Ellen Bury, 1889

Princes Street, Dundee, February 1889

When a man came to the police station on the night of 10th February 1889 to report the suicide of his wife, Ellen Bury, alarm bells began to ring for the Lieutenant who took his story.  Amid claims that she had killed herself, Bury made another startling claim.  Upon “finding” her prostrate body, Bury stabbed her in the abdomen.  Fearing he would be likened to Jack the Ripper, he had hidden her body.  In his empty, dank basement squat below a shop in Princes Street, officers found the dead body of his wife, and Bury was arrested.

Ellen’s lifeless corpse had been crudely stuffed into a wooden box, exactly where Bury said she would be.  The force required to push her into the box in such a manner was enough to break her bones, as her right leg had been broken in two places.  Whether this was done prior to putting her corpse into the box, or during the process is unclear.  Ellen had been strangled with a rope Bury had bought days before, and stabbed with a penknife later found in their squat.  Her abdomen had been sliced and mutilated to the point that her intestines were protruding.

The ligature marks around her throat and the bruising on her hands and body were consistent with a violent struggle, and injuries which she could not have applied herself.  It was theorised that Ellen would have been sufficiently stunned by the violence of the blows rained upon her to allow her attacker to strangle her without much of a struggle.  Whether or not Ellen was alive when Bury stabbed her still remains to be seen, and will probably never be known for certain.

Ellen and Bury were not long married, and had recently moved to Dundee from London, in a perceived attempt to rid themselves of their demons.  Bury was a violent drunk with a shady past, but Ellen had baggage all of her own.  A London bargirl and prostitute, Ellen met Bury whilst he was indulging in two of his favourite pastimes; alcohol and licentious women.  They married, despite his drinking, womanising and ceaseless violence – he attempted to cut her throat on more than one occasion – and, on the basis of a lie told by Bury, made their way to Dundee.

Euan Macpherson writes that Bury “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” in his book The Trial of Jack the Ripper: The Case of William Bury (1859-1889).

The reasons surrounding the motive for Ellen’s murder are unclear to this day, but Bury’s links to Jack the Ripper thrust the duo into the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons.  Whether Ellen Bury was keeping a dark secret for William, we will never know.  One thing we do know for certain is that she met her death at the hands of a violent, abusive, drunken man with no care for the torment he caused her in life or in death.

Atlanta Constitution Georgia, U.S.A.14 February 1889
Dundee Policemen Think They Have Caught Jack the Ripper

London, February 13.

The body of a woman concealed in a wooden chest, was discovered Monday by the police of Dundee. The body was mutilated. The chest was so small that the murderer had been compelled to squeeze the body into it. The husband of the woman has been arrested on suspicion of being her murderer. It was positively ascertained that Wm. H. Bury, the victim, murdered her. 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. The post mortem examination held on the body proved that the woman had first been strangled, and that her body had then been mutilated, the abdomen being ripped open and the legs and arms twisted and broken.

Bury says that he left Whitechapel three weeks ago. He refuses to say why he left there, and acknowledges that he had no business requiring his attention at Dundee. He says that he and his wife drank heavily last night before retiring, and that he does not know how he got to bed. Upon awakening, he says he found his wife lying upon the floor with a rope round her neck.

Actuated by a sudden mad impulse, for which he cannot account, he seized a knife and slashed the body. Upon reason returning he became alarmed and hastily crushed the body into the chest in which it was found, thinking to make his escape. He found, however, that he could not leave his wife’s remains, and he finally resolved to inform the police.

The theory of the police officials is that Bury’s wife knew of facts connecting him with the East end atrocities, and that she took him to Dundee in the hope of preventing a recurrence of the crimes.

Times (London)
29 March 1889

SENTENCES OF DEATH.-At a Circuit Court, held yesterday in Dundee, Lord Young presiding, William Henry Bury, 29, was charged with murdering his wife by strangling and stabbing, in Dundee, on the 5th of February. Prisoner pleaded “Not Guilty.” Mrs. Corney, Stanley-road, Stratford-le-Bow, London, said deceased was her sister, and before her marriage was in service. Seven years since an aunt left her £300. Prisoner and her sister married in April last. He was often drunk; and was always demanding money from deceased. He ill-treated her. Cross-examined, she admitted her sister was servant in a brothel in London, that it was there she first met prisoner, and that she married him after a month’s acquaintance. Other witnesses from London deposed to the drunken habits of the prisoner and his cruelty to his wife. In the first week of February prisoner went to the police and said his wife had strangled herself, and that, seized by an impulse, he had stabbed the body, which was found dreadfully mutilated in a box. Medical evidence was to the effect that deceased did not strangle herself, but was choked by a cord drawn round her throat. Lord Young summed up, and after a consultation the jury returned a verdict of Guilty, but was recommended prisoner to mercy. Sentence of death was pronounced.

‘Eight little whores, with no hope of heaven
Gladstone may save one, then there’ll be seven
Seven little whores beggin’ for a shilling
One stays in Henage Court, then there’s a killing
Six little whores, glad to be alive
One sidles up to Jack, then there are five
Four and whore rhyme aright
So do three and me
I’ll set the town alight
Ere there are two
Two little whores, shivering with fright
Seek a cosy doorway in the middle of the night
Jack’s knife flashes, then there’s but one
And the last one’s the ripest for Jack’s idea of fun’


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