Dr. Buck Ruxton.

There were only seven hangings in 1936, the one case really made the headlines that year was that of Dr. Buck Ruxton, which was one of the first instances of new forensic techniques playing a major role in securing a murder conviction in Britain.

Buck Ruxton was born Bukhtyar Rustomji Rantanji Hakim in Bombay, India on the 21st of March 1899.  He qualified there as a doctor before emigrating to Edinburgh in 1927 where he took a post graduate course in medicine and in 1930 set up practice as a GP at 2 Dalton Square, Lancaster.  He changed his name by deed poll to Buck Ruxton around this time.  Whilst in Edinburgh he had met and took as a common law wife, 34 year old Isabella Kerr by whom he had three children. Their relationship was somewhat tempestuous as he was very jealous of her and accused of having affairs.  She had reported him to the police for assaulting her but it seems that no action was taken.  Here is a photo of Dr. Ruxton.  He was a popular young doctor in Lancaster. 

Isabella wanted to go to Blackpool for the illuminations and had arranged to meet her sisters there on Saturday the 14th of September 1935.  She left Blackpool around 11.30 pm for the 25 mile journey to Lancaster and it was not until the early hours of Sunday the 15th when she got home. Her prolonged absence led to another jealous quarrel later in the day, as before it escalated into violence and but on this occasion it led to murder.  The couple had a maid, 20 year old Mary Rogerson, who witnessed the scene and therefore was also killed. Photos of Isabella and Mary.  It is probable that both women were strangled but the precise cause of death could not be established.


The murders.

Faced with two dead bodies Ruxton decided to dismember them and remove all distinguishing marks in an attempt to prevent identification.  It is probable that he dragged them to the bathroom and cut them up in the bath tub, wrapping the body parts in newspapers, pillowcases and sheets but the dismemberment may have occurred in the drawing room and/or dining room as the doors to these rooms were suddenly locked and the keys removed.  It is thought that the remains were taken to Scotland on the night of the 19th of September and dumped into a ravine at "The Devil's Beeftub" near the town of Moffat, in Dumfriesshire.  Ruxton was observed loading parcels into the car earlier on that day.  On the 17th of September journeying home he had knocked a cyclist off his bicycle in Kendal at 12.35 pm.  The cyclist got the car’s registration number and reported the hit and run incident to the police.  Kendal Police contacted Milnthorpe Police, who put up a road block at Milnthorpe. Ruxton was stopped and questioned at 1.00 pm and told to produce his driving licence and insurance to Lancaster police.  It was noted that he appeared agitated and that he had a small child with him.  He claimed to be returning from a business trip to Carlisle, according to his statement to the police.  Was it a business trip, was it a recognisance trip or the day he actually disposed of the body parts?  We shall never know.  On the 10th of October at 3.50am Ruxton was met at Lancaster railway station by Inspector Clark. He told the inspector he had been to Edinburgh to look for his wife but without success. He also told Clark about the accident at Kendal but told Insp. Clark that he had not been north. Instead he said he had gone to Seattle (sic) and returned via Kendal.  When he was originally stopped he said he was returning from Carlisle. And in the trial there was questioning surrounding the issue of whether Kendal is actually on the way back from Settle.  It certainly isn’t.
In the meantime Mary Rogerson’s mother had asked Ruxton where she was and been fobbed off with a story about her being pregnant and having been sent away to have the baby.  She didn’t believe a word of this.  She therefore reported her daughter missing to Lancaster police.  Isabella was also reported missing by her family and the police questioned Ruxton about both but, as he was a doctor, they initially accepted his stories.  He claimed that Isabella had left him for a new boyfriend.

On the 29th of September the bodies were discovered in Moffat by a tourist named Susan Johnson who saw what appeared to be a human arm sticking out of Gardenholme Linn, a tributary of the River Annan.  She returned to hotel in Moffat to get her brother to help investigate what she had seen and he climbed down into the ravine and confirmed that it was an arm.  They immediately reported the grim find to the police.  A thorough search of the area revealed some 30 packages containing body parts.  Initially the police were unsure how many victims there were.  The parts were examined by John Glaister, Professor of Forensic Medicine and his assistant Dr Martin of Glasgow University and Professor of Anatomy, James Couper Brash of Edinburgh University. They painstakingly reassembled the bodies in a case dubbed by the press as the “jigsaw murders”.  A new technique of photographic superimposition was used, matching two in life photo transparencies of Isabella to two photos taken in the same orientation of one of the skulls found. The match was perfect. See photos 1 & 2 and compare to Isabella in life. They also used another new procedure, forensic entomology, to identify the age of maggots on the bodies to give an approximate date of death.  The Glasgow Police Identification Bureau used new fingerprint techniques to help identify the bodies. 



Ruxton was bought in for questioning at Lancaster on the 11th of October, 1935, at the order of Lancashire’s Chief Constable, Captain Vann, and formally charged with the murder of Mary on the 13th October.  He was charged with Isabella’s murder on the 5th of November and remanded on both counts.  Also on the 11th of October Ruxton started a diary entitled “My Movements” in which he documented his daily routine. He handed this to the police and paid several visits to the police station before his arrest.  Perhaps he was feeling increasingly under pressure at this time?


A key piece of evidence against him was the newspaper that the some of the body parts had been wrapped in.  It was a special edition of the Sunday Graphic dated September 15th, 1935 and only sold in Morcambe and Lancaster.  A thorough search of 2 Dalton Square revealed a lot of blood stains in various parts of the house.  Some other items were found which were sent to Glasgow University for examination.



The trial took place in Manchester before Mr. Justice Singleton from the 2nd to the 13th of March 1936.  The prosecution team comprised J. C. Jackson K.C, Maxwell Fyfe and Hartley Shawcross, with the defence in the hands of Norman Birkett K. C., Philip Kershaw and Edward Singer.  The prosecution decided to proceed on Isabella’s case first.  Mr. Jackson told the jury that "it does not need much imagination to suggest what happened in that house. It is very probable that Mary Rogerson was a witness to the murder of Mrs. Ruxton and that is why she met her death."  He then outlined to the jury the injuries caused to the two women and that from the bloodstains inside the house that both murders had occurred on the landing at the top of the stairs, outside Mary Rogerson's bedroom. Jackson added: "Down the staircase, right into the bathroom, there are trails and enormous quantities of blood. I suggest that when she went up to bed that a violent quarrel took place, that he strangled his wife, and that Mary Rogerson caught him in the act and had to die also."
Over 100 witnesses were called and there were some 200 evidence exhibits.  Professor Glaister presented compelling evidence that the remains found were those of Isabella and Mary.  This was challenged by Norman Birkett, but to no avail.

The only witness for the defence was Buck Ruxton himself, who continued to deny his guilt and suggest that the evidence was entirely circumstantial.  Describing his relationship with Isabella in court he said “We were the sort of people who could not live either with or without each other.”  He was asked by the prosecution about Isabella’s whereabouts if indeed as he claimed she was still alive.  His lame response was that she had once gone to Holland without a passport.  In his closing speech, Norman Birkett stated "how much of this case has been pure conjecture." He further challenged the identification of the bodies and suggested to the jury that "if you are satisfied of the fact that in the ravine on that day were those two bodies, identified beyond a shadow of a doubt, it does not prove this case."  The jury took just over an hour to return a guilty verdict and Ruxton was sentenced to death.

Ruxton sort leave to appeal. This was heard in London by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart, sitting with two other senior judges. Norman Birkett contended that Mr. Justice Singleton had mis-directed the jury.  The appeal was dismissed on the 27th of April.  The Home Secretary, John Allsebrook Simon, saw no reason for a reprieve and thus the execution was set for 8 a.m. on the 12th of May 1936.



Ruxton was housed in the condemned cell situated at the end of 'B' wing in the central area of Strangeways Prison, Manchester and guarded round the clock.  Amazingly, a petition for clemency was got up and signed by some 10,000 people.  As usual this was ignored by the Home Office.

On the appointed day Ruxton was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Robert Wilson.  According the LPC4 form he was 5’ 7 ½” tall and weighed 137 lbs, so was given a drop of 7’ 11” by Pierrepoint, leading to fracture/dislocation of the 2nd and 3rd cervical vertebrae.  A text book hanging.  The police had to deal with a very large crowd of people who had gathered outside Strangeways on that Tuesday morning to see the execution notices posted.  Among the usual protesters was Mrs. Van der Elst who, as normal, was charged with committing a breach of the peace and with a driving offence.  She was also jeered by many in the crowd.

A few days after his death, Ruxton’s signed confession was published in The News of the World. Dated the 14th of October 1935 it said, "I killed Mrs. Ruxton in a fit of temper because I thought she had been with a man. I was mad at the time. Mary Rogerson was present at the time. I had to kill her."  Ruxton was paid by the paper for this, the money going to his children.  It raises the question as to whether the confession was true or whether Ruxton made it simply as a way of providing for his children, having lost all hope of a reprieve.  His estate was valued at £1765.  It is not known what became of his children.


With special thanks to Holly Blackwell and Matthew Spicer for their assistance with this article.

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