THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER
THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER
An interview with Maurice Waugh, a retired West Yorkshire police officer, who in 1978 was involved in the Yorkshire Ripper Case.
This unassuming Giant of a man was not only easy to get along with; he was an interesting character to talk to. His is captivating story, and one which gives a fascinating insight into the backroom operating conditions of a small group of police officers engaged in the Ripper investigation.
One of the world’s most notorious serial killers, thirty years on, and Peter William Sutcliffe is still serving out his 20 sentences of life imprisonment in Broadmoor Hospital. Sutcliffe’s crimes were so heinous, and his remorse so absent, that he should never have the privilege of freedom. Not until May 1981, was thirty-five year old Sutcliffe finally convicted of murdering thirteen women and the attempted murder of seven others. Dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper, former grave digger Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror had cast a pall of fear over the red light districts of Leeds and Bradford. But its roots went back as far back as 1969.
At the time, Sutcliffe’s regular Saturday night date was a girl called Sonia Szurma. When his brother Mick spotted Sonia with an Italian boy – a local ice-cream salesman – Peter Sutcliffe confronted her. Feeling betrayed, that night he decided to take his revenge by going out with a prostitute. Driving up Manningham Lane, in Bradford, he saw a prostitute waiting for customers at a local petrol station. After agreeing a price of £5, Sutcliffe gave her a £10 note, but he could not perform the act. Asking for his change, he drove the woman back to the garage where he’d first picked her up. When she reappeared with minders, Sutcliffe was immediately confronted and told in no uncertain circumstances to clear off. Outraged and humiliated, could this be the spark that ignited Sutcliffe’s utter hatred for prostitutes?
Within weeks of the incident, Sutcliffe was out looking for the prostitute who had tricked him out of money. Touring the district of Manningham with Trevor Birdsall, Sutcliffe left his friend’s mini-van and set out on foot to follow a prostitute back to her house. Striking her over the head with a stone in a sock, Sutcliffe returned to his friend’s car appeased. The following day when questioned by the police, Sutcliffe admitted to the crime. Sadly the women in question did not want anything more to do with the incident, and Sutcliffe was let off with nothing more than a stern lecture by the police.
It was in Keighley on July 5, 1975 that Peter Sutcliffe attacked his second victim Anna Rogulskyj – striking her unconscious with a Ballpeen hammer and slashing her stomach with a knife. Disturbed, he left without killing her. Sutcliffe was now on a mission, and within weeks he had attacked Mrs Olive Smelt in Halifax. His next victim, 14 year old Tracey Browne, was attacked in Silsden. Struck from behind with a hammer while she was walking along a country lane, Sutcliffe ran off when he saw car headlights. This horrific crime was never linked to the Ripper until he later confessed to it in 1992.
My first question to Maurice seemed a pretty obvious one, but I still felt the need to ask it.
What do you remember about the Rippers first known murder victim?
She was a well-known prostitute by the name of Wilma McCann, who was murdered in the early hours of morning. [October 30, 1975] After leaving “The Room at the Top” drinking club in Bradford, and worse for drink, McCann was picked up by Sutcliffe in his Ford Capri car. Around seven that morning, her body was found by a milkman on the Prince Phillip playing fields in Leeds – she was barely 100 yards from her home. Hit over the head with a hammer, on this occasion and unlike the slashing wounds found on his previous victims, Wilma had been stabbed in the lower abdomen, chest and neck. This would become part of the Ripper’s method of operation, his MO – Modus Operandi.
When you first joined the Yorkshire Ripper Investigation Team, how would you describe your involvement on the case?
I first became involved in the case in 1978, shortly after the murder of Barbara Leach, a twenty year old university student studying at Bradford University. By now, Sutcliffe’s brutal campaign of terror was well documented; it was in all the papers. At the time, I was transferred to Bradford Central Police Station, at Milgarth. Here, I was to join a small close-knit team of backroom police officers engaged in dealing with telephone enquiries surrounding the case. The main source of our information was public driven, and this involved sifting through thousands of telephone calls and looking for potential suspects. It was an interesting role, and one that involved major contact with the general public. The details of every caller were put onto a manual index card; which included the caller’s details and any statements. These were then indexed filed and stored for future reference. It was our task to weed out the people of interest. Those of major interest to us were passed over to a follow up team, whose task it was to visit and interview them. If needs be, some of these people were brought in for further questioning, if not, then their interview details were recorded onto their index cards and stored in the system for future reference.
What do you remember about the Barbara Leach murder?
At a briefing, we were told that Barbara had been out drinking that night, at a pub called the Mannville Arms. That’s in Horton, Bradford, and close to the student accommodation. When she left the pub in the early hours of the morning, she was with a group of friends. That’s when Sutcliffe was driving through the area. That’s when Sutcliffe saw Leach walk off alone, and decided to follow her. At the end of an alley on Ash Grove, he was waiting in the shadows for her. When she walked past him, he struck her over the head with a hammer and dragged her body to the yard behind. Here, he tore at her clothing and stabbed her several times, with the same screwdriver he’d used on another of his victims. Sutcliffe then hid her body behind a low wall, covering her with a carpet if I remember rightly. When roommates reported her missing, police teams engaged in the search found her body the following day.
Extract from Peter Sutcliffe confession 4/5/81. “I think I had been working on my car one Saturday night and I took it out for a run. I had an urge which was in me and went to look for a victim. It was late so I drove straight into town and then found myself going up by the university. When I reached the Mannville Arms, I had just passed it, when I saw a girl, who I later found out was Barbara Leach. She was walking up the road on my left.”
How did your team deal with sheer volume of new information?
With difficulty to be honest, we were inundated with calls. Sadly, Barbara Leach was a young university student; she wasn’t a prostitute like the rest, and that didn’t sit well with the general public. At the time, we were constantly working overtime just to keep up with the backlog of work. Despite the criticisms of the West Yorkshire force’s handling of the case, in hind-sight, the police were inadequately prepared for what was then, the largest ever investigation by a British police force. You must remember, this pre-dated computer systems, and the sheer weight of information received during the enquiry – all stored on handwritten index cards – was huge. Such was the information overload; for safety reasons the floor of the incident room had to be reinforced just to cope with the weight of the paperwork. Imagine trying to cross reference files, it was almost impossible.
And what was the general public’s response?
Owing to prostitutes being involved, a lot of people were reluctant to talk. We had to use an awful lot of discretion when handling calls. As I recall, there was some very high profile people caught up in this, people of high position. A lot of the general public seemed to think that ours was just a straight forward routine part of the case, interesting yes, but we had to deal with some very iffy people at times. Many were sexual deviants, divorced men, or men who for reasons known only to them had changed their identities. I guess it was down to the red light districts where these women operated. Getting people to talk, especially prostitutes clients wasn’t easy.
Another major headache was the number of hoax calls we were receiving, particularly from people claiming to be the Ripper. One such hoaxer, so-called Wearside Jack, an unemployed alcoholic whose real name was John Humble if I remember rightly, sent letters and tapes to the police claiming he was the Yorkshire Ripper. One of the letters sent to George Oldfield, he was convinced it was genuine. After analysing the tapes, the investigations were switched to the area of Sunderland. Everyone was now looking for a bearded truck driver, with a Geordie accent, allowing Sutcliffe to continue his attacks on women. The strain on our small team was incredible; these new lead, further clogging up the system with useless information.
Then there was the clairvoyants of course, Doris Stokes springs to mind. We also had a lot of drunks ringing in. These calls usually opened with the punchline: “I know who the Ripper is?” Nevertheless, we still had to log everything down, as nothing could be left to chance.
Was that what threw the police off the Rippers scent do you believe?
A lot of people have asked me that question, but I always tell them the same answer. The vast majority of the backroom lads firmly believed the Ripper was a local man, from the Leeds / Bradford area and not as the media were suggesting, the North East of England.
In the end, he did turn out to be local?
Yes, he was born in Bingley, and lived in Heaton, Bradford.
How difficult a task was it, sifting through the evidence?
Massive, if I’m to be honest. One of the prostitutes, who Sutcliffe attacked, was a Manchester prostitute. The police had recovered her handbag containing a newly minted £5 note. It was traced to a bank in the Shipley area, and from there, distributed to the wages of thousands of employees…including Peter Sutcliffe. This vital piece of evidence led us right to Sutcliffe’s door, but it still didn’t lead to his arrest. When interviewed by the Manchester police, Sutcliffe’s wife and Mother both gave him an alibi. Despite what the critics say, it was instances such as these that made our work extremely difficult. At the time, we were investigating thousands of suspects, and cross referencing a manual filing system with millions of index cards, was frustrating and time consuming.
Authors Note: The victim was twenty year old prostitute Jean Jordan, who Sutcliffe picked up in the Moss Side district of Manchester at 9.0pm, Monday 1st October 1977. He then drove her to Chorlton, near a cemetery where he killed her with a hammer. Disturbed by car headlights, he fled the scene of the crime. On his return home to Bradford, Sutcliffe realised the newly minted £5 note – taken from his pay packet and paid to Jean Jordon in advance – would likely incriminate him. When a week later Jean’s body still hadn’t been discovered, Sutcliffe returned the scene of the crime. His search for Jean’s handbag proved unsuccessful, and he gave vent to his frustrations by horrifically mutilating her body. He then decided to cut-off her head.
Extract from Peter Sutcliffe confession 4/5/81:
“I had taken a hacksaw out of my car intending to remove her head; the blade might have been blunt because I was getting nowhere at all, so I gave it up. Had I cut the head off I was going to leave it somewhere else to make a big mystery.”
What other Ripper cases were you involved in?
After Barbara Leach’s murder, there was a bit of a cooling off period. It was the following summer [20th August, 1980] when Sutcliffe murdered Marguerite Walls in Pudsey. He hit her over the head with a heavy object, and tried to strangle her. At the time, the lads on the team had their doubts that this was the Ripper’s doing. Of course we were regularly briefed by senior officers, and as new evidence filtered down, we were given instructions on who to look for. I particularly remember the team being told not to concentrate our efforts on Geordies.
The Ripper’s last victim was a young lass called Jacqueline Hill. She was another university student, not a prostitute like many of the others. Sutcliffe was sat in his car, when she walked passed him after getting off a bus. Driving ahead of her, he lay in wait. Just yards from the busy main road, he struck her over the head with a hammer. He then dragged her onto some waste ground, and set about mutilating her with a screwdriver. Her body was found the next morning, near the Arndale Shopping Centre in Leeds. We knew it was the Ripper at the time. It was Sutcliffe’s method of killing them. The hammer blows to the head, the screwdriver, and the way he attacked her.
Extract from Peter Sutcliffe confession 4/5/81:
“I pulled Miss Hill’s clothes off, most of them. I had a screwdriver on me; I think it had a yellow handle and a bent blade. I stabbed her in the lungs. Her eyes were wide open and she seemed to be looking at me with an accusing stare. This shook me up a bit, I jabbed the screwdriver into her eye but they stayed open, and I felt worse than ever. I left her lying on her back with her feet towards the entrance. I think she was dead when I left her.”
What do you remember about Peter Sutcliffe’s arrest?
We heard that two Sheffield police officers had been out on duty that night, and had spotted Sutcliffe’s car on a driveway. Having pulled up behind it, they questioned the two occupants. Arresting Sutcliffe for carrying false number plates on his vehicle, he was transferred to Dewsbury Police Station, West Yorkshire, where he was questioned in connection with the Yorkshire Ripper case. At the time DI O’Boyle and Sergeant O’Boyle from Central Police Station, at Milgarth were involved. Both were thorough coppers, and both were well thought of by the team. They were extremely good at their jobs.
During one of the interviews, it turned out that Sutcliffe had driven to Sheffield’s red-light district, where he had picked up a prostitute and driven her to a quiet spot [The driveway of Light Trades House, Melbourne Avenue, Sheffield] When questioned by the investigating officers, Sutcliffe told them he was “bursting for a pee”. Disappearing from view, he hid a hammer and knife he was carrying in his pocket, behind a storage tank.
So what of the murder weapons?
When the arresting officer was told Sutcliffe was being questioned by the Yorkshire Ripper Squad, he returned back to the arrest scene. After a thorough search of the area, that’s when he discovered the hammer and knife that Sutcliffe had hidden there the previous night. The police also visited Sutcliffe’s house, where they found more incriminating evidence including several hammers. As far as I can remember, the fact that Sutcliffe had stabbed his victims with a screw driver had been kept from the public mainly for investigatory reasons.
What do you think the police could have done differently?
With the modern computer systems available today, this would never have happened back then, but hindsight is a funny thing. As you can imagine it was difficult to keep track of the number of potential suspects we were dealing with, let alone the hoax calls and thousands of time wasters who were clogging up the system. This was another major problem the team were faced with. As everything had to be hand written, taken down and investigated on manual card systems. It was a slow process, time consuming, and difficult to keep up with at times. Looking back, there were a lot of drunken callers ringing in claiming they knew who the Ripper was. This caused the investigating officers a major headache, as many we believed, were only out for the reward money. At the time, there was a reward out for any information leading to the Ripper’s arrest. It was in all the papers. Sadly, a lot of this sort of information simply vanished under an enormous backlog of paperwork.
Looking back I guess that many of the photo fits issued by the police of the Ripper bore a strong resemblance to what Peter Sutcliffe looked like at the time. It’s strange how he managed to slip through the net for so long.
And what happened to your team after Sutcliffe’s arrest?
The day Sutcliffe was convicted, the team were ecstatic. We knew we had our man, and the rest as they say, is history. Peter Sutcliffe always claimed that God had told him to kill prostitutes, which goes to show the kind of man we were dealing with. After the trail, it was business as usual and we returned to our previous posts.
Author’s note: Peter Sutcliffe appeared at London’s Old Baily in May 1981 and after a three-week trial was found guilty of thirteen charges of murder. Part of the statement to Dr Milne, and read out in court during his trial, was: “God invested me the means of killing. He has got me out of trouble and I am in God’s hands. He misled the police and perhaps God was involved in the tapes so the police would be misled.”
As a crime writer, the question I leave the reader with is: Should Peter Sutcliffe, be locked up in Broadmoor? Or was he not mad at all, but nothing more than a cold, calculating serial killer?
Interview with Maurice Waugh, Peter Sutcliffe, Yorkshire Ripper