A freshly minted £5 note, found in the handbag of victim Jean Jordan, was one of the few clues that would lead police directly to her murderer, the Yorkshire Ripper.
The battered and mutilated body of prostitute Jean Jordan was found near allotments on Princess Road, Manchester, at 10:30 am Monday, October 10 1977 by two allotment holders searching for bricks. She had been hammered to death on Saturday, October 1st, and her body lay undiscovered until her murderer returned in the early morning hours of October 10th to search the body and her possessions for a clue that he had left behind. Not finding it, he vented his frustration on his victim and performed the worst mutilations on any victim in the Ripper series of murders, including an attempt to cut off her head.
The clue the Yorkshire Ripper had been searching for, a freshly minted £5 note, still lay undiscovered in the victim's handbag, 189 feet from where her body was found, being just outside the police search area. At 10:00 am, Saturday, October 15th, her handbag was finally found by an allotment holder underneath a fence and concealed in long grass. The handbag had been found lying open, and a £5 note and a £1 note were discovered in a small side pocket on the outside of the handbag. It appeared that the handbag might have been searched, but the notes missed.
The £5 note, serial number AW51 121565, was wet and when dried it was apparent the note was brand new. Before the weekend had ended, information from the Bank Of England had established that the note had been part of a consignment sent to the Shipley and Bingley branches of the Midland Bank. It had been issued by a sub-branch in Shipley, just outside Bradford, four days before Jean Jordan's murder on October 1st, as part of a large batch split up and paid out to various local businesses and factories in time to be distributed in workers' wage packet on Thursday and Friday, September 29th and 30th.
While public confirmation that Jean Jordan was a Yorkshire Ripper victim was not acknowledged until early in 1978, within hours of the discovery of her body, Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Ridgeway, head of Manchester CID, was in contact with Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield and Detective Chief Superintendent James Hobson. A West Yorkshire officer was dispatched to Manchester. Within a few days all were agreed that they were hunting for the same man, the Yorkshire Ripper.
The discovery of the £5 note, and where it had been issued, in the heart of "Ripper country", was further confirmation they were after the Yorkshire Ripper. Jack Ridgeway considered that the finding of the note was an enormous fortunate break. He considered that the possibility that the note could have travelled across the Pennines to Manchester during the normal course of commerce in such a short time span seemed extremely remote and unlikely. Find the man who had been given the note in his pay packet, and you had found Jean Jordan's killer, and in all probability, the Yorkshire Ripper.
George Oldfield, was more cautious, and felt the note could have passed through two or three pairs of hands before reaching Manchester and Jean Jordan's handbag. He thought that the argument that it couldn't have travelled so quickly from Yorkshire to Manchester during the normal course of commerce was a weak one.
However, willing to try any investigation which could find the Ripper, he gave Jack Ridgeway thirty men to help with the inquiries. Within 48 hours of the discovery of the note in the handbag, Jack Ridgeway and Grange Catlow had travelled to West Yorkshire, accompanied by thirty hand-picked Manchester detectives where they were joined by the West Yorkshire policemen at a special incident room set up in a disused schoolroom at Baildon, an outlying district of Shipley.
Unfortunately, it was not until October 27th that Jack Ridgeway finally revealed to the press and public the reason why the Manchester detectives were in the area. Previous to this date, he had been cautious and would only reveal that his detectives were interviewing workmen at firms in the Shipley, Bingley, and Bradford areas. On October 27th, Jack Ridgeway announced that it was a £5 note which was the reason for their presence in West Yorkshire, and it was on the next day that he gave the press and public the sequence they were interested in, a run of sixty-nine £5 notes, numbering from AW51 121501 to AW51 121569 inclusively. Only after being pressed by reporters, did he reveal the number of the £5 discovered in Jean Jordan's handbag, AW51 121565.
It was thirteen days after the discovery of the note, and a month since the note had been issued in pay packets, that the public was finally informed of the sequence of notes the police were interested in, long past any reasonable time to expect the public to be able to help with inquiries by checking any notes they may have had to narrow down the search. The failure of the police to find the handbag on October 10th, meant an extra five days for any other notes in the sequence to pass out of the hands of those who had received them in their pay packets less than two weeks previously. The police strategy to not immediately notify the public once the note was found meant that any chance of public input to narrow the number of possible recipients of the note diminished rapidly as time went on. The only person to benefit from the initial police silence about the note was the murderer.
Jack Ridgeway, at the press conference announcing the campaign to find who had received the note, stated that they were uncommitted as to whether the murderer of Jean Jordan was also the Yorkshire Ripper, and announced, "We are attaching great significance to this £5 note. There is no way I will be going back to Manchester before we have traced its source, even if it means interviewing every person in the factories we have on our list."
The £5 note had been one of a sequence of 69 notes, part of a bundle of £500, and had been included in a batch of £127,500 distributed to over 30 firms in the area, employing over 8,000 men. The enormity of the task they had set for themselves was apparent. As they began their task to interview all of them, they were always aware that there still was the remote possibility that the note could have left the hands of the original recipient and been transferred to someone else before arriving in Manchester. As well, there was the additional handicap of the time factor, long enough for memories to fade, and alibis, whether accurate or not, to take shape, especially for the man who had received the incriminating note.
On January 17 1978, the Baildon incident room was closed down with just a few detectives remaining to continue sifting through the mass of information the inquiry had obtained. A frustrated Jack Ridgeway realised that the £5 note had been the best chance to find the killer, and after interviewing approximately 5,000 men, there was the possibility they had looked into the face of the murderer, but not recognised him. Presuming they had spoken to him at all, they did not have enough information about the murderer to isolate him. Jack Ridgeway was quoted in a news report, "There is always the chance that we have already seen that person. We have interviewed everybody who could have received that £5 note. It is more than likely that we have interviewed the person who received the fiver, but it does not follow that it is the same person that murdered Jean Jordan." As they prepared to return to Manchester he said, "We have just about exhausted the enquiry. It has drawn a blank."
Jack Ridgeway's assistant was quoted as saying, "I personally don't believe that we have yet met the killer in our multitude of interviews. When we do I am positive we will realise and nail him."
Not only had the police interviewed the person who received the £5 note, but he was also the killer of Jean Jordan, and was the Yorkshire Ripper, and the police had not realised it.
Peter Sutcliffe was interviewed twice by two sets of different police officers, once on November 2 1977, and again on November 8 1977 (see Police Interviews for more details about the interviews). Both times he and his wife gave the same stories, he had been at home on the night of October 1st, and had been having a housewarming party on the night of October 9th, when the killer returned to Manchester to carry out further mutilations on his victim. The housewarming party, a seemingly excellent alibi, was also confirmed by Peter Sutcliffe's mother when interviewed by police. Neither set of officers found anything suspicious about the man they had interviewed, and filed reports saying as much.
It was not until two years later, at the beginning of 1980, when Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Ridgeway and his team from Manchester reappeared in West Yorkshire to revive the inquiry into the £5 note for a second attempt to trace the owner. The police had been able to reduce the number of firms from over thirty down to three, the number of recipients of the note from 8,000 down to 300, using an innovative re-enactment of the counting out of the money. They used the same bank staff and arranged for them to count out the same amounts of "dummy" £5 notes, reprinted in the exact sequence, as when the original batch had been done back in September 1977. The re-enactment had been conducted in comparative secrecy.
This time, the police also had other clues to help further narrow any suspects they may encounter. Unfortunately, along with real clues, like a picture of a boot print found at the Josephine Whitaker murder scene, they also were burdened with the hoax letters and tape "clues". Once again, the inquiry touched on the Yorkshire Ripper, and he was interviewed three times, on January 13 1980, when he had been wearing the same boots as the policemen had the picture of from the Whitaker murder, but they had failed to notice, on January 20th, and again on February 2nd, when he was obliged to submit a handwriting sample (see Police Interviews for more details about the three interviews). As well, the police were hampered by the massive overload of unprocessed information in the Ripper incident room. Detective Constable Laptew's report of his suspicions of Peter Sutcliffe, from the July 1979 interview, had still not found it's way into the system, and most information about Sutcliffe had similarly been "lost" inside the system.
The original problems that the police had discovered in the first inquiry, that the note could have passed out of the recipient's hand soon after he received it, still remained. Even though this time they had narrowed the number of recipients and had other information about the murderer, the false clues from the letters and tape, and the problems at the Ripper incident room, meant that, once again, the Manchester team returned home empty-handed. As in the previous inquiry, they had interviewed the Yorkshire Ripper, and once again, he had slipped through the net.
(NOTE: Source material: Burn, Cross, Kinsley & Smyth, Yallop.)