Till death do us part

A ONCE popular refrain among some school-age children in Scotland gives the outline to the story. A deeply jealous doctor suspects his wife of adultery, loses his patience and kills her. Till death do us part.

Violent mood swings and threats to kill his wife became commonplace in the household of Dr Buck Ruxton. Feeding off his jealousy and possessing a vivid imagination, Dr Ruxton thought something was going on and he was going to put a stop to it. What he did not anticipate, however, was to be caught in the act of committing murder, and then to have investigators deliver ground-breaking scientific evidence that would give the doctor a taste of his own medicine.

Gabriel Hakim arrived in Edinburgh from India in 1927 to study medicine, where he became friendly with a Stirling-born caf manager named Isabella Kerr. Within two years the pair married, had a child and moved to Lancaster, England, where under his new legal name - Buck Ruxton - he established a doctor's practice.

By 1935 the Ruxtons were a family of five, with a live-in housekeeper. A number of nursemaids who worked in the home would tell the court of husband-wife quarrels and threats against Mrs Ruxton. On one occasion, when his wife left with all of her clothing, the highly strung Dr Ruxton, sharing his emotions with the maid, said: "She won't come back alive. I will bring her back to the mortuary." There was also a time when police were called to the home to find the doctor enraged following another fight. He told the officer: "Sergeant, I feel like murdering two persons … my wife is going out to meet a man."

For a wife who was known to make weekend trips alone, one September journey to Edinburgh peaked the husband's suspicions. The 34-year-old Mrs Ruxton joined a 25-year-old male who worked in the Lancaster town clerk's office, on a visit to the Scottish capital. Dr Ruxton followed the pair to their hotel and demanded to see the registry. To his surprise, the gentleman and Mrs Ruxton had registered in their real names and booked in separate rooms. But did that really matter? The jealous husband had already concluded his wife was being unfaithful.

Mrs Ruxton returned home after two days. She would be dead a week later.

Although the Crown could produce no living witnesses to a crime in the early morning of 15 September, there was one who was alive at the time. Mary Jane Rogerson, the 20-year-old carer of the family's children, more than likely saw Dr Ruxton fly into his murderous rage. The lead prosecuting attorney, J. C. Jackson, theorised: "That a violent quarrel took place, that he strangled his wife, and that girl Mary Rogerson caught him in the act, and she was murdered. Her skull was fractured."

What the doctor did immediately after the violent attack was critical to his conviction. As one reporter from The Scotsman succinctly put it, Dr Ruxton displayed an "extraordinary combination of cleverness and clumsiness."

The husband-turned-murderer attempted to remove all traces of the bodies' identities. The two women were dismembered, their fingertips removed with surgical skill, their remains wrapped in a Lancaster-area newspaper, and dumped 100 miles north in a ravine in Dumfriesshire.

A fortnight later, two young women walking in the Gardenholm Linn, near Moffat, saw what appeared to be a human leg. Police were called to the ravine - now known to locals as Ruxton's dump - where they discovered portions of two bodies. Fingers, legs, skulls and a torso - 43 pieces of flesh or tissue in all - were painstakingly recovered. Authorities now had a decomposing jigsaw puzzle to piece together.

Meantime, Dr Ruxton began to display a gift for gab. On 9 October, about 3 1/2 weeks after the murders, the husband told his sister-in-law that he suspected his now-missing wife and the young man from the clerk's office were sleeping together. In addition, just after the murder he asked one of his patients to help him clean the house. She saw signs of blood everywhere and was even asked to dispose of one of his blood-stained suits. He explained to the woman - and to several others - that he cut his hand with a can opener. His arrest soon followed.

Upon hearing the murder charge against him, Dr Ruxton flew into a fit of rage in the court room. He raised his voice and said: "Do I look like a murderer? It is not my nature. … My blood is boiling now."

In an unusual twist, the Crown recognised they didn't have enough evidence to charge the man with two murders. Instead they used information from both deaths to charge the husband with his killing his wife.

The 11-day trial took place in Manchester the following March and featured stunning breakthrough forensics research. New fingerprint techniques helped to match samples taken from a hand discovered in the ravine to Rogerson's prints found throughout the Ruxton house. The same investigators - Professors John Glaister and James Brash from Glasgow and Edinburgh universities, respectively - also superimposed a life-size photo of Mrs Ruxton's head over an X-ray from one of the skulls found. It was a perfect match. The defence offered no counter-argument, the findings were so powerful.

The jury needed a little more than an hour to decide the case on Friday the 13th of March: guilty.

Ruxton was a picture of calm upon hearing the verdict. When asked by the judge if he had anything to say, a soundly defeated doctor responded in a voice barely audible: "I am very sorry."

The presiding judge in the case, Mr Justice Singleton, paid a most unusual tribute to the men who delivered the scientific testimony, saying: "Never have I seen expert witnesses more careful and more eager not to strain a point against an accused person."

After a failed appeal, Dr Buck Ruxton was hanged at Strangeways Prison, Manchester, on 12 May 1936 – a man's twisted jealousy halted at the end of a twisting rope.

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