron Kosminski, Montague John Druitt and Francis Tumblety were not Jack the Ripper.  We now know that James Maybrick, Walter Sickert, David Cohen, Jacob Levy, James Kelly and George Hutchinson were not Jack the Ripper, either.  It does no one in the field any good to continue to pretend that these men remain viable suspects in the case, unless they could have been involved in at least one of the unsolved crimes noted above.  At the same time, we should recognize that many Ripperologists have done a tremendous amount of research on these and other suspects in the case.  The entire field has benefitted from their work, in a variety of different ways.  Let’s thank these researchers for their contributions, urge them to accept the identification that has been made in the case, and hope that they will continue to make positive contributions to the field.  The time has passed for books and articles about “thrilling new suspects” when we now know that none of them could have been the Ripper.  Let’s focus instead on educating people, both inside and outside of the field, about signature analysis and signature evidence and how they finally led to a determination of the Ripper’s identity.

Try to learn more about Bury.  Much remains to be learned about William Bury and it is possible that Ripper researchers will make important new discoveries in the years and decades that lie ahead.  We know very little about Bury’s life prior to his arrival in London.  Perhaps we can learn more.  Bury’s early whereabouts in London are also unclear.  When Bury first arrived in London, did he immediately take up residence at James Martin’s establishment?  If not, where did he first stay?  Did he ever live for a time in the Whitechapel area?  Did any of his friends or associates ever live in the Whitechapel area?  Can we possibly identify the names of any of these men?  James Berry, the man who executed Bury, associated Bury with a cat’s meat shop, both in a 1907 interview and in his own 1913 written account of Bury.  Is Berry’s information correct, and if so, where in London was Bury’s shop located?  We know that a photograph of William and Ellen Bury was produced and widely distributed in Wolverhampton in August 1888. This photograph was taken shortly after Bury had murdered Martha Tabram, that is, shortly after he had already become “Jack the Ripper.”   Which researcher will be the first to locate one of these photographs and give the world its first real look at the face of the Ripper?  According to one newspaper report, Bury wrote an account of his early life while a prisoner in Dundee—could this account still be in storage somewhere?  We could perhaps learn new things about Ellen Bury as well.  Ellen’s sister, Margaret Corney, traveled to Dundee to identify Ellen’s body.  Could she have taken any of Ellen’s possessions or any of William Bury’s possessions back with her to London when she left Dundee?  And if so, could any of these items still be in a family collection?  Genealogical researchers could perhaps develop some promising leads.

Reassess everything about the case in light of Bury having been the Ripper.  With a solid, forensically-based identification now in place in the field, it’s important to look back at all of the various aspects of the case from this new perspective.  We now know which murders could not have committed by the Ripper and we now have a better sense of which eyewitnesses, based on their descriptions, are more or less likely to have seen the Ripper.  As noted in my last post, Bury apparently chalked the messages at the back of his residence in Dundee and one of the messages in particular shares the same pronounced vertical structure of the chalked Goulston Street Graffito.  There is a much higher probability now that the Goulston Street Graffito was indeed written by the Ripper.  There is a handwriting characteristic, the connection of words with a single writing stroke, that occurs with an identical frequency in the “From hell” letter and in Bury’s extant samples of disguised handwriting, and so this increases the likelihood that the infamous letter was written by the Ripper as well.  It would be a very useful thing for the field if a team of forensic document examiners could be assembled that would compare Bury’s handwriting samples to the obviously disguised handwriting in the “From hell” letter.  It is possible that at some point in the future the author of the “From hell” letter could indeed be identified as Bury.

There will naturally need to be a reassessment of the police performance in the case.  It’s easy enough to blame the police for their failure to recognize that Bury was the Ripper, but it’s important to make a distinction and to point out that the police force in Dundee appears to have done its job very well.  The Dundee force quickly investigated and secured the crime scene, it was not fooled by William Bury’s story suggesting that his wife had committed suicide, it promptly arrested him, it seems to have immediately recognized the potential significance of the Ellen Bury murder and it seems to have immediately reported the murder to Scotland Yard.  The police failure in this case belongs squarely with Scotland Yard.  A woman had been murdered in Dundee by a man who had been living in the East End at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, her body had been mutilated and her abdomen cut open, her clothes had been burned in the fireplace, as had been done at the Mary Jane Kelly crime scene, there were two finger rings of “very inferior metal” in the murderer’s trunk, when it was known that two rings had been taken from the body of Annie Chapman, and yet there are no indications that Scotland Yard ever conducted a thorough investigation of Bury for the Whitechapel murders.  For example, there are no indications that Ellen Bury’s body was ever examined by any of the doctors who examined the Whitechapel victims (despite the fact that Ellen Bury’s mutilations were roughly similar in extent to those of Mary Ann Nichols) and there are no indications that Bury was ever placed in an identification parade before any of the eyewitnesses in the Ripper case.  The poor performances of Assistant Commissioner Robert Anderson, Chief Inspector Donald Swanson and Inspector Frederick Abberline in “The Case of William Bury and the Whitechapel Murders” have to be noted, but it’s also important to point out that little was known about serial killers during the 19th century, and to some extent this must be a mitigating factor in assessing their failure with Bury.

Ripperology has always been focused on determining the identity of the Ripper.  Now that this has been accomplished, it will be interesting to see how the field will change, how it will continue to unfold, and what new discoveries it will bring to us in the future.

[updated September 16, 2019]