William Henry Bury, the last man hanged in Dundee, was on trial again as part of the talk ‘People Vs Jack the Ripper’, hosted by ex-investigative reporter Michael Mulford as part of Crime and Dundee upon HMS Unicorn.
Bury, a sawdust merchant, was hanged for the murder of his wife Ellen Elliot on the 5th February 1889. The Times, published on 29th March that same year, wrote about the trial: ‘(Bury) was often drunk; and was always demanding money from the deceased. He ill-treated her (…) Other witnesses from London deposed to the drunken habits of the prisoner and his cruelty to his wife’.
However, rumours of Bury being Jack the Ripper had started to circulate before the trial had even begun. On the 14th February 1889, the Atlanta Constitution noted ‘Bury was a resident of Whitechapel, London, and his antecedents suggest that he is probably Jack the Ripper, and that he is subject to fits of unconscious murder mania’. Bury was suspected of being the notorious serial killer due to the similarities between Ellen’s wounds and the Ripper victims. Ellen claimed that Bury slept with a pen-knife under his pillow, and suspected Ripper victim Martha Tabram is believed to have been killed with a pen-knife. Neighbours’ testimonies also mentioned conversations with the couple where they appeared to have knowledge on the killer. A message in chalk – ‘Jack the Ripper is in this sellar (sic)’ – was also discovered, but later dismissed as predating Ellen’s death. The evidence was compelling enough that Inspector Abberline from Scotland Yard travelled to Dundee but later appeared to dismiss Bury as a suspect. Now, over a decade later, Mulford puts forward the notion that Bury was indeed the Ripper, using original documents from the case.
One visitor to Mulford’s talk said it was ‘really fascinating! Very thoughtful and compelling and particularly respectful to women and sex work, which was kind’. Another described it as ‘informative and entertaining’.
Our thanks to Michael Mulford for hosting such a fascinating and engaging event on board HMS Unicorn.
Blog post by Louise Hurrell, HMS Unicorn Volunteer