Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Peter Sutcliffe

A Killer's Mask

On 29 September 1975, Peter Sutcliffe began working as a delivery driver for a tyre company. Exactly one month later, he would succeed in killing his first victim and his reign of terror would begin.

Wilomena McCann, who preferred to be known as Wilma, was a fiery, Scottish 28-year-old, and a mother of four. Her body was found on the morning of 30 October 1975 lying face upwards on a sloping grass embankment of the Prince Phillip Playing Fields, off Scott Hall Road, just 100 yards from her council home in nearby Scott Hall Avenue.

Wilma McCann, Victim
Wilma McCann,

Wilma had never settled into the mundane life of a wife and mother, much preferring the excitement of the nightlife in the many Leeds hotels. On the night of her death, she had left her four children in the care of her eldest daughter, 9-year-old Sonje, to go out drinking. She was to drink heavily until closing time at 10:30 pm and then make her way home. Along the way, a lorry driver stopped when Wilma flagged him down, but continued on his way when he was greeted with a mixture of incoherent instructions and abuse, leaving her by the side of the road. She was seen at about 1:30 am being picked up by a West Indian man, who was the second last person to see her alive. Soon after 5:00 am, a neighbour found Wilmas two oldest daughters huddled together at the bus stop. They were cold, confused and frightened. Their mummy hadnt come home the night before and they were waiting in the hope that she would come home by bus.

Detective Chief Superintendent Dennis Hoban was in charge of the inquiry. When Professor Gee, the pathologist, completed his report, Hoban learned that Wilma had been struck twice on the back of the head, and then stabbed in the neck, chest and abdomen fifteen times. There were traces of semen found on the back of her trousers and underpants. By the time the coroners verdict of "murder by person or persons unknown" had been handed down, the one hundred and fifty police officers that Hoban had working on the case had interviewed seven thousand householders and six thousand lorry drivers. They had taken hundreds of statements from anyone with even the remotest connection to Wilma, each one painstakingly checked, but still they had not even come close to finding her killer.

On 20 November 1975, 26-year-old Joan Harrisons dead body was found in a garage in Preston, Lancashire. She had been hit over the back of the head with the heel of a shoe and then kicked severely until she was dead. Before leaving her, the killer had dragged her to a more secluded part of the garage where he pulled her trousers back on and pulled her bra down to cover her breasts. Placing the boot he had removed earlier in between her thighs, he then removed her coat and covered her with it. He took her handbag and dumped it in a refuse bin, after removing all its contents. The killer was to leave a number of clues for the police. The first was a deep bite mark above her breast, which revealed that the killer had a gap between his front teeth. Tests on semen found in both her vagina and anus showed that the killer was what is known as a secretor, a person whose blood group information is secreted into their body fluids (approximately 80% of the population). The killer's blood group was of the rare B group.

Joan Harrison, Victim
Joan Harrison, Victim

Initially, Joan Harrisons murder was not linked to Wilma McCanns as there were too many differences in the killers method. This decision would be altered when police were later to receive a number of letters from a man claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper. He mentioned the murder in Preston, leading the police to incorrectly believe that Joan Harrison was also one of the Yorkshire Rippers victims.

In reality, Peter Sutcliffe, the mysterious and elusive Yorkshire Ripper, did not claim another life until January 1976. Emily Monica Jackson, 42, lived with her husband and three children in Back Green, Churwell on the outskirts of Morley, west of Leeds. The Jacksons had been having financial problems for some time when Emily decided to begin taking money for sexual favours. Together, Emily and husband Sydney would drive their blue Commer van into Leeds where Sydney would wait for his wife in one of the bars while Emily would use the van to earn the extra money they needed. On the night of Tuesday 20 January 1976, they parked their van in the carpark of the Gaiety and went inside. They had a drink together then Emily left to see whom she could find outside. Sydney was to wait there until she returned at closing time. When she wasnt there to meet him, he took a taxi home, expecting her to follow in the van shortly after. But she never returned home.

Emilys mutilated body was found just after 8:00 am the following morning only 800 yards from the Gaiety where her husband had waited for her. Peter Sutcliffe had left Emily lying on her back with her legs apart. She was still wearing her tights and pants, but her bra was pulled up, exposing her breasts. Like Wilma before her, Peter had struck Emily on the head twice with his hammer and then stabbed her lower neck, upper chest and lower abdomen 51 times with a sharpened "Phillips" head screwdriver. Peters need to vent his anger upon the already-dead Emily caused him to make a slip; he stomped on Emilys right thigh, leaving the impression of the heavy-ribbed Wellington boot. The boot was further identified as a Dunlop Warwick, probably size 7, definitely no larger than an 8. Another print was found in the sand nearby.

Emily Jackson, Victim
Emily Jackson, Victim

Hoban knew immediately that the man who had killed Emily Jackson was the same man that had killed Wilma McCann. Sydney Jackson, devastated by the vicious and senseless murder of his wife, believed that the man would kill again and prayed that he would soon be caught. He wept for his wife and sent their children to stay with relatives until he could tell them the terrible news of their mothers death.

On 5 March 1976, Peter Sutcliffe was fired from his job with the tyre company. Although he had been a good hard worker, Peter was constantly late for work. His late night forays into the red-light districts of Yorkshire made it difficult for him to arise early enough for work. It would take him many months of rejection and frustration before he could find work as a lorry driver because of his lack of experience.

In the same month, George Oldfield, Assistant Chief Constable at West Yorkshire Police Headquarters in Wakefield, received the first in a series of letters by a person claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper. Oldfield quickly dismissed the letter, which claimed responsibility for the murder of Joan Harrison but showed no relation to the Ripper case, as just another one of the many crank letters he, and many newspapers, had already received.

As Marcella Claxton, a 20-year-old prostitute, walked home from a drinking party held by friends in Chapeltown around 4:00 am on the morning of 9 May 1976, a large white car pulled up along side her. She wasnt working that night but she asked the driver for a lift. Instead of driving her home, he drove her to Soldiers Field just off Roundhay Road. Peter offered Marcella 5 pounds to get out of the car and undress for sex on the grass, but she refused the offer. As they both got out of the car, Marcella heard a thud as something Peter had dropped hit the ground; he told her it was his wallet. Marcella then went behind a tree to urinate. Peter walked towards her and the next thing she felt was the blow of Peters hammer as he brought it down upon the back of her head, then she felt the second blow. She lay back on the grass, looking at the blood on her hand from where she had touched her head. Peter stood nearby. She remembered vividly that his hair and beard were black and crinkly and that he was masturbating as he watched her bleeding on the ground. He went back to the white car with the red upholstery to get some tissues to clean himself up. When he finished, he threw the tissues on the ground and placed a 5-pound note in Marcellas hand, warning her not to call the police as he got back into his car.

Marcella Claxton, Victim
Marcella Claxton,

Marcella, her clothes now covered in blood, managed to half walk, half crawl to a nearby telephone box where she called for an ambulance. As she sat on the floor and waited for help, she would see Peter drive past many times looking for her, probably to finish the job and rid himself of a vital witness.

The gaping wound in the back of her head required 52 stitches and a seven-day stay in hospital. For months after the attack she would hate men, barely able to even be in the same room with them. Even five years after the attack, she would still be plagued by depression and dizzy spells and be unable to hold down a job. The birth of her son Adrian coincided with Peter Sutcliffes arrest in 1981, but neither event could ease the ache she had felt since her attack. She too wished she had died.

The attacks of the Yorkshire Ripper were by now the main topic of conversation among prostitutes and the patrons of the many pubs in the Leeds area. With little information in the papers about the nature of the murders, the public soon added their own horrific details, which were incredibly similar to the notorious crimes of Jack the Ripper in the previous century. Prostitutes, in an attempt to protect themselves, were seen working in groups, making it very clear to their clients that the details of their car and registrations were being recorded. Increased police activity in the area put further pressure on the already strained relationship between the prostitutes and officers of the law, creating a formidable barrier to police investigations. The fact that the attacks on Anna Rogulskyj and Olive Smelt had not yet been linked with the other Yorkshire Ripper murders resulted in a complacency in the general population who seemed to view prostitutes as somehow deserving of the Yorkshire Rippers punishments.