The package, which lay in a remote and deep ravine, appeared to contain a human arm…
It was a grim Sunday morning in April and as I looked out of the curtains, the sight of heavy rain bursting from the drab grey sky made me want to slink back under the bedclothes. However, the weather was going to improve and more importantly, I had other plans, a date with murder to be precise – that is, Murder in Moffat!
The organisers of this exciting two-day crime fiction festival – Moffat Book Events – had planned a stimulating programme appealing to both enthusiasts of the genre and emerging writers to those with an interest in history and real-life crime stories, such as the infamous Buck Ruxton case, which stamped a dark bloody footprint on the town of Moffat.
I met up with John and we headed off to catch our bus, full of anticipation for the day ahead. Upon arriving in Moffat, we took the short stroll to the Old Well Theatre, where we were introduced to Aline Templeton, highly respected and well established crime writer who has set a series of works in the fictional town of Kirkluce in Galloway. Aline had the challenging task of squeezing the fundamentals of compelling storytelling into a mere 60 minutes! She opened with a fine example of a classic tale well told; The Monkey’s Paw, by W. W. Jacobs. Within this short, chilling narrative, the reader is subjected to fear, dread and an overwhelming desire to discover the consequences of meddling with fate. Aline did a fantastic job and covered a range of useful hints and tips covering character and plot development, the essential ingredients for a good story, building suspense for your readers to keep them guessing and how to tackle a killer ending. Aline highlighted why it’s important for readers to care about the characters and that a winning formula tends to involve bad things happening to good people…
Our next foray into the darker side of human nature was an absorbing, well researched presentation by writer and editor, Douglas Skelton detailing the case of Dr. Buck Ruxton and the impact it had on modern forensic science. Douglas began with the grim discovery made on September 29 1935 by a passer by at Gardenholme Linn just outside Moffat. The package, which lay in a remote and deep ravine, appeared to contain a human arm and when a thorough search was made, numerous packages were discovered, each containing dismembered body parts wrapped in newspapers. Just prior to this, Dr. Buck Ruxton, who was living in Lancashire with his wife Isabella, their three children and nanny, had been witnessed behaving in a most suspicious manner. Ruxton and his wife were well known for their tempestuous relationship; their abusive and fiery arguments often fuelled by his obsessive jealousy. Following a trip to Blackpool, both Isabella Ruxton and the family’s nanny, Mary Rogerson, disappeared. Subsequently, the doctor’s strange behaviour aroused suspicions; Ruxton busied himself burning materials in his yard and asked neighbours to help clean his carpets. Nursing a wounded hand, Ruxton informed them he had cut it on a tin of peaches and couldn’t do the job himself. His visitors however, began to doubt Ruxton’s story after finding numerous bloodstains around the house.
Questions were asked about the absence of his wife and nanny; Ruxton said Isabella had run off with another man then told Mary Rogerson’s parents she had become pregnant and had gone away to deal with the situation; her parents weren’t fooled. They told him in no uncertain terms that if she did not return within a given time, they would report her missing to the police. Once the authorities were alerted, the team responsible for trying to identify the body parts had names to work with. Groundbreaking forensic techniques were employed by Professor John Glaister and his eminent scientific team including; superimposing a picture of a skull upon Isabella Ruxton’s photograph – it made a clear match. Ironically, many of the bodily features Ruxton tried to destroy were used for the purposes of comparison and ultimately helped seal his fate.
When Dr. Ruxton’s trial began in March 1936, it gathered a tremendous amount of media interest, the sensational aspects of the case forming many gripping news features. Despite a damning body of evidence and the fact his own counsel could find little in the way to defend him, Ruxton displayed arrogance throughout. Interestingly, he sold a package to a journalist, only to be opened if he was found guilty; it turned out to be his confession. Ruxton was sentenced to death and met his maker at Strangeways Prison in May 1936.
After all the darkness, we stepped into the light for a breath of fresh air and bite to eat. Following a delicious Sunday carvery at the Moffat House Hotel, we returned to the Old Well for the next intriguing session; an interview with top Scottish crime writers Alex Gray and Aline Templeton. Michael Malone who has just published his first book, Blood Tears, asked the ladies about various aspects of their work. Alex told participants about the wealth of research involved when writing a book; she liaises closely with Glasgow City Police, visits prisons, talking to staff and inmates alike and has undertaken a course in forensic psychology. The ladies explained why naming a character is a pivotal factor in creating their identity and gave their views on the enduring appeal of crime writing. They read passages from their latest books; ‘Evil for Evil’ and ‘The Swedish Girl’, during which an awed hush filled the room as each author demonstrated their storytelling talents to bone-chilling effect!
We rounded off the day with a mini-bus trip led by local historian and author Emilio ‘Jock’ Dicerbo which took us out to Gardenholme Linn or what is locally known as ‘Ruxton’s Dump‘. Jock showed us where the body parts of Isabella Ruxton and Mary Rogerson had been jettisoned from the road side, the perpetrator believing he had found the ideal dumping ground. He also told stories of Moffat’s Secret Army with a brief stopover at the cemetery, where the former mortuary was situated. In this location, the ghastly remains were stored whilst awaiting transportation to Edinburgh for in-depth analysis.
We had an excellent time in Moffat, meeting some lovely, interesting people and learning about the principles that make a good story great. As someone who enjoys writing articles and blogs as well as telling stories along with my colleagues on our Dumfries Ghost Walk and Haunted Theatre Tour, I found it a valuable learning experience and confidence builder – a massive thankyou to everyone who made Murder in Moffat so marvellous!
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