The confession and evidential confirmation that Peter Sutcliffe was the Yorkshire Ripper caused another truth to be immediately known. The author of the letters and tape, so long thought to be the murderer, was, in fact, a cruel hoaxer, who may or may not have been responsible for the murder of Joan Harrison. The hunt for Wearside Jack had begun.
IMPLICATIONS OF WEARSIDE JACK NOT BEING THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER
The realisation that the voice on the tape was not the Ripper, was a stunning blow to the police. The voice had led them off on a wild goose chase for close to 18 months. The credibility that the police put in the letters and tape had also helped the real Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, to escape further police scrutiny during interviews because he was eliminated on voice and handwriting samples. The police failure to err on the side of caution as to whether the author of the letters and tape was also the Ripper, also meant that the author, given the moniker Wearside Jack, would also benefit from that police belief. Even if he was the killer of Joan Harrison, which is by no means a certainty, he probably would have been able to come up with alibis for some of the killings, or by where he lived, or by his work, could not have been in the area or had the opportunity to commit the murders. Since he wasn't the Yorkshire Ripper, the possibilities for avoiding suspicion based on the murders are almost limitless. As well, there is the possibility that Wearside Jack was never interviewed by the police, by living outside the country, or was never suspected, or wasn't reported to the police.
It must also be remembered that even Peter Sutcliffe was able to satisfy the police in his interviews that he was not the killer, even before the release of the tape. Mainly, his alibis consisted of "being at home" at the crucial times, which were backed up by his wife. As well, the questioning was usually about events months previous to the interviews. The only apparently "iron-clad" alibi he gave was for the night of the return visit to the body of Jean Jordan, when the Sutcliffes had been having a house-warming party. Of course, Peter Sutcliffe had returned to Jean Jordan's body after that event.
The analysis of the tape had produced two possible valuable leads to the author of the tape. The department of Linguistics and Phonetics at Glasgow University found that Wearside Jack suffered two speech defects, one being a distinctive pronunciation of the letter 's', and the other being a hidden stammer. It was almost a certainty that he had undergone speech therapy training. The police looked upon this as a possible breakthrough, and approached every speech therapist in the North of England, but most refused to help based on the grounds of medical ethics.
Even the voice experts had been surprised that the author of the tape had not been identified by his voice characteristics. Jack Windsor Lewis was interviewed by Barbara Frum on the CBC (Canada) Radio show "As It Happens" on January 12 1981, shortly after Peter Sutcliffe's confession. In answer to the question about why, as time went on, it became more and more improbable that the author of the tape was the Yorkshire Ripper, he said: "Based on the improbability of people failing to find a man with such a distinctive voice. It's a very distinctive accent, a very distinctive voice quality, and he has certain speech defects, and so on, that, all the features of the voice put together make him highly identifiable."
Jack Windsor Lewis also stated that people recognise voices fairly easily, and: "I'm sure people would have come forward immediately and said I recognise this voice. This is the voice of, and then quoted a name. Now obviously if they are looking for a murderer only they will pass by someone who is referred to them as having such a voice but couldn't possibly be a murderer."
Besides possible alibis for the Yorkshire Ripper murders and the fact he was not the murderer, identification by voice or handwriting samples was by no means an absolute certainty. Numerous factors could help disguise the author to various degrees. For example, the tape recording could have been made on a portable tape machine whose batteries were low, or the speed tampered with, causing the recording to be done at a different tape speed than when played back, while the song at the end could have been recorded at the correct speed.
Wearside Jack may also have had access to a tape machine with a pitch control (which varies the tape speed). An example of such a machine is a four-track Tascam 234 (first introduced in 1983). Since I own a Tascam 234, I played the Wearside Jack tape and recorded it at slow, normal, and fast variations. Here are the results of those minor speed changes:
HIGHER PITCH, NORMAL PITCH, LOWER PITCH (wav file 82KB)
The author also might have been trying to disguise his natural voice and talking habits to some degree. The rather stilted and monotonous tonal quality of the voice may not have contained his natural speaking inflections, or his normal talking speed.
His handwriting, as well, could have been disguised to some degree by minor variations, such as slanting the writing more than normal, applying more (or less) pressure than usual, writing at a different speed, trying to copy someone else's style of writing (such as the original 1888 Jack The Ripper hoax letters), etc. Enough of a variation that a friend or relative would not recognise it as his handwriting.
However, a friend or relative must be familiar with the handwriting of a possible suspect. Not everyone writes letters, or does so infrequently, so the possibility of recognising the writing may not even exist. Just as an experiment, think of five close friends you see frequently (who don't live out of town). Have you even seen their handwriting to any degree of familiarity that you could say positively that a sample was theirs? Unless that person's handwriting was very distinctive and memorable, then you may not have the familiarity to say, or even form a suspicion, that it may be theirs. Same with five relatives, especially those you may see frequently, or those who may send, say, only a Christmas card. Coupled with the possibility that the Wearside Jack handwriting was disguised, even with only slight or minor variations, and the handwriting clue loses some of its importance as a pointer to the hoaxer.
The one piece of evidence that could not be disguised was the fact that some of the envelopes were sealed by a B blood group secretor. Of course there is a very remote, but highly unlikely, possibility that Wearside Jack did not seal the envelopes himself. Both Wearside Jack and the killer of Joan Harrison were B blood group secretors, rare in that only about 6 per cent of the population share that trait, but that still equates to about 1,500,000 men in the UK. Wearside Jack also boasted that he was the killer of Joan Harrison when the murder was not "in the frame" of Ripper victims. This does suggest the possibility that they are one and the same person when coupled with the blood group match. However, it could be another strange coincidence, just like the fact that Peter Sutcliffe was also of blood group B, but a non-secretor.
The inclusion of the evidence from the Joan Harrison murder also affected the hunt for Wearside Jack, in that the police would certainly view a Wearside suspect with a gap in the front teeth with more suspicion than one who didn't have one.
The blood group factor, of course, would only come into play if the author of the tape had been interviewed by the police and a saliva sample taken. It would not be a factor in public input of a possible suspect, after all, how many people even know their own blood group, let alone that of any relatives or friends?
Once it was known that Wearside Jack was not the Yorkshire Ripper, a lot of the criteria used for eliminating a suspect was no longer valid. Alibis and opportunities to commit the murders were no longer important eliminating factors. The age factor, born between 1924 and 1959, and even physical ability to commit the murders, were also no longer valid points of elimination. Only voice, handwriting, and B blood group secretor evidence were still valid, with the possibility of some attempt to disguise both the voice and handwriting. Therefore, whatever suspect list that the police had narrowed the search for Wearside Jack down to would have to be expanded to include many who had been eliminated based on any of the false criteria. As well, assume that during the original search before Sutcliffe's confession that the police had a suspect that they were fairly certain was Wearside Jack, based on voice, handwriting, and blood group, but could not be tied to the murders. Without the collateral evidence of the murders, could they have enough evidence to arrest and convict him based only on the letters and tape evidence? The loss of the connection to the murders not only could increase the suspect base, but also could make conviction more difficult, unless the suspect confessed, or had been mentioning his responsibility for the tape to others, or the suspect could be found to be also responsible for the murder of Joan Harrison.
THE HUNT AFTER THE CONFESSION OF PETER SUTCLIFFE
After Peter Sutcliffe's confession, calls to catch the hoaxer who had misled the inquiry were strong. During the trial, many references were made to the hoaxer, who was condemned by Sir Michael Havers, how it had caused Trevor Birdsall, Sutcliffe's friend, to think there was no chance it could be him as it "destroyed the link", and the expressed hope by Mr Justice Boreham that "one day he may be exposed." Newspaper reports after the trial were also strong in the desire to catch the hoaxer.
After the trial in 1981, the Sunday Times ("Did The Ripper Have An Accomplice?"- May 24 1981), put forward the theory, which some senior officers apparently agreed with, that Peter Sutcliffe had an accomplice, who was involved with him in the Joan Harrison murder, and who was persuaded by Sutcliffe to produce the letters and tape. Much of the speculation dealt with information in the letters and tape which could be construed to indicate some possible special knowledge. As well, the speculation dealt with the similar placement of the clothing and other factors, which had been part of the reasons the tapes had been linked to the murders in the first place.
The Sunday Times also 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.
While evidence of the link between Wearside Jack and the Yorkshire Ripper, suggested by the Sunday Times and apparently some senior officers, was extremely speculative and based on very circumstantial evidence, with perhaps an attempt, in spite of the evidence, to still retain some tenuous connection between the murders and the letters and tape, it did reveal that there were possibly many unexplored avenues to the Wearside Jack case which should be investigated. This, naturally, also included the very real possibility that Wearside Jack may have not only been just a hoaxer, but may have been responsible for the Joan Harrison murder.
When former Chief Constable Ronald Gregory published his memoirs in 1983 in the Mail On Sunday, he said about Wearside Jack: "To my anger that man still has not been found, although 40,000 people have been interviewed. The experts we consulted are also very surprised. They believed that someone would have recognised the voice and come forward." He also believed that there was the possibility that the author of the tapes and letters was also the killer of Joan Harrison.
Yet even with the suspicion by the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire that Wearside Jack may be a killer, very little appeared to be done by the West Yorkshire police after Peter Sutcliffe's arrest, confession, and trial to track down the author. There certainly wasn't any "We've Caught The Ripper, Now Let's Catch The Hoaxer" campaign initiated, and all indications suggest the inquiry may have continued at a very reduced scale and eventually was wound down sometime after Peter Sutcliffe's trial and probably by the end of 1981.
A wide range of scenarios crop up as to why the police did not initiate a campaign, even of a modest scale, to track down Wearside Jack. For example, was it that once the Yorkshire Ripper investigation was completed the police were so euphoric and relieved that the serial killer had been caught that the impetus to catch the person, now known to be only a hoaxer, no longer was of significant importance and the whole investigation was basically over? Or was it because they were embarrassed by the fact they had been hoodwinked by the hoaxer, causing them to go off on a wild goose chase, allowing the real killer to slip through the net, which caused a wide range of finger-pointing after his arrest? Did they prefer to merely quietly close down the investigation to avoid further embarrassment, especially if (shades of Sutcliffe) it was discovered that they had interviewed him and not recognised him as the hoaxer? Or any number of variations, additions, or subtractions, of the above scenario?
Or was it because after a review they felt that the hoaxer certainly would have been interviewed in the initial sweep, as the experts had expected, but since he wasn't immediately identified meant that conclusive evidence was lacking or not solid enough to point to him. Therefore, another campaign, based on voice, handwriting, and blood group clues only, would not reveal anything new or substantial and, therefore, would only be a waste of resources and manpower?
In January 1987, Wearside Jack was back in the news as the Sunday Express published an article that claimed the tape had been sent to George Oldfield by a police officer as a protest/joke at what the hoaxer thought was the mishandling of the case. Apparently other police officers knew about it but did not think the tape would be taken seriously. The Sunday Express claimed that the allegations were made by a former police who had been a member of Leeds CID.
After the allegations made by the Sunday Express, West Yorkshire police were quick to act as they denied the claims. Chief Constable Colin Sampson, who led an inquiry into the Yorkshire Ripper investigation (see: BYFORD AND SAMPSON REPORTS), said he would meet with senior officers, some who had been involved in the original investigation, to discuss the allegations. Don Dixon, Labour MP for Jarrow, in Tyne and Wear, also asked the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, to launch an official investigation into the allegations. David Wilmot, Deputy Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, would later call the newspaper claims: "completely erroneous and irresponsible."
The day after Chief Constable Colin Sampson announcement of a meeting with senior officers, the West Yorkshire police announced an inquiry would be set up and led by Superintendent Tony Fitzgerald, of North Yorkshire police. After an in-depth investigation, lasting two months and ending in April 1987, the conclusions were that he had found no evidence to support the allegations or theory that a police officer was responsible for sending the letters and tape.
It was reported later that month that the claim that Wearside Jack had been a police officer had been made by Ron Smith, himself a former police officer. It appeared that he was disgruntled with the police handling of the investigation into the death of his daughter, nurse Helen Smith, who died after falling from a hotel balcony in Saudi Arabia.
In the Times report on January 13 1987, the day after the announcement of the setting up of the inquiry, it said: "Once Sutcliffe was revealed as the man who had murdered 13 women, a decision was made not to begin a new search for the hoaxer because police believed that every clue had been investigated." This belief by the West Yorkshire police would be very apparent later on whenever there was a call to investigate new suspects, based on voice and/or handwriting suspicions.
The "disgruntled police officer is the hoaxer" scenario would surface several times in the next few years, not dissimilar to the "police officer is the Yorkshire Ripper" speculation during the time when the murders were being committed.
In 1992, Robert Ressler, a retired criminal profiler with the FBI, published in his book (co-written with Tom Shachtman) "Whoever Fights Monsters" his and John Douglas, another FBI criminal profiler, rather limited involvement in the Yorkshire Ripper case. They had been at Bramshill police college for a short stopover during the killings and had done an unofficial and quick profile of the killer, as well as telling the British police officers, including Detective Chief Superintendent John Domaille of the Ripper squad, that they believed the tape was from a hoaxer due to the type of injuries the victims had sustained.
Robert Ressler said in the book: "After Sutcliffe's apprehension and conviction, some further spadework finally revealed the identity of the man who had perpetrated the hoax: He was a retired police officer who hated Chief Inspector George Oldfield and had sent the tape to vex him."
Basically the same story would be published in the memoirs of John Douglas (co-written with Mark Olshaker) entitled "Mindhunter" (1995) which had a similar line: "The impostor turned out to be a retired policeman who had a grudge to settle with Inspector Oldfield."
The inquiry in 1987 had established that there was no basis for the suggestion that the hoaxer was a police officer, yet both of these books appear adamant that the hoaxer was not only a police officer, but his identity was known. One can only speculate what their source was for their supposedly informed statements, but indications seem to suggest it may have been the Sunday Express allegations.
After the publication of the John Douglas book, there was an article in the Northern Echo on February 27 1996 in which a West Yorkshire police spokeswoman said that there was no evidence to suggest that the hoaxer was a former police officer. It would not be the last time that the "disgrunted police officer is the hoaxer" scenario would be heard.
In the speculation about whether the hoaxer is a police officer, it is interesting to note that while the hoaxer had said: "No good looking for fingerprints, you should know by now it's as clean as a whistle," he had licked the envelopes and his saliva revealed a B blood group secretor. While the general population may have been unaware that blood grouping could be typed from a saliva test, a police officer, former or otherwise, is extremely unlikely to not have been aware of that fact.
That Peter Sutcliffe may have had an accomplice has even taken outlandish proportions. In 1984, the News Of The World published a claim by Joseph Sickert that the Yorkshire Ripper had harassed and threatened his life. He even claimed Sutcliffe had attempted to run him down: "He drove his car at me, I had to dive clear." Joseph Sickert, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of painter Walter Sickert, had in 1973 claimed that the Jack The Ripper murders had been part of a Masonic conspiracy to cover-up an illegal marriage by Prince Albert Victor ("Eddy") and the blackmail associated with it. Later, in 1991, in a book by Melvyn Fairclough entitled "The Ripper And The Royals" Sickert had said that Peter Sutcliffe, with an accomplice, whom Sickert described as resembling actor Geoffrey Hughes, had paid him the visit in 1975, prior to the Yorkshire Ripper killings. Peter Sutcliffe, supposedly curious about Sickert's theories on Jack The Ripper, had used the name Mr Bruni.
However, Joseph Sickert's stories, as anyone who has studied the Jack The Ripper case would be well aware of, must always be viewed with considerable scepticism to say the least, if one even wishes to examine his stories. In 1978 he confessed to the Sunday Times that his story of the Masonic conspiracy was: "a hoax. I made it all up." He would later retract this confession, and then spin further stories. It is suffice, and definitely a kindness, to say, as Paul Begg, Martin Fido, and Keith Skinner said in their book "The Jack The Ripper A - Z" about Joseph Sickert: "It is to be regretted that overall extreme caution is recommended in examining any story emanating from or otherwise associated with Mr Sickert."
More, but not as outlandish, speculation about a Peter Sutcliffe and Wearside Jack connection came from Olive Curry, a retired canteen worker, who claims that during the summer 1978 she had seen Peter Sutcliffe, without a beard, on several occasions with a man who had a Wearside accent at the Fisherman's Mission canteen in North Shields, where she worked at the time. When Peter Sutcliffe was arrested in 1981 and his photograph displayed, she claims that she immediately recognised him. She also remembered the Wearside man his was with, and believes that the man was responsible for the letters and tape and was an accomplice of Sutcliffe's in the murder of Joan Harrison. Mrs Curry began writing to Peter Sutcliffe in 1984 onwards, determined to get Wearside Jack. Peter Sutcliffe has consistently denied ever having met Olive Curry or having any knowledge of Wearside Jack, or having been involved in the Joan Harrison murder.
After Olive Curry's story was first published, three West Yorkshire detectives went and interviewed her. They later checked Peter Sutcliffe's work records and were able to prove that he could not have been in North Shields on the days that she had remembered. Mrs Curry is still adamant that she had seen Peter Sutcliffe and Wearside Jack together.
THE HUNT FOR WEARSIDE JACK INTENSIFIES
It was not until the beginning of 1999 that the hunt for Wearside Jack would intensify again, this time initiated by an investigation by Patrick Lavelle and the Sunderland Echo newspaper. Spin offs from this investigation would include the book by Patrick Lavelle "Wearside Jack: The Hunt For The Hoaxer Of The Century" (1999) and two television programmes from Tyne Tees Television "The Hoaxer" (1999) and "The Hoaxer II" (2000). As well, there would be renewed interest by the Lancashire Police in the case of the murder of Joan Harrison, partly brought on by the above investigation, and by the public reaction to the showing of two other programmes about the Yorkshire Ripper, the documentary from Yorkshire Television "Manhunt: The Search For The Yorkshire Ripper" (1999) and the docu-drama from Granada Television "This Is Personal: The Hunt For The Yorkshire Ripper" (2000). Of particular importance to the renewed interest in the case, was the fact that the Lancashire Police were also able to obtain a DNA profile of the murderer of Joan Harrison.
The Sunderland Echo's initial investigation lasted six months and culminated in June 1999 with newspaper articles in the paper, the release of the book by Patrick Lavelle, and the 30-minute television documentary "The Hoaxer" shown on June 24 1999 on Tyne Tees Television.
The book "Wearside Jack" dealt not only with the police investigation during the Yorkshire Ripper murders, but also what happened to the investigation after the arrest of Peter Sutcliffe. The book also gave valuable insights into how the investigation was conducted by interviewing police officers who had been involved in the inquiry, as well interviewing people who had been questioned by the police during the hunt for Wearside Jack.
The main thrust of the Sunderland Echo's ongoing investigation was, naturally, to find the hoaxer, Wearside Jack. After their initial investigation, eight names of possible new suspects were forwarded on to the West Yorkshire's Chief Constable Graham Moore. Following the news articles, the book, and the documentary, another four possible suspects emerged and were passed on to the police. The list included a man who was already serving a life sentence for a murder in the early 1980s, a soldier who sounds like the voice, and had also been disciplined by the Military Police for falsifying documents about his home leave, and three police officers. In a July 15 1999 Sunderland Echo article, a West Yorkshire police spokesman said: "We are currently sifting through the new information to determine which of those named should be pursued further. Our inquiries are at an early stage."
It was in September 1999 that it was announced by the West Yorkshire police that they would not re-open the inquiry into Wearside Jack. A police spokeman said: "After much consideration it has been decided there will be no further action by the force into following up the names provided as to the possible identity of the hoaxer." He also noted that the original inquiry had interviews hundreds of men and there was nothing in the list of names: "which suggests we would be any more successful than we were before." The West Yorkshire police would not re-opening the inquiry based on suspicions about someone's voice being similar to the hoaxer's voice. This would consistently be their stance when other information or suspects were brought up over the following year.
In October 1999 the Sunderland Echo reported that in October 1987 a report was written by a police officer, who had been given a the name of a Sunderland man and other details by an informant, and given to the Northumbria Police. A former West Yorkshire Ripper Squad officer said: "I have always believed the hoaxer was a police officer. That could be the only reason police have taken no action." The Sunderland Echo also reported at the time that an anonymous letter posted from Leeds and written by another former Ripper Squad officer had made the same claims. While the Northumbria Police refused to comment on the original report, West Yorkshire police, once given the information, said there had been insufficient evidence to proceed.
Calls for the police to re-open the investigation did not just come from the Press or public. Fraser Kemp, MP for Houghton and Washington East, who examined the evidence gathered by the Sunderland Echo investigation, including video and audio tapes, handwriting samples, and confidential police reports, also voiced his concern and wrote a letter to the Chief Constables of Northumbria and West Yorkshire stating that the inquiry should be re-opened.
The documentary from Yorkshire Television "Manhunt: The Search For The Yorkshire Ripper" was shown in October 1999, and the two-part docu-drama from Granada Television "This Is Personal: The Hunt For The Yorkshire Ripper" was shown in late January and early February 2000. From these events, as well as the Sunderland Echo's continuing investigation, came more information about possible suspects for Wearside Jack and for the murderer of Joan Harrison.
The Sunday Sun reported on February 6 2000, that the West Yorkshire police had refused to let the newspaper have a copy of the tape in their bid to help hunt down Wearside Jack. Lord Mackenzie, a former Chief Superintendent with Durham Constabulary, slammed West Yorkshire Police's stance and stated: "The tape should be released in the interests of justice." The Sunday Sun reported that the West Yorkshire police had refused the request for the tape by saying: "It seems a bit pointless." They also said that they didn't want detectives tied up taking calls unless it was the Yorkshire police making the appeal. When the Sunday Sun offered to vet the calls first, the West Yorkshire police spokesman still refused to give them a copy of the tape and added that they would act only on hard evidence and not on people's suspicions.
Subsequently, the Sunday Sun obtained their own copy of the tape and placed in on their website with the result of two possible suspects, one from a former police detective who had worked on the original Ripper inquiry who claim the suspect's voice was identical to the voice on the hoax tape and that the suspect was currently serving a life sentence. The information was passed on to Northumbria Police. A police spokesman said: "I can confirm we will be liaising with West Yorkshire Police over this matter. There has been information passed on to us and we need to speak to our colleagues to decide what, if any action, needs to be taken." Meanwhile, a police spokesman again re-iterated the West Yorkshire Police stand: "If we are given evidence that we can act on, which is based on something other than suspicions about someone's voice, we will consider taking further action."
On February 8 2000, the Lancashire Evening Post reported that West Yorkshire police had received a letter about the murder of Joan Harrison. Detective Inspector Ian Ronald, of Preston CID, told the Lancashire Evening Post: "There was no individual response to this police station about the death of Joan Harrison following the recent television programme. What we have had is a call from a Detective Chief Superintendent in West Yorkshire who informed us that they had received a letter which included some content relating to the Harrison case. What we will do now is to look at the letter and check any information in it against what was done in the investigation at the time and to see if there is anything fresh in it. The investigation will never be closed until we have caught the person responsible. If we get any fresh information then we will of course follow it up."
The Lancashire Evening Post also reported that in the summer of 1999 the police had sent off some of Joan Harrison's blood-stained clothing for forensic examination, but that no fresh leads had been uncovered through the DNA screening. The discovery of the DNA profile of the murderer of Joan Harrison is a very important breakthrough in the case. It is direct evidence that can be used to eliminate or confirm a suspect's involvement in the case. As well, if Wearside Jack is the murderer of Joan Harrison, it could mean that suspects who had been named based on the suspicion that they sounded like Wearside Jack and other information could now be tested to at least eliminate them from the murder. If Wearside Jack is not the murderer of Joan Harrison, then based on the reaction of the West Yorkshire police not to re-open the investigation based on the suspicion of voice, it appears there is insufficient evidence to trap him.
A murder which had been at one time considered as a possible Yorkshire Ripper murder was recently solved by the use of a DNA profile. The murder of Mary Gregson in 1977 was finally concluded on September 29 2000 when Ian Lowther pleaded guilty to the murder, after having been caught by a mass DNA screening of 4,000 men who had been interviewed in the original investigation. He was the 532nd man to be tested (see: Mary Gregson, August 30 1977, listing: OTHER YORKSHIRE RIPPER VICTIMS?).
On February 11 2000, the Lancashire Evening Post was able to report more information on the letter handed over to the Preston Police. The letter made the claim that a man who had lived in the Avenham area at the time of the killing should be talked to by the police. The letter gave the following information about the man. His name was John, who frequented the Brunswick Arms Hotel, which was a few hundred yards from the murder site. He drove a big blue van in which he kept a lot of tools, suggesting that he was possibly a manual worker. He frequently would sleep in the van while it was parked outside of the pub. He had a chest condition, possibly bronchitis, and had sought treatment at the old Preston Royal Infirmary. As well he might have strong connections to both Preston and Manchester. There was no suggestion that the man had any links to Wearside or the North East.
The police said they did not believe the letter was the work of a crank or hoaxer and they were linking it to another letter, received some time ago, as well as to an anonymous phone call. Detective Inspector Ian Ronald, Preston CID, said: "The letter is not specific in that it claims this man is the killer of Joan Harrison but it says he is someone we should talk to. We are looking at the points made in the letter and checking them against the investigation at the time to see if there is any connection. Just because the murder was 25 years ago there is no way we are just going to dismiss information we receive and put it to one side. We will look at what has been said and see if anything significant comes out of it."
After the Lancashire Evening Post had published the information on the suspect "John", the Preston Police received thirteen telephone calls, some from people who said they knew who the man named John was, and others who made other claims about the murder.
In March 2000, the Sunderland Echo investigation took another step forward when author and news editor Patrick Lavelle travelled to Preston to hand over evidence to the Preston Police, bypassing the West Yorkshire police who had said the names and other information collected were not strong enough to justify the re-opening of the hoaxer inquiry.
Patrick Lavelle gave names and information on four potential suspects. As well, and more significantly, he also gave forensic evidence from two of the suspects to Detective Inspector Ian Ronald of Preston CID. Detective Inspector Ian Ronald said of the information and evidence from the Sunderland Echo investigation: "We have had other pieces of information from the public but no firm evidence. The information you have provided bears no comparison to that given to us in the past because it does give us some reasonable lines of inquiry. As a result of modern techniques and research with regard to DNA screening, we do have some information. We now have names to go on and it may be useful to look at possible links between potential DNA."
On April 5 2000, the Sunderland Echo reported that forensic scientists would be carrying out a DNA analysis on the evidence supplied from two of the suspects, and a DNA profile drawn up. Detective Inspector Ian Ronald said: "We hope to make a DNA profile from the material and compare it to that linked to the murder of Mrs Harrison." He also said that it would take a few weeks before the results of the DNA analysis would be known. As well, checks would be made on all four suspects to see if they were know to the police.
On April 22 2000, the other line of inquiry into the murder of Joan Harrison also moved forward when the Lancashire Evening Post reported that the woman who had named "John" as a suspect had come forward and contacted the Preston Police. Detective Sergeant Michael Tommony of Preston CID, who had been involved in the original investigation said: "After research we found that this woman was in the system from the original inquiry which was a very thorough and comprehensive investigation. In her original statement at the time there was nothing about this man she now mentions, but there could be a number of reasons why that is. We are now researching documents relating to that because this lady was living in the Avenham area and did know the victim. We are very grateful for the assistance she has given us and we’re now making further inquiries into tracing the man who she believes could be responsible for committing this offence."
Further information revealed about the suspect name John was that he was attractive "with long brown curly hair, blue eyes and wore jeans." It was also stated that he had a gap in his front teeth.
On May 25 2000, it was announced in the Lancashire Evening Post that Detective Superintendent Graham Gooch, one of Lancashire's top detectives, would be re-examining the unsolved case and look at relaunching the investigation into the murder of Joan Harrison. He would be carrying out a full-scale review of evidence and if he determines there are substantial new leads, he could order an incident room and a new investigation started. With the renewed interest in the case, coming after several programmes about the Yorkshire Ripper and Wearside Jack, letters from the public suggesting names have been received by detectives, as well as information and potential evidence from the ongoing Sunderland Echo investigation.
It was also announced that Yorkshire Television was planning to make a programme about Joan Harrison's murder. Det Supt Gooch said: "There has been an approach from Yorkshire TV to make a programme about the murder of Joan Harrison, but we’re not getting involved as we see little benefit in doing so."
On July 12 2000, the Sunderland Echo's long-running investigation was updated in the television programme "The Hoaxer II". Starting with twenty-five names which had been suggested to them by the public, they had, by examining the information, reduced this number down to five potential suspects, who they thought had quite a few characteristics similar to the profile of the hoaxer. Their profile of the hoaxer also includes aspects of the Joan Harrison murder. Of the five, they had been able to determine that four were still living, but had been unable to track one of the suspects. One of the suspects traced was the man who had already been reported to the police in 1987, and where no action had been taken to interview the suspect.
The Sunderland Echo investigation had gathered handwriting and sealed envelopes from two of the suspects. The sealed envelopes were the forsenic evidence that was given to the Preston Police to build a DNA profile to be compared against the profile of the murderer of Joan Harrison. However, there weren't any indications that the Preston Police had even acted on the information and evidence given to them. There has not been any information about whether a comparison has been made to the DNA profile of the murderer, or if they have, whether they found a match or not. If they haven't found a match then two of the suspects could be eliminated for the murder of Joan Harrison, but, of course, they would not be eliminated as the possible hoaxer.
Of the five suspects, one is considered by the Sunderland Echo investigation to be the potential prime suspect. The man, a former soldier, is considered to be linked to Wearside Jack and the murderer of Joan Harrison in ten out of twelve ways. At the time of the hoax the man was serving in the Army abroad, and had been questioned by the Special Investigation Branch of the Military Police about the hoax. According to former Squadron Sergeant Major Jeff Lynch, the information was not passed to the civilian police. He also said that the suspect sounded like the voice and had a lisp, had the same blood group as the hoaxer, and that the "J" in the Jack the Ripper hoax signature appeared identical to the suspect's "J" in his first name. On July 27 2000, the Sunderland Echo reported that, according to information they had obtained, the former soldier was currently living abroad under an assumed name.
The "Hoaxer II" program also dealt with the "indifference" by the police to the information and suspects that the Sunderland investigation had found. The details had been passed on the both the Northumbria Police and the West Yorkshire Police. The Northumbria police had said it had passed on the information to the West Yorkshire Police, since the hoaxer inquiry was their investigation, while the West Yorkshire Police had re-iterated their stance that they would not act on "mere information and suspicion" based on a suspect's similarity to the hoaxer's voice.
As well, the sealed envelopes and information about the suspects had been delivered to Preston Police detectives in March 2000, four months previously. A spokewoman for the Lancashire Police said on July 27 2000: "There has been no developments and we have no comment."
As of the end of October 2000, there had been no new developments or information on the Sunderland Echo DNA and suspect evidence, or the "John" suspect, or about the internal review by Lancashire Police of the Joan Harrison inquiry.
On November 20 2000, the Sunderland Echo published an article updating their investigation with a report on their potential prime suspect. The former soldier, whom they had reported in July 2000 as currently living abroad under an assumed name, they now reported as living in the south of England and apparently had, since moving back to England, moved his home six times in eleven years.
The Sunderland Echo investigation also travelled down to the south of England where they attempted, but failed, to record his voice, both at his door and over the telephone.
The Sunderland Echo also published other information about the potential subject, and implied and stated motives for certain actions, but these are unsubstantiated, and are purely speculation based on their assumption of his possible involvement in the case.
On March 20 2001, the ongoing Sunderland Echo investigation passed on new information to murder squad detectives in Preston about another potential suspect for the murderer of Joan Harrison. The Sunderland Echo also believed the potential suspect could hold clues to the identity of Wearside Jack.
The Sunderland Echo investigation tracked down the 59-year-old potential suspect to a London East End hostel for the homeless, where he is receiving benefits under one of the seven aliases he allegedly uses.
Among the circumstantial evidence the Sunderland Echo investigation revealed about the potential suspect, was that he was believed to have lived at St Mary's Hostel in Preston, where Joan Harrison worked, at the time of her disappearance. The potential suspect also had lived in Chorley, Lancashire, Joan Harrison's hometown.
On the night of Joan Harrison's disappearance and murder, November 20 1975, the potential suspect was allegedly seen at the same pub as Joan Harrison. He also apparently left the pub not long after Joan Harrison, and returned later wearing a bloodstained shirt which he swapped with a friend. The next night he was allegedly seen trying to sell a lady's ring in a Preston town centre pub. A gold ring had been stolen from Joan Harrison's body. The potential suspect also left Preston shortly after the discovery of Joan Harrison's body on November 23 1975.
The potential suspect also has many convictions, including some for violence against women. According to the Sunderland Echo investigation, in 1982, in an attack similar to the one on Joan Harrison, he viciously assaulted, and robbed, including stealing rings from her fingers, a woman in Darlington, County Durham. The woman also apparently led a lifestyle similar to Joan Harrison's.
The potential suspect was also believed to have lived for some time in Sunderland with a cousin who was a prostitute, as well as a relative who was a burglar.
The Lancashire Police confirmed that the Sunderland Echo information had been passed on to the senior officer who was reviewing the Joan Harrison murder. The spokeman also revealed: "We are still carrying out scientific tests in relation to this case but have found no evidence to link any of the suspects suggested by journalists to the offence."
On March 28 2001, the Sunderland Echo published an article after an exclusive interview with Dick Holland, former Detective Chief Superintendent with West Yorkshire Police. His opinion was that he did not think that Wearside Jack would ever be caught. He said: "If he was caught we couldn't get anywhere, unless he puts his hands up and says 'it was me, I did it'. And those things only exist in fairy stories."
Mr Holland also said that it was his belief that Wearside Jack was a friend of Peter Sutcliffe, and that the man travelled with Sutcliffe in his lorry on deliveries throughout the country. He said that while inquiries were carried out to trace the man, they amounted to nothing. Mr Holland added: "I've no positive evidence of who it is, other than it was a person who existed with false credentials, an alias."
Mr Holland also stated that the man was not involved in any of the murders: "I can tell you that there were no second boot prints near any of the scenes. I must therefore believe that the Ripper operated alone."
On June 6 2001 the television programme "Real Crime: The Hunt for Wearside Jack" detailed and updated the various theories and continuing investigations about the possible identity of the hoaxer and possible murderer of Joan Harrison.
Also in the programme, the Wearside Jack voice on the tape was digitally aged in an attempt to make it sound like it might today. Dr Peter French, a forensic speech and audio analyst said: "The tape was fed through an artificial speech processing programme and the pitch was lowered and roughened."
"This is the first time we have tried to age a voice. It is very dependent on how old the person was at the time the tape was originally made. If we were to make the assumption that the person was in their early or mid-thirties and if they followed the general trend, this is what their voice might sound like today."
Dr French also spent two days analysing the tape, and concluded the tape was made made using a hand-held microphone, the message was read from a prepared speech, and twice the recording had been stopped, possibly because the man was not happy with the results.
Included in the various theories discussed in the programme, was the theory that Wearside Jack could have been a police officer. "There was a body of opinion that this was in fact the work of a police officer," said David Yallop, author of the book 'Deliver Us From Evil', "The hoaxer committed a terrible crime - he gave Sutcliffe a licence to murder, we should ask why this man has not been pursued most vigorously."
Lord Brian MacKenzie, police adviser to the Home Secretary, stated: "It's quite a plausible suggestion that it could be a police officer, but I've seen no real evidence and would discount it quite honestly."
Former Ripper Squad Detective Dick Holland did confirm that there had been a secret internal police investigation. He also stated that the only likely suspect had been eliminated on forensic grounds.
Responding to the programme, a West Yorkshire Police spokesman stated: "We are unaware of any of the claims being made in this programme, which we are not taking part in. There's no reason to believe any new suggestion will be more accurate than the others checked out at the time."
"After careful consideration it has been decided that there will be no further action taken into following up suggestions from the public as to the hoaxer's identity. All the earlier public suggestions have been followed up but to no avail."
"While we appreciate the public-spirited actions of such people, without there being some hard evidence there is no reason to believe that any of them are going to be more accurate than the hundreds of suggestions we have already followed up without success. If we receive new evidence rather than suggestions based on the sound of someone's voice then we will take positive action."
Detective Superintendent Graham Gooch, of Lancashire Police, said of the Sunderland Echo investigation into the hoaxer and the murder of Joan Harrison: "One journalist has given us five names; they can't all be right. Nobody has given us any evidence. People have given us information. People have given us their own theories. The only link there was, was a hoaxer saying there was. Then, as I say, he was a hoaxer. There was nothing else to connect him."
Detective Superintendent Gooch added: "What we can say is that all the suspects that have been suggested to us so far, we have been able to eliminate scientifically from the inquiry."
News Editor Patrick Lavelle, in an article in Sunderland Echo, responded that their investigation's two most recent suspects, the former soldier and the current London down-and-outer, they understood have never been formally interviewed by police working on the Harrison murder, the Ripper case, or the Hoaxer inquiry. The article in the Sunderland Echo re-iterated the suspicions against the two men, and also stated that the two suspects might also have links to one another.
He also stated that the reaction from the police to their questions had "ranged from the mundane and monosyllabic to the hostile" and said that he "had the door, initially, slammed in my face" during a recent visit to Preston police to give them information about a potential murder suspect.
Patrick Lavelle also stated in the article that he had come to the conclusion that the police did not want to catch the hoaxer: " What is it that the police are hiding? They do not want to fully investigate the case because if he was caught it would reveal something they do not want the public to know. That is the conclusion I have reached after two years investigating the case for the Sunderland Echo. What is it they are hiding? Was the hoaxer really a police officer, as has long been suspected? Or is it something even more sinister?"
In November 2001, it was reported in the Lancashire Evening Post that terminally-ill Wilf Roach, who at one time had lived with Joan Harrison, had appealed to police to take action on the new potential suspect suggested by Patrick Lavelle and the Sunderland Echo investigation.
Preston CID detectives confirmed that police had already conducted inquiries in London in relation to the information supplied. Det Joe Kellet, of Preston CID, stated: "A murder inquiry never closes. The information has been acted upon as part of a review of the case. The information that has been given has been followed up. At this stage we are unable to progress the case."
On July 11 2002, the Sunderland Echo published the first of two articles revealing yet another potential suspect for the Wearside Jack hoaxer. A woman claimed that, in December 1979, after a night out at Annabel's nightclub in Sunderland, and her usual ride home unavailable, and no taxis available at the time, she accepted an offer of a lift home from a man whom she had seen earlier in the nightclub, as well as many times in the past. On the ride home, however, the man began driving in the opposite direction to her residence, and the man, joking and laughing along the way with the now frightened woman, eventually stopped the car on the dirt track that led up to Tunstall Hills. Reaching into the glove compartment and pulling out a kitchen knife that he then held to her throat, he said: "They never learn, do they George?" quoting a line from the infamous "I'm Jack" tape. When the woman lashed out and began screaming, the man panicked, looked shocked, and shouted: "I was only joking! I was only joking!" and after the situation calmed down, he drove her home. She decided to accept the sick joker's explanation, did not report the incident to the police, and tried to forget all about it.
It was only after seeing a video of a repeat broadcast of the Tyne Tees Television documentary "The Hoaxer" (originally shown in 1999) that she contacted the Sunderland Echo and outlined her story and gave the name of her alleged attacker. This was not the first time the man's name had been suggested in relation to the Wearside Jack hoaxer. When "The Hoaxer" programme was first broadcast, a telephone hotline had been set up for viewers to call after the programme. One of the anonymous callers, a woman, left a message saying: "You want to look at (name deleted). He bragged about doing the hoax and he bragged about killing that woman with the foreign-sounding name in Downhill." The Downhill murder referred to the unsolved murder of prostitute Julie Perigo who was stabbed and battered to death at her flat in 1986. It was the same man's name as suggested by the woman in the "I was only joking!" incident.
The woman then filed a complaint to the police against the man, and the Sunderland Echo investigation was able to obtain a sample of the man's handwriting, as well as tape recording the man's voice, which, they claim, is from the same locality as Wearside Jack, has a lisp, also identified on the Wearside Jack tape, and sounds "sickeningly familiar". The information was given to Detective Inspector John Watts, of Sunderland CID. He later told the Sunderland Echo: "The information about a woman being threatened in the late 1970s by a man armed with a knife will not be actioned. This is because it is so historic, it could not be justified under human rights legislation."
Detective Inspector John Watts also gave the information, tape, and handwriting sample to the West Yorkshire police and said that while comparisons were made: "There was no substantial fresh or further evidence for which they would consider further action." He also confirmed that the material had only been looked at by a senior detective and not examined by any forensic, handwriting or voice experts. In regards to the unsolved Julie Perigo murder, which the Sunderland Echo states a DNA profile of the murderer is available, Detective Inspector John Watts said: "The information regarding Julie Perigo has been recorded and retained for future review."
The Sunderland Echo has also appealed for the woman who had contacted Tyne Tees Television in June 1999, after the showing of "The Hoaxer" documentary, and had left the message suggesting the potential suspect's name, to get in contact with them.
On September 3 2002, the Sunderland Echo reported that the police had questioned a 46-year-old man in relation to the murder of Julie Perigo and the Ripper hoax letters and tape. The man, who was recently identified as a potential suspect by the Sunderland Echo's ongoing investigation, had been asked to voluntarily accompany officers to a city police station, and was not under arrest.
The Sunderland Echo also reported that, as they understood it, the man had co-operated fully with detectives, and was also questioned about a 1979 knife attack on a Sunderland woman at Tunstall Hills. Detective Inspector John Watts, of Sunderland CID, stated that: "Forensic samples have been taken and we are awaiting the results of tests on those samples."
Prior to the late January 2003 release of Patrick Lavelle's second book on Wearside Jack, titled "Shadow Of The Ripper", it was published in various news source that Patrick Lavelle believes that Peter Sutcliffe did kill Joan Harrison, with a friend, Wearside Jack, having had sex with her before the murder. Later, Wearside Jack would send the letters and tapes to help Sutcliffe avoid capture. As well, Patrick Lavelle believes that Wearside Jack would later go on to kill Julie Perigo in 1986.
Michael Bilton's book "Wicked Beyond Belief", published in February 2003, reported that in 1999, while the documentary "Manhunt: The Search For The Yorkshire Ripper" (produced by Michael Bilton) was in production, a request was made to the West Yorkshire police to film a DNA test on the envelopes which had contained the hoax letters and tape. Besides showing the great strides that had recently been made in forensic detection, it could provide a DNA profile of the hoaxer which could be used to check against currently held DNA profiles in the national DNA database, or be used to identify him in future inquiries. Rather astonishingly, several months later they were informed that the envelopes had been lost and there was little prospect of them being found. This is a stunning blow to the already remote possibility of identifying the hoaxer, and probably destroys any chance of bringing him to justice with what would have been definitive collaborating forensic evidence.
On February 23 2003, the Sunderland Echo reported that the man who had been questioned in relation to the Ripper hoax and the murder of Julie Perigo had been eliminated as a suspect of both events. The man's blood grouping, O positive, eliminated him as a suspect in the Ripper hoax, and his DNA sample did not match the DNA profile of the murderer of Julie Perigo.
On September 17 2003, the BBC reported that the hunt for the Wearside Jack hoaxer had been officially ended. Due to the length of time that has expired since the hoax was perpetrated, over 25 years ago, a West Yorkshire police spokesman stated: "The offender can not now be prosecuted for the charge of wasting police time." The offence carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a £2,500 fine. As well, the spokesman also stated that the chemicals that were used on the letters and tape when they were examined during the 1970's would contaminate any possible new forensic tests that could have been conducted on them.
On May 8 2005, in an article published in the Sunday Sun, and written by Patrick Lavelle, author of two books on Wearside Jack, retired Det Supt Dick Holland stated that a serving police officer was suspected of being Wearside Jack, author of the hoax letters and tape, and was the best suspect they had.
During the inquiry to find the author of the letters and tape, it was suggested that a police officer could have been responsible for them and an internal police invesitgation was launched to check officers from the North East area. Mr. Holland believed that there were about 100 officers checked. The police checked the officers' old notebooks and other documents for similarities to the handwriting in the Ripper letters. Mr. Holland stated that five or six were similar, one especially so, and was sent off for analysis. The forensic handwriting expert who examined the police officer's notebooks and compared them to the handwriting in the hoax letters, found that matches could not be made for three or four of the written alphabet characters.
Mr. Holland also stated that the officer in question was also eliminated based on the factors from the murders: "If they were eliminated for the murders, they were eliminated from the inquiry." He also said: "As far as I am aware, there was also no inquiry to determine the police officer's blood grouping." Nor was there any comparison made between the officer's voice and the voice on the Ripper tape.
Mr. Holland also stated that the deputy chief constable of West Yorkshire Police at the time, Austin Heywood also believed that the officer was the best suspect for being the author of the letters and tape. Mr Holland said: "I wanted to pursue the sender of the letters and tape as soon as Sutcliffe was inside. I would have liked a full inquiry, but there wasn't one."
While the police officer in question was not identified, nor the force he was a member of was revealed, he was interviewed and it was reported that he was unaware that he was considered a prime suspect in the Ripper hoax, and had never been interviewed about it.
It was also reported in the article that the West Yorkshire police were looking into the claim.
On May 23 2005, it was reported in the Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough) that a West Yorkshire police spokesman stated that: "All the material in relation to the letters and tape concerning people who were nominated as suspects has been destroyed." The police spokesman added that the police were looking into the recent claims that a police officer was the latest suspect for being the author of the tape and letters. It must be noted that in September of 2003 the police search for the hoaxer was reported to be officially closed.
On July 1 2005, it was confirmed by a West Yorkshire spokeswoman that an ongoing audit, which has been under way for the past 12 months, has discovered that the original hoax letters and cassette tape have gone missing. The spokewoman stated: "There is no evidence that they have been stolen or disposed of maliciously or anything - we just cannot locate the items. We're going to have to check all our storage locations before we can say we definitely don't have them any more." This is not the first time such items have gone "missing" in this high-profile case. It was reported in Michael Bilton's book "Wicked Beyond Belief" that in 1999, during the making of the documentary "Manhunt: The Search For The Yorkshire Ripper" (produced by Michael Bilton), that a request was made to the West Yorkshire police to test for DNA on the envelopes of the letters and tape. They were eventually told that the envelopes had been lost and there was little prospect of them being found.
THE ARREST OF A SUSPECTOn October 18 2005, it was reported that a suspect in the Wearside Jack hoax letters and tape had been arrested. A West Yorkshire Police spokesman stated: "Officers from West Yorkshire this afternoon travelled to the Sunderland area where they arrested a 49-year-old local man on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice. This relates to the hoax letters and tape that was sent to police during the Yorkshire Ripper murder investigation. He is currently being transported to a West Yorkshire police station for interview." The 49-year-old man would have been aged 22 or so at the time of the sending of the first hoax letter back in March 1978.
On October 19 2005, further information about the investigation and the suspect was published. The man arrested was 49-year-old John Humble of the Ford area of Sunderland. The man, believed to be separated from his wife, lived with a brother. Police confirmed that the two-bedroom council house where he lived was being searched by police officers. It was reported that neighbours said that he had lived there for approximately five years. The Evening Chronicle reported that they understood the man was currently unemployed, and was not a police officer.
It was reported in the Times that a man claiming to be the nephew of the arrested man said that the voice on the tape was not the voice of his uncle, and that his uncle was born near where he currently lived, and had no association with the Castletown area where it is believed the man on the tape was from.
It was reported that the reason for the arrest was that a DNA profile had been obtained from the saliva used to seal the envelopes of the letters. The envelopes had been reported as missing as far back as 1999 when a request for them, to test for DNA, was made to the West Yorkshire police during the making of the documentary "Manhunt: The Search For The Yorkshire Ripper" (produced by Michael Bilton). As well, in July 2005, an ongoing audit, which has been under way for previous 12 months, had discovered that the original hoax letters and cassette tape had also gone missing. Obviously, it appears that the envelopes were found and tests conducted.
Early in the morning on October 20 2005, the Times reported that John Humble had lived with his brother Harry for three years after the the breakup of his 12 year marriage with his wife Anne. It was also believed that he had been unemployed since quitting his job as a security guard five years ago. The Daily Telegraph reported that it was believed that John Humble had not been previously interviewed in relation to the Wearside Jack hoax. Meanwhile, the Sun published a photo of John Humble, described as a tall and thin.
Further information on and photos of John Humble were published, including reports in the Yorkshire Post that senior police sources said that John Humble had no links to Yorkshire. They also reported that Humble had never served in the police force, and that he had worked as a labourer and security guard.
At 2:00 p.m. on October 20 2005, John Humble, aged 49, of Flodden Road, on the Ford Estate in Sunderland, appeared in Leeds Magistrates' Court and was charged with perverting the course of justice. The charge against him was read by a clerk at the court, and she stated: "You sent a series of communications, namely three letters and an audio tape, to West Yorkshire police and the press claiming to be the perpetrator of a series of murders that at that time were the subject of a police investigation."
During the four minute hearing, John Humble confirmed his name, date of birth, and residence. There was no plea entered by the defendant. District judge Christopher Darnton remanded Humble in custody, and no application for bail was made. He will next appear at Leeds Crown Court on October 26 2005.
It was also reported that John Humble may also face questioning by the Lancashire police in relation to the Joan Harrison murder, whose murder was included in one of the hoax letters: "Up to number 8 now you say 7 but remember Preston '75". Detective Inspector Joe Kellett stated: "We will liaise with our colleagues in West Yorkshire and we will be reviewing our case papers on the Joan Harrison murder. Then we will make a decision on whether to go and interview Mr Humble."
On October 24 2005, it was reported in the Sunderland Echo that Northumbria Police would not be questioning John Humble about the Julie Perigo murder, as there was no evidence to link him to the case. "There is an ongoing review into the murder of Julie Perigo but there are no sufficient reasons to question anyone at this time," a spokesman for the Northumbria Police stated. In 2002, a 46-year-old man, a school teacher, who had been identified as a potential suspect by the Sunderland Echo's ongoing investigation, co-operated with police in relation to the murder of Julie Perigo and the Ripper hoax letters and tape. His DNA did not match the DNA profile of the murderer of Julie Perigo, and his blood grouping, O positive, had eliminated him from being responsible for the Wearside Jack hoax.
On October 26 2005, John Humble appeared in Leeds Crown Court, via video link-up from Armley Jail, Leeds. During the 30 minute preliminary hearing, John Humble only spoke once to confirm his name to the court clerk. An application for bail, presented by his barrister, David Taylor, was rejected by the judge, the Recorder of Leeds, Norman Jones, and he was remanded in custody. Humble is scheduled to next appear in court on January 9 2006 to make a plea, with a provisional trial date of February 20 2006. Reporting restrictions were not lifted.
JANUARY 2006 COURT APPEARANCE AND PLEA
On January 9 2006, John Humble appeared in Leeds Crown Court before Judge Norman Jones QC. Humble's plea was not guilty to the four charges of perverting the course of justice in relation to the Wearside Jack letters and tape.
Richard Hebbet, prosecuting, stated that the prosecution intended to present handwriting and voice analysis, as well as fingerprint, blood, and DNA evidence. David Taylor, Humble's barrister, stated to the court that: "Mr Humble's case is he has no recollection of writing the letters or sending the tape." The defence also intended to have evidence from handwriting and voice recognition experts.
The case was adjourned until March 20 2006 when the trial will begin, which Richard Hebbet, prosecuting, said could last up to three weeks. No application for bail was made at the hearing and Humble was remanded in custody. It was indicated by Humble's legal team that a bail application would be made at a later date.
FEBRUARY 23 2006: JOHN HUMBLE ADMITS HE IS WEARSIDE JACK
David Taylor stated: "A defence statement has been drafted whereby the defence concedes that he wrote the letters and in fact made the tape. The issue now is not one of whether it actually was him, it's solely the question of intent."
It was stressed by Mr Taylor that John Humble's not guilty pleas to the four counts of perverting the course of justice still stood.
Mr Taylor stated that Humble claimed that the hoaxes were intended to help focus police inquires: "He thought he was actually helping because he thought they were not paying enough attention to the prostitute connection."
Mr Taylor also said that John Humble claimed that three months after the tape had been sent to police, on September 14 1979, he had made an anonymous phone call to Sunderland police telling them that the tape was a hoax and to tell Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield that "it is false".
Judge James Stewart QC, lifted reporting restrictions on the case, and John Humble's trial on the charges is set to begin on March 20 2006 at Leeds Crown Court.
MARCH 20 2006: JOHN HUMBLE PLEADS GUILTY TO CHARGES
In Leeds Crown Court, flanked by a security guard, John Humble, age 50, only spoke four times to plead guilty to the four counts of perverting the course of justice. In earlier hearings, Humble's plea had been not guilty, but he had admitted to being responsible for the hoax letters and tape.
Paul Worsley QC, prosecuting, then outlined the case against Humble.
In 2004, Detective Chief Superintendent Chris Gregg established the West Yorkshire force's Homicide and Major Enquiry Team and had decided to include the Wearside Jack hoax in a re-examination of unsolved "cold cases". At the time, the letters and envelopes were "missing", and a search of forensic science laboratories discovered one of the envelopes, from which, in September 2006, a DNA profile of the sender was obtained.
The DNA profile was then fed into the national police database, where it recorded a match with John Humble, who in September 2001 had been arrested and cautioned for being drunk and disorderly and had been made to supply a saliva sample for a DNA profile.
Mr Worsley told the court that in the early 1970's John Humble held a fascination with the original Jack the Ripper, who killed in London in 1888. Humble borrowed books about the killings from his local library in Sunderland. Later on, after Sutcliffe's arrest and conviction for the Yorkshire Ripper murders, Humble would also read books about the case and read about himself as the unknown hoaxer.
Mr Worsley said that John Humble had begun his hoax in 1978, and must have intended to divert the police attention from the real murderer. He stated that: "After the first two letters were sent the hoaxer did not know whether police were taking them seriously. But when it was revealed that police were taking them seriously, he could have stopped. He did not. He was to send another letter and then a tape. That made it clear he wanted to send the police off the trail of the true killer."
John Humble had made his hoax recording on a tape recorder owned by his brother, who at the time was away in the Army. The recording was made at his kitchen tape, with custard powder being found on the tape.
Mr Worsley stated: "The tape was not recorded in haste. It was recorded deliberately and with no mistakes from a script which must have been carefully researched. It had no label and bore no fingerprints, and the hoaxer knew the police could not ignore it."
Mr Worsley played the "haunting and sinister" tape to the court which had been sent in June 1979 to Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, then head of the Ripper Inquiry. As well, the court was shown an ITN news bulletin showing the police news conference where the tape was played.
Mr Worsley said it was understandable why the police had taken the letters and the tape very seriously: "Who else other than the Yorkshire Ripper himself could conceivably want to throw the police off the scent of the Ripper?"
Pointing to the amount of detail contained in the letters, some information which had only appeared in single newspaper articles, Mr Worsley said: "The author must have known that any communication with the police would have been treated very seriously." He added: "It either came from the Yorkshire Ripper or someone who had amassed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Ripper and his movements and attacks."
Mr Worsley detailed some of the information in the letters, stating that the phrase "remember Preston 1975" referred to the murder of Joan Harrison, which police had not been certain was a part of the Ripper series. "The Preston Connection" news article had appeared in the Daily Mirror, which Humble said after his arrest that he had been a Mirror reader.
Mr Worsley said: "Another line in one of the letters referred to a victim being on her way to hospital. This was Vera Millward, who was killed in Manchester. As far as the Crown can discover, only the Daily Mail mentioned the hospital visit and even then it was only a paragraph."Mr Worsley stated: "The hoaxer must have scoured the press very carefully to pick up such fine detail which was likely to mislead the police into thinking the letter was genuine. All of the things in the letters and tapes were in the public domain, the Crown say, but the hoaxer must have gone to the trouble of acquiring an encyclopaedic knowledge of the case in order to appear convincing."
Interviewed after his arrest in October 2005, and asked why he had sent the hoax, he replied: "I was bored and on the dole and probably drunk when I wrote them." He also said: "The inquiry was getting on my nerves. It was always on the telly, so I thought I'd boost it up a bit." and stated: "I didn't expect it to turn out like it did. I panicked when all the coppers were all over Castletown."
Humble told police: "I shouldn't have done it, I know that." When asked why, he replied: "Because it's evil." He also said: "I was a fool for doing it."
Humble said of the letters: "I changed the handwriting a bit, I made it slant just to disguise it." and that "I sent the letter to the Mirror for the publicity and notoriety for me, but I didn't want to get caught." He also stated: "I did have respect for George Oldfield, but you could see him getting older by the day. He had all that worry on his back." and "I didn't realise at the time what a serious thing it was. I think I deserve to go to jail for it, for writing those letters. I think I deserve to go to jail for at least two years."
After Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, had been arrested, he was asked whether he was responsible for the three letters and the tape. Sutcliffe had stated: "No, I'm not. While ever that was going on I felt safe. I'm not a Geordie. I was born in Shipley."
Mr Worsley said that, in part, Humble was motivated by a hatred for police. He had been convicted in 1973, at age 17, of burglary and theft, and two years later, in 1975, he had been convicted of actual bodily harm after kicking an off-duty policeman in the head at Sunderland's Locarno ballroom. Humble had been sentenced to three months in a young offenders institution for that offence.
Humble told police that in September 1979 he made two brief attempts to alert police to the fact that the letters and tape were a hoax, when he called the Ripper incident rooms in Sunderland and in Bradford.
At 5:00 p.m. on September 14 1979, Humble called the incident room in Sunderland, where he told a young constable, Keith Mount, that the tape was a hoax. A recording was played to the court of the short telephone call made to the Sunderland incident room which included the words: "Tell him [Oldfield] it's a fake." While PC Mount was convinced that it was Wearside Jack calling, a Home Office lab ruled that the voice did not match that on the tape.
Humble told police: "I phoned in to tell them that it was a hoax, but they didn’t take any notice. I phoned in twice. I tried to tell them it was a hoax." Asked why, he said: "Because I felt guilty." Referring to the murder of Barbara Leach, Sutcliffe's eleventh victim, he said: "Because that lass, one of the lasses, was murdered. I blamed myself for it. That's why I phoned in. They took no notice and another two got killed." A month later Humble said that he had attempted suicide.
The hearing was adjourned until the next day, March 21st, when Humble will be sentenced by the judge.
MARCH 21 2006: JOHN HUMBLE SENTENCED
On March 21 2006, John Humble appeared before Judge Norman Jones QC, for sentencing on the four charges of perverting the course of justice in relation to the Wearside Jack hoax.
Before sentencing, Humble's barrister, Simon Bourne-Arton QC, told the court that John Humble had not intended to help Peter Sutcliffe remain free. Humble may have wanted to embarrass police after he had been arrested for assaulting an off-duty police officer. Mr Bourne-Arton said: "That was to result in him never trusting the police thereafter. It was not hatred in the form of obsessive hatred but quite clearly there was a definite and distinct dislike of the police."
Mr Bourne-Arton stated: "He did not for one moment think the police would ultimately react to the extent that they did. It was not until he was to hear his voice being broadcast over the television that he became so aware." He was "extremely frightened" once he realised the extent to which the police had reacted. He then called two police incident rooms to tell them the tape was a fake, but his calls were not taken seriously.
"He could have walked into any police station and handed himself in, and he accepts that. His answer, for what it is worth, is he did not have the bottle."
Mr Bourne-Arton said it was not safe to say that Sutcliffe would have been caught a day earlier than he was if Humble had not sent the hoax letters and tape.
Judge Jones intervened by asking: "Wasn't one of the bases on which Sutcliffe was discounted by the police was that he hadn't a Sunderland accent?"
Mr Bourne-Arton said this was countered by the fact that several of Sutcliffe's surviving victims described their attacker as having a West Yorkshire accent, and added that the Northumberland Police concluded that over-emphasis was being put on the letters and tapes during the Ripper hunt.
Mr Bourne-Arton also said that John Humble had attempted to commit suicide on several occasions, including jumping off a bridge over the River Wear with his pockets filled with stones in November 1979, shortly after the tape was made public.
"He is 50 years old at the time of his arrest and at the time of his arrest he was a hopeless alcoholic. He was so drunk as to be incoherent and police couldn't interview him for more than a day."
"He has been for many years an alcoholic," Mr Bourne-Arton stated. "The years of abuse have resulted in him being now less than bright. Up until yesterday, the only notoriety he would have had in Sunderland was to be known in the cemeteries and park benches as 'John the Bag'."
Mr Bourne-Arton stated: "Had it not been for these matters that brought John Humble before Your Lordship yesterday, he would have led a spectacularly inadequate life."
Mr Bourne-Arton urged the judge to sentence Humble as a "50-year-old hopeless alcoholic".
Judge Norman Jones QC, during sentencing, said: "You arrogantly set out to send the investigation away from the path of the true killer. You did that with an indifference to the potentially fatal consequences, which was breathtaking and this sets you in the most serious category of offending of this type."
"The Ripper attacked without mercy and police were baffled for five years and he remained undetected. I'm satisfied one of the factors that may well have contributed to his remaining at large for so long was you sending the letters and the tape."
"You took on his persona. Your letters comprised a mixture of taunts and threats and were well researched. Then you sent a tape recording of you pretending to be the Ripper. It was cleverly constructed and your delivery was sinister."
"Police were persuaded that the hoaxer was the killer and you must have appreciated the way the police were being led astray. At no time did you have the courage to come forward and confess."
Judge Jones said that while it could not be said that Humble's actions of sending the letters and tape caused or directly led to the murders of three women and the attacks on two other women who survived, it had moved the focus of the police investigation to Sunderland. As well, it could not be said that the murderer might have been caught any earlier, but that when Peter Sutcliffe was arrested he told police the hoax letters and tape had given him "confidence".
"What can be said is there would have been a better chance of those women not being attacked had the letter and tapes not been sent and Sutcliffe himself might have been given a higher priority."
"You are a man with a dislike of the police and it gave you pleasure to make fools of them. What is unforgivable is that you failed to put the record straight when you realised the damage you were doing. Had that tape not been sent, the deployment to Sunderland, whether wise or not, would simply not have occurred."
Judge Jones sentenced John Humble to six years for each of three letters he sent, and eight years for the infamous hoax tape, all sentences are to run concurrently.
Also on March 21 2006, Lancashire Police Detective Superintendent Graham Gardner said that there was nothing to suggest that John Humble had any connection to the murder of Joan Harrison. He stated: "Humble has already been interviewed to some degree by West Yorkshire Police and further interview by Lancashire detectives remains a consideration. At this time there is no tangible evidence to connect him to the Preston murder but I remain open-minded."
The West Yorkshire Police issued a press release on March 21 2006 detailing information about the Wearside Jack hoax and the capture of John Humble. The press release reported that the three letters had been subject to extensive chemical fingerprint testing, which severely blackened them, as well as rendering them useless for any further, future testing. It was also believed that the letters had been destroyed over 25 years ago after all tests had been completed.
The press release states: "The envelope from which the DNA sample was obtained had been retained in the possession of the Forensic Science Service." and that "A sample was taken from the envelope seal which provided a one in a billion match to Humble."
"The original audio tape was recently handed back to West Yorkshire Police by a scientist who worked on the original enquiry. He had retained the tape for safe keeping, but following recent publicity, returned it to us."
The press release also included a statement from Detective Chief Superintendent Chris Gregg, Head of HMET, who said: "Whilst the person responsible for the hoax letters and tape was unknown it left a great number of people connected to victims of the Yorkshire Ripper with unanswered questions. We were determined to do everything we possibly could to find answers to one of the major aspects of the enquiry which remained unsolved."
"Today we have the benefit of modern day science which our colleagues in the past did not have. It's only right we take full advantage of every aspect of cutting edge science when reviewing unsolved cases."
"It's impossible to quantify the effect that the Yorkshire Ripper case had on a great many people. Identifying John Humble as the man responsible for misdirecting the police investigation is an important step in bringing closure to that unresolved part of the investigation."
"There has been a sense of professional satisfaction from those involved in finally identifying John Humble as the person responsible."
The West Yorkshire Police also released a video (available for download or viewing at several newspaper and news media websites) which shows John Humble reading part of the transcript of the hoax tape.
WEARSIDE JACK / JOHN HUMBLE COMPILATION COMPARISON (wav file 182KB)
On July 13 2006, it was reported that John Humble has been granted the right to appeal the length of his eight year sentence for the Wearside Jack hoax. David Taylor, Humble's barrister, stated: "I am appealing on the grounds that the sentence was manifestly excessive and too severe." No date was set for the hearing before the Court of Appeal criminal division.
On October 24 2006, John Humble lost his appeal against the length of his eight-year sentence for perverting the course of justice. Humble was not present for the ruling by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, who was sitting with two other judges.
David Taylor, Humble's counsel, in his arguments before the Appeal Court, had stated that not enough account had been taken of his client's guilty plea. As well, he also said that Humble was a different man from the one who had committed the offences over 20 years ago.
Delivering the ruling of the court, Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said that the case was "uniquely serious and had possibly fatal consequences," and that "the offence called for a very severe sentence."
"Although the sentence was indeed severe, it cannot be said it was wrong in principle or excessive." It was also stated that "issues of personal mitigation and passage of time lose much of their influence".
UPDATE: THE HUNT FOR THE MURDERER OF JOAN HARRISON
On November 16 2010 it was reported that Lancashire Police's cold case review team investigating the murder of Joan Harrison may be close to a major breakthrough on the case due to advances in DNA technology. A sample, believed to have been taken off Joan Harrison's body, has been sent out for further DNA examination. Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Gardner stated: "We are investigating new, exciting and interesting lines of inquiry which, in the next few weeks, we are hopeful may progress the case." Both Peter Sutcliffe and John Humble have been eliminated from the inquiry.
UPDATE: THE MURDERER OF JOAN HARRISON
On February 9 2011, the Lancashire Constabulary announced that the advances in DNA technology had revealed sufficient evidence that would have led to the murder charge against Christopher Smith of Leeds for the murder of Joan Harrison. Smith had died in 2008, at aged 60, from a terminal illness.
The head of crime for Lancashire Constabulary, Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Gardner, stated: "This has been a long running and complex homicide enquiry for the Constabulary. Joan lost her life in a most brutal way and despite the enormous efforts of all those originally involved, no charges were ever brought.
"Advances in DNA interpretation over the years has finally allowed us to identify Smith as the man at the scene of Joan's murder. That fact, coupled with other evidence we have gathered over recent months, has been sufficient to convince the Crown Prosecution Service that Smith would have been charged with her murder, had he been alive today."
Detective Chief Superintendent Gardner also said: "It is with some regret that Smith is not still alive to stand trial for his crime. One can only try to imagine the sadness endured by Joan's family over the years and I truly hope this development will finally bring some closure surrounding their tragic loss."
The head of CPS Lancashire and Cumbria Complex Casework Unit, John Dilworth, stated: "In considering cases, the CPS has to decide if there is a realistic prospect of conviction and whether it is in the public interest for a prosecution to begin. Only after trial does a jury decide whether a person is guilty or not, on a higher standard of proof - beyond reasonable doubt.
"I have reviewed the evidence carefully and I have advised Lancashire Police that this recent development in their investigation has now revealed evidence that would have been sufficient to prosecute Christopher Smith, if he were alive. We cannot prejudge the outcome of a trial. However, had Mr Smith lived, my decision would have authorised the police to begin the legal process by charging him.
"The CPS agreed to look at the evidence on a deceased suspect because of the very exceptional circumstances of this case."
In 2008, Christopher Smith, after being arrested for drunk driving, had a DNA swab taken. He died six days later from a terminal illness. A note, police said, was written by Smith the day before he died, which seemed to possibly admit the murder. The note said:
"Two how (sic) ever it concerns I would like to put the record straight. I can't go on with the guilt. I have lived with it for over 20 years. I am truly sorry for all the pain I have caused to anyone. Please believe me when I say I am sorry. I love my grandkids and my daughter. I cannot go back to prison anymore. Please God help my family who I worship. I have been out of trouble for over 20 years so please God help me. I am so sorry. God forgive me. I love you all forever."
Detective Chief Superintendent Gardner said: "My view of the note is that it comes tantalisingly close to a full admission. He is clearly remorseful for something he has done in his past, something he had not been to prison for.
"I don’t believe it is referring to his first wife’s death or any of his other convictions.
"His family have told us he was a paranoid man who was fearful of a knock on the door from the police."Christopher Smith was born Alexander Smyth in Derry, Northern Ireland. At age 15, he moved to Newport, South Wales, and later lived Bolton, Salford and Stoke-on-Trent. He was a father of six, and had been married three times. In his latter years he lived at various addresses in Leeds.
It is believed that Smith used at least 14 aliases (including his final identity). Smith mainly committed petty thefts during his late teens until the murder of Joan Harrison. His crimes then became more violent and sexual, resulting in a jailed term in 1981 of two years and nine months for the attempted rape in Manchester of a 17-year-old girl. Two years later, he received a suspended sentence for the manslaughter of his first wife, Violet, after he was cleared of murder, after he argued she fell on to a knife he had held during an argument. His second wife has since told detectives that when she was seven months pregnant, Smith threw her out of a window.
Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Gardner said: "We are not linking Smith with any outstanding cases in Lancashire but we are contacting historic serious crime cold case teams in the areas where he lived to investigate whether he committed more offences."
Christopher Smith's path crossed with Joan Harrison's by chance. Detective Chief Superintendent Gardner stated: "A friend of his told us he had been serving a sentence at HMP Preston around that time and went on to live in a hostel in Preston. We know that Joan used to frequent that hostel."
This webpage will continually be updated as events unfold.
LAST UPDATE: February 10 2011
(NOTE: Source material: Bilton, Lavelle, BBC News, CBC (Canada) Radio, Daily Mail, Daily Record, Daily Telegraph, Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough), Evening Standard (London), Huddersfield Daily Examiner, The Independent, Lancashire Evening Post, Mail On Sunday, New Statesman, Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Newcastle Journal, Northern Echo, Sunday Sun, Sunday Telegraph, Sunderland Echo, The Sun, The Sunday Times, The Times, West Yorkshire Police press release, Yorkshire Post. Photos: BBC News, West Yorkshire Police.)
For further and more indepth information on the hunt for Wearside Jack before and after the arrest of Peter Sutcliffe, as well as information about the arrest of John Humble, I recommend the book by Patrick Lavelle, "Wearside Jack: The Hunt for the Ripper Hoaxer" (Ghostwriters UK).
As well, further information and updates on the case can be found at the following websites:
Lancashire Evening Post
Has a searchable archive, dating from March 30 2001. Prior to that date, there were articles about the hoaxer and the murder of Joan Harrison.
Has a searchable archive (Yorkshire Ripper/Wearside Jack articles dating back to 1999). Former News Editor Patrick Lavelle wrote the books "Wearside Jack: The hunt for the hoaxer of the century" (1999), "Shadow Of The Ripper" (2003), and "Wearside Jack: The Hunt for the Ripper Hoaxer" (2006).