19 April 4 1979
Wednesday night
11:55 pm
Halifax Murdered 33 days

Josephine Whitaker, a 19-year-old building society clerk, was the first of the final six known Ripper victims, all of whom were perfectly respectable women who had no experience or knowledge of any kind of prostitution. The pervasive police presence in the known red-light areas of the Yorkshire Ripper's "territory", had caused Peter Sutcliffe to go further afield in search of women, who in his mind, he thought were prostitutes. These new tactics were to cause near-panic throughout West Yorkshire as people realised than any woman, and not just prostitutes, were at considerable risk every time they ventured out at night.

On the night of April 4th, Josephine Whitaker had been visiting her grandparents, Tom and Mary Priestley, showing them the new silver watch she had just bought for £60. Her grandmother had been at a church party across the road and had not returned home until late. She was invited to stay the night, but as her case for storing her contacts lenses was at home, and she had to work the next day, she insisted on walking home on her own. She left at about 11:40 pm taking a route that would take her to Savile Park and across it to the suburb of Bell Hall, Halifax, and Ivy Street where she lived.

On the night of April 4th, Peter Sutcliffe had been out drinking with Trevor Birdsall, and shortly after closing time, he had dropped Trevor off at where he was living. Instead of heading home, Sutcliffe went in the opposite direction and at around 11:30 pm had driven to Halifax in his sporty Sunbeam Rapier and was cruising around the quiet residential district of Bell Hall and soon gravitated towards the playing fields of Savile Park. There were a few people walking their dogs, and after several circuits of the park, he spotted a young woman, Josephine Whitaker, walking alone.

He quickly parked, put a hammer and giant rusty Philip screwdriver, which he had sharpened into a bradawl, into his pocket, and began to follow her and within minutes had caught up to her, and began to talk to her as they walked. He asked her if she had far to go, and she replied she had been at her grandmother's and was walking home, and that it was quite a walk.

As they walked along on their way towards Savile Park, they passed by a man walking his dog. The man would later report to police that he had seen a woman, whose description and clothing were similar to Josephine Whitaker's, walking with a man he described as being aged nineteen to twenty-two, five foot eight inches in height, of medium build, wearing jeans and a three-quarter length dark coloured coat, who appeared to have not shaved for three or four days, and had mousy-coloured, slightly wavy, brushed right to left, greasy hair.

As they approached the park, Josephine Whitaker told Sutcliffe that she normally took a short cut across the field. Sutcliffe expressed surprise, telling her you didn't know who you could trust these days.

As they started to walk across the field, and were about 30 to 40 yards from the main road, and out of the range of the street-lamps, Sutcliffe asked her the time and marvelled at her good eyesight at being able to tell it from a nearby clock-tower. Sutcliffe lagged behind, pretending to look at the clock, but in reality was removing the hammer from his jacket and getting ready to attack.

Sutcliffe hit Josephine Whitaker from behind with his ball-pein hammer and had knocked her to the ground where she made a load moaning noise, and hit her again as she lay on the ground. Sutcliffe then noticed someone walking along the pavement where they had been walking a couple of minutes earlier. He then dragged her approximately 30 feet into the darkness away from the road. As he was crouched over the body, he was then horrified to hear voices close behind him. He turned and saw two figures hurrying across the field, and watched as they passed close by him. A man walking by the park at the time of the murder said later that he had heard an unusual noise, 'the type of noise that makes your hair stand on end'.

She was still moaning loudly when Sutcliffe pulled her clothing back, turned her over, and then proceeded to stab her twenty-one times with the screwdriver in the chest and stomach, and six times in the right leg, and also thrust the screwdriver into her vagina. Her skull had been fractured from ear to ear.

At 5:30 am, while driving the first bus of the day along Savile Park Road, bus driver Ronald Marwood saw what he thought was a bundle of rags in the park. When he reached the bus depot, he reported it at the office, but the police were not informed as it was not thought necessary to do. The police called at 7:20 am asking them to move the bus stop at Savile Park Road away from the crime scene, and it was then that they realised that Ronald Marwood's report about the mysterious bundle he had seen was, in fact, the body of Josephine Whitaker.

At 6:30 am, Jean Markham was at the bus stop on Savile Park Road when she stared at the bundle in the park, "I thought it was a bundle of rags until I saw a shoe nearby." She went across the road and was about to pick up the shoe when she realised that the bundle of rags was actually the body of a young woman. She went up to the body and saw that she was dead, and ran back to her home to telephone the police.

Josephine Whitaker's 13-year-old brother, David, after picking up the newspaper for his newspaper round, was returning across the playing fields when he saw all the police activity and it was when he saw the shoe that he recognised it as one of his sister's. He ran home to tell his step-father and mother. After checking her room and finding it empty, distraught with fear and grief, they called the police.

The first policeman at the scene first suspected that she might have been the victim of a hit-and-run accident, and that she might have crawled, or dragged to where she was found. But soon it became obvious that she had been a murder victim. The details of the injuries, battered skull, clothes disturbed to reveal the front of her body, and a frenzy of stab wounds, made it increasing clear that the Yorkshire Ripper, "dormant" for 322 days, had returned.

Police found in the wounds of Josephine Whitaker traces of milling oil used in engineering shops. Unfortunately, they also found traces of a similar oil on one of the envelopes from Sunderland sent by a man claiming to be the Ripper, but who turned out to be a hoaxer. This gave the letters an added credibility to the claims contained in them. They also found pinhead traces of metal particles in Josephine Whitaker's wounds (possibly from when Sutcliffe sharpened the screwdriver into a bradawl). The police thought the killer might be a skilled machine tool-fitter, or an electrical or maintenance engineer, or a skilled or semi-skilled worker with engineering or mechanical connections.

Another important clue was that boot prints had been found beside the body that were consistent with those found at the Emily Jackson and Tina Atkinson murders. The prints looked like they were from moulded rubber or composition soles, found most often in industrial protective or army-type boots. The sole impressions indicated size seven, but the police established that persons with a shoe size of up to 8 1/2 could comfortably wear the boots. The right sole showed some wearing and twisting in the centre, possibly from the wearer regularly pressing some sort of pedal with his right foot. This suggested the possibility that the killer could be a lorry driver, and coupled with the above, have engineering or mechanical connections.

In 1980, Sutcliffe was interviewed by policemen who also had a photograph of his boot print left at the scene of the murder of Josephine Whitaker. He claims that he was wearing the same boots when interviewed. "I stayed dead calm, and as I got into the wagon I realised I was standing on the steps, which were mesh, and they could look up and see for themselves that I was wearing those boots. But they didn't. They couldn't see what were in front of their own eyes."

After the trial in 1981, the Sunday Times ("Did The Ripper Have An Accomplice?"- May 24 1981) reported that they had "learned that Sutcliffe's tenth victim, Josephine Whitaker, was found with a bite-mark on her left breast. It had been made, shortly before her death, by someone with a gap between the two upper front teeth. Sutcliffe has just such a gap. In the course of his interrogation by police, Sutcliffe admitted killing Whitaker, but he denied categorically that he had bitten her. Ripper Squad detectives on the other hand are convinced that Sutcliffe did."

However, the New Statesman ("Ripper 'Aid' A Fantasy" - June 5 1981) did a follow-up of the information in the Sunday Times, and, after their inquiries, found that "the marks which detectives thought might be bite marks were on her right breast. But the detectives conjecture could not be supported by expert opinion. The marks could equally have been caused by the scratching of Sutcliffe's finger nails as he carried out his customary act of dragging his victim's bra upwards, or by the v-shaped wedge of a claw hammer."

During the trial, part of the prosecution case was that if there was a sexual component in the murders and mutilations then it went against the "divine mission" that Sutcliffe claimed was the driving force behind the murders. The insertion of the screwdriver into Josephine Whitaker's vagina with almost no injury to the external parts of the vagina, was cited as having been one of these sexual components. If expert opinion had backed up the detectives opinion that it was a bite mark on her breast, then that would definitely be considered a sexual component to the mutilations, and it would have been part of the prosecution case. Since it was not discussed or included at all during the trial, this adds further weight to the New Statesman report that expert opinion found that there were several possibilities as to the origin of the marks.


"The next one was Josephine Whitaker at Halifax. By this time I had a black fast back Sunbeam Rapier NKU 888H. I had sold my red Corsair to a chap who lived in Eccleshill, because it had a raggy gear box. I drove to Halifax, I'd been driving round aimlessly, the mood was in me, and no woman was safe while I was in this state of mind. Without realising, or without having a particular destination, I arrived in Halifax late at night."

"I drove along through the centre, passed the Bulls Head, round the Roundabout, past the Halifax Building Society. I came to a wide road with a sweeping curve to it, I took a right turn and eventually came to a big open grass area. I just kept driving round this grassy area until I came to a row of terrace houses about 1/4 mile from the grass area."

"I saw Josephine Whitaker walking up this street. She was wearing a 3/4 length skirt and a jacket. I parked up in this street with terrace houses and started to follow her on foot, and I caught up with her after a couple of minutes. I realised she was not a prostitute, but at that time I wasn't bothered, I just wanted to kill a woman."

"When I caught up with her I started talking to her. I asked her if she had far to go. She said, 'It's quite a walk.' She didn't seem alarmed by my approach. I continued walking alongside her and she started speaking to me about having just left her grandmother's and that she had considered staying there but had decided to walk home. I asked her if she had considered learning to drive, I think she said she rode a horse and that it was a satisfactory form of transport. We were approaching the open grassland area. She told me that she normally took a short cut across the field."

"I said you don't know who you can trust these days. It sounds a bit evil now, there was I walking along with my hammer and a big Phillips screwdriver in my pocket ready to do the inevitable."

"We both started to walk diagonally across the grass field. We were still talking when we were about 30 - 40 yards from the main road. I asked her what time it was on the clock tower, which was to our right. She looked at the clock and told me what time it was. I forget the time she said. I said to her she must have good eyesight and I lagged behind her pretending to look at the clock."

"I took my hammer out of my pocket and hit her on the back of the head twice. She fell down and she made a loud groaning sound. To my horror I saw a figure walking along the main road from my right."

"I took hold of her by the ankles and dragged her face down away from the road further into the field. She was still moaning as I did this. When I thought I was a safe distance from the road, I stopped. Then I heard voices from somewhere behind me to my left. I saw at least two figures walking along the path across the field toward the Huddersfield Road."

"I forgot to mention that on the way up to the grass we passed a man walking a dog. We were within 5 feet of him."

"As these people were walking on the path, she was still moaning loudly. I took my screwdriver, I remember I first pulled some of her clothing off. I was working like lightning and it all a blur. I turned her over and stabbed her numerous times in the chest and stomach with the screwdriver. I was in a frenzy."

"After I'd stabbed her, she stopped moaning. I left her lying face down. I walked over to the main road, but I thought I saw someone coming up from the bottom, so I went back across the field the way I had come and went to my car. I drove home, I don't think I had any blood on me, but my feet were covered in mud. I had my black boots on, which had been worn out and thrown in the bin. I had my old brown coat on that night."

OTHER STATEMENTS BY PETER SUTCLIFFE (Further confessions, trial testimony, conversations, etc.)

"Because I was walking along chatting to her, and she was telling me things which I thought sounded completely innocent - she had been to her grandma's, she had bought her a watch, and liked to go horse-riding. (But the voice said): 'This is a likely tale. She is really trying to play tricks on me. She is very clever, this one. You are not going to fall for all this.' It resulted in the killing eventually."

(Statement made by Peter Sutcliffe during his testimony at his trial. Source: Daily Telegraph.)

"I'd been cruising around the town centre and seen nowt. So I drove towards home and saw this girl in the park. I believed she was a prostitute. What else would she be doing there at that time of night! I parked the car and ran softly up behind her to catch her up.

"I knew the voices were protecting me. They inspired me to ask her the time, to get her to turn her head away from me. I wanted her to turn the back of her head to me for a moment. I had a watch on, myself, but the voices in my head told me she wouldn't notice that."

(Source: Jones)

(NOTE: Source material (details): Burn, Cross, Jones, Kinsley & Smyth, Yallop, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times, New Statesman. Source material (quotes): "Statement Of Peter William Sutcliffe", Jones, Daily Telegraph. Photo source: Yallop.)