Peter Sutcliffe, the notorious Yorkshire Ripper, was found guilty of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven others between 1975 and 1980
But his final three victims might have lived – were it not for the actions of another man he never met.
Cruel hoaxer John Humble convinced police that he was the killer – and the letters and tape recording he sent between March 1978 and the end of June 1979 diverted the police investigation away from the West Yorkshire area.
Sutcliffe had told police after his arrest in 1981 that he “felt safe” while police were distracted by Wearside Jack because "I'm not a Geordie. I was born at Shipley."
In that “safe” period Sutcliffe killed three more women: Barbara Leach, Jacqueline Hill and Marguerite Walls.
He attacked two more women during that period who miraculously survived.
Sutcliffe later wrote to Humble from jail accusing him of having “blood on his hands” for the last three murders.
On 2 January 1981, Sutcliffe was stopped by the police with 24 year-old sex worker Olivia Reivers in his car.
He managed to slip away from officers long enough to dispose of the a knife, hammer, and rope he had with him but they were later recovered after he confessed to the Yorkshire Ripper attacks.
At his Old Bailey trial, Sutcliffe said: “It was just a miracle they did not apprehend me earlier – they had all the facts.”
But Sutcliffe angrily denied the killing of Joan Harrison, who had been listed as one of the Ripper’s victims due to Humble’s "Wearside Jack" claims.
DNA found at the scene was later matched to that of Leeds sex offender Christopher Smith, who died aged 60 in 2008.
The police were completely convinced by Wearside Jack.
The first letter, dated March 8, 1978, claimed the murder of Joan Harrison as the work of the Ripper. Humble wrote: “You probably look for me in Sunderland, don't bother, I am not daft, just posted letter there on one of my trips.”
In the June 1979 recording, addressed to Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, who was head of West Yorkshire Police’s Ripper inquiry Humble said: “I’m Jack. I see you are still having no luck catching me.
“I have the greatest respect for you, George. But Lord, you are no nearer catching me now than four years ago when I started.
“I reckon your boys are letting you down, George. They can’t be much good, can they?
“At the rate I’m going I should be in the book of records. I’ll keep on going for quite a while yet. I can’t see myself being nicked just yet.
“Well, it’s been nice chatting to you, George. Yours, Jack the Ripper.”
Humble’s distinctive accent on the tape led to police focusing their hunt in the north-east – despite the evidence of victim Olive Smelt, who survived a horrific assault by Sutcliffe in Halifax in 1975 and told them the attacker had a local accent.
Meanwhile Yorkshireman Sutcliffe remained at large to attack five more women. At one point, he was even arrested and freed because his voice did not match the one on the tape.
Long after Sutcliffe was jailed, the identity of Wearside Jack remained a mystery. It was purely by chance that Humble was brought to justice.
A cold case review in 2005 brought together DNA evidence from one of the envelopes used to send the letters with a sample taken from Humble when he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in 2001. The odds of two individuals matching the DNA samples were said to be “one in a billion”.
When arrested, Humble was so drunk, arresting officers left him in a cell for a full day to sober up: "He had no idea where he was," one officer said. "And it came as a bit of a shock when he came round."
He told police that he had called to confess the tape was a hoax after Barbara Leach was killed, but his call was ignored: “I blamed myself for it,” he said. “That’s why I phoned in.
“They took no notice and another two got killed.”
Humble was jailed for eight years on four counts of perverting the course of justice. He never adequately explained why he set out to deceive the police.
His sister Jean told the Daily Mirror she believes he held a grudge against the police after being locked up in Medomsley Detention Centre for kicking an off-duty police officer during a pub brawl.
Medomsley’s cook, Neville Husband, was later found guilty for his part in the abuse of at least 300 vulnerable young men during a long series of sexual and violent assaults lasting from the 1960s to the centre's closure in 1988.
Several other members of the centre’s staff were jailed after police investigated a potential child sex abuse ring.
“He got a few good hidings at Medomsley,” said Jean, “and I dread to think what else happened to him there. That fuelled his hatred of the police and of authority.
“John wanted to get his own back for what he felt the police did to him.” Humble’s sister added, “but he went about it completely the wrong way.”
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