n The victims: Bella Ruxton, above, and Mary Rogerson. The grim find: in a ravine close to Devil's Beef Tub, near Moffat, right, police discovered packages of human parts.

One reputation was made, one man was executed

and two women died

gruesome deaths.

Hamish Richardson

recalls the Ruxton Murders

SIXTY years ago this week, a trial was in progress at Manchester Assizes. Its conclusion brought contrasting fortunes for the two doctors whose testimony was to be crucial to the case. John Glaister, Regius Professor of Forensic Medicine at Glasgow University, achieved worldwide fame and recognition; Buck Ruxton, a Lancashire general practitioner, was condemned to death and hanged at the local prison on May 12.

The trial, in which Dr Ruxton was accused of the murder of his wife, was one of the most gruesome cases of the decade. A graduate of Bombay and London universities, the Indian doctor was held in high regard by his patients. His marriage to the manageress of an Edinburgh restaurant, whom he had met while doing a postgraduate course, had resulted in two children. Together with a nursemaid, Mary Rogerson, the family lived a normal life until, on September 14, 1935, Mrs Ruxton and the nursemaid disappeared.

Their absence was explained initially by the suggestion they had gone to visit relatives in Scotland. Later, Dr Ruxton was to indicate that his wife had deserted him and gone to Blackpool. He thereafter boarded out the children and continued with his medical duties.

A neighbour, concerned about Mrs Ruxton, joined Mary Rogerson's mother in contacting the police but their initial inquiries revealed nothing.

On September 29, a holidaymaker stopped her car close to the Devil's Beef Tub, near Moffat. Looking into the ravine below, she caught sight of a parcel with what proved to be a human arm visible from one corner.

Two hours later the local police had recovered more than 30 packages, each containing human parts. Subsequent investigations showed them to be some of the remains of two adult females.

Professor Glaister was asked by the authorities to examine the find and to state whether it was possible to identify the deceased. At first his task seemed almost impossible. Whoever the killer was, he had used considerable skill in dismembering the remains, removing fingers, thumbs, teeth and any other distinguishing mark to prevent easy identification. Although the professor could show that the bones were of the correct age and build to be similar to the missing ladies, this was inadequate to justify a murder charge.

Professor Glaister, together with his colleague, Professor Brash, from the anatomy department at Edinburgh University, hit on a brilliant idea in the hope of ascertaining whether the one skull recovered could be that of Bella Ruxton. They mounted the bones on a stand and, after photographing them, superimposed the resulting image on a studio portrait of Mrs Ruxton. The coincidence of the jawline and other features convinced everybody that this was indeed a true match. Dr Ruxton's protestations in the witness box that his wife would eventually turn up were ignored by the jury.

From a large number of crudely wrapped parcels containing bones, Professor Glaister had proved conclusively that Mrs Ruxton and Mary Rogerson had been brutally murdered, dismembered and dumped more than 100 miles from Lancaster in a lonely Scottish river.

Once the identity of the remains had been established, the police in England had an easy task. Only a qualified surgeon (and Dr Ruxton was one) could have so skilfully dissected the body. Only Dr Ruxton could have wrapped a thigh bone in a special newspaper delivered to a small part of Lancaster, including his house, on the day that the two women disappeared. In vain, he protested his innocence, claiming that his wife had gone to Holland with another man. It was noted that her supposed destination changed with each variation of the story.

The evidence, once identity was proved by Professor Glaister's evidence, was overwhelming and not even the skill of Mr Norman Birkett, KC, could save the doctor from his just deserts. The jury took only minutes to find him guilty.

After his arrest on October 15, 1935, Buck Ruxton asked to see a newspaper reporter to whom he handed a sealed envelope. He instructed that it was only to be opened on his death or returned to him if he was acquitted. In return, the newspaper paid him #3000 which was used to finance his defence and unsuccessful appeal.

On the morning of the execution, the editor of a national Sunday newspaper opened the envelope. Inside was a full signed confession proving that Professor Glaister's deductions had been totally correct. Suspecting, with no justification, that his wife was having an affair, Dr Ruxton had slaughtered her only to find that his actions had been seen by Mary Rogerson. She also was killed and then began the long task of deception and attempts to conceal their identity.

Finally, he drove north during the night, throwing the bundles in which he had wrapped the remains off the bridge from which they were later to be spotted.

It is doubtful if a jury would have convicted Dr Ruxton had it not been for the evidence of Professor Glaister. Without the superimposed photographs and the other forensic evidence there was no adequate connection between the Moffat remains and the missing Lancashire housewife and nurserymaid.