LANCASHIRE, ENGLAND — On September 15, 1935, a British doctor named Buck Ruxton murdered his wife Isabella and her maid Mary Rogerson in their home in Lancashire, and then viciously mutilated their bodies over the next eight hours.
He dismembered the women, and removed eyes, ears, skin, lips, and several teeth from both heads to make identification through dental records difficult. The murders became known as the “Bodies Under The Bridge,” and Ruxton was given the moniker “The Savage Surgeon” due to the brutality of the killings.
The murders are also remembered for the innovative forensic techniques that were used to identify the victims and identify the locations of their murder and dismemberment — which helped ensure Ruxton’s conviction. The success of the methods used in the Ruxton case helped lead to increased public awareness and appreciation of forensic science.
Ruxton was born Bukhtyar Chompa Rustomji Ratanji Hakim in Bombay, India, on March 21, 1899. He enjoyed a wealthy, upper-middle-class upbringing and was, by all accounts, highly intelligent. After finishing his medical studies, Ruxton got a job at a Bombay hospital, where his specialities included midwifery and gynecology.
He moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1927 to obtain a Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons and — despite failing his entrance exam — was authorized to practice medicine in the U.K. due to his medical background in Bombay. Shortly afterward, he legally changed his name to Buck Ruxton and met a 26-year-old woman named Isabella van Ess, who would later give birth to three children with him.
In Lancashire, Ruxton was popular in the community and had a reputation as a competent and compassionate general physician.
Two years later, Isabella gave birth to a son, and the couple hired Mary Jane Rogerson as a maid. From the outside, Buck and Isabella seem to have an idyllic life. But behind the scenes, the Ruxtons’ world was imploding.
Ruxton was increasingly jealous due to the fact that he suspected Isabella of infidelity, and he allegedly began assaulting her. Police were called to the residence, but Isabella always eventually returned to her husband.
On the evening of September 14, 1935, Isabella Ruxton left the family home to visit her two sisters, who lived in Blackpool. When she returned on September 15, perhaps suspecting that it wasn’t only her sisters who she saw, Ruxton most likely strangled Isabella to death with his bare hands before beating and stabbing her body. He then bludgeoned Rogerson, the only witness, to death.
After killing the women, he dismembered and mutilated both bodies in the bathroom of his home — and then then drove his children to the home of a family friend. He explained the women’s disappearance to friends by explaining that Isabella had left him for another man.
On the morning of September 29, 1935, a young woman glanced over a bridge and spotted a partially decomposed human arm protruding from a package. Upon investigating, police found extensively mutilated human remains including thigh bones, legs, sections of flesh, and a human torso and pelvis — some wrapped in newspapers dated September 14 and September 15.
Forensic pathologist John Glaister, Jr., and anatomist James Couper Brash painstakingly used an array of techniques, including reconstructing the bodies and photographic superimpositions, to determine the identities of the women, and identify their killer. They also used forensic entomology to confirm the date of death by analyzing maggot activity.
The men were able to figure out that the murders were most likely committed by an individual with extensive surgical knowledge, who had gone to great lengths to make sure the bodies could never be identified.
Eventually, investigators were able to obtain a set of fingerprints from one of the bodies, and determined that the woman was aged between 18 and 25. She had several stab wounds to the chest and her hyoid bone was broken, indicating that she was probably strangled before her other injuries were inflicted.
Lancaster police soon zeroed in on Ruxton as the prime suspect — especially after they discovered that the doctor had asked a couple to extensively clean his house because, he claimed, he was planning to redecorate. Investigators searched Ruxton’s home and found bloodstains throughout and traces of human fat in his drains.
On the evening of October 12, Ruxton was arrested by Lancaster police. His trial began in March 1936 and lasted for 11 days — after which the jury came back with a “guilty” verdict after only an hour of deliberation. Ruxton was hanged on the morning of May 12, 1936.
The house on Dalton Square where the murders were committed remained empty for decades because of its notorious reputation. In the 1980s, it was renovated — but remains a nonresidential building to this day.
Main photo: Buck Ruxton [Wikimedia Commons]