This text is from the E-book Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide by Christopher J. Morley (2005). Click here to return to the table of contents. The text is unedited, and any errors or omissions rest with the author. Our thanks go out to Christopher J. Morley for his permission to publish his E-book.
William Henry Bury
Bury was first named as a possible Ripper suspect as early as 1889, first by the New York Times, and later in 1988 by Euan McPherson, in an article for the Scots magazine, and in 1995 by William Beadle in the book Anatomy Of A Myth. Beadle, in an otherwise excellent book, points out that Bury stopped killing in October because the particularly heavy fog that descended on London that month curtailed his pony and cart forays into Whitechapel, thus obscuring and hindering his exit route. This remark by Beadle has caused many to summerarily dismiss Bury as a viable Ripper suspect in favour of far less credible candidates. While it is unlikely that fog would dampen the ardour's of a serial killer, no Ripperologist or author has yet offered a credible
alterative explanation as to why the killings actually ceased during the month of October.
William Henry Bury was born in Hill Street, Stourbridge, Worcestershire, on 25 May 1859. Little is known of his early life, except that his mother, Mary, had become insane after suffering from depression, and after a nervous breakdown was confined to Worcester County and City lunatic asylum in May 1860, where she remained until her death at the relatively young age of 33, on 30 March 1864.
William's father, Henry, was a hardworking fishmonger, who died in August 1859 when William was only three months old. He was the youngest of three children, having a older brother and sister, and was raised not by his uncle as some reports have claimed, but a close family friend. She took pity upon the children and provided them with a solid education, and at the age of Sixteen, helped William to find work as a factors clerk in a local warehouse. In the 1881 census he is listed under the surname Berry, co-incidentally the surname of the man who would later hang him for murder. There is no record in the census of his brother and sister, and their whereabouts at that time are unknown. Bury, prior to moving to London, went to live with his uncle in Wolverhampton, and made a precarious living hawking, selling items such as lead pencils and toy rings. He arrived in London at the age of 28 in October/November 1887, and found work as a sawdust collector for James Martin, who was described as a general dealer. Martin ran, what to all intent and purposes was a brothel, at 80 Quickett Street, Arnold Road, Bromley-by-Bow. He moved in with the Martin's, and it was here that he met Ellen Elliot, a 32 year old barmaid and prostitute and the daughter of a London publican, George Elliot.
Ellen was well known and respected among family and friends as a quite inoffensive woman, who had seemed very happy until she married Bury. She was described as a neatly dressed woman, fair haired, slim and of genteel appearance. She had been left a legacy of bank and railway shares from an aunt, to the value of £300, worth in today's terms about £20.000. Ellen invested the money wisely, purchasing shares in the Union Bank of London. After a brief courtship of only one month the couple were married, at Bromley Parrish Church on Easter Monday 2 April 1888. The newlyweds settled in Bow, and took up lodgings with Elizabeth Haynes at 3 Swaton Road.
On 7 April, only five days after they were married, Haynes, hearing Ellen screaming, rushed to her aid to find Bury kneeling on her attempting to cut her throat with a table knife which he was holding in his left hand.
Around this time Ellen confided too the Martin's that her husband often stayed out until the early hours, sometimes disappearing for a couple of days, before reappearing, worse the wear for drink, where upon he would proceed to take his temper out on her. Exactly where he went and what he got up to she did not know. James Martin, on at least two occasions, witnessed William Bury assault his wife in public, and Ellen would often be seen displaying the facial marks resulting from a beating. Ellen also told the Martin's that her husband slept with a pen-knife under his pillow, and that he had infected her with a venereal disease, she also believed, prophetically, her husband would kill her.
It was around this time that Bury stole money from James Martin, and was sacked. With the help of Ellen's money he bought a pony and cart, and became self employed as a sawdust merchant. He would purchase sawdust from various mills and sell it onto pubs in the East End and restaurants in the City. This however is how it was meant to work in theory. In practice, he would arrive at a pub with the intention to sell sawdust, have a beer, and stay there all day drinking.
In August the couple left Swaton Road, and moved to 11 Blackthorme Street, Bow, their stay there however was brief. In December they took up lodgings with William Smith, a builder/bricklayer, at 3 Spanby Road Bow. Bury stabled his pony and cart, at this address.
The next we hear of their movements is 19 January 1889, when Bury told Ellen's sister he had found manufacturing work for himself in Dundee at £2 per week, and Ellen at £1per week, if she wanted it. He told his landlord, William Smith, a different tale, that they were emigrating to Brisbane, Australia. When asked by Smith which dock they were sailing from, Bury replied, 'Ah, that's what you want to know, like a lot more.
Bury asked Smith to build him a strong trunk to transport his belongings, and was very particular about the measurements of the box he wanted. Smith was surprised he wanted such a large trunk, as the only possessions he noticed the couple had were clothing, though he did notice Bury always appeared to have plenty of money and jewellery about his person. Smith later told the police that Bury had been lately, 'Rather strange in his manner'.
On 19 January 1889 the Bury's travelled to Dundee on the London packet steamer Cambria, which was lying at London dock. The couple occupied a second class cabin and stayed on board overnight. During the crossing the other passengers noticed the couple appeared to be on good terms with one another, although were hesitant in revealing details about their past. During the trip it was noticed Bury seemed most anxious about a large heavy whitewashed case he had taken on board.
On first arriving in Dundee, the couple found accommodation with Mrs Robinson, at 43 Union Street, for the sum of 40 pence per week, which was a little more expensive than other lodgings in the area. They however left after one week, claiming the rent was too high. It has been suggested that the real reason for their sudden departure was that Mrs Robinson, the elderly landlady, had feared Bury, and thought him rather odd. Bury, it was said, had a tendency to walk rather quietly and often frightened people with his silent approach. They then moved into a two roomed basement house at 113 Princes Street, the basement being at the bottom of a four storey house. The building was squalid in appearance and the apartment dirty and cold with several broken window panes, though was described as in a quite area. It was at this address, seven days later, that Bury murdered his wife. Neighbours at Princes Street rarely saw the couple, though on the occasions when they did, they noted were often the worse for drink.
Ellen was only spotted sporadically at night, whenever she would venture out to draw water from the communal pump. William Bury ran all other errands, such as replenishing candles, firewood and bread. On 4 February, Bury went to Janet Martin's provisions store, and asked if she had a length of rope for what purpose she did not ask. A short while later Ellen Bury disappears, and is not seen again. Her husband however is spotted on two or three occasions, always in a drunken state.
At approximately 7.00 p.m. Sunday 10 February 1889, William Henry Bury walked into Bell Street police station and announced to Lieutenant Parr, 'I'm Jack the Ripper, and I want to give myself up'. Parr, not sure if he was dealing with a drunk or a madman, then asked the man why he called himself Jack the Ripper. 'I'm him all right', Bury replied, 'And if you go along to my house in Princes Street, you'll find the body of a woman packed up in a box and cut up'. He gave officers the key to the property, telling them, 'You will know it at once, because there are red curtains on the front window'. He gave no further information, other than the number of his house, his name and occupation.
Police officers visited Princes Street and began a search by candlelight. The apartment was bare of possessions, the only items in the two rooms were a small bed piled high with clothing, and a large white-washed packing case. Opening the box, by raising two loose boards on the lid and pulling back a piece of sheeting, they revealed the leg and foot of a female. Proceeding no further, they summoned doctors Templeman and Stalker, who proceeded to examine the contents of the 3ft 3in long, by 2ft 4in across, and 2ft 1in deep trunk. They discovered the naked and mutilated body of Ellen Bury, she had been strangled and her abdomen had been ripped open by a wound beginning 1½ inches from the pubis and extending upwards for 4 ½ inches, the wound was so severe that 12 inches of intestines were protruding through her stomach. Apart from the wound to the abdomen there were a total of nine other knife wounds to the body. The box, which was clearly too small to accommodate the body, had been packed tightly with books and clothing. Ellen's head had been forced to one side of the shoulder, the left leg was broken and twisted to such a degree that the foot rested on the left shoulder, the right leg had been smashed in order to fit it into the box, the body was lying on it's back on a petticoat and a piece of cloth. A long bladed knife, which had been used to commit the crime, lay nearby, along with a rope, complete with strands of hair still attached.
It later transpired that Bury had lived with the box, and it's contents, for several days, and along with some male friends had used it as a table to play cards upon. It also became clear while in court, that prior to his confession, he had gone to visit a friend and drinking partner, David Walker, where the subject of Jack the Ripper had arisen on at least several occasions during their conversation.
In the days following the murder, he had tried unsuccessfully to borrow a chopper from his neighbour, Marjory Smith, who joked to him, 'Your not Jack the Ripper are you', to which he replied, 'I do not know so much about that'. Police officers also discovered at Princes Street, two chalk written messages, one behind a tenement door, stating, 'Jack Ripper Is At The Back Of The Door', and one on a stairwell wall leading down to the flat, 'Jack Ripper Is In This Seller'. The newspapers attributed the handwriting to a small boy, though did not offer an explanation why they considered this to be the case. Presumably it was due to the poor grammar displayed. The writing however was said to be old, and predated the tragedy.
Bury was detained on suspicion of having taken the life of his wife, by either strangulation or stabbing, this information, it was noted, he received calmly. A search of his person revealed his wife's bankbook, showing several pounds in credit, a watch and some jewellery.
Detectives from Scotland Yard, were sent to interview Bury and collect as much information as possible about him and ascertain his exact movements during the period he lived in London. The police discovered that he was in the habit of carrying a knife about his person, and that he was absent from his lodgings on the night's both Annie Chapman and Mary Kelly were murdered, and that his manner the following day was suggestive of a madman. Bury, while awaiting trial, told the police that on Monday 4 February 1889, he and his wife had been out having a good time, so good a time, that they could not remember going to bed. The following morning Bury awoke to find his wife dead on the floor, having been strangled with a cord. Having no recollection of whether he had committed the crime or not, and frightened and fearing he would be apprehended as Jack the Ripper, he was suddenly seized with a mad impulse, and he picked up a large sharp and finely ground knife, which happened to be lying conveniently near by, and plunged it into her abdomen, he then decided to conceal the body in the trunk.
Detectives at this stage were sharply divided in their opinions as to the man's guilt in perpetrating the Whitechapel murders, many believed his Jack the Ripper confession was bogus, and that the real motive behind his wife's murder was to get his hands on her remaining money. They therefore concluded that the Dundee murder was a one off.
The post mortem revealed that Ellen Bury had been dead for several days, and that she had not strangled herself as originally claimed. Her body was formally identified by her sister, Margaret Coney, who had travelled from London. She was later taken to the prison to identify Bury, much to his surprise.
Bury, despite his initial confession, pleaded not guilty to his wife's murder and genuinely believed he had a chance of a reprieve. His solicitor asked for a second post mortem. Dr David Lennox, an experienced Dundee surgeon, carried out the second post mortem, assisted by Dr William Kinnear, and presented a comprehensive 14 page report. His conclusion was that Ellen Bury had committed suicide. This was a huge blow to the police, who now called in Dr Henry Littlejohn to perform a third post mortem, his findings were that Ellen had in fact been murdered, though he was unable to ascertain if the mutilations had taken place after death. Bury's trial commenced on 28 March, the judge was Lord Young, Dill Kechnie led the prosecution case, William Hay appearing for the defence. During the trial, which lasted about thirteen hours, it was learned that Bury had worked little over the last year or so, and constantly demanded money from his wife, when his requests were refused he would strike her. A neighbour at Princes Street, David Duncan, on the night of the murder, heard three loud screams come from the direction of Bury's flat. Little was said in Bury's defence throughout the trial, though the defence attempted to question the morals of Ellen Bury. Under the rules of evidence, Bury was not permitted to speak in his own defence. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, saying, 'We strongly recommend him to mercy'. Lord Young seemed to be staggered by their recommendation, 'May I ask', he inquired, 'On what grounds you recommend the prisoner to mercy'. It was explained to the court that the jury viewed the medical evidence as conflicting. Lord Young refused to accept such a verdict and instructed the jury to retire once more. They soon returned, with a unanimous verdict of guilty, with no recommendation for mercy. Bury, throughout his trial, was said to have remained calm and slept soundly each night. The Dundee Advertiser 29 March 1889, described him as, 'Brainless and heartless'.
On the morning of his execution, Bury had a breakfast of bread and butter, poached eggs and tea, and enjoyed a smoke. The magistrates then entered his cell, identified the convict, who thanked all present for their kindness. He said to the warder, 'This is my last morning on earth, I freely forgive all who have given false evidence against me at my trial, as I hope God will forgive me'. On his walk to the scaffold he was described as being, calm and collected, he was dressed in a pair of dark trousers with a vest and smart twill shooting coat, a white linen collar and a blue necktie, it was said he looked as smart as if he was going to a wedding. He was hanged on 24 April 1889 at 8.00 a.m. and was in fact the last man to be hanged for murder in the City of Dundee. 5,000 people waited outside for the hoisting of the black flag, the body was buried within the precincts of the prison. Just before his execution, when the hangman, James Berry, tried to obtain a confession for the Whitechapel murders, Bury turned to the hangman and said, 'I suppose you think you are cleaver to hang me', with the emphasis firmly placed on the word, 'Me', before continuing, 'I suppose you think you are cleaver because you are going to hang me, but because you are going to hang me you are not going to get anything out of me'. Although Bury never actually confessed to the Ripper crimes, the hangman James Berry, always remained convinced that he was Jack the Ripper. According to Berry the detectives sent from London to investigate Bury's movements asked Berry for his opinion, he replied, 'I think it is him right enough', 'And we agree with you', replied one of the detectives, 'We know all about his movements in the past, and we are quite satisfied that you have hanged Jack the Ripper, there will be no more Whitechapel crimes'.
In an article entitled, After Executing 197 Criminals Berry Opposes Death Penalty, James Berry said he believed Jack the Ripper was John Henry Burey, the keeper of a cat's meat shop in the East End of London, people who knew him used to see him at work with his long knives. Berry, in the article, went on to say, 'Behind this shop were rooms which he used to let to women on the streets, during his absence, one of these degraded women broke into his room and stole some of his savings, this made the man so mad that he swore an oath that if he could not find out who it was, he would murder every woman who had used his house, this threat he proceeded to carry out'. When in the cell about to pinion him, I said, 'Well, Jack the Ripper, have you anything to say, if so, say it now, as you will have no chance later', 'No', was the reply, 'If anyone stole anything from me, I'd kill the lot to find the right one. I'm not going to give you any big lines, go on with your work, Berry, I'll not say anything'.
Berry later recollected his first sighting of Bury, 'I confess that a strange feeling took possession of me, he was a peculiar looking man and undoubtedly he had the air of the uncanny about him, he was slightly over five feet in height with a haunted look in his eyes, there was a mysterious something about him which repelled me'.
Despite Berry's colourful description of Bury, there is no evidence Bury ever let rooms, or had a cat's meat shop. Berry may possibly be confusing the account of William Henry Bury with recent Ripper suspect, James Hardiman, a horsemeat butcher, who's mother, Harriet, ran a cat's meat shop from 29 Hanbury Street, the address where Annie Chapman was subsequently murdered.
Was William Henry Bury, Jack the Ripper?.
At 5ft 3 tall, and just under 10 stone, he broadly appears to fit, in build and height, some of the descriptions eyewitnesses gave of Jack the Ripper. He was described as good-looking with sharp features, a dark complexion, a fair moustache and a full beard and quite respectable in appearance. Another report described him as also having side whiskers. Mary Ann Cox described a man seen in the company of Mary Kelly shortly before she was murdered, this man later to be nicknamed, Blotchy Face, was described by Cox as short, stout, shabbily dressed, bearded with side whiskers, carrying a pot of ale.
There is a photograph, purported to exist of Bury, and it would be interesting to see if he had always had a beard and side whiskers, or if he had in fact grown them after he had left London as a possible disguise. We know he left London in a hurry, and lied about where he was going. Somebody, by the chalk messages at his flat, possibly his wife, suspected he was the Ripper. It is also possible that Bury wrote the messages himself, as an act of self importance. There is no record to show if the chalk message at Goulston Street was ever compared to the chalk messages at Bury's flat. He also murdered his wife in a manner similar to the Ripper murders, strangulation followed by mutilation of the abdomen.
We know that the Bury's went to Wolverhampton on holiday, possibly in July or August 1888, for exactly how long is still uncertain, it would unlikely to have been for an extended period, as Wolverhampton was not known as a holiday destination, then or now. The purpose of going there was probably to visit Bury's family, as we are aware he had family ties there. Martha Tabram, if she was a Ripper victim, was murdered on the 7 August, and Mary Ann Nichols, who was a definite Ripper victim, on the 31. Confirming exactly when Bury was in Wolverhampton, could either eliminate him completely as a Ripper suspect, or renew fresh interest in this, one of the most underrated of the many Ripper suspects.
Against Bury being Jack the Ripper, is the individual who walked into the police station and confessed to a murder he could so very easily have concealed, does not sound like the cool, cunning individual who escaped detection during those ten murderous weeks of Autumn 1888.