I’ve recently been rereading Stewart Evans’ wonderful book, Executioner, which is a biography of hangman James Berry, and I’m wondering what folks think of Berry’s claim that William Bury was a Mason.
Berry writes that Bury’s sleeve-links “were engraved with the sign of the Masonic craft to which the criminal belonged” (p. 308).
Has this been demonstrated to be an embellishment by Berry, if not, is it likely to have been an embellishment, or do folks think there is a real possibility that Bury could have been a Mason? If I’m understanding the timeline correctly, Berry would have written these words in 1913, shortly after Macnaghten retired, and shortly before Berry’s own death. It’s worth noting that six years earlier, in a 1907 newspaper article (it’s one of those articles that appeared in multiple newspapers, my copy being from the New York paper, The Sun), Berry claimed to be in possession of Bury’s cuff links, which suggests that the cuff links did hold some special interest for him: “Berry declares...at the moment he was talking he was wearing the cuff links that he took from the man’s cuffs when he pinioned his hands.”
In his book Jack the Ripper Unmasked, William Beadle writes, “Berry had the condemned man take off a pair of white linen cuffs and himself removed Bury’s collar. After the execution he noted that the sleeve links discarded with the cuffs bore the Masonic insignia” (p.306). Beadle unfortunately doesn’t make any further comment about this. I don’t think Macpherson mentions it at all in his book.
If Bury was indeed a Mason, is this is a possible explanation for what Beadle regards as an unenthusiastic investigation of Bury for the Ripper murders? Or do folks see this as entirely irrelevant?
I’m not knowledgeable about freemasonry and have never paid much attention to the Masonic theories of the case, so I’m eager to hear what those of you who are more knowledgeable have to say.
I checked the United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Registers 1751-1921 and was initially excited to see a William Bury initiated into Leopold Lodge 1883 in Accrington, Lancashire.
But his DOB was 1854 and he appears to be in the 1891 census.
Quite a few William Burys about Lancashire actually. Including a William Bury and spouse Ellen living in Bradford in 1881 census!
If the story is true, maybe Bury acquired the Masonic cufflinks at some stage and placed some importance or prestige in wearing them.
I haven't got Beadle's book. Is there a source for his info?
Thanks a lot, phantom, for looking into this. Beadle doesn't footnote there, so I'm assuming he is relying on James Berry's statement. The membership register you mentioned is available through ancestry.com, so I signed up for a free trial and ran a search. There is one record I've found so far that looks promising, it's one of the Lancashire Burys. Initiation date is 1883, so Bury would have been about 24 at the time, and Lancashire is possible, as we don't know too much about Bury's early whereabouts (maybe he had a friend there?). The thing that caught my eye about this one is that the first payment year on record is 1888. That's the year that Bury got into some money, after he married Ellen. I'm wondering if during that trip to Wolverhampton in August 1888 he might not have made a side trip to Lancashire to show off his newfound wealth. This one's a possibility anyway.