William Henry Bury: The Real Ripper

Emily Smith

FS 1973 12

24 April 2008

William Henry Bury: The Real Ripper

     Ellen Bury’s murder has a similar pathology to the Ripper murders, and other incriminating evidence indicates that William Bury was indeed Jack the Ripper.

     The Ripper murders are what are known as “serial murders.” Serial killers kill three or more people, and all of the victims fit a certain type, which correlates to the killer’s fantasies (criminalprofiling). There is also usually a period of time in between the murders that the killer uses as a “cooling-off period” (criminalprofiling). The basic profile of serial killers says “they tend to select vulnerable victims of some specific type who gratify their need to control people. They prefer to kill with hands-on methods such as strangulation and stabbing” (criminalprofiling). Jack the Ripper had at least five victims, waited for weeks in between the murders, and only killed within a certain type- in this case they were prostitutes.

     Jack the Ripper has many of the traits of a serial killer, including his need to be involved in the investigation. According to criminalprofiling.ch, “many serial killers are impressed with police work and like to associate with the police”. After the first few Ripper murders, the police and newspapers began to receive letters allegedly from Jack the Ripper. Only a few of these can be authenticated, but it still proves that Jack was in some way involved in the police investigation.

     It can be proven that William Bury is guilty of at least one murder – the murder of his wife, Ellen Bury – and there is sufficient evidence to prove that Bury was in fact Jack the Ripper. In Dundee in 1889 Bury essentially gave himself up for the murder of his wife. He went to the police station of his own free will and said that his wife was dead, and although he did try and say that she had killed herself, he admitted to stabbing her abdomen after she was already dead (Macpherson 28).

     After the police discovered Ellen Bury’s body exactly where William Bury said it would be, a surgeon was called on to perform an autopsy. Dr. Templeman was in charge of the autopsy and he concluded that “the force used to strangle Ellen Bury must have been applied downwards and backwards” which suggested that “someone had been pulling the rope from behind” (Macpherson 27). This disproved Bury’s statement that he had woken up to find his wife dead.

Dr. Templeman also found bruises on Ellen Bury’s head and hand, indicating that there had been a struggle. He concluded that the “violence needed to cause the bruises would have been enough to stun the victim, thus rendering it easy for the killer to strangle her without her being able to fight back” (Macpherson 28). Templeman’s findings also indicated that Ellen had been alive, or only very recently dead, when she was stabbed in the abdomen. According to Dr. Templeman, “the wounds to the abdomen must have been inflicted either during life or at most ten minutes after death, while the victim’s body retained its warmth and elasticity” (Macpherson 28). It appeared that Ellen Bury had been alive when she was stabbed because of the defensive wounds on her hand. Back at the station, Prison Surgeon James Miller examined William Bury and found scratches on his right hand, which matched the wounds on Ellen (Macpherson 29). The other two doctors present during the autopsy, Drs. Littlejohn and Stalker, both agreed with Dr. Templeman’s findings (Macpherson 29). This directly contradicts William Bury’s story and implicates him in his wife’s murder.

Other incriminating evidence was found at Bury’s house. David Lamb found a knife on the windowsill in the same room where Ellen’s body had been, and the knife was covered in “small quantities of blood, flesh and hair” (Macpherson 25). A length of rope and bloody ulster (jacket) were also found. “The ulster was bloodstained on both the inside and outside. There were also rips on either side, suggesting a considerable amount of violence had been used” (Macpherson 26).

According to an issue of the Dundee Courier dated Tuesday, 12 February 1889,

The back premises are led to by a dirty stair, at the foot of which on an old door is the following written in chalk – Jack the Ripper [sic] is at the back of this door. At the back of this door, and just at the turn of the stair, there is the inscription – Jack the Ripper is in this seller [sic]. (Macpherson 31)

This graffiti at William Bury’s house shows that someone, if not Bury himself, believed him to be the Ripper. According to Euan Macpherson, “although the writing in chalk was made anonymously, it is hard to believe that anyone other than William Bury could have been the author” (32). There had been a period of seven days between Ellen Bury’s murder and the day William Bury went to the police. No one else had been in the apartment during this time, and once the police discovered the body there was always at least one officer standing guard. It could not have been Ellen Bury who had written the messages, as she had little to no education and could not write very well (Macpherson 32).

     Bury’s early childhood matches patterns found in serial killers. According to criminalprofiling.ch, “relationships between the researched subjects and their mothers were uniformly cool, distant, unloving, neglectful, with very little touching, emotional warmth” and that “the fathers of half the subjects disappeared in one way or another”. William Bury’s father died when Bury was only three months old, and his mother was certified as insane and put in an asylum three months after that (Macpherson 39). Serial killers are usually “intelligent, but underachievers in school; most were incapable of holding jobs, fired often or unable to live up to their intellectual abilities” (criminalprofiling). William Bury moved from job to job and was “someone who could not hold down a steady job” (Macpherson 41).

     William Bury’s whereabouts were unknown on the day of Polly Nichols’s murder, so it cannot be proved or disproved that he killed her (Macpherson 111). According to Macpherson:

It is generally accepted that the murderer strangled his victims prior to mutilation. Not only does it explain why no cries were heard from the victims but it is also consistent with the injuries they received. All the victims were found lying in such a way that their appearance gave the impression they had been fighting for their throats but it was only in the case of Chapman that the examining doctor was able to say so unequivocally. (171)

Jack the Ripper’s modus operandi, or method of operating, is very similar if not identical to the way William Bury murdered his wife. The Ripper’s modus operandi is that:

The killer stood in front of his victims in the normal position for standing intercourse but seized them by the throat with both hands, silencing them and inducing unconsciousness; he then let them fall onto their backs before cutting the throat and making other mutilations. (Macpherson 171-172)

There is one problem in William Bury’s case: Ellen Bury’s throat was not cut. It is almost impossible for Jack the Ripper to have changed his M.O. in such an obvious way. Killers do escalate over time, but once they have started doing one act they never stop. It is possible that Bury did not cut Ellen’s throat simply because he had no need to. As Macpherson says, “most of the Jack the Ripper murders were committed in the open street where it was important for the murderer to bring on death as quickly as possible without allowing the victim to cry out” (172). This indicates that Macpherson does not believe that the Ripper had the impulse to cut their throats; he suggests that it was merely a necessary way to be sure the victims were dead before he began the real work – cutting them up. Bury could take longer to make sure his wife was dead in the privacy of his own home without worrying whether a policeman would show up.

     Since there are so many witness accounts that do not support each other, it becomes difficult to determine which of the witnesses actually saw Jack the Ripper. If the witnesses’ credibility is considered and factored in, the general description of the Ripper is that he was a “small, dark-haired man who wore a long, black coat and a peaked cap. He had a foreign accent, although by ‘foreign’ we may simply mean that he was not local to the East End of London” (Macpherson 177). This description seems to loosely apply to William Bury.

     Another issue is the debate on Jack the Ripper’s medical skills – did he have any? If one believes that he did, then there is no way that Bury could have done it. Bury had no medical training at all, and he did not even have skills as a butcher or fish monger, even though that is what his father had been. One has to keep in mind that forensic science was nonexistent back in 1888, so all of the coroner’s reports must be taken with a grain of salt. This is something that simply may never be proved or disproved.

     William Bury cannot be proved to be Jack the Ripper without a shadow of a doubt, but neither can he be disproved. He was self-employed, so he never had to worry about his boss missing him while he murdered his victims. His wife often had to go searching for him when he failed to show up after several days, and it is a common idea that the Ripper did not go home after the murders but laid low in common lodging houses. Also, Bury was known to have violent tendencies (Macpherson 189).

     Bury showed extreme psychopathic tendencies by his sudden and dramatic chance in behavior. As Macpherson says, he went from being a “violent and aggressive man” and:

Turned into a quiet and considerate husband while he plotted his wife’s murder. He also stole from his wife, assaulted her, frightened her by sleeping with a knife under his pillow, gave her a venereal disease, reduced her to a life of utter misery…yet showed absolutely no guilt or remorse. (Macpherson 189)

     These are definitely characteristics that one would expect Jack the Ripper to possess. In short, the case against William Henry Bury is very convincing. There is more evidence against him than any other known suspect.

Works Cited

Criminal Profiling Research. 8 January 2008. Swiss Criminal

Profiling Scientific Research Site. 24 April 2008.


Macpherson, Euan. The Trial of Jack the Ripper: The Case of

     William Bury (1859-1889). Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing

     Company, 2005.






4 Responses to “William Henry Bury: The Real Ripper”

  1. emilylsmith Says:

    I actually posted this at 9:34 PM – the time stamp is still off.

  2. Serviced apartments London…

    […]William Henry Bury: The Real Ripper « Jack the Ripper’s London[…]…

  3. […] after moving to Dundee, Bury strangled his wife with a rope … and gashed open her abdomen, eerily mirroring the Whitechapel killer’s horrific attacks. (Although Bury’s slashes of Ellen were not […]

  4. It should also be remembered that William Henry Bury was a horse butcher and had certain skills in animal dissection.

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