In September 1935, two women were found buried at the spot marked on this photograph of a grassy ditch next to a Scottish road. To find their killer, investigators would need to identify the women first—a task that would require piecing together their scattered, dismembered bodies.
The process forced the advancement of forensic techniques that would help solve many more crimes in the future. Forensic pathologist John Glaister Jr. and anatomist James Couper Brash tapped into still-emerging technologies to put the women back together again:
They painstakingly reassembled the bodies in a case dubbed by the press as the “jigsaw murders.” A new technique of photographic superimposition was used, matching two in life photo transparencies of [victim Isabella Ruxton] to two photos taken in the same orientation of one of the skulls found. The match was perfect. They also used another new procedure, forensic entomology, to identify the age of maggots on the bodies to give an approximate date of death. The Glasgow Police Identification Bureau used new fingerprint techniques to help identify the bodies.
Once they’d identified Isabella Ruxton, it became easier to ID the other woman (Mary Jane Rogerson, babysitter to her three kids), and then the killer: Isabella’s husband, Dr. Buck Ruxton.
He was originally from India (he’d changed his name from “Buktyar Rustomi” after moving to England), and was a handsome, well-liked physician in Lancaster. But he was suspicious of Isabella’s devotion to him, and one night a jealous argument turned violent, as the BBC reconstructs the events:
Ruxton grabbed Isabella by the throat and strangled her in the front room. Sadly Mary watched the whole incident in horror, and then Ruxton informed her that she would have to die as well, and she sadly joined Mrs Ruxton.
The Doctor had to get rid of both bodies to conceal his murderous acts, so he calmly carried both bodies to his bathroom and with his medical knowledge he dissected and butchered both corpses. He rolled the neatly cut flesh into rolls of newspaper, similar to a butchers shop. And in the dead of night he carried his macabre packages to his car boot.
Both women were soon reported missing by concerned family and friends, and Ruxton made up stories to explain their absences (apparently, he even said Isabella had left him for another man). But once the evidence came together—including bloodstains found in the Ruxton house, and the facts that he had threatened his wife in the past, and that he’d hit-and-run a cyclist on his way back from burying the body parts (the cyclist, who was remarkably unscathed, managed to memorize his license plate number)—Ruxton was arrested, tried, and convicted.
Despite the abundant forensic evidence against him, he maintained his innocence until just before his death by hanging sentence was carried out. Only then, he finally ’fessed up, though he may have had an ulterior motive other than clearing his conscience:
A few days after his death, Ruxton’s signed confession was published in The News of the World. Dated the 14th of October 1935 it said, “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.” Ruxton was paid by the paper for this, the money going to his children. It raises the question as to whether the confession was true or whether Ruxton made it simply as a way of providing for his children, having lost all hope of a reprieve. His estate was valued at £1765. It is not known what became of his children.
Both images: AP Photo