Every now and again I like to dip my toe into some true crime so when one of Scotland’s best crime writers (of both fiction and non fiction), Douglas Skelton, contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in reading a non-fiction novel about a famous 1930’s murder case and hinted that the legendary Val McDermid had been singing it’s praises, I was sold! And so I came to read Ruxton: The First Modern Murder by Tom Woods.
Before I share my thoughts, here’s what the official blurb says:
Two dismembered bodies discarded in the borderlands of Scotland, hideously mutilated to avoid identification. Forty-three pieces of rotten flesh and bone wrapped in rags and newspaper. A jigsaw puzzle of decomposing human remains.
A glamorous young wife and her dutiful nursemaid missing. A handsome, mild-mannered town doctor insanely jealous of his wife’s friendships with other men.
It is 1935 and the deaths of Isabella Ruxton and Mary Rogerson would result in one of the most complex investigations the world had ever seen. The gruesome murders captured worldwide attention with newspapers keeping the public enthralled with all the gory details.
But behind the headlines was a different, more important story: the groundbreaking work of Scottish forensic scientists who developed new techniques to solve the case and shape the future of scientific criminal investigation.
With access to previously unseen documents, this book re-examines the case and reveals for the first time the incredible inside story of the investigation and its legacy.
This is the first modern murder.
I picked up this book and struggled to put it down until I’d finished it! I was completely engrossed from start to finish! What a fascinating, disturbing and informative read!
Buck Ruxton, a young Hindu doctor comes to the UK in a bid to advance his career as a surgeon. Attracted by the reputation of Scottish medicine, he moved North to Edinburgh to study for his surgeon exams. However, after failing three times he was thrown off the course. Undeterred he moved South where he met Bella Kerr, who was to become not only the love of his life but also his victim, along with the family nursemaid, Mary Rogerson.
“Ruxton” provided a fascinating insight into the mind of the man who murdered his wife and nursemaid. But it also showcased the pioneering research of Scottish scientists who were to shape the future of crime scene investigation and forensics for years to come. The author names some of the key players in the police and forensic medicine who laid the groundwork for much of modern day crime investigation and this makes for a must read for anyone wishing to read accurate accounts of police procedure from this era.
I had never heard of the Ruxton murders prior to reading this book and immediately I was drawn into the story of this quite flamboyant, sometimes engaging yet arrogant and controlling young man who took the village in Lancashire, where he practiced medicine, by storm. It was impossible not to be compelled to read about his character, his explosive temper and his tempestuous relationship with his wife, Bella. Tom Woods drew an authentic and chilling representation of a man, whom, in today’s world would be most definitely considered to be not only guilty of the physical abuse of his wife but also of emotional abuse and coercive control. The novel explored the attitudes to domestic violence in the 1930s as well as highlighting police failures in recognising the very real danger that Bella Ruxton found herself in.
Historical true crime can often be quite dry and staid in comparison with contemporary work but the author has brought this tale to life. It spared no punches when it came to describing the brutal murders of the two women and the lengths that Ruxton went to to avoid detection. It takes the reader by the hand through the entire process from beginning to the end, including the court scenes and beyond.
A compelling narrative that almost feels like you must be reading a work of fiction alongside a fascinating social commentary of like in the UK in the 1930’s. Tom Wood manages to do this without the reader feeling that they are sitting through a history lecture. It was fascinating to read about the investigation process in a period with close to little crime scene management and limited forensic awareness. A fascinating opportunity to witness the beginnings of modern day policing and investigation techniques. This is definitely a must read for all true crime fans, and indeed crime fiction fans!
Ruxton: The First Modern Murder is available to purchase from:
Tom Wood was one of Scotland’s most senior and experienced operational police officers. He is an authority on serious violent crime, the policing of large-scale events and a noted authority on the police perspectives on drugs and alcohol. He is a graduate of Edinburgh University and the FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia. In 1994, he was appointed Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit and in 1995 was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal. Latterly he was Deputy Chief Constable and Director of Operations of Lothian and Borders Police and Officer in Overall Command of the linked murder investigation into the deaths of a number of young women including Helen Scott and Christine Eadie (the World’s End Murders). Since leaving the police he has worked in the fields of alcohol and drug strategy, adult and child protection and has undertaken a number of independent serious case and homicide reviews. He lives in Edinburgh. out the author:
Especially when the officer receiving the call, Robert Sloan, was instrumental in securing the scene and preserving the evidence in a manner that was to influence modern day techniques Percy Sillitoe Scotland’s first modern policeman and responsible for a major overhaul of the system, was brought in from Glasgow and most importantly his development of forensic services and he was first ever to develop a partnership approach to crime investigation.