William Henry Bury

William Henry Bury
William Henry Bury.jpg
Sketch of Bury from The Dundee Courier, 12 February 1889. He had dark hair and a beard, was 5 foot 3½ inches (1.61 m) tall, and weighed less than 10 stone (64 kg).[1]
Born(1859-05-25)25 May 1859
Stourbridge, Worcestershire, England
Died24 April 1889(1889-04-24) (aged 29)
Dundee, Scotland
OccupationSawdust merchant
Criminal penaltyDeath by hanging
Spouse(s)Ellen Elliot (m. 1888; d. 1889)
Parent(s)Henry and Mary Bury
Conviction(s)Murder of Ellen Bury

William Henry Bury (25 May 1859 – 24 April 1889) was suspected of being the notorious serial killer "Jack the Ripper". He was hanged for the murder of his wife Ellen in 1889, and was the last person executed in Dundee, Scotland.

Bury was orphaned at an early age and was educated at a charitable school in the English Midlands. After a few years in regular employment, he fell into financial difficulty, was dismissed for theft, and became a street peddler. In 1887 he moved to London, where he married Ellen Elliot, who was probably a prostitute. During their stormy marriage, which lasted just over a year, they faced increasing financial hardship. In January 1889, they moved to Dundee. The following month, Bury strangled his wife with a rope, stabbed her dead body with a penknife, and hid the corpse in a box in their room. A few days later, he presented himself to the local police and was arrested for her murder. Tried and convicted, he was sentenced to death by hanging. Shortly before his execution, he confessed to the crime. Although Bury's guilt was not in doubt, Dundee had a history of opposition to the death penalty and The Dundee Courier printed an editorial the day after his execution decrying the "judicial butcheries" of capital punishment.

Bury killed his wife shortly after the height of the London Whitechapel murders, which were attributed to the unidentified serial killer "Jack the Ripper". Bury's previous abode near Whitechapel and similarities between the Ripper's crimes and Bury's led the press, as well as executioner James Berry, to suggest that Bury was the Ripper. Bury protested his innocence in the Ripper crimes, and the police discounted him as a suspect. Later authors have built on the earlier accusations, but the idea that Bury was the Ripper is not widely accepted.

Childhood and youth

William Bury was born in Stourbridge, Worcestershire, the youngest of four children of Henry Bury and his wife Mary Jane (née Henley). He was orphaned in infancy. His father, who worked for a local fishmonger called Joscelyne, died in a horse and cart accident in Halesowen on 10 April 1860. While on an incline, he fell beneath the wheels of his fish cart and was killed when the horse bolted and pulled the cart over his prone body.[2] William's mother may have been suffering from post-natal depression at the time of her husband's death and was committed to the Worcester County Pauper and Lunatic Asylum on 7 May 1860 suffering from melancholia.[3] She remained there until her death aged 33 on 30 March 1864.[4]

William's eldest sibling, Elizabeth Ann, died at the age of seven during an epileptic fit on 7 September 1859, which may have contributed to Mary Jane's depression.[5] The other two children, Joseph Henry and Mary Jane, both died before 1889.[6] William was raised initially in Dudley by his maternal uncle, Edward Henley,[7] and by 1871 he was enrolled at the Blue Coat charity school in Stourbridge.[8]

At the age of sixteen, he found work as a factor's clerk in a warehouse at Horseley Fields, Wolverhampton, until the early 1880s when he left the warehouse after failing to repay a loan.[9] He then worked for a lock manufacturer called Osborne in Lord Street, Wolverhampton, until he was dismissed for theft in either 1884 or 1885.[10] For the next few years, his whereabouts are not known for certain, but he appears to have lived an unsettled life in the English Midlands and Yorkshire.[11] In 1887, he was making a living as a hawker, selling small items such as pencils and key rings on the streets of Snow Hill, Birmingham.[12]

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