A Book to Catch the Yorkshire Ripper


Thanks to Red Riding, I've had the Yorkshire Ripper on the brain, which explains why journalist Michael Nicholson's "authoritative study" ended up in my shopping bag. What I didn't realize at the time was that Nicholson's book was published in 1979, two years prior to the arrest and conviction of the Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe. The book concludes with a "Chronology of Murdered Women" which ends with the twelfth victim, Barbara Leach. Sutcliffe would claim two more victims before he was stopped.
        In fact, Leach was not the twelfth victim at all. Nicholson's chart includes Joan Harrison as the second victim thanks to her mention in the first Wearside Jack letter, which police had not yet realized was a hoax by the time of publication. DNA evidence finally unmasked the identity of the hoaxer in 2005, and earlier this year DNA comparison also solved the mystery of Leach's murder, though too late to bring the killer to justice.
        Given the publication date, it's not surprising that Nicholson's concluding chapter is subtitled "How to Spot the Ripper." Here he indulges in a little psychological profiling:

By his actions, the Ripper suggests to me a certain tactical expertise, a background of military training and a disciplined approach …. His ability to melt into the darkness almost suggests guerilla training …. The long intervals between murders could possibly be explained by service tours overseas …. It would probably be best to start with regiments which draw a significant proportion of their recruits from the region where it is felt the Ripper originates. The First Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the King's Own Border Regiment and the Scottish Borderers are given merely as examples of where to look.

In fact, Sutcliffe was a lorry driver. "I hope that some of the ideas contained here," Nicholson wrote, "may provoke a thought or a recollection which will lead to the murderer." It didn't happen that way, but as a historical artifact, and a testament to how far off the investigation was, this account makes for interesting reading.

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