Murderer Who Gave Himself Up

The Dundee Evening Telegraph, in its edition of Monday, 11th January, 1932, looked back to the day in 1889, when William Bury, one of many names that appear on the long list of Jack the Ripper suspects, was executed for the murder of his wife at their house in Dundee:-


“It is a long time ago now – though plenty of people will remember the time – since the early morning of Wednesday, the 24th of April, 1889, when Bury, the murderer, was taken from the condemned cell in Dundee Prison and hanged by the neck in punishment for his sins.

What a stir it caused at the time!

His crime was all of two months old, but the sensation of it was still fresh in people’s minds, and the feeling against Bury ran very high in this city.

Illuistrations showing the murder of Mrs Bury by her husband, William Bury.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday 23rd February 1889. Copyright, The British Library Board.


At nine o’clock that morning they had some difficulty in hauling the black flag up over Bell Street – the rope seems to have jammed.

Anyway, it has never gone up since.

William Henry Bury was the first man to meet his death at the hands of the law in Dundee Prison for forty years. He was also the last.


William Henry Bury was a most peculiar man. He was a stranger to Dundee, and, apart from what came out at the trial, very little was known of him.

He came here on the steamer Cambria from London with his wife, where they had been married the year before.

Bury was a Midland Englishman, whose mother had died years before in the Worcester Lunatic Asylum, and who was the only survivor of his family.

It was a wandering life he led before he arrived in Dundee in January, bringing with him two wooden boxes and his unfortunate wife, Ellen Elliot.

What had brought him to Dundee in the depths of winter, with no employment here and no connections whatever, no one ever really discovered.


Three weeks after his arrival, however, William Bury created Dundee’s great 1889 sensation.

About seven o’clock on the Sunday evening, February 1oth, Lieutenant Parr, who was on duty in the Central Police Station, was startled by the sudden arrival of an agitated, nervous little man with a small brown beard, who came rushing into the station and demanded an immediate private interview.

He had, he said, an important communication to make, and refused to say a word until the lieutenant guided him into a room and shut the door. Whereupon he burst into a torrent of frenzied incoherencies.


He started to declaim that he was Jack the Ripper, or a second Jack the Ripper, and that he had cut up his wife and nailed her in a box, and became so worked up that not a word could be understood.

Finally, he made a more intelligible statement, the result of which was a hurried police visit to the small house Bury had taken a fortnight previously at 113 Princes Street.

The policemen walked down the stair into the two-roomed sunken house. The first room was empty; in the back room was a bed. and, in the middle of the floor, a long whitewood packing case.

Inside the box, where it had been lying for five days, was the body of the unlucky Mrs Bury – mutilated beyond all belief.


Yet William Henry Bury, when the time came for him to face his accusers in court, looked anything but a homicidal gorilla. He sat before the magistrate the next day weary and haggard.

When, a month later, he was tried before Lord Young in the High Court of Dundee, he sat heavily in the dock and listened apathetically to the fearful story, a tired, inconsequential, weak little man.

When he heard what the foreman of the jury had to say, and heard the judge pass sentence of death on him, he rested his head contemplatively on his hand, and then rose and walked carefully below.


And that, virtually, was the end of Bury.

Never was a man more certain to die.

In Dundee he was a stranger. He had no friends, but an evil reputation as drunkard and a sot, and his name was execrated everywhere.

A petition, it is true, was organised for him, but it received no support.

Bury was doomed from the moment the judge put on the black cap.


For exactly four weeks Bury waited in the condemned cell in Dundee Prison, eating well, sleeping well, and reading the bible. He listed to the ministrations of the Rev. E. T. Gough, incumbent of St Paul’s Episcopal Church, with care and appreciation.

On the Monday before the execution, he heard with a stolid countenance the final communication from the Secretary of Scotland refusing a reprieve, but a little later he broke down for a moment, and that night he slept badly.


About ten o’clock, on the Tuesday night, his last night, he received Scriptural consolation, went to bed, and slept soundly till five in the morning.

He lay awake in bed for fifteen or twenty minutes, after which he rose, and dressed himself for the first time in a month in his own tweed suit, laid out in his cell.


Bury ate a light breakfast of tea, poached eggs, bread and butter, then sat back and had a smoke, remarking to the warder:- “This is my last morning on earth. I freely forgive all those who gave false evidence against me.”

In a few minutes Geddes, the governor of the prison, and the magistrates arrived at the condemned cell, and had a few moments’ conversation with the prisoner: and at twenty minutes to eight the officials paid their visit to the death-house – the bailies, the town clerk and his assistant, the governor, the doctors, the city architect, the chief constable, ministers and warders.

An illustration showing the execution of William Bury.
The Execution of William Bury. From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday 5th May 1889. Copyright, The British Library Board.


After the execution had been carried out the warders went back to their jobs, the bailies went back to the breakfast they had no heart for, and the reporters hurried away to write up their stories.

Berry, the hangman, went back south by the next train.”


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