The Yorkshire Ripper
Yorkshire and murder
I'm from Yorkshire in England and lived in various towns and cities including Leeds and I often visited friends in Bradford. Garden Lane was - and still is - a quiet suburban street in the latter city.
And yet one of its inhabitants, a quiet man married to a schoolteacher, created terror in our area for over five years.
During this time Peter Sutcliffe killed at least thirteen women but it's estimated that there were probably more. At least seven other women were attacked by time, but were lucky to survive. Sutcliffe haunted the seedier parts of Bradford, Leeds and other northern cities and his first murder, in 1975, was that of a prostitute.
But as time went by, he attacked and murdered more women including girls who were what the newspapers at the time called 'innocent' or 'respectable' victims.We had thought that the murders were confined to prostitutes. We really believed that if we stayed out of the red light areas - and we had no reason to go there - that we were safe.
Now, the whole situation had changed. We we were all in danger.The police were baffled. The investigation became even more complicated when the detective in charge of the case received letters and tapes from the murderer. Or did they? The police believed that they were genuine and while they investigated, women and girls in the local area lived in fear of their lives.
No woman was safe.
This is Garden Lane, Heaton where the killer lived with his wife. This road was a shortcut from the motorway network to where one of my friends lived. I drove past the house many times before Sutcliffe was captured - no doubt on some occasions he was in the house or even doing the garden or working on his car in the driveway...
My life during the 'reign' of the Yorkshire Ripper
I lived and worked in Leeds during the time the Ripper was at large. Our lives changed dramatically.
LADIES OF THE NIGHT
Because the Ripper's first victims were streetwalkers, the attacks weren't widely reported. The attitude at the time was, sadly, that if young women were going to deliberately expose themselves to the dangers of the seedier sides of town, then they got what they deserved. But his first victim was a young single parent - the mother of four young children. But we didn't know what was to come...
When the murders continued, and the police realized that all women were at risk, they started to set up roadblocks, particularly in the evening and the early hours of the morning. Having been stopped in these many times, I have to say that the questioning was perfunctory and my vehicle was never searched. I drove a panel van for part of that time and could easily have been concealing someone in the back. The police suspected that the murderer had an accomplice, possibly female, and yet my vehicle was never search or ever had a flashlight beamed into the back.
Local businesses and institutions set up a system of minibuses to help their staff get home safely. The hospitals had a series of minibuses to ferry nurses home in the hours of darkness. Universities did the same for female students. No woman was safe. What do you imagine our most frequent topic of conversation was? Who was he? Where would he strike next?
HUSBANDS, FATHERS AND BROTHERS
In England, during the winter months, darkness can fall in the late afternoon. It wasn't just women who were worried. Fathers, husbands and brothers were justifiably concerned about their womenfolk. They would drive miles out of their ways to pick them up from work or from parties and social events. In fact, the men were often more worried than the women. We had a sense of bravado a lot of the time but our men were constantly worried about us.
HANDBAGS & TOMATO KETCHUP
People had been patient. They realized that the police had a tough job trying to catch the murderer. But the murders continued. Our lives had changed so much since the Ripper started his macabre murder spree. All around Leeds, protesters left handbags smeared with tomato ketchup as a vividly visual protest. Many were delivered to police headquarters.
RIPPER 12 - POLICE 0
The tally was now twelve murdered women. In a parody of football scores, this graffiti appeared on walls all over the Yorkshire area.
We saw the letters and we listened to the tape
West Yorkshire Police Headquarters.
Anyone who lived in Yorkshire or the neighboring counties at the time Peter Sutcliffe was murdering women knows what it was like to live with fear. But this book tells about a side that many people forget. Many children were left without mothers (often single mothers) due to Sutcliffe. This author was five years old when his mother became the Ripper's first victim.
The Ripper tape and the Geordie accent
LETTERS FROM THE RIPPER
In 1978, we read in the newspapers that the police received the first of several letters signed 'Jack the Ripper'. The writer was taunting the police because they hadn't come anywhere near to catching him. The letters gave the police a clue however because they were postmarked in Sunderland, an town north of the Ripper's murder area.
THE RIPPER TAPE
Then the news broke - we heard that the police received a tape. Confirming their suspicions about Sunderland, where the letters had been postmarked, the person speaking on the tape had what is called a Geordie accent. Forensic speech specialists were able to pinpoint the small town where the accent originated.
THE RIPPER HAS A GEORDIE ACCENT
We were told that, without doubt, the Ripper had a Geordie accent. I imagine that any male with that accent kept his mouth firmly shut. All men in Leeds who had that accent were questioned if they could be located. Because the Ripper had attacked women who survived, they had a description - in his 20s or 30s, dark hair and beard. I knew a chap in Leeds who had a Geordie accent because he'd been brought up in the Sunderland area. He was questioned several times. Several times, not just once - despite the fact that he was Chinese. No witness had ever suggested that the murderer looked Chinese.
LISTENING TO THE RIPPER TAPE
The police were certain that someone would recognize the voice. They set up a special phone number that people could call and listen to the tape they'd received. I did so - as a bit of a joke, really, for a giggle. It was absolutely chilling. Was I really listening to the man who had killed all those women so brutally?
"DID HE HAVE A GEORDIE ACCENT?"
The police were certain that the Ripper had a Geordie accent, thanks to the tape. One afternoon, as I was walking home from work in Leeds a man jumped out in front of me. I yelled, he ran off and I thought no more about it. But when I got home and described him (in his 20s, dark hair and beard) I was urged to call the police. 'What if it was the Ripper?' I called. The cops had only one question 'did he have a Geordie accent?' When I said he hadn't that was the end of the matter. They didn't want any further information and didn't question me further.
The image is a screenshot from the site linked above.
The Yorkshire Ripper's final victim
Although all women were terrified, we still had to lead our daily lives.
We took what precautions we could, but sometimes we let our guard down a little. One evening, I desperately needed something, I forget what - maybe a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread.
It was November and although it wasn't late in the evening, it was already dark when I decided to go to the local supermarket, just a few minutes walk away.
I was only gone for ten minutes but when I got back, you can imagine the reaction - 'where on earth have you been? Alone in the dark? What were you thinking?'
Of course, I'd been thinking about groceries - the Yorkshire Ripper hadn't been in the news for ages.The next morning, I walked to work as usual, passing the grocery store that I'd been to the previous evening.
At lunchtime, when I walked home, there was police caution tape around the supermarket and lots of blue flashing lights. I asked a policeman what was going on. 'Hurry off home, love' he said 'they've found a body.' I looked at him questioningly 'Yes love' he said 'looks like another Ripper murder.'It was.
A twenty year old girl had been killed the evening before on the very street I'd walked along shortly before the murder.
We all truly thought the Ripper would never, ever be captured. He had evaded the police for over five years. It had been several months since a murder and people speculated. Had the Ripper died? Had he been imprisoned for some lesser crime unknown to the police? Was he serving overseas in the armed forces?
Two policemen were doing their regular round one night, checking an area that was known to be frequented by prostitutes and their clients. They saw a car that had false plates; inside were a man and a known prostitute. When they questioned the man, he seemed suspicious and was arrested. It was Peter Sutcliffe. Unknown to them at the time, they had arrested the Yorkshire Ripper. After several days of questioning, he confessed.
Hanging had been abolished many years before.
But even before the Ripper was caught you'd hear the words 'hanging's too good for him.' Many men remarked that if and when the Ripper was caught, they authorities should forget the courts. 'Just leave him alone in a room with a dozen women - he won't come out alive.' They were right - we would have ripped him apart.
Peter Sutcliffe had killed thirteen women, the youngest being only sixteen.Twenty five children had been left motherless. Yes, we would have ripped him apart with our bare hands.Now, instead of the police protecting us against the Ripper, they were protecting Peter Sutcliffe against us. There was a further outcry when the public realized one important fact:
PETER SUTCLIFFE DID NOT HAVE A GEORDIE ACCENT
The police had been wrong to think that the tape and the letters were genuine. They had been sent by a hoaxer. And because of this hoax, and the firm belief that the police had in its authenticity, further women had died.
In court, Peter Sutcliffe claimed that he was directed by God to kill prostitutes.
The jury found him guilty of murdering thirteen women and grievously attacking seven others. He was sentenced to thirty years in jail; the judge also noting that Sutcliffe should never be released. In 2010, when the term was almost at an end, his sentence was extended to full and complete life. He will never be released from jail.
Sutcliffe was attacked in prison on several occasions and is now overweight, suffering from diabetes and virtually blind because of the attacks.In 2012, Peter Sutcliffe, now in Broadmoor high security hospital, declared that he was fit for day release. I doubt that will happen.If it does, we have long memories.
The women of Yorkshire will be waiting.
Read more about the horrific times we endured in Yorkshire during that period. Learn too about the killer's 'motivation' and the bungled investigation by police. It's interesting to imagine what the investigation would have been like with today's methods and forensic work.
Was I within feet of the murderer?
Of course, many of us were probably within feet of this evil man at some time. We might have stood behind him in line at the supermarket. We might have been sitting at the next table to him in a pub. Our paths might have crossed in the street. But when I look back, this is scary.Apologies for the poor quality of this image. It is a screenshot from Google maps but I wanted to show it to you.
This shows a tiny locality in Leeds called Far Headingley. See the row of terraced houses on the left - I lived in the second one. First you see the butcher's shop on the corner, then my next door neighbour's house and the next one is where I lived. What you can't see is that there was a narrow path that ran from the left right behind our houses, where our back doors were.Interesting side note. At one time (before I lived there) playwright and author Alan Bennett lived above the butcher's shop you can see in the photograph.
The path had a stone wall at the other side, so it was an enclosed alley. See below, also from Google maps.Now take a look at those light colored houses on the right. At the time they were completely derelict but could be accessed from the path.
The path to the lair?
Imagine that you walk up that path - past the first window and door.
The next window was my kitchen - the next door lead right into it. It was a large kitchen; larger than the lounge. It was what estate agents would describe as a 'live-in' kitchen. It was large enough for a dining table and chairs, a huge dresser, a rocking chair and a sofa, in addition to the actual kitchen part.
It had an open fire and I had a small portable television in there.In the evenings, I would sit and read or watch TV in that room. The fire made it warm and it seems silly to light the fire in the lounge.
So I was sitting just step away from my back door ... and from the path. I honestly never thought to lock the door until it was time to go to bed.
After the Ripper had been caught, I read somewhere (I truly forget where) that he had a secret lair in a derelict cottage at Far Headingley. He used to clean himself up there after he had committed his murders. He chose the hideout because he could access it quickly via a hidden path that ran behind the back doors of a small row of four terraced houses. Because there was a popular pub and a well-known fish and chip shop just across the road, he could park his car and be in his lair in seconds.
Yes, there was a pub and a chippy across the road. Yes, the row I lived in had four houses and a path at the back and yes, there were derelict cottages right next door.
Personal alarms for women
These weren't available in those days. I am convinced that now they are widely available - and very inexpensive - every woman should have one with her at all times.