Glasgow’s police force skills were needed when severed body parts were found in Moffat in an incident later dubbed the Jigsaw Murders – one of the most gruesome murders of the century. Read the extended history or listen to our true crime podcast on all streaming platforms.


In the long history of policing in Glasgow, its officers have often been at the forefront of the latest investigatory techniques.

Their expertise in major crime frequently called upon to help smaller forces solve crimes on their patch.

In 1932 the City of Glasgow force run by the legendary Sir Percy Sillitoe had set up Britain’s first ever specialist fingerprint department.

Three years later a neighbouring constabulary would ask for their help after the bodies of two women were found dumped in the idyllic town of Moffat.

On September 29, 1935, Susan Johnson had decided to go for a holiday stroll in the Dumfriesshire market town.

Reaching the beauty spot of Gardenholm Linn, Susan spotted what looked like a severed human hand and arm in a stream 40 feet below.

In a state of shock, she returned to her hotel and told her brother, Alfred, who returned with a family friend.

They scrambled halfway down the embankment before an awful stench stopped both men in their tracks.

Glasgow Times:

Not only could they see the hand and arm protruding from a package, but they also spotted a human head wrapped in cloth. 

Other packages with body parts inside lay scattered nearby. Fleeing the horrific scene, they called the local Dumfriesshire police.

They in turn immediately sought assistance from the City of Glasgow force and detective officers Detective Lieutenants William Ewing and Bertie Hammond travelled to Moffat the next day,

The first bobby on the scene had been a local cop Sergeant Robert Sloan, a veteran of the First World War.

His three years on the Western Front with the Scots Guards gave him the stomach and coolness under pressure to cope with the horrors before him.

With no real training, Sgt Sloan managed to secure the crime scene for the expert Glasgow detectives and salvage and photograph the wrapped body parts.

Even so, there seemed little to go on for the city investigators.

It was obvious they were dealing with two bodies, but whose? Both skulls had been defaced and the fingertips and other identifying features removed, so detectives were certain the murderer was skilled with a knife.

The body parts were also wrapped in clothes and bedsheets as well as newspapers.

The case swiftly proved an international sensation with the press dubbing it: "The Jigsaw Murders"

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In total 30 blood-soaked packages were found dumped in the water, containing a total of 70 body parts. 

The newspaper in which the bodies had been found was a national publication, The Sunday Graphic but the edition concerned was one which had circulated only in the Lancaster district.

Police were now looking for two missing people, possible from the town in the north-west of England.

But who were the victims? And how long had their remains been in the water?

The most important clue was the manner in which dissection had been carried out. 

Evidently the murderer had an expert knowledge of anatomy. Could he have been a doctor? 

The killer had made a determined attempt to remove every possible means of identification including the fingertips.

It left detectives having to literally piece together a horrifying human puzzle.

Both bodies were so badly mutilated that at first it was difficult to determine even their sex. 

While in Moffat, Willie Ewing read a newspaper report of about a missing maid, Mary Rogerson, 20, who was last seen alive on September 14.

She worked in the household of 36-year-old Dr Buck Ruxton in Lancaster and had been reported missing by her parents. 

There appeared a remarkable similarity between the description of the missing women and one of the bodies. 

Glasgow Times:

Mrs Ruxton had also not been seen for some time. Her husband was suddenly under the microscope.

It transpired that Dr Ruxton had an exotic background and was the son of Indian and French parents.

He was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1899 and given the name Buktyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim.

However, he was better known by the family nickname of Buck. 

After qualifying as a doctor in India, he arrived in Edinburgh in 1926 with the hope of becoming a surgeon and changed his surname to Ruxton.

While there, he became friendly with a café manager named Isabella Kerr, who had separated from her Dutch sailor husband. 

Ruxton, who had also been married, fell in love with Isabella and she with him.

Although neither had obtained a divorce, the two soon lived as man and wife and had three children together. 

The couple moved to London in 1928 and two years later relocated to Lancaster.

There Dr Ruxton established a successful medical practice at the elegant family home at 2 Dalton Square.

By 1935 Dr Ruxton and the family also had a live-in maid hired who looked after the children while Isabella hosted dinner parties for the higher echelons of Lancaster society.

The doctor was popular, outwardly charming and compassionate. He frequently waived payment for patients struggling to make ends meet in what were pre-National Health Service days.

Glasgow Times:

To outsiders, he seemed a happily married, wealthy doctor.  

However, once his front door was closed, a darker side to his character would emerge.  

Ruxton was controlling and abusive to Isabella, the mother of his three children.

He would dictate every aspect of her life, from her spending to what she could wear. Ruxton became violently jealous at the slightest thing, particularly if she was friendly towards other men.

He began to imagine she was cheating on him. 

Always a suspicious man, Ruxton's mind spiralled into paranoia. 

He noted in his diaries that his coffee tasted bitter and wrote that he believed Isabella had poisoned it.

He would force her to perform degrading acts of penance for transgressions existing only in his imagination. 

They included making Isabella run up and down the stairs in bare feet at knifepoint. 

On several occasions, these arguments would prompt Isabella to pack her belongings and return to Edinburgh with her children.

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Isabella is known to have attempted suicide in 1932 which resulted in her suffering a miscarriage. 

The Glasgow detectives quickly contacted their police colleagues in Lancaster and discovered that Ruxton was already known to them.

Over the years they had been called to several domestic disputes at the doctor's house, opposite the police station.

With this information Ruxton was now the prime suspect in the Jigsaw Murders investigation. In fact, he was the only suspect.

Following his arrest in October that year the City of Glasgow police had unrestricted access to his house. 

In the bathroom and on the stair-carpet they found considerable evidence of bloodstaining. However, it still remained to be proved that the mutilated bodies were those of the doctor’s wife and her maid.

If fingerprints from one of the bodies and fingerprints on articles in the house were found to be identical, it would establish beyond doubt that the deceased had lived in the house. 

The only fingerprints which had survived were on the remains of the maid.

Those belonging to the other body - Mrs Ruxton - had been severed and were never found.

Detective Lieutenant Hammond and another Glasgow officer Detective Sergeant Duncan carried out a top to bottom search of the doctor’s house and nothing escaped their attention.

Every article likely to bear fingerprints—from the lamp-shades in the attics to the medicine bottles in the basement—was examined. 

They found hundreds of prints on jam jars, bottles, cups, saucers, plates, and dishes of every description.

Every article, including the bathroom door, was removed and taken back to Glasgow to be photographed. 

Comparing the prints found on the articles with those of Mary Rogerson confirmed her identity.

Glasgow Times:

In Scotland, investigators led by Professor John Glaister of Glasgow University continued to devise new ways of compiling evidence against Ruxton.

There had been murder cases before involving dismembered body parts, but the intermingling of bodies was unprecedented.

Glaister had to reassemble the bodies of the two women as if it were a Jigsaw.

Something which had never been attempted before. 

He was initially uncertain how many victims lay before him but was certain a surgical knife had been used to dismember them. 

He also estimated that grim task of cutting up his victims had probably taken the killer around eight hours.

Professor Glaister eventually established that the remains constituted two distinct bodies and was now certain they were women.  

Glasgow Times:

In the months leading up to Ruxton's trial, more forensic breakthroughs emerged. 

Professor Glaister had the brilliant idea of superimposing family photographs of Isabella and Mary on to specially reconstructed images of the two skulls positioned at matching angles.

This had never been tried before to prove identification of murder victims.

The results were startling - the skulls and photos matched perfectly.

For the first time in a criminal investigation, casts of the victims' feet were slipped into the shoes of the alleged victims. Scientists again found a match.

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Maggots taken from the remains by Glasgow-based entomologist Alexander Mearns helped establish how long the bodies had lain in the ravine and when they had been dumped, 

Again a first in the history of crime scene investigation.

Fingerprint experts from Glasgow police were later praised by J Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI in America for using random prints taken from Ruxton's home to identify Mary Rogerson.  

Suddenly a clear picture of what had happened to the two women emerged.

In the early hours of September 15, 1935, Dr Ruxton snapped and flew into a jealous rage, beating and strangling his wife as she returned from a night out in Blackpool. 

Caught in the act by Miss Rogerson, he asphyxiated her, fractured her skull and stabbed her.

The healer had turned killer. 

He now resolved to use his medical and surgical experience to save his own skin and cover his tracks. 

Ruxton first dissected his victims' bodies in the family bath - with his children asleep in their beds.

He then wrapped their unrecognisable remains in whatever came to hand including rags, a child's romper suit, and newspapers.

The following day he left his children with friends while he drove to Scotland to deposit the body parts.

His smooth exterior started to crack under questioning from both the police and reporters who name to his door.

Initially he denied having been to Scotland and claimed he had no idea what had happened to his wife and maid.

But on September 17, two days after the murders, his car had knocked down a cyclist in the Lake District town of Kendal as he drove home from the Borders to Lancaster. 

The cyclist caught the number plate and alerted police, who stopped the vehicle. Ruxton was issued with a caution. 

As pieces of the puzzle literally fell into place, he was soon arrested. 

Because of the public and media interest the trial in March 1936 was switched from Lancaster to the much larger Manchester Assize Courts.

The prosecution of Ruxton's murders would prove to be one of the United Kingdom's most publicised legal cases of the 1930s.

Evidence had also obtained from two cleaners. 

They said Dr Ruxton told them they would not be needed for a week.

When one of them eventually came to clean the house, she discovered the stair carpet had been removed, the bath had been scrubbed clean and there were pieces of blood stained carpet partially burned in the garden.

A neighbour said he had seen Dr Ruxton with a heavily bandaged hand, which he claimed he had he had cut opening a tin of peaches. They had also been asked to extensively clean his house.

They were also given several stained carpets and a suit, saying they could keep them if they washed them. 

Ruxton's trial before Lord Singleton lasted 11 days - then the longest in English criminal history.

His defence was that the two bodies were not his wife and Mary Rogerson.

Even if they had been correctly identified there was no evidence that he had carried out the murders.

Dr Ruxton also pointed to the fact that no blood had been found in the car said to have been used to transport the bodies north.

When he took to the witness box, he frequently burst out crying claiming that his wife had taken a pregnant Mary Rogerson to Edinburgh to arrange an abortion. 

He said any blood in the house was from genuine surgical work and insisted that both

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women would be found alive 

In his summing up Lord Singleton told the jury that Ruxton must be given the benefit of any reasonable doubt, adding: "If there is an avenue, let him walk down it to freedom, but if there is not, he cannot."

However, the jury took less than an hour to find Ruxton guilty of both murders. 

In the words of the trial judge, the fingerprint evidence of the City of Glasgow Police had proved the most damning of all and he ordered Ruxton be hanged at Strangeways Prison in Manchester.

Ruxton was strangely calm when the sentence was read out, even thanking the jury.

However, he did appeal against his conviction the following month.

He argued that Lord Singleton had misdirected the jury, but that was thrown out by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Ruxton was hanged on May 12, 1936, by legendary hangman Albert Pierrepoint. 

Around 5,000 people gathered outside the jail to await news of the execution.

As a result of the groundbreaking efforts of the City of Glasgow Police and Professor Glaister the UK Government decided to invest substantially in forensic services and laboratories. 

It would form the template for all future murder inquiries.

Proper forensic training for detectives was introduced and fingerprinting and photography facilities were provided for every force in the land.

The pioneering techniques the City of Glasgow Police had employed had presented prosecutors with a watertight case against Ruxton. 

Many of these techniques are still in use today.

Efforts by Ruxton's defence to discredit the revolutionary forensic evidence on the grounds that it was unprecedented and unreliable proved futile. 

It was also the most shocking murder case of the 1930s, a gruesome mystery that could have come straight from the pages of Agatha Christie and appalled millions of newspaper readers worldwide.

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Indeed, the crime writing legend was so gripped by the Jigsaw Murders she referred to it in the novel, 'One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.'

Despite the verdict, 10,000 Lancaster people refused to believe Ruxton was guilty.

They signed a petition to save him from the hangman's noose for the sake of his three children. But their efforts were in vain and the doctor was hanged on May 12, 1936.

Today, Ruxton is still spoken of with affection in Lancaster because of the services he provided free of charge to the poor and needy. His three children were taken into care and shielded from the public glare.

Afterwards, Professor John Glaister maintained that the key to the investigation's success had been teamwork, the interdisciplinary co-operation of the forensic scientists and the police.

Such a thing was unheard of at the time.

But it is something familiar to millions through TV series like Silent Witness.

Glaister wrote at the time: "It made a refreshing contrast with an older outlook, which sometimes left one man sitting on a case on his own, guarding it against all comers like a dog savouring a juicy bone.' 

Glaister also said that Ruxton had blundered when disposing of the bodies in the stream.

Had he thrown them into the nearby Annan River they would likely have flowed into the Solway Firth, preventing their discovery.

Such was Glaister fame at the time that the American author Erle Stanley Gardner dedicated one of his Perry Mason books, "The Case of the Horrified Heirs", to the Professor.

There was however a final twist in the Ruxton case.

A few days after his execution a Sunday paper published his written confession. 

It was dated shortly after his arrest, but the doctor, now dubbed the Savage Surgeon, had told the newspaper it could only be printed after he had been hanged. 

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It said: "I killed Mrs Ruxton in a fit of temper because I thought she had been with a man. I was mad at the time. Mary Jane Rogerson was present at the time. I had to kill her."

A remarkably frank admission from a man guilty of one of the most gruesome murders of the 20th century.