Technologies of Death Investigation of the
The Buck Buck-Ruxton Case
The scientific study of forensics in crime fighting has made both methodological and technological advances in the 21st century for identifying victims of murder. The study of this field of criminology cannot ignore the Buck-Ruxton murder case of 1935 as the prototype of all forensic crime fighting that exists today. Review of the crime report provides the basis as a springboard for investigating the advancement in methods and technologies leading to the use of criminal forensics today in identifying homicide victims. The science of forensics established in the Buck-Ruxton case set precedents for use of reconstructing body parts that determined primary identification of victims’ genders, in one of the victims the probable cause of death identified by the damage done to a particular bone, use of the skeletal characteristics for comparison with superimposing a photograph over its image. The significance of the Buck-Ruxton murder as a case study of understanding the initial use of criminal forensics in solving a horrific murder and the advancements on those characteristics of applied scientific discovery remain as valid today as then and substantiate the significance in scientific applications to criminal detective work.
Criminal Law -Methods and
Technology of Death Investigations –
The Buck Buck-Ruxton Case
Review of the Buck-Buck-Ruxton Case and the forensic methods and technology applied to two death investigations proves an excellent example of good investigation in identifying the bodies the killer had purposefully attempted removing any physical identification of the corpse. This is according to the compilation of forensic evidence for identifying the murder victims as compiled by (Owen, 2000). This case serves as a primary source as an initial case where successful forensic entomology in the UK determined Buck Buck-Ruxton a murderer in 1935 (Goff, 2000). The following academic exercise focuses on the techniques pertaining to forensic methods and technologies in this case using the expertise of anatomist for reconstruction of the body parts indicating two female victims, finger printing and photographic superimposing specific to solving the case.
In the Buck-Ruxton case use of the reconstruction of the body parts found were fundamental to identifying the victims. With the removal of key body parts on both the victims, the reconstruction allowed the investigation of their deaths determining they were both female. According to Forensic Science Technician.com (2016), today forensics using anatomy reconstruction refer to the list of 8 body parts frequently used for identification purposes. Of course fingerprints are a primary focus (this is discussed in further detail in the following). Examination of Buck-Ruxton’s wife Elizabeth indicating the hyoid bone was broken suggested she had been strangled and provided evidence in the cause of death.
The forensic anatomy doctor working on the Buck-Ruxton case was also able to make some important identification of the remains in determining Buck-Ruxton as a suspect in the murders. This aligned to the removal of specific body parts done with such skill it had to be someone with a professional knowledge of surgical techniques ergo Dr. Buck-Ruxton.
Dr. Buck-Ruxton, early on considered a suspect, had removed the teeth of his wife Elizabeth. When available use of victims’ teeth for identification purposes by forensic dentists even to the extent of using a single tooth for comparison to dental X-rays. In the Buck-Ruxton case, having no teeth as processed in the methods of today taking digital photographs for comparison to a photograph showing the smile of a victim is one of the technological advances.
Pragmatically, the reconstruction of the body parts assisted by identifying the skeletal make up as those of two women. This concurred with the reported disappearance of both Buck-Ruxton’s housekeeper and his wife, further contributing to the detective work in the case toward identifying the bodies, building a suspect list, and finally the arrest of Dr. Buck-Ruxton. Again, as already referenced previously above, the broken hyoid bone provided a cause of death in the case of Buck-Ruxton’s wife built on the growing evidence of a murder taking place, and ultimately identifying the murderer and his arrest, trial, and conviction (Forensic Science Technician.com, 2016).
Ironically, Buck-Ruxton’s removal of skin where specific identifying marks on the body of both women contributed to his undoing in becoming the target suspect. Body marks particular to both women on their skin – especially the housemaid – having been removed only clarified in identifying the body according to records the police had access. With or without those identifying marks there is substantial mitigating evidence to make a connection as was the case in the Buck-Ruxton murders.
Owen (2000) report of the fingerprints still on the housemaid body proved the main forensic identification of her. Literature shows the importance of forensic fingerprinting.
Fingerprinting quickly became the queen of identifying marks, the key to criminology. Western cultures came to believe in those two infallible characteristics of fingerprints—their uniqueness and their permanency—and came to accept these truths perhaps more on faith than on evidence. When fingerprint evidence entered American courtrooms early in the twentieth century (the first convictions on fingerprint evidence seem to date from 1909 in Britain and 1910 in the United States) it was rapidly accepted—no doubt because it was so much needed and wanted—and never truly subjected to scientific testing. By the 1920s, the infallibility of such evidence was no longer in question.” (Brooks, 2011, p. 29)
The literature also notes the record of legal historians showing the acceptance today of fingerprinting in forensic criminal investigations. The Buck-Ruxton case set a precedence. While fingerprint does remain a staple for criminal investigations it must be noted the increased reliance on the use of DNA could eventually see the decline of the use of fingerprinting in criminal forensics according to Brooks (2011).
While the police were already focused on Dr. Buck-Ruxton as the murderer the identification of Elizabeth his wife proved the most challenging with the removal of most of her facial features. The use of photographic superimposing was the key forensic method and technological application in determining her identify. According to Pathak and Mangal (2006) the use of superimposition comparisons development today makes it an extremely useful forensic tool for identifying remains – especially complete skeletal remains. With the addition of computer and video to the photographic techniques the modifications taking place over the years prove fundamental to their use today for identification purposes – nearly a hundred years after its use in the Buck-Ruxton case of the 1930s. In fact, the literature including the Pathak and Mangal (2006) recognize the Buck-Ruxton case as the first medio-legal context of forensics as attributed to both Glaister and Brash in the 1935 analysis.
The above review of the Buck-Buck-Ruxton Case and the forensic methods and technology applied to two death investigations successfully substantiated how it proved an excellent example of good investigation in identifying the bodies the killer had purposefully attempted removing any physical identification of the corpse. The supporting literature and discourse provided the current forensic focus on specific methods and technology used in the 21st century emulating those rudimentary beginnings doing so as the prototype of identifying victims of murder cases.
Brooks, P. (2011). Enigmas of Identity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
Forensic Science Technician. (2016). 8 Body Parts Forensic Scientists Use to ID a Body. Retrieved from http://www.forensicsciencetechnician.org/8-body-parts-forensic-scientists-use-to-id-a-body/
Goff, M L. (2000). A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Owen, D. (2000). Hidden Evidence – Forty True Crimes and How Forensic Science Helped Solve Them.
Pathak, A. K., & Mangal, H.M. (2006). Role of Superimposition Technique in Practice of Forensic Medicine. JPAFMAT Vol. 6. ISSN 0972-5687