Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Peter Sutcliffe

A Killer's Mask

Despite the number of murders and police warnings of the dangers, there was no visible reduction in the activities of prostitutes in the Yorkshire red-light districts. Although the women were scared, and many had contemplated giving the game up for a while, the reality of poverty, and threats of violence from their pimps soon drove them back onto the streets. Public cooperation in police investigations was minimal. Few who could have given information were willing to get involved and the rest of the community falsely assumed that they were not under threat.

Complacency in this case had always presented a problem for police investigating the Yorkshire Ripper case. The period of eleven months since Vera Millwards murder had caused the public to relax. Maybe he had stopped? A police psychologist had said that this might happen; the killer might just stop and never be heard from again. The police hoped that was the case.

During that eleven-month lapse, Peter Sutcliffes mother had died. It was on 8 November 1978 that Kathleen Sutcliffe, who had suffered from angina for four years, had died of myocardial infarction and ischaemic heart disease at the age of 59. Her eldest son, who had always been closest to her, was grief stricken. He blamed his father for her death. John Sutcliffe had been guilty of many affairs during his years of marriage to Kathleen, which Peter felt had been responsible for his mothers illness.

Peter and Sonia had been living in their new home for over twelve months by this time and had spent a great deal of time working on improvements. Their neighbours considered them to be an unusual couple that kept very much to themselves. While Sonia spent much of her time working in the garden, Peter would constantly work on his cars. In this time, he had replaced the red Corsair with a metallic-grey Sunbeam Rapier.

At work, Peter was one of Clarks most conscientious drivers who kept immaculate logs and repair records, but his workmates would see him as a bit of a loner who kept very much to himself and never showed any signs of violence, nor did he swear or speak crudely about sex or women. When police interviewed him again because his registration number had been noted in red-light areas, he was not noticeably concerned. He explained that driving to and from work regularly took him through those areas.

On 23 March 1979 George Oldfield received another letter, supposedly from the Yorkshire Ripper. Although many had doubted the authenticity of the first two letters, a reference made to a medical detail in the Vera Millward murder made them wonder. Saliva tests were taken on the envelope, and this time they achieved a result. Saliva taken from under the envelope flap indicated the rare blood group B, the same as that of Joan Harrisons killer. Forensic tests confirmed that all three of the letters were from the same source. The writer predicted that the next victim would be "an old slut" in Bradford or Liverpool.

This prediction was to prove incorrect when on Wednesday 4 April 1979, the killer struck again. Josephine Whitaker, a building-society clerk, had walked the short mile to her grandparents' home in Halifax to show them the new watch she had bought. Her grandmother had been out when she arrived, so she watched television with her grandfather to await her return at 11:00 pm. Tom and Mary Priestley always enjoyed their granddaughters weekly Sunday visits, and had been pleasantly surprised by this extra mid-week visit. When Jo, as they called her, decided to go home, her grandparents tried to talk her into staying the night, but she preferred to go home. It was only a ten-minute walk, which she had taken many times before.

It was almost midnight by the time she reached Savile Park, an area of open grassland surrounded by well-lit roads. As she walked across the damp grass in the park, Peter Sutcliffe stopped her to ask the time. She looked toward the town clock in the distance and Peter took the hammer from his jacket, crashing it down on the young womans head. As she lay on the grass, he hit her again, and then dragged her 30 feet back into the darkness, away from the road. He pulled her clothing back and stabbed her twenty-five times, into her breasts, stomach and thighs, even into her vagina. He left her lying like a bundle of rags. One of her tan shoes still lay at the roadside where his attack had begun. She had been almost in sight of her home when Peter had killed her.

The next morning, at 6:30 am, a woman waiting at the bus stop found her body and called the police. Soon after, Josephines younger brother David set off for his early morning paper round. As he neared the park, he saw the police officers huddled around something lying on the ground. Curiosity drew him closer to the scene where it became apparent what the men were looking at, and then he saw his sisters shoe lying near the roadside. In a panic he ran home, yelling to his mother as he came into the house. Josephines mother ran upstairs to check her daughters room. Josephine was not there. When she called the Halifax police, they were not able to put to rest her greatest fear.