Buck Ruxton (21 March 1899, Bombay – 12 May 1936, Manchester), also known as Buktyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim, was a Parsi physician and murderer, involved in one of the United Kingdom's most publicised murder cases of the 1930s, which gripped the nation at the time. The case is remembered now for the innovative forensic techniques employed in solving it.
Buck Ruxton, a Parsi born in Bombay on 21 March 1899, was originally named Bukhtyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim but later changed his name by deed poll. In 1930 he moved to the UK and set up as a practising doctor in Lancaster, England. He was reputedly a diligent GP, well respected and popular with his patients, and known to waive his fees when he felt patients could not afford to pay them. He lived in a large house at 2, Dalton Square (the Square is still a location for practising doctors) with his common-law wife Isabella ("Belle") Kerr and their three children. Isabella was an outgoing lady who enjoyed socialising with Lancaster's elite (the "Town Hall Set") and was a popular guest at functions.
Ruxton became increasingly jealous of Isabella's supposed infidelity, allegedly exploding into fits of rage behind closed doors. Eventually his jealousy overwhelmed him and, on 15 September 1935, he most probably strangled Isabella with his bare hands. In order to prevent their housemaid, Mary Jane Rogerson, from discovering his crime before he could dispose of the body, or because she witnessed Isabella's murder, he probably strangled her too. Ruxton then proceeded to dismember and mutilate both bodies in the bathroom to hide their identities. His problem then was to find somewhere to get rid of the remains.
Various human body parts were found over 100 miles (160 km) north of Lancaster, dumped in Gardenholme Linn – a stream running into the River Annan crossed by the Edinburgh–Carlisle road, 2 miles (3 km) north of the town of Moffat in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. They were found wrapped in newspapers (the Daily Herald dated 6 and 31 August 1935, Sunday Graphic dated 15 September 1935 and Sunday Chronicle) on 29 September, 1935, by Miss Susan Haines Johnson who was visiting from Edinburgh.
Unfortunately for Ruxton, one of the newspapers he had chosen to use was a special 'slip' edition of the Sunday Graphic that was sold only in the Morecambe and Lancaster areas. Inspector Jeremiah Lynch of Scotland Yard, who had been called in to assist in the investigation, pored over the subscription list, which greatly assisted in tracking Ruxton.
Identification of the bodies
The bodies were identified using the fledgeling techniques of fingerprint identification, forensic anthropology to superimpose a photograph over the X-ray of a victim's skull, and forensic entomology to identify the age of maggots and thus the approximate date of death. The local dentist, James Priestley also gave evidence to identify the victims. This was one of the first cases where such forensic evidence was successfully used to convict a criminal in the UK.
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 Thom Davies, Professor of Pathology at the University of Glasgow
- Professor James Couper Brash, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh
A preliminary examination was made at Moffat by Professor Glaister and Dr Millar, after which the remains were taken to the anatomy department at Edinburgh University for a more detailed investigation.
Ruxton was arrested at 7.20 a.m. on 13 October 1935 and charged with the murder of Mary Rogerson; he was subsequently charged on 5 November with the murder of Isabella Ruxton. His trial, for the Murder of Isabella Ruxton only, started on 2 March 1936 and lasted for 11 days. He was defended by Norman Birkett K.C. and Philip Kershaw K.C., who were instructed by Edwin Slinger, a solicitor in Lancaster. The prosecution counsel were Joseph Cooksey Jackson K.C., David Maxwell Fyfe K.C. and Hartley Shawcross. The trial ended on 13 March 1936 when the jury had returned a verdict of 'guilty' and Mr Justice Singleton sentenced him to death. A petition urging clemency for Ruxton collected over 10,000 signatures. However, the Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed Ruxton's appeal on 27 April 1936 and he was hanged at Strangeways prison, Manchester on the morning of 12 May 1936.
- For some years his waxwork was exhibited in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds in London.
- The house on Dalton Square where the murders were committed remained empty for decades because of its notorious reputation. Eventually, in the 1980s, the building was gutted and underwent substantial internal alteration, particularly the bathroom: it became architects' offices, and remains non-residential.
- The bath in which Buck Ruxton dismembered his victims was removed and used as evidence during his trial. Afterwards, it was used as a horse trough by the mounted police division at its headquarters in Preston.
- The dismembered remains of Mary Rogerson were buried in the churchyard at Overton, a small village near the neighbouring town of Morecambe.
- The area where Ruxton hid the bodies is colloquially known in Moffat as "Ruxton's Dump".
- The newspaper in which Ruxton wrapped the bones featured headline stories involving Morecambe Carnival.
- 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. This case took place long before the sophisticated forensic-evidence-gathering techniques of today.
- Many years later a pub called "Ruxton's" was opened less than 50 metres from where Dr. Ruxton lived. Its name was later changed to "The Square", partly from public disapproval.
- A very popular stage play about the case was performed at the Duke's Playhouse in Lancaster.* The Ruxton trial caught the public interest to such an extent that the popular song "Red Sails in the Sunset" was adapted with new lyrics as follows:
Red stains on the carpet,
Red stains on the knife
Oh Dr Buck Ruxton
You murdered your wife.
Then Mary she saw you
You thought she would tell
So Dr Buck Ruxton
You killed her as well.
- Blundell, R. H.; G. Haswell Wilson (1950). James H. Hodge, ed. Famous Trials III. Penguin Books. pp. 162–236.
- Blundell, R.H. (1937). Trial of Buck Ruxton.
- Ruxton at murderdatabase.co.uk
- Various photographs relating to the crime at Forensic Medicine Archive project