Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Peter Sutcliffe

A Killer's Mask

The pathologist's report revealed that there had been traces of a mineral oil used in engineering shops in Josephine Whitakers wounds. It was soon confirmed that the particles were similar to those found on one of the envelopes of the mysterious letters from Sunderland. The letters were seen as credible evidence that could lead toward the capture of the elusive Yorkshire Ripper.

On 16 April, George Oldfield announced that the, now daily, press conference would be held at 3:30 pm instead of 10:30 am. The press were ready for the announcement of an important break-through in the case. The police had already sent a team of four detectives to Sunderland who had begun visiting firms in the area to gather details of "Geordies" who had been to Yorkshire on the dates of the attacks. At the press conference, Oldfield announced the Geordie connection and asked firms in the West Yorkshire area to check their records of employees who had been sent to Sunderland during March 1978 and March 1979.

Two months later, when Oldfield received a cassette tape from the writer of the letters, the police would be sent on a wild goose chase as they searched for the killer with the Geordie accent. While police officials debated whether or not to go public with the tape, news of its arrival and contents were leaked to the press. The decision was made and a press conference, at which the tape was played, was called on Tuesday 26 June 1979.

The public response was enormous with 50,000 calls received by police, putting further strain on the already under-staffed West Yorkshire force. The incident room at Sunderland had to be expanded to 100 officers. By the end of the second day they had received 1000 calls and every lead was followed up and officers were still busy in August when Mr Stanley Ellis, a Leeds University voice expert, announced that the voice on the tape was from a village in Castletown.

A team of police officers were moved to Castletown where interviews were carried out in every home but to no avail. The men who were found to match the voice had alibis for the dates of the attacks, thus the natural conclusion should have been that the person who wrote the letters and sent the tape was not the Yorkshire Ripper. Instead, the police continued to propagate the belief in the minds of the public that the Yorkshire Ripper had a Geordie accent.

The strain of the investigation had taken its toll on George Oldfield, who suffered three heart attacks and was hospitalised at the end of July. He would not return to the investigation until the beginning of 1980.

By the end of August 1979, many officials were beginning to question the validity of the Geordie connection. The extent of the search for the writer of the letters would have been successful by now if he had, in fact, been the killer. The discrepancies in the details in the letters and the fact that the surviving victims had not recognised the voice on the tape were all valid reasons, in the minds of more and more of the police investigators, to dismiss the letters and tape altogether.

On the night of 1 September 1979, Barbara Janine Leach went to The Mannville Arms with five of her closest friends. Barbara was a student at Bradford University and lived with a group of students in a house in Grove Terrace, just across Great Horton Road from the University. She had decided not to go home to Kettering where her parents, Beryl and David Leach lived, so she could continue studying before the beginning of her third year of a Bachelor of Science degree. She had rung her mother earlier that day to wish her father a happy birthday and apologised for not sending him a card. She told her mother that she would be heading home on Monday to spend the week with them.

Barbara Leach, Victim
Barbara Leach, Victim

Also at The Mannville Arms that night was Peter Sutcliffe. He had seen Barbara from across the other side of the room and had watched her continuously. At closing time, 11:00 pm, he left and waited in his car outside. Barbara, along with her five friends, had stayed behind to help clean up and have a drink with the landlord Roy Evans. When they finally left at 12:45am, Peter was watching nearby as the group walked towards Great Horton Road. As they were about to turn left into Grove Terrace, Barbara decided to go for a walk and invited her friend, Paul Smith to join her. When he declined the offer, she asked him to wait up for her, as she didnt have a key, he agreed and they parted company.

As he watched Barbara walk down Great Horton Road alone, Peter started the car and drove down to Back Ash Grove where he parked the car. With hammer and knife in hand, he got out of the car and walked quickly along the alley way, knowing that Barbara would soon be walking past at the other end. He waited for her in the shadows of Ash Grove, listening to the echo of her boots on the pavement as she walked toward him. As she passed, he sprang, smashing the hammer into her head. It only took the one blow and she was dead.

Quickly, he dragged her lifeless body back into the shadows of the side entrance toward Back Ash Grove. In the yard behind number 13, he dropped her body and tore at her clothing, exposing her breasts, abdomen and underpants. He stabbed her eight times, then dragged her body near some rubbish bins and covered her with a piece of old carpet which lay near-by.

Paul Smith waited for Barbara for over an hour then, assuming that she had decided to join one of the many parties being held all over the area, went to bed. When she hadnt come home the next morning, he rang her parents and the police. A search began that same day and her body was found that afternoon. Professor Gee, the pathologist who had worked on all of the Yorkshire Ripper cases, believed that the knife used to stab Barbara was the same one used on Josephine Whittaker.

With the deaths of two victims that were not prostitutes in non-red light areas in a six month period, the West Yorkshire public were now interested in more than just gruesome stories about the Yorkshire Ripper. They wanted action. Why werent the police doing something to stop this killer who had dared to threaten the lives of "decent women?

Police investigations were stepped up and a 1 million-publicity campaign was launched involving newspaper advertising and the posting of billboards, reminding the public of the killer with the Geordie accent. By now there were few people who would have ever suspected a bearded lorry driver with a Yorkshire accent living in Bradford, only a five-minute drive away form police headquarters.

On Thursday 13 September, West Yorkshire police issued a confidential eighteen-page report to all other forces. It outlined the sixteen known Ripper attacks and was intended to help police in the elimination of suspects. Along with detailed descriptions of all of the evidence pertaining to the case, including the letters and a transcript of the tape, there was a five-point list to be used for the purposes of elimination. It stated that any suspects could be eliminated if:

1. The man was not born between 1924 and 1959, only those between 20 and 55 years of age need be considered.

2. The man was obviously a coloured person.

3. His shoe size was nine or over.

4. His blood group was other than B, and most crucially

5. His accent was dissimilar to a North Eastern (Geordie) accent.

The report then described the three most common elements in all of the known cases as being:

1. The use of two weapons, a sharp instrument and an alleged one-and-a-quarter-pound ball-peen hammer.

2. The absence of sexual interference, and

3. The clothing moved to expose breasts and pubic region.

Officers in every region were asked to report any similar attacks in their areas, whether fatal or not.

Another important change in police procedure involved the use of a new computer program through the Police National Computer. By entering the makes and registration numbers of vehicles sighted in the areas of the attacks, the computer could chart precise flow patterns of individual vehicles. It was hoped that witness information of a particular car type in the area of an attack could be matched with vehicle registration numbers recorded in the area, and then cross-checked against other records. Through this process, they were able to eliminate 200,000 vehicles, including that which was driven by a lorry driver in Heaton who lived and worked in the area.

While the use of the computer enabled police to check and crosscheck information at enormous speed, saving thousands of man-hours, it also created an avalanche of new information that had to be checked. By the beginning of 1980, the police were faced with millions of facts, five million in the case of car registrations alone, and they were now swamped, barely able to keep up with the demand.

Since January 1979, when Jack Ridgeway and his men had left Bradford in their search for the owner of the 5 note found in Jean Jordans handbag, they had returned many times to interview employees of firms like Clarks, where Peter Sutcliffe worked. Peter had been interviewed on a number of occasions, and his work mates had taken to calling him the Ripper because of the apparent police interest in him. Even as late as 1980, Peter was never considered to be a strong suspect, despite the fact that he had a gap in his front teeth, his car had been spotted in red-light districts a number of times, his blood type was of the B group but not a secretor, he had the right boot size and his name was on the now dramatically shortened list of 300 possible recipients of the 5 note.

Inexplicably, none of the men interviewed at this time were given blood tests, nor were any men placed under surveillance or boot sizes checked. The overwhelming reason for why Peter Sutcliffe was not considered a suspect, even after a total of nine interviews with police, was that he had provided alibis verified by Sonia, and because he did not have a Geordie accent. A frightening indication of how greatly assumptions can prejudice an investigation such as this, limiting the outlook of the investigating officers to the point that they are able to miss vital clues.