85 years since the execution of Dr Buck Ruxton, subject of a new book about the landmark 1935 Jigsaw Murders case

IT is 85 years today, May 12, since the execution of Lancaster doctor Buck Ruxton, whose shocking crimes changed the face of crime scene investigations.

In my new book called The Jigsaw Murders, I tell the full story of the landmark case in fine-grain detail for the very first time. Here I look at the revolutionary forensic breakthroughs made by police and scientists.

In September 1935, walkers in the remote Scottish Borders saw a strange bundle lying beside a stream in a ravine below a bridge. Protruding from it was a human arm.

Police recovered 70 dismembered pieces of human remains, including two mutilated heads. Eyes, teeth, fingertips and other identifying features had been removed. Detectives called upon eminent Scottish forensic scientists to piece together the gruesome human jigsaw puzzle. They quickly realised the killer was someone with surgical knowledge.

Officers who examined sheets of newspaper wrapped around body parts established they were from the Sunday Graphic, a national newspaper. Damningly, they were from a local slip edition that circulated only in the Morecambe and Lancaster area. 

Meanwhile in Lancaster there was gossip about the respected Indian GP Dr Buck Ruxton. His common law wife, Isabella, and his children’s nanny, Mary Rogerson, had disappeared. Ruxton had told friends and family they had gone together to Isabella’s native Edinburgh.

Ruxton fell under suspicion when Scottish police saw a newspaper report of a young woman missing from Lancashire. It was Ruxton’s nanny, Mary. Acting on a hunch, the Chief Constable of Dumfriesshire lifted the phone and called Lancaster police station.

And so began the incredible and ground-breaking investigation that would send Ruxton to the gallows at Strangeways Prison on May 12, 1936.

The story of these Agatha Christie-era murders has been told many times in newspapers, magazines and compendium true crime books. But these accounts rake over only the superficial and gory details. When I began work on my book I believed the story could be told in far greater detail, focusing on the human tragedy behind the sensational and gruesome headlines. 

I also wanted to give a voice to the silent witnesses, Isabella Ruxton and Mary Rogerson, the victims.

I was proved right when I unearthed never-seen-before documents and testimonies languishing in archives and attics. It included long-forgotten letters written by the victims Isabella and Mary and an unseen pocket diary belonging to Dr Ruxton.

The Ruxton case attracted many newspaper nicknames, including the Bodies under the Bridge, the Ravine Mystery and the Jigsaw Murders. It is remembered because of the pioneering forensic techniques, many of them still in use today.

Chief among the achievements was the reassembly of the two bodies. There had been murder cases before involving dismemberment, of course, but they generally involved one victim. Never before had the parts of two bodies been intermingled like this. It made the challenge of reassembly and identification almost impossible. But the Scottish scientists succeeded.

Determining the identities of the victims required new forensic techniques. The scientists came up with the brilliant idea of superimposing photographs of the skulls on to family photographs of Isabella and Mary.

For the first time in a criminal investigation, casts of the victims’ feet were slipped into the shoes of the alleged victims. In a macabre echo of Cinderella’s glass slipper, scientists again found a match.

Maggots taken from the putrefying remains were used to establish how long the bodies had lain in the ravine, again a first in the history of crime scene investigation. Fingerprint experts from Glasgow police were later praised by J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI for using ‘chance’ fingerprints taken from Ruxton’s home in Dalton Square, Lancaster, in establishing that a dismembered arm found at Moffat was that of Mary Rogerson. Surprisingly, before the Ruxton case detectives only used fingerprints on police records for such comparisons.

A visit to Lancaster City Museum was a turning point in my research. Here I was shown a letter nanny Mary had written. And I found Dr Ruxton’s 1934 pocket diary. Reading it was a chilling experience, as it provided a glimpse into the mind of a killer on the cusp of his terrible crimes. To my knowledge no other writer had seen or used this incredible document. I photographed every page. I transcribed every word. And I wove Ruxton’s own twisted testimony into the fabric of my book.

On New Year’s Eve 1934, he and Isabella were with friends at the Elms Hotel in Morecambe and at the strike of midnight he was in the ballroom ‘saying a prayer for all the world’. Nine months later he would kill Isabella and Mary.

Ruxton was known at the time for his public compassion. He often waived medical fees for patients who struggled to make ends meet. He is still spoken of with affection in Lancaster by people whose parents and grandparents would not hear a bad word against him.

Thousands of Lancaster people refused to believe Ruxton was guilty. They signed a petition to save him from the hangman’s noose on the grounds of clemency for the sake of his three children. But it was in vain. His trial at Manchester Assizes had exposed a jealous, controlling man who had committed double murder.

His children were taken into care and a cloak of anonymity wrapped around them. The secret of what became of them is locked away in archives in Preston until 2035.

* Jeremy Craddock’s book The Jigsaw Murders: The True Story of the Ruxton Killings and the Birth of Modern Forensics is published by The History Press on May 28. It has been optioned for television by STV Productions.

You can order the book here.

The Jigsaw Murders: Pre-order true crime book about landmark Dr Buck Ruxton murders from Agatha Christie era

My true crime book THE JIGSAW MURDERS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE RUXTON KILLINGS AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN FORENSICS is now available for pre-order and will be published on May 28.

In 1935, Lancaster doctor Buck Ruxton murdered his wife and children’s nanny, dismembered their bodies and discarded the remains in a ravine in Scotland. The subsequent police and forensic work to piece together the macabre human jigsaw puzzle revolutionised crime-scene investigations.

I was haunted by the case from childhood, having grown up near Lancaster. I wrote the book because there had never been a full-length, detailed, narrative non-fiction account of the case. 

My book is now being developed as a drama for television by Elaine Collins, of STV Productions, who was the producer behind the Ann Cleeves adaptations, Vera on ITV and Shetland on the BBC.

Elaine very kindly said: “Jeremy Craddock is a hugely talented writer and journalist, who is not only determined to excavate this brutal story and the consequent scientific breakthroughs that still influence today’s forensics, but to give an unprecedented voice to Ruxton’s female victims.

“I’m excited to develop this complex and multi-layered crime story for television, to give presence to the victims, and to dramatise the characteristically brilliant scientists at work in 1930s Scotland.”

The book — published by The History Press — can be ordered at all the usual platforms where you buy books. Click here to choose your preferred bookseller.

And finally, I would love to hear from anyone who is interested in THE JIGSAW MURDERS.

The Jigsaw Murders: cover reveal

Here is the cover for The Jigsaw Murders: The True Story of the Ruxton Killings and the Birth of Modern Forensics.

Given the nature of the story, I think it’s subtle and understated. It also has a feel of those old Agatha Christie Pan paperbacks, which is great, because the Ruxton case fell during the Queen of Crime’s golden period of the 1930s.

The book is now available for pre-order (including as an audiobook; the ebook will be available shortly) on Amazon and Blackwell’s, with other platforms and bookshops to follow.

Dr Buck Ruxton and the Jigsaw Murders: location photos 2020

In February, I made a couple of trips to Lancaster as part of research for The Jigsaw Murders.

I was given a guided tour of the former Police Court in Lancaster Town Hall, where Dr Ruxton made his first court appearances in late 1935 as well as the former police station and cells directly below. It was here that Ruxton was questioned by Chief Constable Henry Vann of Lancaster Police and arrested and charged with murder.

The cells below the former Lancaster Police Court in the Town Hall, Dalton Square, opposite Ruxton’s home. The former police station is also here and is where Ruxton was questioned and arrested in 1935. (Photograph: Jeremy Craddock)

I was also shown around Dr Ruxton’s home, 2 Dalton Square, which is directly opposite the Town Hall. The house is where Ruxton committed the murders and dismembered the bodies of Isabella and Mary.

Having grown up fascinated by the Ruxton case, I found it strange and eerie to see these places first-hand, and the experience left me with goose-pimples. I took many photos  and I have shared one or two of them here. They are pictures for my own research purposes and are unlikely to appear in the book, but once The Jigsaw Murders is published next year (May 2021), will post a full gallery of them on here.

The former bedroom of maid Mary Rogerson, Dr Ruxton’s second victim. It is now an office meeting room of Lancaster City Council (Photo: Jeremy Craddock)

TV deal for The Jigsaw Murders

The cast of ITV’s hit crime drama Vera, with Brenda Blethyn in the starring role

It has been a big week for me and my book.

First, I hit 50,000 words in my writing, which is the halfway point. It’s very satisfying piecing the little details I’ve dug out in research together with the narrative’s timeline. I have found lots of previously unreported details that help to layer and enrich the story.

The other, more momentous news, however, is that The Jigsaw Murders has been optioned for TV by Elaine Collins (whose company is Tod Productions) and STV Productions. I am hugely indebted to my literary agent Joanna Swainson and my TV/film agent Marc Simonsson, of Soloson Media, for securing such a wonderful deal.

TV producer Elaine Collins, who spotted the potential in The Jigsaw Murders

I’m particularly thrilled because Elaine is one of the top TV drama producers in the UK. She brought the brilliant novels of crime writer Ann Cleeves to our screens: Shetland at the BBC and Vera at ITV. Both shows, which I love, have casts to die for.
The cast to the brilliant BBC1 crime drama Shetland, with Douglas Hensall as DI Jimmy Perez

I’ve always thought the Ruxton murders were ripe for a television drama. So, why the interest now? There have been a number of related books and many, many newspaper and magazine accounts about the case in the decades since the crimes.

I’ve always said that my book will go much, much deeper into the human drama — the human tragedy — behind the lurid surface details. As I’m writing narrative nonfiction — a true story that reads like a novel — I want to immerse my readers in the story, to make them care for the people at the heart of it, to empathise and hopefully try to understand the reasons why they did what they did. That includes not only the victims, the scientists, the police and legal people, but also Ruxton himself. What he did was monstrous, evil; but I believe we should try to understand who he was (even if we are repelled by his crimes): a deeply troubled and flawed human being who nevertheless had some good, well-meaning qualities as well.

So, my version of the Ruxton story will be different to what has gone before. It will not sensationalise the gory aspects of the case, nor will it cross the line into fictionalising what happened on the night of the killings; instead it will stick to the facts and dramatise a truly human tragedy whose impact is still being felt today.

Here is the press release about the TV option put out by STV Productions:

News of the option deal has been quite widely reported, especially by Scottish media. Here is just a selection:

Daily Record

The Herald, Scotland

The Scotsman

The Knowledge Online

World Screen

And here’s the news announced on the website of my literary agent, Hardman & Swainson.

American entertainment magazine Backstage has alerted the acting world that there might be casting opportunities coming up.



Research during lock-down

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a rethink on how to conduct research for my book

I had big plans for April 2020.

My teaching commitments at Manchester Metropolitan University would be over. I had a few days’ holiday booked and I was planning a research trip to the university archives in Edinburgh and Glasgow for my book The Jigsaw Murders.

It was not to be. It hardly seems important compared to what so many people are going through during the coronavirus pandemic, but I am having to rethink how I complete crucial research for my book.

I had mapped out the route I was going to drive to Scotland, travelling via Moffat and the Devil’s Beef Tub, a key location at the heart of my true crime book. It was here that the gruesome discovery was made of the two victims’ bodies in autumn 1935.

I was to stay in Edinburgh and Glasgow for a couple of days each, immersing myself in the archives relating to the Ruxton killings and the landmark work done by the Scottish forensic pathologists who helped to solve the mystery.

I was also planning a trip to the National Archives at Kew, London.

The longer the lock-down continues, the likelihood is that I will have to use the money I would have spent on hotels and fuel on paying the archivists to copy the material for me instead so that I can do my research from home.

It’s not what I intended, but in uncertain times you have to be resourceful.

Stan and Ollie, John Connolly and me

laurel and hardy creative commons
Laurel and Hardy, who else?

What follows is a piece of arts journalism I wrote for a competition that, having failed to win the prize, has been gathering dust on my computer’s hard drive, so I thought I would give it an airing here.

Those of you who know me well know I have been a Laurel and Hardy fan since I was a young lad.

This piece is a review of the excellent John Connolly biographical novel about Stan Laurel, he. It also makes a passing reference to the movie Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. I hadn’t seen it when I wrote the review; I have now, and although I’m utterly biased on the subject, it’s sublime.

For added value, I include photos of me and my brother outside Stan Laurel’s birthplace in Ulverston. I’m on the right and it was taken circa 1977 (thanks, Mum, for putting us in matching outfits). Compare these against the grainy picture of a young Stan on the same doorstep with his grandmother in the late 1890s.

I hope you enjoy the review.


stan argyle
Stan with his grandmother outside 3 Argyle Street, Ulverston



A review of John Connolly’s he: a novel.


When Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appeared on This Is Your Life in 1954 the film comedians politely smiled but inwardly squirmed. They were caught off-guard when television lights flooded room 205 of Los Angeles’ Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel and a hitherto hidden camera began rolling. The show’s oleaginous host, Ralph Edwards, broadcasting from the nearby NBC studio, informed them their famous lives were to be reviewed in front of millions of viewers.

If the duo, who were in their early sixties by then, said very little, they were nevertheless courteous during the recording. For Laurel the episode was an embarrassment because they were unprepared. His reaction illuminates our understanding of what made the comedian tick.

While the love shown to the comedy duo by legions of fans was genuine, neither man was especially funny in real life and the magical illusion of their on-screen relationship was the result of hard work and finely-honed talent.

To be clear, from the beginning Stan Laurel was a construct.


Irish crime novelist John Connolly has been obsessed with Stan Laurel since childhood.

Like me.

We were both born in 1968 and are of the generation that grew up watching Laurel and Hardy on television. It was usually one of their vintage two-reelers, twenty glorious minutes of mirth at teatime on BBC2. Connolly was laughing at them in Dublin, while I was a bowler-hatted frisby-throw from Laurel’s hometown of Ulverston in the Lake District. I fed my Laurel and Hardy obsession with trips to see the house where he was born. My dad also took me to the chaotic L&H museum in the town, curated in a low-ceilinged damp old building behind a fish and chip shop.

Laurel and Hardy’s films inexplicably vanished from the TV schedules in the 1990s, but happily, they’re being screened again on niche channels, while a biopic, Stan and Ollie, is due in our cinemas.


From the beginning Stan Laurel was a construct.

He was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in 1890 into a theatrical family. He took the name Laurel in his twenties because Stan Jefferson was thirteen unlucky letters long and took up too much space on theatre bills.

John Connolly’s he: a novel is a work of fiction about the fiction of Laurel’s life. In style and tone it reminded me of David Peace’s biographical Brian Clough and Bill Shankly novels: jabbing, repetitive sentences alive with meticulous detail, and structural gimmicks: Stan Laurel is never named, referred to only as ‘he’ throughout.

This is a book about identity and love affairs. It picks over Laurel’s disastrous personal life, defined by five marriages to four women. It is his relationships with Hardy and his one-time rooming mate, Charlie Chaplin, however, that most interests Connolly.

Laurel understudied Chaplin when they were raw comedians with the Fred Karno company touring Britain and America in the 1910s. Chaplin succeeded early, emerging as the Little Tramp, the most celebrated movie actor in the world. Laurel took another decade to find his comic destiny in the context of a double act with Hardy.

Connolly beautifully dramatises the mixture of love, admiration and revulsion Laurel felt towards Chaplin as the years rolled by. Chaplin never delivered on a promise to help Laurel in Hollywood, and excised all reference to him from his autobiography. Connolly intimates Laurel was disturbed by Chaplin’s predilection for underage girls, although publicly he only ever spoke respectfully about him.

Nevertheless, Laurel never lost his conviction that Chaplin was the greatest comedian who ever lived.


Forget the five marriages. Forget Chaplin.

For Connolly, the heart of he: a novel is Laurel’s love for his screen partner, Oliver Norvell Hardy.

Chance brought them together while both at the Hal Roach Studios. Once they found one another a glorious alchemy occurred. They were sometimes referred to as the fiddle and the bow: together they made the most heavenly music.

Laurel never got over losing Hardy, who died in 1957. He turned down all offers to appear in movies. Aside from not wanting the public to see him as an old man (which would have destroyed that perfectly created celluloid illusion), how could he have been funny without his great foil?

He spent the remainder of his life writing unperformed Laurel and Hardy scripts. He lived in a modest seaview apartment in Santa Monica, left his phone number in the Los Angeles phone book, and welcomed visits by young, genuflecting comedians: Dick Van Dyke, Jerry Lewis, Peter Sellers.

At Laurel’s funeral in 1965, Buster Keaton said Laurel was the greatest comedian of all, greater than himself and even Chaplin.

Stan Laurel never truly knew how funny he really was.

The first computer bug?

first computer bug
Computer pioneer Grace Hopper’s entry in the Harvard Mark II log (Wikimedia commons)

On the night of September 9th, 1945, pioneering computer programmer Grace Hopper was at work on the Mark II version of the now legendary Harvard computer. She couldn’t understand why the machine wasn’t working. She and her team began inspecting the computer methodically, trying to establish the cause of the problem so that they could eliminate it and get the thing working again.

Following this process, they eventually found a moth that had somehow become caught inside. Hopper extracted the dead insect and decided to stick it in the team’s log book with the aid of a strip of Scotch tape, preserving it for posterity. With her ink pen she annotated the entry with the words: “Panel F (moth) in relay. First actual case of bug being found.”

A new computer programming term had been coined.

Thereafter all computer glitches were known as ‘bugs’ and the process of ironing out such glitches as ‘debugging’.

Grace Hopper’s picking out of the moth from the Harvard Mark II had been history’s first instance of debugging.

(Sources: The Innovators, by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster: p94);

Mum, two years on

mum and dad
My parents on their wedding day in 1967

TODAY is two years since my Mum died. My tears might have dried but the pain lingers.

Her passing was completely unexpected and in an instant my family’s lives were turned upside down. Within an hour of her passing I found myself in my parents’ home, dazed and my eyes raw from crying, my arm around my stunned dad.

Everywhere I looked in their home I saw my mum. Her winter coat hanging in the hall. Her walking sticks leaning against the wall. Her glasses, necklace and watch by the bed where she’d put them the night before she died.

Next to the sofa were boxes of unopened Christmas cards, ready for one of her marathon signing sessions. She always undertook this task weeks before December.

Wanting to get paperwork in order, I searched through cupboards and wardrobes, becoming tearful when I was suddenly confronted by her clothes, each item triggering a fresh memory. I found boxes of photographs. Pride of place was her wedding album.

Fresh tears tumbled as I opened the decades-old pages. Staring back at me were mum and dad, a young, happy couple, life’s exciting journey ahead of them.

Mum was 22, and I was struck by how beautiful she looked. My dad stood next to her, aged 31, looking like a young Tony Curtis. That was August 1967. The last time I saw my mum she was excitedly planning their golden wedding celebrations.

The book she had been reading was by the side of the sofa. It was a family saga, the sort Catherine Cookson used to write. Her bookmark was tucked inside, 30 pages from the end. It would have irritated her to not know how the story ended.

That’s what’s struck me since she died. There are so many unresolved stories. So many loose ends never to be tied up. But life isn’t a novel or a Hollywood film. There are no happy or sad endings. Just an unceasing flow of experiences and interlaced lives.

Sadly, there are no more moments. Just memories.

Something like this pulls you up short. Makes you take stock. It is time to pull those we love close and tell them we love them.

Because, as my mum used to say, you never know what’s round the corner.

(A version of this article was originally published by the Warrington Guardian in November 2016.)