The Ripper’s Lorry Murders 4: Doncaster & Sheffield
by TIM HICKS & CHRIS CLARK
Until now, the conventional wisdom was that all of Sutcliffe’s attacks were launched from his car. Chris, however, was convinced that this was not so and conducted his research on the basis that Sutcliffe used his lorry on some of the murders.
In this article, the authors have collated all the cases Chris has identified as committed from Sutcliffe’s lorry, not his car. They are shown as V5 in Column F “Vehicle Used” in Table 13 below.
The cases are not in chronological order for editorial reasons of space management and in order to group some cases by force area in each article. They are in six parts as follows:
The Ripper’s Lorry Murders Part 1 – Bedgebury Forest Woman
The Ripper’s Lorry Murders Part 2 – Ilkley: Proof positive
The Ripper’s Lorry Murders Part 3 – More ligature killings.
The Ripper’s Lorry Murders Part 4 – Doncaster and Sheffield.
The Ripper’s Lorry Murders Part 5 – Bristol, London, Sussex and Essex.
The Ripper’s Lorry Murders Part 6 – “Hope”: More witnesses.
For editorial reasons, they may not be published in chronological order.
Background: Sutcliffe’s access to lorries
“Sutcliffe then started employment as a lorry driver on the 29th of September of 1975 working for a Common Road Tyre Company, Okenshaw situated at the junction of the M62 Motorway and a spur off the M606 into Bradford; the work involved short and medium distance hauls all over the North and the Midlands. He used the experience to familiarise himself with the network of motorways and trunk roads linking its destinations to each other including the best access routes to many towns and city centres an art that he perfected from his already overall extensive knowledge that he had gained from socially driving around the North of England, the Midlands and London and Home Counties.
However after just over a fortnight’s employment on 15 October 1975 he was caught stealing second hand tyres and the police were informed. Sutcliffe was arrested and during the following year after entering a guilty plea at a later court hearing on 5 March 1976 he was fined and he was later sacked in that April for bad time keeping.
In October 1976 Sutcliffe finally found work as a lorry driver for T&WH Clark (Holdings Ltd) situated on the Canal Road Industrial Estate between Shipley and Bradford. They were a small engineering transport firm and working for them took him all over the country and involved a lot of overnight stops where he would use the bunk bed in the rear of the cabin and he was once on his own again with no one to account to and left to his own devices. He started proving himself over several months in one of the firm’s four and six ton big rigid Lorries and then onto a Ford Transcontinental which at £250,000 was the most expensive and advanced HGV vehicle in England at the time.
Sutcliffe clearly suffered from ‘little man syndrome’ as well as ‘obsessive compulsive disorder’ and enjoyed the height, mass and speed of the lorry; as well as spending hours cleaning and polishing both the inside and outside of the cabin whilst awaiting loading and unloading. This would have removed any forensic evidence from the cab.
At work Sutcliffe was one of Clark’s most conscientious drivers who kept immaculate logs and repair records. His workmates saw him as a loner who never showed any sign of violence did not swear or speak crudely about women although he christened his lorry ‘Wee Willie’ which was a source of amusement for them. Sutcliffe was well liked by his bosses and colleagues alike and was recognised to be brilliant at roping-and-sheeting large and often difficult loads. He was the person that everyone turned to when they got a delivery ticket for an unfamiliar town he had ‘A-Z’ street maps for every possible destination.
At Clark’s at the beginning of 1980, Sutcliffe must have felt he had got a really secure job even a job for life. The firm had been forced to sack all their drivers for alleged thefts from the loads but not him. He had been the one exception the one driver Chairman Tom Clark felt he could trust. Yet there were those at Clarks who had noticed Sutcliffe’s habit of occasionally turning up at work with false number plates on his car. A fact considered insignificant by his workmates, at least until the first weekend of 1981.
The management had been so impressed with Sutcliffe regarding him as possessing all the virtues required by the best lorry drivers that he was chosen to appear in a promotional brochure for the firm. In the following photograph he is shown hair in place, beard neatly trimmed as usual behind the wheel of ‘Wee Willie’ and a giant enlargement of the photograph was given pride of place in the entrance to the firm’s offices.”
It is now clear that Sutcliffe used his lorry – not just his car – to commit murders. This verifies the authors belief that Sutcliffe’s offending was not just confined to West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, but potentially covered every force area in the UK that Sutcliffe’s work as a lorry driver took him to, as shown in the lead illustration. That is, all over England and parts of Southern Scotland.
A ligature could have been used in several crimes that I have researched, including the Nude in the Nettles murder. What is not known as I do not have the pathologist reports on them is whether a ligature was found to have been used in any other of his admitted catalogued crimes prior to the summer and autumn of 1980 when he used a ligature in his last three attacks.”
Sutcliffe was forensically aware and never fouled his car with forensic evidence from his victims’ death. The authors believe it possible that when using his lorry, Sutcliffe:
- Enticed victims into the cab then drove them to the place where they were subsequently killed on the basis that they were going there to have sex.
- The victim was enticed into the cab to have sex (the lorry had a sleeping space in the cab), then murdered in the cab using a ligature, which left limited forensic traces, on the basis that a prostitute would not agree to being driven away from her patch, when she could have sex in the cab.
Sutcliffe was very well regarded at Clark’s Transport for keeping his lorry clean and for being meticulous about cleaning the cab. Obviously to remove any forensic evidence.
Here, Chris gives the background and more information on the individual murders the authors believe were committed from Sutcliffe’s lorry in Doncaster and his visits to Sheffield.
Barbara Young (Case 30) (South Yorkshire Police)
On Tuesday the 22nd of March 1977 Barbara Ann Young, a 29 year old mother of two and a working prostitute who lived at the ‘Happy Days’ Caravan Site at Hatfield, Doncaster, was found by a female friend with severe head injuries in Broxholme Lane, Doncaster at around 8.45pm. She said that she had gone with a ‘client’ to an alleyway between Broxholme Lane and Christchurch Road where he had attacked her. The attack took place in an area between the lorry parks and the transport hotels; an area which Sutcliffe knew and frequented. A post mortem revealed that her skull was fractured which had caused a massive haemorrhage.
Unknown Doncaster prostitute (Case 39) (South Yorkshire Police)
In late November or early December 1977 a prostitute was attacked by a man in a multi storey car park in Doncaster she produced a photo fit of a man and described him as being about thirty five, tall, slim build with brushed back dark hair and a beard and moustache. She had seen the same man later drive away from a Doncaster lorry park. The subsequent photo fit was published in the local press but didn’t come to the attention of the Ripper enquiry team.
The Sheffield attempted murder
The planned attack on Olivier Reivers in Sheffield is well known, because it led to Sutcliffe’s arrest. However what is not known – until now – is that, according to one witness that came forward to Chris, Sutcliffe had been hunting in Sheffield’s red light district prior to his arrest on the 2nd of January 1981.
Neither of these two incidents were mounted from Sutcliffe’s lorry, but are included here for consistency because they both took place in South Yorkshire.
Olivier Reivers (Case 66) South Yorkshire Police
Sutcliffe was arrested on the 2nd of January 1981 in Sheffield with prostitute Olivier Reivers. Whom he had picked up earlier in Sheffield’s red light district. He was in his own car with false plates, armed with a hammer, two knives and a ligature. This was the only time his use of false number plates was connected to a Ripper attack. He had taken the false plates earlier that day from a scrap yard in Cooper Bridge, near Mirfield. They were from a Skoda saloon that had been written off in an accident. Obviously they were obtained specifically for this attack which was out of his known areas of operation in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.
According to employees at T&WH Clark (Holdings Ltd), Sutcliffe occasionally turned up at work with false number plates on his car. Yet the police did not find any false plates when they searched Sutcliffe’s home. The conclusion is inescapable that when he operated out of his local area, he sometimes bought false plates on the day of the attack, so he could not be traced by the police surveillance. He ditched the plates shortly afterwards, so they could not incriminate him.
It must, therefore, be a concern that there were other occasions when he used false plates in attacks outside West Yorkshire, which were never attributed to him.
Fortunately for Ms Reivers, two alert Sheffield Police Officers Sergeant Robert Ring and Probationary PC Robert Hydes, arrested Sutcliffe initially for being in a car which they believed stolen because of the false plates.
PC Hydes tells the story of this arrest in this documentary Manhunt the Yorkshire Ripper at 1 hour 22 minutes.
Sutcliffe was never charged with the planned attack on Ms Reivers. Although there is no doubt that he intended to murder her.
Earlier visit(s) to Sheffield. The 26th of November 1980
A witness has come forward to Chris who believes he saw Sutcliffe in Sheffield on the 26th of November 1980. His story is told in his own words below:
Hi Chris l just lost a long message which has disappeared suddenly but it was about a conversation l had with a guy who l am convinced was Peter Sutcliffe on the night of 26th November 1980 which l remember being a Wednesday night.
I guess he would have clocked off work around 5 pm that night and driven to Sheffield in his car that night as if you think about it Leeds Bradford and Huddersfield would have been too hot for him as his last murder was the week before and 3 weeks to the night in question he attacked a girl in Huddersfield so l think he would have been sizing Sheffield up as his next hit, the conversation took place in a north Sheffield pub not too far from the M1 motorway and just south of a district in Sheffield called Chapeltown which ironically he could have been targeting this as his next place. Chapeltown is right next to the M1 and is sign posted which he would have seen driving up and down the M1 in his lorry , l think he would have on the night had a look around there but didn’t find it too busy so came a little further into Sheffield. l remember getting into the pub at 9 35 that night, my girlfriend at the time was working behind the bar she was only 16 at that time and Peter had had his eye on her, we had been having a very interesting conversation when l look back l would love to tell you the full details of it all, when my girlfriend towards the back end of night started collecting empty pint pots and after having a brief chat with me she moved on Peter asked me who that “lass was”. l replied that she was my girlfriend he said she seems a nice girl but she can’t count. l asked why he said that he gave her a £5 note for a pint of bitter and she had given him change for a £1 note instead.
During the conversation he had mentioned to me that he was a lorry driver from the North East which started to alert me. I had read that the ripper may be a lorry driver and with him saying he was from North East but he was talking in a Yorkshire accent more north of Sheffield as he reminded me of how a friend of mine from York spoke l said to him that with you been a lorry driver and from the North East that it’s a wonder you not been quizzed by police about being the ripper. l remember the startled look on his face and he replied that he had but his wife just confirms who l am and they leave me alone. He then said to me whilst it was my turn to be startled he said the ripper hasn’t struck in Sheffield has he l said no he asked is that because Sheffield hasn’t a red light district l said it had and gave him a rough direction as to where it was. We were about 5 miles from the red light district ( not that frequented it ) l remember telling him after he asked me that it was near to Bramall Lane football ground just up from it on the main road. Earlier in the conversation he had mentioned to me that Sheffield seemed very quiet l explained that a lot were on strike or on short time as l was at the time he asked me what was the most livid at night and l mentioned Friday was a night when even couples went out with friends more than as a couple. Saturday was a bit of both, when he said he was from the North East l remember saying to him that l had recently been to a football match up there he said football wasn’t his thing he said he had been more into rugby but not too much. He said that there was a football pitch at the top of his garden, it was at this point my girlfriend was collecting the empties then after saying my girlfriend couldn’t count l the quizzed him about it been a wonder police hadn’t quizzed him about been ripper. l can’t remember how we parted as l think l was getting to suspicious in my head but l remember walking my girlfriend home and she asked me who that man was l was talking to l said l don’t know but l am very suspicious about him. l asked her if she could remember serving him and she said yes l told her what He said about her not been able to count and l remember her telling me that he gave her a £1 note as she noticed oil stains on his hands. 5 weeks and 2 nights after this he was caught in Sheffield on a Friday after picking up a prostitute in the red light district l mentioned of earlier.
When pics of him in the paper appeared they were all from him from his wedding which threw me off a little, but shortly after my girlfriend phoned me up asking me if l seen a interview with a girl who worked at his place, think she was a wages clerk she described the clothes he wore at work and my girlfriend said she describes the same clothes the man l was talking to was wearing which were a lumber type jacket or shirt and with brown corduroy trousers.
At the time people thought that l was carjacking up when l mentioned that l was sure that l had been talking to the ripper then it all went quiet when it was announced that he had been caught in Sheffield, l put it out of my head right up until l had my eyes operated on in 2007. I have artificial lenses and the operation was carried out in Bradford just before the ripper got attacked the last time in Broadmoor. l had been advised to travel with somebody and stay overnight in a hotel. My mother drove me up the eye clinic is at Cottingley, l remember us passing a sign with Heaton on it was then l started remembering the night in question and l started to look it all up on the internet about the Yorkshire ripper. It surprised me how much l remembered of the conversation and the more l read the more convinced l became that it was Sutcliffe l was talking to and the arrest pic of him is more to how l remember the guy l was talking to the pics l saw of him at his wedding.
I have been in touch with Carl Sutcliffe and asked him if he can remember Peter wearing a lumber jacket and he said that he did and that it was probably Peter l was talking to. l am not looking to make money on what l said and described am not one for making a fuss about all this l just wonder that if l had not gone to the pub that night l am certain Sutcliffe would have followed her home that night and she could well have been the next victim, l shudder at the thought. l do have your book by the way Chris and l am sure after reading your book that he done lots more, there was something going amiss with him but he knew full what he was doing. In the end l think he knew the net was closing in on him so he just kept killing to put more work on the police and to keep them busy for if he stopped it would give them time to piece things together, he knew what he was doing.
Sorry l tried keeping it short but not easy once you start on a roll, incidentally l was going to report all to the police the next day but everyone l mentioned it to thought l was going mad. My mother didn’t but the reaction l got from work colleagues at the time put my off from going to the police. l did stop a policeman just before that Christmas on a night out one Sunday evening and told him briefly said he was a lorry driver who spoke with Yorkshire accent he asked me if l wanted to go to the station with him and make a statement l got nervous and said no. l do wish l had done so, just glad the girl who was with him on his arrest didn’t become a victim. Also the night l was talking to Peter Sutcliffe 26th November 1980 was also the same date his friend went to the police in Bradford saying he thought his friend Peter Sutcliffe was the Yorkshire Ripper.
Looking through one of the ripper books l have l came across something about Trevor Birdsall wearing a wig* and it triggered my memory of the conversion l had with who l am certain is Sutcliffe, l seem to remember the guy saying l looked like a friend of his but his friend wore a wig, my hair was a lot shorter in them days, remember it was something this guy found funny about his friend, and by total consequence, the night was actually the same night Trevor Birdsall went to Bradford police station with his suspicions of his friend, 26th November 1980, a Wednesday night
The authors have been unable to corroborate all of this information, but find it credible. We have been able to confirm that:
- Peter Sutcliffe’s best friend Trevor Birdsall did wear a wig. See Page 130 of Somebody’s Husband Somebody’s Son by Gordon Burn.
- There is a sports field at the top left of Sutcliffe’s Garden which was searched in 1981 when he was arrested.
The evidence of the witness and his girlfriend above, indicates that starting on the 26th of November 1980 until his arrest on the 2nd of January 1981, Sutcliffe had been actively trawling for victims in Sheffield. The authors contacted South Yorkshire Police with this information and had this response from its Media Team:
A South Yorkshire Police spokesman confirmed the information has been passed to its cold case team. As with any incident, reports of a crime or information relating to a crime can be passed to police by calling 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Shortly afterwards the SYP Cold Case Team responded to our initial enquiry through the SYP Media Team as follows:
“Based on the information you have provided, SYP has not identified any incidents in the period 26th of November 1980 to the 2nd of January 1981 which we believe may be linked to Peter Sutcliffe.”
This does not mean that Sutcliffe did not commit other attacks in Sheffield in this period. It is also possible that attacks occurred in this period and were not reported to SYP, because the victims were prostitutes who did not want police attention.
Appeal for Information
Peter Sutcliffe pictured in his TW Clark lorry circa 1976
Did you see Peter Sutcliffe or his lorry in Sheffield, Doncaster or in a lorry park in or near those areas?
If you have any information on Peter Sutcliffe that you want to pass on confidentially, you can talk to a journalist by contacting the North Yorks Enquirer using our firstname.lastname@example.org address. All responses will be treated in the strictest confidence.