Harrowing new testimony from the ‘forgotten victims’ of the Yorkshire Ripper suggests he flagrantly escaped justice for horrific crimes stretching back more than five decades.
Both women and men have told how they are still suffering from being bludgeoned in brutal surprise attacks, which were identical to Peter Sutcliffe’s modus operandi but were overlooked by police.
The cases are pivotal because they show the serial killer was not solely targeting women and female sex workers – a false notion which misled the initial botched investigation and also formed the basis for Sutcliffe initially being sent to Broadmoor Hospital rather than prison.
His first victim is believed to have been bookie Fred Craven, who was murdered in Bingley, Yorkshire, on April 22, 1966. This was nine years before the official timeframe for Sutcliffe’s killing spree begins.
His grandson, Lee, told a new Channel 5 documentary how the hard-working family man was fatally bludgeoned from behind with a blunt instrument, a hallmark of Sutclliffe’s later crimes.
Lee said: ‘It’s always argued that he only attacked women. To admit that he actually attacked men completely undermines his whole story that he was mad and was instructed to kill prostitutes.
‘He chose his victims based on the vulnerability, he doesn’t care whether they are men, women, he attacks because he enjoys doing it.
‘It’s as simple and as banal as that.’
The early cases presented gilt-edged chances to stop the murderer taking more lives, but the clues were missed by West Yorkshire Police.
Cab driver John Tomey was viciously attacked on March 22 the following year by a passenger who claimed during the journey he had no money and needed to find an aunt, guiding him to Oxenhope in Bradford.
John suffered brain damage after being hit around 10 times from behind with a hammer in the dark, remote spot and his injuries meant he had to give up his beloved job and doesn’t drive, with the physical pain having worsened over the years. The crime remains unsolved.
John said: ‘It will be fifty-four years since he attacked me. He didn’t kill me and I’d like to think I can put it behind me but it’s in the memory twenty-four-seven.
‘It’s there when I sleep, it’s there when I dream. Who would really want to remember a bastard like him? He stole my soul.’
Tracy Browne was repeatedly struck from behind and thrown over a fence by Sutcliffe on August 27, 1975 in rural Silsden, near the town of Keighley.
Recognising a photo-fit of the Ripper issued in 1977, Tracy went to police with her mother, but found that officers were fixed on the sex worker motive.
She said: ‘It was definitely him. My mum and I went to Keighley Police Station and there was a young constable and we said, “this is the man that attacked me”. The young constable just said, “fill a form out, I think we’re having fun and games again aren’t we?”
‘My mother was furious. I was just a one-off as far as the police were concerned, they never connected it to the Yorkshire Ripper.’
Sutcliffe later confessed to the attack – which fractured his victim’s skull and left her covered from the head down in blood – after being sentenced to his official murders. But he was never charged and, as with many of his other crimes, took his secrets to the grave.
Two years later, after Sutcliffe murdered his 10th victim, Josephine Whittaker, police changed tack to state that women in general were at risk from a serial killer on the loose in Yorkshire.
Mo Lea was struck from behind with a ball pein hammer after being followed at night in Leeds on October 25, 1980. The artist, who was 20 at the time, believes that, had he not been spotted by a young couple, Sutcliffe would have delivered ‘the final blow’ as she lay unconscious on the ground.
She told filmmakers Daisybeck Studios that she could have assisted the police investigation but they ‘didn’t want to see it’.
Mo, who has used art to try and recover from her ordeal, said: ‘I was brushed to the side, which left me feeling worthless.’
Sutcliffe was finally caught in 1981, having killed 13 women.
He was sentenced the same year to 20 life terms for the murders and seven attempted murders.
Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, the former lorry driver was transferred to high-security Broadmoor Hospital in 1984.
Professor Craig Jackson, a psychologist, said: ‘The court case at the Old Bailey wasn’t so much a trial, it really was more like a mental health tribunal.’
Sutcliffe had told psychiatrists that while he was working as a gravedigger a ‘divine voice’ had told him to kill prostitutes.
Professor Jackson added: ‘Some of the forgotten victims were not sex workers, some of the forgotten victims were teenagers, some of the forgotten victims were men.
‘It challenges his whole story that he was killing people because God told him to attack sex workers.’
Former senior police officers, including Keith Hellawell, ex-chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, told the documentary they believe the crimes were carried out by Sutcliffe.
The prisoner admitted to the attack on Tracy Browne but refused to confess to further cases.
Mr Hellawell said: ‘I think it’s unbelievable and despicable that even on his dying day he did not confess. It never leaves you, ever.’
The cold cases were further reviewed by the force under Operation Painthall in 2016 but no new charges were brought.
Sutcliffe, who changed his name to Peter William Coonan, died on November 13 from Covid-19, diabetes and heart disease at the age of 74.
Metro.co.uk told last week how he had been granted ‘enhanced’ prisoner status, allowing him access to privileges such as shopping catalogues, after being moved to HMP Frankland in 2016.
The force has acknowledged ‘failings and mistakes’ in the original investigation.
It told the film-makers it continues ‘to review and where possible re-investigate all unresolved homicides and serious crimes’.
*The Yorkshire Ripper’s New Victims airs on Channel 5 at 9pm on Thursday
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