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Queen Victoria has her back to Dr. Ruxton's house in Dalton Square in the centre of Lancaster.
The following story is a bit of oral history (or gossip as it's known
locally) that I was told back in the mid-70s. I had hitched a ride into town from the uni, as was customary in those days, and was picked up by an elderly lady. She parked in Dalton Square, and we sat in the car for another half an hour as she told me this story. She,
like a lot of local people, had known the doctor, his common-law wife,
Isabella Kerrin and their three children. Her account is the basis of this article, with help fromother sources including Wikipedia and Lancashire County Council's CSI website.
Ruxton's original name was Buktyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim. He was a Parsi, and was also of French descent, originally from Bombay, having served as a ship's doctor. He met Isabella Van Ess, née Kerrin (separated from her Dutch husband) in Edinburgh. In 1928, she quit her job and moved to London with him. They never married, though she took the surname Ruxton, and they had three children.
In 1930 they moved to Dalton Square at the very heart of Lancaster, next door to the cinema, where he built up a prosperous medical practice. He was the first well to do black person seen in these parts.
In the grim days before the National Health Service, Dr Ruxton was considered
a kindly man, and he was universally popular in the town and known to be particularly generous in treating the poor. Also, he didn't drink, which was particularly attractive in a doctor. Unfortunately,
he was also a very jealous husband.
My friendly ride told me that Isabella was attractive, and liked to socialise.
At the Mayor's Annual Ball, in the Town Hall, she danced all night, and was
much in demand, her husband apparently preferring to sit things out
The marriage deteriorated, with Ruxton becoming ever-more jealous
and controlling. Isabella attempted suicide in 1932 and left him for a period in 1934.
Police Constable Norman Wilson's notebook entry for the evening of on 27th May 1935 states:
"8.55pm: In consequence of a telephone received from Mrs. Ruxton I went to her house. On arrival I was met by Dr. Ruxton who was in a very excitable state and behaving like a man insane and threatening to commit two murders in Dalton Square tonight. Sergeant Stainton then arrived and the Doctor calmed down. But stated his intention to come to the Police Court on Monday morning and applying for a summons against a man who had enticed away his wife's affections. We then came away leaving all quiet."
Nowadays she would have been automatically referred for Domestic Violence support.
But that didn't happen. She was last seen on 14th September 1935 enjoying a day out in Blackpool, from which she tamely returned home by midnight. On the 15th, Dr Ruxton strangled Isabella
with his bare hands and killed her.
Mary Jane Rogerson
To prevent their maid, Mary Jane
Rogerson, from discovering and revealing his crime,
he suffocated her to death.
To dispose of the bodies, he first dismembered them in the bath, and, being a
surgeon, made a professional job of it.
The bath was later reinstalled as a charming victorian horse trough at Hutton Police HQ.
At the trial a neighbouring couple recollected that Ruxton had persuaded them to come and help out at his house, saying he'd cut his hand while opening a can of peaches and he needed to clean up quickly because decorators were coming over. They scrubbed his walls and he gave them some bloodstained carpets and clothing.
My source recalls being in the hairdressers then on the west side of
Dalton Square, and the ladies present remarking that Dr Ruxton had been
burning 'ever such a lot of rubbish'; the smoke from his back garden
had been drifting across the square for two days. He told people that his wife
had gone away with the maid. He burned their clothes, to make it look
as though she had taken them.
The murders are famous because of the application of then new methods
of forensic science to their solution. A man of science himself, Dr
Ruxton would at the time have been one of the few to understand the
means by which he was convicted.
According to the BBC, as Richard C Jones kindly pointed out to me, the body parts in the stream near Moffat, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, were first spotted by a woman, a Miss Susan Haines Johnson, who was visiting from Edinburgh. From the bridge near 'The Devil's Beeftub', something white
could be seen flapping down in the steep gully below. On investigation, parts were found of
two dismembered bodies, mutilated beyond any recognition, wrapped in
newspaper. The paper was identified as being a special edition of the
'Sunday Graphic' sold only in Lancaster. Aha!
Inspector Jeremiah Lynch of Scotland Yard, who had been called in to assist in the investigation, pored over the newspaper's local subscription list, which was a vital clue in tracking Ruxton. When initially questioned, Ruxton denied he had ever been to Scotland. However, whilst he was on his way back from Scotland disposing of the evidence, his car had knocked over a cyclist in Kendal, and he was stopped by a police officer in Milnthorpe nearby, who had made a record of the registration number in his pocketbook, vital evidence at the later murder trial.
Not all the body parts were found. A search of the area was carried
out and the local boy scouts were drafted in to assist. We don't know
if they got a special badge for it.
The Glasgow Police Identification Bureau used new fingerprint techniques
to help identify the bodies. As the fingers had been mutilated, they
also used the new science of photographic superimposure, matching a
photo of Isabella to the shape of one of the skulls found. The match
The local dentist James Priestley also gave evidence to identify the victims.
Forensic entomology (in this case, the gross but useful technique of checking the age of the maggots infesting the corpses) helped pinpoint the date of death.
Following a series of committal hearings at Lancaster Town Hall Magistrates Court, Ruxton was held at Strangeways, awaiting the pleasure of the Assize Court at Manchester, which had to be prepared, refurbished and extended, for what was becoming known as the "Case of the Century".
Dr Ruxton was hanged at Manchester on 12th May 1936. A petition asking
for clemency for him was signed by 10,000 people (despite the fact that he had also knocked over a cyclist) but his Appeal was turned down. My source explained that, had he 'just' killed his wife in anger, he might not have hung but, to escape justice, he had also murdered their maid, Mary Jane Rogerson, a nineteen year old girl whose only involvement was caring for his children.
My mother, who was 13 then and lived in Rochdale where they are less clement, remembers the song they sang at the time, to the tune of 'Red Sails in the Sunset':
"Red stains on the carpet,
Red stains on your knife
Oh Dr. Buck Ruxton,
You murdered your wife.
The nursemaid saw you,
And threatened to tell,
Oh Dr. Ruxton, you killed her as well."
Ms Rogerson's family still live in the area and were seriously unamused when a local bar round the corner decided it would be fun to 'retheme' itself as 'Ruxton's' back in the 80s. The change didn't stick and the pub is now more durably called 'The Square'.
Tours of Lancaster
Town Hall happen on Heritage Open Days (it's free but booking is required) and occasionally at other advertised times and feature, along with our splendid Town Hall's numerous other wondrous attractions, a visit to the old court room, complete with all the original furniture, where Buck Ruxton appeared at several committal hearings.
From the prisoner's dock visitors are "sent down" to view the atmospheric subterranean police cells, which in 1935 held Lancaster's notorious double murderer, Dr. Buck Ruxton.