A Look Back: Wife Killer Who Some Believed Was Jack The Ripper, Is Executed


On April 24, 1889, William Henry Bury, a murderer whom some suspect of being the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper, was executed in Dundee, Scotland. Bury was hanged for the death of his wife, Ellen Elliot.

Bury was a former butcher and a heavy drinker with a criminal history when he married Ellen, who, according to historical records, was probably a prostitute. There is evidence that Bury committed a couple of nonfatal slashing and stabbing attacks on women in February and March of 1888. In April he reportedly attacked his wife, attempting but failing to slit her throat.

Related: Could Polish Serial Killer George Chapman Have Been Jack The Ripper?

In the early morning hours of December 20, 1888, Bury is said to have attacked a young woman named Rose Mylett, fatally strangled her, and dumped her body in Clarke’s Yard, a short walk from his home.

Sketch of Bury from The Dundee Courier [Wikimedia Commons]

Sketch of Bury from The Dundee Courier [Wikimedia Commons]

Soon after, he and Ellen left London for Dundee, Scotland, arriving on the evening of January 20, 1889, and the following morning they rented a room above a bar at 43 Union Street. Bury had lied to his wife about having a work opportunity there, but some feel he fled London to avoid prosecution for the Ripper murders.

On February 4, William bought some rope and spent the rest of the day observing cases at the Sheriff Court from the public gallery, where he was rumored to have listened attentively to the proceedings.

On February 10, he visited his acquaintance, Walker, who lent him a newspaper that featured a woman’s suicide by hanging. When Walker asked Bury to look up news of Jack the Ripper, Bury reportedly threw down the newspaper with a fright. Later that evening, he walked into a police station and reported his wife’s “suicide” to Lieutenant James Parr.

Related: Jack The Ripper Finally Busted? Patricia Cornwell Claims Scientific Proof

Bury said they had been drinking heavily the night before her death, and he had woken in the morning to find his wife’s body on the floor with a rope around her neck. He claimed that he stabbed the body in anger, and then concealed it in one of the packing cases brought from London. Bury told Parr that he afraid that he would be arrested and accused of being Jack the Ripper.

Police searched the flat, where they found the mutilated remains of Ellen stuffed into a wooden box Bury had commissioned in London. Her stomach had been cut open in a way similar to that of some Ripper victims. They also found bizarre chalk graffiti on the door that read: “Jack Ripper [sic] is at the back of this door” and ““Jack Ripper is in this seller.”

Declaration of Sentence of Death [public domain]

Declaration of Sentence of Death [public domain]

Traditionally, five murders (known as the “canonical five“) are attributed to the Ripper, who terrorized London’s East End between August and November 1888. But at least 11 Whitechapel murders, which occurred between April 1888 and February 1891, were included in the same police investigation — and all of the crimes remain unsolved. One of these is the killing of Rose Mylett.

Some members of the media pointed to the fact that Bury resided in Bow, near Whitechapel, during the time period of the crimes and, like the Ripper, inflicted abdominal wounds on his victims immediately after their deaths. Also, none of the canonical five slayings happened after Bury relocated to Scotland.

Related: Crime History: November 9, 1888: Mary Jane Kelly Was Jack The Ripper’s Last Victim

On March 18, 1889, Bury was arraigned for the murder of his wife; he entered a plea of not guilty.

A few days before the execution, Bury confessed to Reverend Gough that he had killed Ellen, and claimed that he had tried to dismember the body for disposal the next day but was too squeamish to continue. But experts testified that the shallow cuts were made to Ellen shortly after her murder, and not the next day.

Despite making a full confession to his wife’s murder, Bury consistently denied any connection to the Ripper murders.

Bury’s execution was the last one held in Dundee. After his execution, a Scotland Yard detective allegedly remarked to the hangman, “We are quite satisfied that you have hanged Jack the Ripper. There will be no more Whitechapel crimes.”

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Main photo: ThinkStock



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