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The Case of Buck Ruxton

The Case of Buck Ruxton

Abstract

This paper examines the case of Buck Ruxton as an example of effective use of pioneering techniques in the field of criminalistics. The aim of this research is to demonstrate the relation of this case to the development of new methodologies of death investigation. It is achieved through the observational method by the disclosure of details of the crime and the specification of approaches used for its solving. The research involves the description of the case, process of investigation, and the information about the trial and execution of Dr. Ruxton. The section of the paper analyzing the investigation of the crime comprises data on the evidence against the latter and the description of the use of forensic entomology and skull-photo superimposition to identify victims. As a result, this research represents a comprehensive study of the case and an evaluation of its impact on the development of forensic science.

Keywords: Buck Ruxton, investigation, forensic entomology, skull-photo superimposition

 

The Case of Buck Ruxton

For more than eighty years, the case of Buck Ruxton remains one of the most scandalous criminal events in the British history that still attracts public attention. Such a great interest has not only been caught by the cruelty of the crime or the personalities of the culprit and his victims but also by a variety of investigative techniques used to identify the bodies. Thus, the murder of Mr. Ruxton’s wife and maid became crucial for the development of forensic criminology due to the pioneering methodologies of skull photography and maggot analysis as methods of victim identification. This research consists in the overview of the details of Buck Ruxton’s case and the description of the use of skull-photo superimposition and forensic entomology in the course of the investigation.

An Overview of the Case

At present, criminal records on the case of Buck Ruxton contain detailed information on the crime, investigation process, and the trial. Dr. Ruxton was born in India and moved to England where he obtained the degree of a Bachelor of Surgery (Gibson, 2012). In 1927, he met his future wife Isabella Van Ess and moved with her to Lancaster three years later (Gibson, 2012). This marriage has turned into a mutual challenge since Dr. Ruxton was very impulsive and jealous, while Mrs. Ruxton was flirtatious and willing to tease her husband on any occasion. On September 14, 1935, Isabella Ruxton went to Blackpool to meet her sisters and came back home later than expected (Gibson, 2012). Gibson (2012) states that according to criminological records, she was asphyxiated by Mr. Ruxton who was convinced of her unfaithfulness. Their 19-year-old maid, Mary Rogerson, is considered to be a witness of the crime, which explains her death. In order to conceal the evidence of the double murder, Dr. Ruxton dismembered the bodies of both women, wrapped the parts, and got rid of them by throwing into the ravine near the town of Moffat (Gibson, 2012). The notorious criminal case was opened only after the discovery of the human remains in the nearby river.

The Investigation

Getting on the Criminal’s Trail

Although Dr. Ruxton had made everything possible to prevent the identification of his victims, some evidence proving his guilt remained. To make the bodies hard to identify, the murderer skinned women’s faces, removed the eyes from one of them and the teeth from both, and deprived the corps of any distinctive features, including scars and birthmarks (Ramsland, 2014). Some of the recovered limbs had no fingerprints as well. However, the remains of the newspaper used to wrap the dismembered parts prompted that the murder took place in either Morecambe or Lancaster (Ramsland, 2014). The report about the missing woman from the latter town brought criminalists on the trail of Dr. Ruxton. After tearing up floorboards and inspecting the plumbing in Ruxton’s house, the police found the evidence of human fat in the drains and numerous bloodstains everywhere (Gibson, 2012). Consequently, the Crown charged Buck Ruxton only with the killing of his wife, since there was no strong forensic evidence that linked him with the death of Mary Rogerson.

The Introduction of Forensic Entomology

To accuse Buck Ruxton of the murder of his wife and maid, investigators had to define the exact date of victims’ deaths. Although the newspaper that was used to wrap one of the packages with body parts showed the date of September 15, this fact did not indicate that it was an actual date of murder (Ramsland, 2014). Therefore, the professor of Glasgow University Dr. Alexander Mearns conducted research consisting in the analysis of maggots found in the flesh of the victims and compared them with those on the riverbank next to the place where the bodies had been discovered (Gibson, 2012). In the course of the study, he designed a timetable determining the period needed by maggots to reach a particular stage of development (Ramsland, 2014). Ramsland (2014) states that the researcher integrated weather conditions, normal insect behavior, and data about larval stages to determine the postmortem interval at twelve to thirteen days. This fact indicated that the bodies were thrown into the ravine near Moffat around September 16 (Ramsland, 2014). Although the implementation of forensic entomology is a common practice in modern criminal investigation, the work by Alexander Mearns was pioneering at that time and marked a new stage in the development of this field.

The Use of Skull-photo Superimposition

Although the involvement of Mr. Ruxton into the crime had been proven, criminalists needed more reliable evidence to identify the discovered bodies as ones of Mrs. Ruxton and Mary Rogerson. For this purpose, Professor Brash used the photographs of both women and a new unique technique called superimposition (Duvall, 2013). For this procedure, the researcher used a high-quality studio portrait of Isabella Ruxton wearing a tiara and a snapshot of Ms. Rogerson (Duvall, 2013). Both photos were enlarged to the actual size as close as possible. In case of Mrs. Ruxton, it could be done considering her closing and jewelry, while the enlargement of Rogerson’s photo was determined by the size of the gatepost depicted on it (Duvall, 2013). After this, police photographer Thomas Stobie took life-sized photographs of both skulls with the same parity of orientations (Duvall, 2013). According to Duvall (2013), salient facial features on each of the photographs, including the pictures of the victims and the photos of the skulls, were outlined in the Indian ink and compared with each other. In addition to this, the images from the portraits were superimposed onto the ones of the skulls taken by Thomas Stobie to construct a composite picture (Duvall, 2013). Their coincidence indicated that the heads found in the river belonged to Isabella Ruxton and Mary Rogerson. At that time, this technique became one of the most notable and iconic uses of photography in forensic science and medicine.

The Trial and Execution

The evidence against Buck Ruxton gathered by means of the implementation of new techniques was used in the trial related to the deaths of two women. It began at Manchester Assizes on March 2, 1936 (Gibson, 2012). As stated by Gibson (2012), the evidence provided by the prosecution was extensive and involved 113 witnesses who had given testimonies for eight-and-a-half days. In addition to the discovered fingerprints belonging to Mary Rogerson, the prosecution identified child’s romper suit wrapped around one of the heads as belonging to one of Ruxton’s children (Gibson, 2012). Moreover, a bed sheet containing the remains was identical to other sheets found in Ruxton’s bedroom (Gibson, 2012). Based on this evidence, Buck Ruxton was sentenced to death and executed by hanging on May 12, 1936 (Tilstone, Savage, & Clark, 2006). Moreover, full confession from him proved that he had killed the nursemaid for witnessing the murder of his wife.

Conclusion

All things above demonstrate the importance of the case of Buck Ruxton for the field of criminology. Surgeon’s attempts to conceal the evidence of his crime encouraged the use of new investigation techniques, namely forensic entomology and skull-photo superimposition. These methods proved to be extremely effective in the identification of victims without any distinctive features. In further investigations, the use of microorganisms to determine the date of death and the production of a composite image of human facial features and the skull became a common practice. Therefore, this case marked a new stage in the development of forensic science and made the investigation process more detailed and effective.


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