Lancaster Jigsaw Murders: Dr Buck Ruxton Murdered & Dismembered His Wife & Housekeeper In 1935

This is the story of the Lancaster Jigsaw Murders. In 1935 Dr Buck Ruxton brutally murdered his wife and his housekeeper before carefully dismembering their bodies and dumping their remains in a river in Scotland.

In 1935, Dr Buck Ruxton murdered his wife and housekeeper in a crime that shook the nation
In 1935, Dr Buck Ruxton murdered his wife and housekeeper in a crime that shook the nation

The harrowing story of the Jigsaw Murders started on Tuesday, 1 October 1935, when Mrs Jessie Rogerson walked into Lancaster police station. Mrs Rogerson was concerned for the wellbeing of her 20 year old stepdaughter, Mary, who had been working as a live-in housemaid for a local doctor. Mary Jane Rogerson had not been seen by her parents for several days, this was a concern for them as they kept in contact almost everyday.

Mrs Rogerson told the police that she had visited Dr Ruxton's surgery on 25 September, when she claimed that the doctor had explained that Mary had gone to Edinburgh with his wife, who was looking after her, following a recent termination of her pregnancy. That was more than a week ago, and to the concerned stepmother, the story just didn't ring true. Mrs Rogerson had told Dr Ruxton that if her stepdaughter, Mary, wasn't back home before the weekend, she would contact the police.

The real name of Dr Buck Ruxton was Bukhtyar Rustomji Ratnji Hakim, a Parsee, who was born to wealthy, respectable parents in Bombay in 1899. He was a graduate from Bombay University and had previously worked in several European countries before coming to the UK and originally settling in Edinburgh. During his time in the Scottish capital he built up a large friendship circle of the more affluent residents, the handsome and charming doctor was quickly accepted, and it didn't take long before he fell in love with the manageress of a city restaurant, this was the very attractive divorcee, Isabelle Van Ess.

Buck Ruxton, a highly volatile and neurotic young man, appeared to have met his match in Isabella, the two had a tempestuous and stormy relationship before moving in together as man and wife. In the spring of 1930, now the doting father of a baby daughter, he brought his family to Lancaster, where he took over a surgery at 2 Dalton Square. He put all his effort and attention into his new practice and soon became a well known, and well respected, local doctor. The couple soon went onto have their second daughter.

The relationship between Buck and Isabella was filled with fights, violence, and separations, this led to the doctor being on the radar of the local Lancaster police. By 1934, Dr Ruxton was frequently using violence against his wife, he became paranoid, constantly accusing her of having affairs or flirting with their friends, he was known to always be apologetic and beg for her forgiveness once he had calmed down. He would frequently say to people, "We are the kind of people who cannot live with each other and cannot live without each other." On several occasions, his wife, Isabella, had reported him to the police after he had made threats to kill her.

Dalton Square, Lancaster, the home and surgery of Dr Buck Ruxton
Dalton Square, Lancaster, the home and surgery of Dr Buck Ruxton

They then went onto employ a young housekeeper, Miss Mary Jane Rogerson, who was employed to look after the children, and for a short period of time the presence of the new housekeeper seemed to ease the tension between Dr Ruxton and his wife.

When the police went to visit Dr Ruxton on the back of the concerns reported by Mrs Rogerson, he confirmed to them that both his wife and his housekeeper had gone away for awhile. The officers found nothing overly suspicious in his statement, and were satisfied for the moment that the doctor was telling the truth, so they left him be. The officers did make a few enquiries though and discovered that Isabella had been to visit her sister in Blackpool on 14 September. That was the last day that she was seen alive.

Reports of the disappearance of Mary Rogerson appeared in several newspapers, including the Daily Record, a copy of which was read by the Chief Constable of Dumfries, who had his own mystery to solve.

On a sunny, Sunday afternoon, on 29 September, a young holidaymaker in Edinburgh had made a gruesome discovery at Moffat, a small town just north of Dumfries on the Edinburgh road. Reaching a small bridge crossing, Gardenholm Linn, a tributary of the river Annan, she had stopped to enjoy the scenery, and when she looked down into the gully, she saw what appeared to be a human arm, wrapped in newspaper, trapped between boulders in the fast flowing waters.

The subsequent police search continued throughout the day and over 70 body parts were found along the riverbank and later transferred to a local hospital. Baffled by the maggot-ridden, decomposing flesh, officers called in Edinburgh-based Professor John Glaister and Doctor Gilbert Miller to assist in identifying the human jigsaw.

Professor Glaister soon explained to police that whoever was responsible for dismembering the bodies possessed a detailed anatomical knowledge, and almost all traces of identification, such as eyes and teeth, had been removed. He also told the authorities that their initial estimate of half a dozen bodies was wrong, and in fact the limbs came from just two bodies, one male and one female. The next morning he changed his opinion to two females, one aged around 40, the other perhaps half that age. Officers from Glasgow CID joined the investigation. No local people were reported missing and investigations into anything suspicious seen on the roads around Moffat in the previous week also drew a blank.

Isabella Ruxton and Mary Rogerson
Isabella Ruxton (left) and Mary Rogerson (right)

While professor Glaister and his team worked on identifying the bodies, police officers concentrated their efforts on the newspapers that the limbs were wrapped in. They were found to come from an edition of the Sunday Graphic, a nationally distributed newspaper, but the pages that contained the limbs revealed an important clue. One of the sheets contained the heading ". . . . AMBE'S CARNIVAL QUEEN - CROWNED." Date 15 September, the heading came from a "slip edition" of the Sunday Graphic that was only available in Morecambe, Lancaster, and the surrounding areas. There was less than 4,000 copies of this particular edition printed. This new information helped in narrowing down the investigating area, but they still needed to check on all local residents, which wasn't an easy task as the area was a thriving tourist destination at the time. Then reports of the disappearance of Mary Rogerson and Isabella Ruxton started to crop up, things started to speed up in terms of the investigation. Lancaster Police went back to the surgery of Dr Buck Ruxton and re-interviewed him, authorities also questioned his neighbours as well as his members of staff. The police started to have their suspicions, the doctor had an undoubted anatomical knowledge as well as a missing wife, and lived in the area of investigation.

Two days later Buck Ruxton burst into Lancaster police station, demanding that he was able to speak to the Chief Constable, Captain Vann. Ruxton pleaded, "Can't you publish it in the papers that there is no connection between the bodies found in Scotland and the disappearance of my wife?" Captain Vann, looked at Dr Buck Ruxton, and calmly said that if and when he was satisfied that Ruxton wasn't involved in the crimes, then, and only then, would he consider his request.

Within the next 24 hours detectives finally got the breakthrough that they had been so desperately looking for. Police who were checking on a number of items of clothing found in the stream had at last found conclusive proof linking them to the missing women. One item, a blouse, had been repaired with a makeshift patch, and Mrs Rogerson confirmed that the repair was carried out by herself, she even showed the authorities the material from which the patch had been cut.

On 13 October, 1935, Dr Buck Ruxton was arrested on the suspicion of murdering his wife and housekeeper, the next day police carried out a search of his house, going over every inch in detail. They discovered a strange looking yellow "sheen" in the bath, which a pathologist working on the case confirmed was dried blood. It appeared that the dissection of the bodies had been carried out in the bath, further investigation found blood under the adjacent floorboards, confirming the theory. Later that afternoon, Dr Buck Ruxton was officially charged with murder. When Dr Buck Ruxton stood trial at Manchester Assizes in March 1936, he had in his corner a formidable counsel led by the great Norman Birkett KC. Ruxton was to be the only witness called for the defence. He faced an almost overwhelming case built up by the prosecution.

The reason for the murders, the prosecution maintained, was simple. During one of their frequent and violent rows, he had killed Isabella as he had so often threatened to do, probably by strangulation. Young Mary had stumbled in on him, and he had to silence her. He had carefully dismembered the bodies and disposed of them far from Lancaster, but in an area that he knew very well.

When Ruxton took his place in the dock, the formerly personable doctor made a pitiful showing. Frequently in tears, he strenuously denied all charges and in replying to the charge that he murdered his housemaid, he replied, "It is absolute bunkum with a capital B, if I may say so. Why should I kill young Mary?" The trial went on for eleven days and finished when the all male jury took only one hour before finding him guilty.

Ruxton appealed against his sentence but at a hearing before the Lord Chief Justice, the appeal was rejected, and on Tuesday, 12 May, 1936, Dr Buck Ruxton was hanged at Strangeways prison, Manchester.

The next Sunday, the News of the World published a note, written by Ruxton, confessing to the murders.

Confession note from Dr Buck Ruxton
Confession note from Dr Buck Ruxton
"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." B. Ruxton

The remarkable thing about the confession was that it was dated the day after his arrest and had been given to a journalist for a fee of £3,000. The money was later used to pay his defence costs, which explained how he was able to engage the most eminent defence counsel of the day. It had been in a sealed envelope only to be opened after Ruxton's death. Now you have learned about the Jigsaw Murders in Lancaster, make sure you read about the horrifying crimes of Edmund Kemper.


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