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The Life of William Henry Bury

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  • The Life of William Henry Bury

    William Henry Bury was born 25th May 1859 in Stourbridge, Worcestershire. He lost both parents in infancy, his father Henry, died in a horse and cart accident when he was only three months old, (August 1859). His mother Mary Bury, (nee Henley, Hendy?), was committed to Worcester County & City lunatic asylum, (suffering from Melancholia), in May 1860. She remained there until her death (age 33) on 30th March 1864.

    William was the youngest of three, having one brother and a sister. He was raised and provided with a solid education by a close family friend. She helped William, at the age of sixteen, to find work as a factors clerk in a warehouse at Horsley Fields. His surname was listed as Berry in the 1881 census (the same name as the executioner who would later hang him). He then worked for Osbourne, a lock manufacturer in Lord Street, Wolverhampton until 1884/5.

    His whereabouts for the next couple of years are unknown although there is a report of him working for a Mr Whitehouse, Brassfounder, of Alexander Street, at some point, (ref: The Staffordshire Advertiser 16th February 1889). It appears he went to Dewsbury, Yorkshire in 1886 and was hawking there, as he was picked up for vagrancy during this time.

    During the summer of 1887 he made a living as a hawker, selling items such as lead pencils and toy rings on the streets in Snow Hill, Birmingham. He was 28 years old when he arrived in London in October 1887 and found work as a sawdust hawker to James Martin. Bury contracted to pay Martin 16/- shillings a week in rent for a horse and cart. He then bought sawdust from Martin and sold it to the pubs and butchers shops.

    Martin also ran what has been described as a brothel, (under the guise of the other business) at 80 Quickett Street, Arnold Road, Bromley-by-Bow. Bury moved in with Martin and it was here he met Ellen Elliot (32), a barmaid, prostitute and the daughter of a publican named George Elliot.

    Ellen Elliot, born 24th October 1855 at Stratford-le-Bow, East London, was a sickly child who was often ill and rarely at school. She had been left a legacy by her aunt, Mrs Margaret Birion, (bank and railway shares to the value of 300 pounds). She invested the money wisely, purchasing shares in the Union Bank of London. Bury knew Ellen for about six months before he married her, he would have known she had money, since Ellen was quite open about the fact.

    It appears that Ellen continued to work as a prostitute during her one-month engagement to Bury, as he had no money and wasn’t working at all. The couple were married at Bromley Parish Church on Easter Monday 2nd April 1888, (after Bury moved into Ellen’s lodgings at Mrs Elizabeth Haynes, 3 Swaton Road). This marriage was very convenient for Bury, as he had been sleeping in James Martin’s kitchen, or stables, until Martin dismissed him in March 1888, saying he brought in no money.

    Only five days after the marriage, Haynes, (after hearing Ellen screaming), rushed to her aid, to find Ellen in bed and Bury kneeling on her, attempting to cut her throat with a table knife, which he was holding in his right hand. Haynes later discovered that Bury had been out drinking and returned for more money from Ellen. She refused and he flew into a rage. Ellen asked Haynes to take the key with her, as she feared Bury would kill her and lock her in the room.

    Once, Ellen confided to Martin and Kate Spooner, (his partner), that her husband often stayed out until the early hours, sometimes disappearing for a couple of days, only to re-appear, the worse for wear and take his temper out on her. He spent more time drinking than working and never accounted for his overnight absences to her. He had even contracted a venereal disease, which, (he admitted to Martin) he had given to his wife. After a visit from James Martin, (demanding 13 pounds and 17/- Bury owed him), Haynes discovered that Ellen had worked in the brothel, while she was living at her home. Bury frequently threatened and assaulted Haynes and after Martin’s visit she evicted the pair saying, “She was obliged to get rid of them owing to his violence and bad language”. Only three weeks after their marriage they moved to 11 Blackthorn Road, Bow East and remained there for 8 – 10 weeks.

    After continual badgering by Bury, Ellen agreed to sell some of her shares for cash on 28th April 1888. Bury bought a horse and cart to set up a business, but the animal fell ill, (with the glanders) and was sold again, at a loss. Ellen bought a second pony for Bury’s new business venture, which Bury had been neglecting, paying someone else to do his work and spending most of his time in the public houses.

    Bury pressured Ellen to sell more of her shares. This she did on 7th June 1888. She had approx 100 pounds left at that stage. Bury had business cards made with the business address of 3 Spanby Road, E3 on them, (with his residence being 11 Blackthorne Road, E3). Sometime after 11th August, The Burys went on holidays to Wolverhampton, (for one week). Bury stayed at an inn in the town on or after 13th August and attended the Dunstall Races with his wife, (13th August was the opening day of the new track and the next race was 14th). Bury even gave the innkeeper’s son his new business card.

    While the Burys visited Wolverhampton, they had a portrait made, which shows him with a moustache, but no beard or side-whiskers, (matching the man whom P.C. Smith and William Marshall saw in Berners Street). Bury was showing off his new wife, (with her new jewellery which he bought for her there) and flashing money around. This was after the time Martha Tabram was killed, (7th August). The exact date of this holiday is not known, but they could not have attended the races prior to 13th August.

    Annie Chapman was murdered on 8th September and Bury was reported to have ‘gone berserk’ when he got home that night. The night after Eddowes died, Thomas Coram found a blood-stained knife, (dried blood), on the doorstep of a laundry at 252 Whitechapel Road………..near where a policeman said he remembered lending a hand to a man. The man’s horse had fallen down at that very spot. A lady at the laundry had let a woman out no more than an hour before and the policeman had patrolled that street a number of times that night, so the knife couldn’t have been there for more than 15 minutes. Why would an innocent person throw away a good knife? This was the same night Bury went ‘berserk’ when he got home. (Perhaps he couldn’t find his knife in the dark)

    Bury went to see Ellen’s sister in October 1888 and told her Ellen was ill. When she visited Ellen she saw the injuries that Bury had made to Ellen’s face. That’s when Ellen confessed that Bury had hit her. His treatment of his wife became so bad that Margaret had to speak to him about it. Ellen told her sister that she had to take all her jewellery with her when she went out, because Bury would pawn it for drink money. He often hit her and there were a number of witnesses to this, (William Smith, James Martin and Elizabeth Haynes). If she refused to give him money, he would often empty out her purse without her knowledge. Ellen Bury told her sister that she was very unhappy and that if Bury ‘marked’ her again, she would go to a magistrate and take out a protection order against him.
    The last known Ripper murder occurred on 9th November 1888. About this time William Bury’s behaviour changed. He had decided to murder his wife. He had to get her out of London because too many people knew his history of domestic violence. He had to be sure she would go with him and she wouldn’t, if he continued to beat her.

    In early December Bury told his landlord William Smith, that he was thinking about going to Adelaide, Australia. He told him to make him two large packing cases. In particular, Bury told Smith to make a good strong box, secured at either end with iron bands, about 3’ x 3’ x 2 1/2’.This box to be the larger of the two and Smith asked him a number of times why he wanted this? Bury said it would be useful to put things in for the trip to Adelaide. He asked the words ‘Bury’ and ‘Adelaide’ be stencilled on the side, but later cancelled this. Smith completed the boxes, never realising that Bury intended the larger one for Ellen Bury’s coffin!

    Margaret Corney only found out about the Bury’s departure on the 18th January 1889, (the afternoon of the evening before they left). He told her Ellen and he had been offered jobs in Dundee. When asked how he got the job, he replied, “By enquiries’. Margaret Corney had little time to dissuade her sister from going to Dundee. Ellen assured her she had seen the letter offering them both jobs, although Ellen would never have picked Bury’s forgery, (which was presented at his trial). It stated Malcolm Ogilvy & Co. Ltd, Dundee, had offered employment under contract for seven years to both Ellen and William Bury at one pound and two pounds respectively.

    After the Burys returned home to complete their packing, William Smith noticed the trunk almost empty, he asked why that was so? Bury said he was putting more stuff in it at the docks. Smith asked “What docks are you going to”? Bury responded “Ah, that’s what you’d like to know-like a lot more”

    Ellen’s sister went to see her off at the docks the next day and asked her, (quietly in the cabin) if she wanted to go to Dundee”? Ellen did not, but said William would not go without her. Margaret waved her sister goodbye on the SS Cambria as it sailed down the Thames. That was the last time she would see her alive.

    The Bury’s travelled as 2nd class passengers on their trip north. They slept on board overnight and on the morning of 21st January 1889 they arrived at 43 Union Street, Dundee and were shown the third floor accommodation by Mrs Jane Robertson. Ellen asked William to write a letter to Margaret that afternoon, confirming their arrival in Dundee. The letter was in Bury’s handwriting, which wasn’t unusual since Ellen had difficulty writing. She would have discovered there were no jobs on the following Monday, as they were supposed to start work then. She also knew her husband had stopped hitting her, so perhaps she decided to make the best of the situation.

    The Burys stayed for only eight days at Jane Robertson’s. During this time he haggled over the rent, trying to beat her down. Jane Robertson asked her 26yr old daughter Margaret, to attend to the lodgers saying, “Bury looked wickedly at her” This scared her. About this time Bury’s story changed from ‘he was looking for work’ to ‘he came north for his wife’s health.

    On 29th January 1889, the Burys moved to 113 Princes Street, a basement flat under a shop. Ellen got chatting to Mrs Marjorie Smith (who ran the shop over the Bury’s new flat). Bury was moving furniture, so she invited her in and asked why they moved from London. Ellen said Bury had got mixed up with ‘bad company’ and she was glad to get away, to see if he would do any better. When Bury had finished, he offered to go and buy some drinks.

    After he returned, the conversation drifted to the topic of Jack the Ripper. Marjorie Smith asked “What sort of work you Whitechapel folk have been about, letting Jack the Ripper kill so many people”? Bury went silent, but Ellen said “ Jack the Ripper is quiet now” She later told another neighbour, “Jack the Ripper is taking a rest” This was a strange thing to say when the papers were full of sightings of JtR doing all sorts of things in different places. Perhaps Ellen knew more than she was saying about her husband?

    During the next few days, Bury was seen more often than his wife, shopping or going to the pub. One day Bury purchased a rope from the local shop. This was the rope he intended to hang his wife with. He now had a more private place in which to kill her. Bury had successfully disguised the true nature of his relationship with his wife to the locals, as later testimony would prove.

    On 8th February 1889 Bury spent the whole day in court, taking notes and listening attentively. On 10th February he walked into the Dundee Central Police Station and reported his wife’s ‘suicide’ to Lt. James Parr. He said they had been drinking heavily the night before her death. He had woken in the morning to find his wife’s body on the floor, with the rope about her neck. That he got frightened he would be apprehended as Jack the Ripper and he cut up the body and packed it in a box where it was still to be found.

    Bury was taken upstairs to see Lt. David Lamb. Parr told Lamb, “Bury had a wonderful story to tell”. Parr remained to hear the re-telling of Bury’s story, but the ‘Jack the Ripper’ reference was omitted. He also said that he stabbed his wife’s body only once. Bury handed the basement flat key to Lamb and said, “There’s the key of the door, you will easily find the box with the body in it. The house can be easily got and you will know it at once because there are red curtains on the front window”. He was taken downstairs ‘in charge’.

    When police arrived at the flat they asked a neighbour to accompany them, (as a witness) while they entered the premises. There they found the box with Ellen’s body in it. The body was later examined by Charles Templeman, (the police surgeon) and Bury was then charged with murder. His only response was “No!” He was searched, (a small pocket-knife was found on him) and he was taken down to the cells. Bury’s trial lasted only 11 hours, (partly conducted by candlelight) and resulted in a guilty verdict. He went to the gallows wearing his Masonic ring. The police also found chalk graffiti in Bury’s flat at the foot of the door, leading into it, which predated the murder. It said ‘Jack Ripper is at the back of this door’. At the back of the door it said ‘Jack Ripper is in this sellar’.

    I believe Bury had reached the end of the line after he strangled his wife Ellen. He had planned to murder her in Dundee, commissioned the coffin (a trunk he had his landlord make in London) and afterwards complained that it was too small, which he carried up to Dundee 'empty', after lying about their destination. He had taken most of his wife’s inheritance and spent it. The balance of the shares were the subject of a forged document, found on his person when arrested. Perhaps he couldn’t cash them because his wife was required to accompany him to the bank?


  • #2
    great post ..

    Hi Eileen,

    Welcome back, have not seen you here for a while.
    That is a great post, very interesting reading .. I can
    see how William Bury is a very likely candidate for JTR.
    Not a very happy life for him or his wife, all a bit sad

    Hope all is well with you,
    all the best,
    "Victoria Victoria, the queen of them all,
    of Sir Jack she knows nothing at all"


    • #3
      Yes, I'd like to second that. Bury has struck me as a very likely candidate since I read Jim Tully's book ten years ago. Keep investigating, Mrsperfect. You might well be on to something.


      • #4
        Originally posted by The Grave Maurice View Post
        Yes, I'd like to second that. Bury has struck me as a very likely candidate since I read Jim Tully's book ten years ago.
        Tully's book was about James Kelly, Maurice -- a mere slip on your part, I'm sure.
        Kind regards, Sam Flynn

        "Suche Nullen" (Nietzsche, Götzendämmerung, 1888)


        • #5
          Aarrgh. You're quite right, Sam. That will teach me not to post late at night. I meant, of course, William Beadle's book. Thanks for the correction.


          • #6
            Book Recommendations!

            I would also like to recommend Euan Macpherson's book 'The Trial of Jack The Ripper' I think between this and Beadle's book, you can get a better picture.

            I have trial notes, (which I haven't seen posted yet) that some people may be interested in reading. I will wait for requests rather than assume.


            PS Thanks Victoria, I have been very busy lately!


            • #7
              Originally posted by Mrsperfect View Post
              I have trial notes, (which I haven't seen posted yet) that some people may be interested in reading. I will wait for requests rather than assume.
              Have a request from me, Eileen - it would be good to read them
              Kind regards, Sam Flynn

              "Suche Nullen" (Nietzsche, Götzendämmerung, 1888)


              • #9
                Originally posted by Mrsperfect View Post
                Hi Sam......As requested
      , that's what I call service! Thanks, Eileen.
                Kind regards, Sam Flynn

                "Suche Nullen" (Nietzsche, Götzendämmerung, 1888)


                • #12
                  Many thanks for the trial notes! Aren't the national archives useful?

                  A quick question that you might be able to answer - you mention in your history that Ellen Bury stated that "Jack the Ripper was quiet". Does that come from the Beadle or MacPhearson book? It's been a while since I've read either.

                  Many thanks!



                  • #13
                    Domestic Violence Victim's Strange Statements!

                    G'day Iain

                    On page 74 of Euan Macpherson's book, Ellen Bury says, " Jack the Ripper is quiet, now"

                    She is also reported to have said to another neighbour "Jack the Ripper is taking a rest"



                    P S...Trial Notes courtesy of National Archives and 'Johns' Casebook Member


                    • #14
                      Thanks for that! Like I said, it's been a while since I read either of the books on him!


                      • #15
                        William Bury Admitted He Did It!

                        If you read pages 40/41 of the trial notes, you would see that Dr Lennox, (in practice for 9 years) commented on Ellen Bury's PM examination. Part of what he said was:

                        He had seen several cases of attempted suicide by strangulation. His reasons for concluding suicide were:

                        First...The presence of three bruises, (one on the nose and two on the belly) which could have been accidental.

                        Second...In homicidal strangulation, almost inconceivable that no marks on neck, except that made by rope.

                        Third....Suicide by strangulation is possible and has in fact occured!

                        I think this sounds like the work of a professional. Someone who knew just how much pressure to apply.


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