|20||May 9 1976|
Marcella Claxton, aged 20, and a prostitute, was attacked in Leeds in the early hours of Sunday, May 9 1976. The police did not link the attack to the Yorkshire Ripper series, though they did re-examine the file after the next murder in February 1977.
Marcella Claxton lived in one of the terraces of back-to-back houses off Roundhay Road in Leeds. Roundhay is considered one of the best residential areas of Leeds with many stone Victorian mansions and large luxurious blocks of flats that overlook Roundhay Park. But Roundhay borders on Chapeltown, and an even more run-down district, Harehills. Marcella Claxton lived in one of the tight terraces of back-to-back houses off Roundhay Road.
On Saturday May 8th, Marcella Claxton had been at a late night drinking party in Chapeltown, not far from her home, and had set off for her home, drunk, at around 4:00 am. Meanwhile, Peter Sutcliffe was cruising through Chapeltown in his white Ford Corsair, when he spotted Marcella Claxton, and stopped his car.
It should be noted that the details of the events of this attack after this point are not entirely clear or have contradictions between the different versions of the events from the participants involved. As well, several of the books about the case also vary in information and details (or lack thereof). Below is a synthesis of these versions with the contradictions noted.
Marcella Claxton states that she wasn't doing business that night, but when Peter Sutcliffe stopped, she asked him for a lift. She got in the car with him and Peter Sutcliffe drove on Roundhay Road and into Roundhay Park and to Soldiers' Field. When he stopped the car, according to Marcella Claxton, he offered her £5 to get out of the car, take her clothes off, and have sex on the grass. She said that she did not want to, and got out of the car and went behind a nearby tree to urinate. Peter Sutcliffe states that "She went behind some trees to urinate and suggested that we 'start the ball rolling on the grass.'"
Regardless of which version is correct, she did get out the car to urinate, and shortly after Sutcliffe also left the car. He may have dropped his hammer, and she may have said, "I hope that isn't a knife" and he may have replied, "It's my wallet." He then walked over and dealt her eight or nine blows to the head with his ball-peen hammer. Sutcliffe then drove off at speed. Marcella Claxton claims that before he left, as she lay on the ground, he masturbated and then pushed a £5 note into her hand and told her not to call the police. Sutcliffe was furious that the police may have believed that and has vehemently denied it, "I didn't want sex wi' any of them. And certainly not that one. Even t'police said she were like a gorilla." The last remark was in reference to the extremely outrageous remark made privately by the police that Marcella Claxton, an educationally subnormal with an IQ of only fifty, was regarded as "just this side of a gorilla". (It should also be noted that Martin Fido states, "Leeds police at that time had a vile reputation in race relations".)
Marcella Claxton managed to stagger, covered in blood from her wounds, to a nearby phone box to call for help. She states that she saw his car return, "After I had dialled 999 and was sat on the floor of the telephone box, a man in a white car kept driving past. He seemed to be staring and looking for me. It was the man that hurt me." She also said, "He got out and began searching the spot where he had left me. He must have come back to finish me off."
She required extensive brain surgery and needed 52 stitches to close the wounds in her head. She frequently contacted the police to offer further clues from her memory, and was convinced that her attacker would strike again. Despite her appalling injuries, her description of Peter Sutcliffe was fairly accurate, describing him as a young white man with crinkly black hair and beard, had a Yorkshire accent, said he didn't live in Leeds, and he was driving a white car with red upholstery.
Her attack would not be conclusively linked to the Yorkshire Ripper case until after Peter Sutcliffe's arrest and confession. It had been one of several attacks which had been looked at and an open mind keep about, but never linked to the Ripper series. After the Irene Richardson murder in February 1977 at almost the same spot, Detective Chief Superintendent James Hobson said after talking to her and examining the file, "We have an open mind on this girl's story".
After the unsuccessful attack on Marcella Claxton, the Yorkshire Ripper apparently went into a period of inactivity with his next known attack not taking place until 271 days later.
STATEMENTS BY PETER SUTCLIFFE (Confessions, trial testimony, conversations, etc.)
"I picked her up in the Chapeltown area, she asked me if I was the police, I said, 'No, do I really look like a policeman?' She decided to get into the car, and suggested where we go. We ended up in what I knew later as Soldiers Field."
"We got out of the car at my suggestion, and she took off her trousers whilst leaning against a tree, and she sat down on the grass and suggested we started the ball rolling. Straight after she said this I hit her with the hammer. Again, I don't know what it was this time, but I just couldn't go through with it, I could not bring myself to hit her again for some reason or another and I just let her walk away, possibly to tell the nearest policeman or passer-by what had happened."
"I went back to the car in a stupefied state of mind, I just had a feeling of morbid depression, I didn't care whether she told anybody or not, and I drove back home."
"I only recall hitting her once, as she got up and walked away, but owing to my state of mind I'm not sure whether I hit her more than once."
(Statement to police, January 26 1981. Source: Bilton.)
"She went behind some trees to urinate and suggested that we 'start the ball rolling on the grass.' I hit her once on the head with the hammer, but just couldn't bring myself to hit her again. For some reason or another, I just let her walk away and I went back to the car."
(Statement to police, read out in court during his trial. Source: Yallop.)