Jigsaw Murder Case: A Successful Conviction using Forensic Methods and Techniques
On September 29, 1935, several mutilated and dismembered human remains were discovered over 100 miles north of Lancaster, dumped in a stream crossed by the Edinburgh-Carlisle road, near the town of Moffat in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. These remains included two head, a thorax, a pelvis, segments of the upper and lower limbs, three breasts, pieces of the female external genitalia, and the uterus and its appendages. The ears, eyes, nose, and lips of both heads had been removed to eliminate any signs of sex and identity. Additionally, the teeth had been pulled and the skin of the faces had been removed. The hands had their finger terminal joints removed, making it impossible to identify a person based on their fingerprints or any unique characteristics of their fingernails or tips. When the pieces were put together, two female corpses that seemed to be well-developed and well-nourished were identified.
After September 14, 1935, neither Mary Rogerson nor Mrs. Ruxton had been seen. Mrs. Isabella Ruxton vanished from sight. Despite the fact that her clothing was still in the home and the car she was driving was parked outside, she claimed to have traveled to Edinburgh with her housemaid Mary Rogerson. The main suspect was Dr. Buck Ruxton also known as Buktyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim, who was the husband of Isabella Ruxton. Dr. Ruxton had publicly accused his wife of infidelity and issued threats of violence before she vanished. He was upset, had a cut on his hand, and gave contradictory answers when the police initially spoke with him about where his wife and housemaid had vanished. The two departed together, according to Dr. Ruxton’s version to the police, since Mary Rogerson was pregnant and Mrs. Ruxton was assisting her in having an illegal abortion at the time.
On September 29, 1935, Miss Susan Haines Johnson, a visitor from Edinburgh, found pieces of their body wrapped in newspaper. Unfortunately for Ruxton, one of the papers he had selected to use was an exclusive Lancaster-only Sunday Graphic special edition. The cops followed up on this tip right away.
The bodies were identified without a shadow of a doubt as those of Mrs. Isabella Ruxton, the doctor’s wife, who was about 35 years old, and Miss Mary Rogerson, the housemaid, who was about 20 years old. Both women had vanished from the Lancaster home of the doctor on September 15, 1935, and were never heard from again.
The bodies were recognised using the newly developed methods of fingerprint recognition, forensic anthropology, which involved superimposing a photograph over an X-ray of the victim’s skull, and forensic entomology, which involved determining the age of maggots to determine an approximate time of death.
During the investigation, various maggot specimens were taken from the remains and submitted to a lab at the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Mearns, a specialist, recognised the species as Calliphora vicina, better known as blowflies. The minimum amount of time the remains had been left near the stream was estimated by looking at the maggots, which were found to be between 12 and 14 days old.
Skull No. 1’s outline is placed on Mrs. Ruxton’s photograph. The face contours don’t match. Overlays of Mrs. Ruxton’s photograph with Skull No. 2’s outline. The contours of the faces appear to match.
The crucial evidence that resulted in Dr. Ruxton’s conviction and execution was the long and tedious reconstruction of the bodies of Isabella Ruxton and Mary Rogerson by forensic pathologist John Glaister Jr. and anatomist James Couper Brash, as well as their innovative use of photographic superimpositions. Photographs of the skulls were taken and superimposed on those of Mrs. Ruxton and Miss Rogerson’s heads, and they were found to be identical in every way. Shoes owned by Mrs. Ruxton and Miss Rogerson fit perfectly in casts taken from the left foot of the two corpses’ reconstructed feet.
The Ruxton case’s methodologies’ success, which was widely covered in the media, strengthened public and professional confidence in forensic science’s skills. This was one of the first cases in the UK where such forensic evidence was utilised to convict a criminal.
Experts involved in the identification of the bodies:
- Professor John Glaister, Regius Professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of Glasgow
- Dr Gilbert Millar, Lecturer in Pathology at the University of Edinburgh
- Professor Sydney Smith, Regius Professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of Edinburgh
- Dr Arthur Hutchinson, Dean of the Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School
- Professor J C Brash, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Edinburg
Suspicion soon centered on Ruxton for a variety of reasons. Given that Ruxton was a doctor, it seems likely that the suspect had a thorough understanding of human anatomy given how expertly the two bodies had been mutilated. In addition, Ruxton had cut his hand around the time of the murder, and Ruxton’s home had been reported to have repulsive odours and blood spots by a cleaning lady. Finally, several of the victim’s bodies were wrapped in newspapers, some of which were exclusive Morecambe and Lancaster editions of the Sunday Graphic.
When the police examined Dr. Ruxton’s home, they discovered several human bloodstains on the bathroom floor, the bannister, the stair rails, the stair carpets, the pads, the surgical towel, and a suit of his clothing. Dr. Ruxton was later detained by the police and accused of deliberately killing Miss Mary Rogerson and Mrs. Isabella Ruxton. His execution was ordered after he was found guilty of murder.
Although there is no proof of infidelity, Dr. Ruxton began to think that she was having an affair behind his back. Ruxton apparently lost control of his wrath behind closed doors as he grew more jealous and envious of Isabella’s popularity. Eventually, Ruxton’s jealously got the better of him, and on September 15, 1935, he used his bare hands to strangle Isabella. He smothered Mary Jane Rogerson, their housemaid, as well, so that she wouldn’t tell about his crime. Ruxton then went on to mutilate and dismember both bodies in order to conceal their identities.
On October 13, 1935, around 7:20 a.m., Ruxton was detained. The jury delivered a “Guilty” judgement at the conclusion of his 11-day trial on December 13, 1935, Mr. Justice Singleton then executed him. He was executed by hanging on May 12, 1936, at Strangeways Prison in Manchester.
Sources & References:
- Image Courtesy: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/visibleproofs/media/
- Hodge, James H. (1964). Famous Trials 10.