“Hope”: Yorkshire Post covers ‘Nude in the Nettles’ case
by CHRIS CLARK & TIM HICKS
For some time now, the NYE has been covering “Yorkshire Ripper” Peter Sutcliffe and his potential involvement in many more crimes than he was convicted of, including attacks in North Yorkshire.
When the authors started publishing Chris’s antecedent investigation into Sutcliffe, they were hopeful they would be able to progress one of the great murder mysteries of Yorkshire, ‘The Nude in the Nettles’ murder. The authors assessed that it had probably been perpetrated by “Yorkshire Ripper” Peter Sutcliffe that the original North Yorkshire Police investigation had been poor, and had failed because it prematurely focussed on false lines of enquiry. They further assessed that there had also been a failure to impartially and independently review the case after its closure in 1982.
For new readers, the facts of the case are set out by Chris below:
“On Friday 28 August 1981 three days before August Bank Holiday a woman’s naked and decomposed skeletal remains was found dumped in nettle bushes amongst tall rosebay willow herbs in remote moorland about 10 feet from the country road leading to Scawton Moor House situated between Scawton and Rievaulx at Sutton Bank on the North Yorkshire Moors, adjacent to the A170 Thirsk to Pickering road. There were woods on either side of the road a place where people stopped to picnic; it was also a lover’s lane.
The cause of death was unknown but the pathologist’s report concluded that the woman had been dead for up to two years when found and the case became known as the ‘Nude in the Nettles’ due to the location of the body.
It was later established that sometime during 1979 a local jockey had exercised his horses along a bridleway adjacent to where this body was found and had noticed a foul smell emitting from the area.
The woman was 5’2” tall, aged between 35 and 40 and probably had given birth two or three times, wore her dark coloured hair short in a page-boy style, took size 4 shoes and painted her toenails pink. All of her upper teeth were missing and she had an upper dental plate fitted and only six teeth left in her lower jaw. She smoked and drank heavily and paid little attention to herself; she also had a displaced septum, the bone between her nostrils which could have resulted by a blow to the face. The police suspected she may have been a prostitute.
In November 1981 medical students constructed a waxwork facial reconstruction of the woman’s face. Her remains were buried; but during 2012 the body was exhumed to extract DNA and perform other tests.
For a lorry driver travelling north from Shipley in West Yorkshire to Sunderland Docks or Scarborough to get to Sutton Bank is an easy journey of 50 miles via the A658 to the A1 North the A168 through Topcliffe and the A19 at Thirsk where you can continue north on the A19 to Sunderland or take the A170 to Scarborough. This would be a regular route for Sutcliffe with truck stops in North Yorkshire at the A1 Services Boroughbridge and A168 Thirsk where in the late 1970’s prostitutes abounded, and plied their wares in the lorry parks.
I concluded that she could have been a victim of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and contacted The York Press, which ran this article Retired policeman believes there is a Yorkshire Ripper link to victim of Sutton Bank murder.
Unfortunately this did not lead to any interest from North Yorkshire Police and I was not able to get the case re-opened.
Then in 2019 I teamed up with Tim and the NYE. We started a media campaign to obtain fresh information to try and progress the “Nude in the Nettles” case. The NYE started running appeals for information on the unknown victim; who we named “Hope”. These were successful and more witnesses came forward and led to a major breakthrough. Steadily we started building up a fuller picture of the circumstances surrounding the murder of “Hope”, which has now led to further local media interest.”
NYE co-operation with the Yorkshire Post, to progress the ‘Nude in the Nettles’ case
As a result of the NYE articles, the Yorkshire Post contacted the authors and asked for their assistance in covering the case. Such was the interest in the case and the amount of material involved, that the Yorkshire Post decided to cover the case in two large articles. Chris and Tim both understand the importance of media coverage in cold cases and readily agreed to assist, as a way of generating further public interest. Links to the articles are below:
Both articles are well worth reading and are well written by an exceptionally talented and relentless investigative journalist, Ms Sarah Wilson. Sarah meticulously researched the articles going through all of the material published by the NYE over the last two years. She then interviewed both authors at length, before conducting her own research.
Having now reviewed both articles, Tim and Chris are very happy that the close co-operation between the NYE and the Yorkshire Post has produced such high quality investigative journalism.
The Yorkshire Post has an impressive reputation as a reputable paper that delivers skilful, first class investigative journalism. The authors were both very pleased to work with the Yorkshire Post and this must give further confirmation to our readers of the quality of the NYE’s investigative journalism and its acceptance by the mainstream media.
A major breakthrough in the ‘Nude in the Nettles’ case
Unfortunately, for legal reasons the Yorkshire Post did not cover the latest information unearthed by the NYE. The major breakthrough occurred when former SBC Councillor Norman Murphy, who is a long term Scarborough resident, came forward to the NYE with a completely credible identification for “Hope”. The authors were then able to develop other witnesses as specified below.
Witness 1: Norman Murphy
In summary from emails and conversations, Norman’s evidence is as follows:
“I owned the shop Murphyvacs 190/192 Victoria Road Scarborough YO11 1SX. My business was repairing, selling and refurbishing vacuum cleaners. Attached to the side wall of my shop is a Victorian shelter which is large enough to accommodate about 8 people. This shelter became a refuge for several alcoholics and drug addicts and they would habitually congregate in the shelter to drink and be out of the bad weather.
The shop and bus shelter
When I opened my shop in October 1975 the café opposite was owned by a guy called David Siddle. The cafe had no name as far as I can remember. The café is directly opposite my shop and is the window with the white blinds to the right of the yellow logo. Interestingly, the window with the yellow logo was a taxi office and still is. Drivers used the café and were in and out all the time. Not far from the café was the driving test centre for Scarborough and the instructors used the café all the time when their pupils were taking their tests.
Dave Siddle sold the café in I think about 1977. In about 1978/9 I think Iris Scott bought the cafe. So if memory is correct the period I am referring to must have been from 1978 till Sutcliffe was caught in 1981.
I would go to the café each morning for a cup of tea. It was very convenient as I could watch the shop from the seat in the window. From time to time a tall dark haired man with a neatly-trimmed beard and moustache and a strong Yorkshire accent would come to the café and have something to eat and chat to the café owner Iris Scott. I am sure he was not a local. I think it may have been Sutcliffe. He told Iris that he was a wagon driver and as at that time there were loads of small engineering firms in the area, and other commercial businesses his arrival at the café was perfectly logical as he could park up and walk to the café.
When the Ripper was caught and his picture was all over the media, Iris was convinced that the same tall dark haired man who had eaten at the café was the Ripper. And maintained this view until the day she died often repeating the claim.
With regard to the woman whose artist’s impression featured in the NYE article the connection is this. As I recall she was one of the people who used to drink in the shelter. I remember her as she was small and would have been about 40 at the time.
As I recall it she usually wore a kind of quilted body warmer winter or summer. It was dark blue I think underneath she would usually wear a blouse or jumper. She usually wore dark coloured miniskirts or if not mini quite short. She was small stocky but not fat. Dark brown frizzy hair, very similar to the drawing.
I believe she might have been selling herself when she was in Scarborough, hence the very short mini-skirts years too young for her. Accent as I recall was Yorkshire or Lancashire. I don’t think she was local to Scarborough but I am not sure why I think that. I think she may have smoked.
Also the drinking gang were always fighting and one day when she came in she had been beaten up and had some of her teeth knocked out. I have no idea of medical history or where she received treatment, if any.
Not sure where any of them lived or slept I would think they all had bouts of homelessness and the Salvation Army HQ is not far from my shop so would not be surprised if they/she did not have contact with them.
I would say it was inevitable that they were all known to the police. They were habitual drinkers probably drug users as well, although I can’t say I ever saw them take drugs. The shelter next to my shop was a regular haunt for them and well known to the police who had to drive right by it to get to our police station.
Suddenly this group all disappeared. It was a bit strange and might be coincidental. I of course thought nothing of it at the time.
I don’t remember any police investigation into the “Nude in the Nettles” murder or this woman. I would still not have thought anything of it but for the article in the NYE jogging my memory.
No idea where Sutcliffe’s lorry might have been parked, but in those days it was a lot easier to park up my end of town. Also there were several places he could have been delivering to so he might have used their premises I suppose he could have been being loaded so might have gone for a cuppa while he was loaded up.
There were a lot of engineering firms around my end of town in those days. In Roscoe Street alone there was Andrews of Scarborough (motorcycle dealers), Deardens builders merchants, North Sea Winches (they did work relating to marine engineering but also did a lot of welding work), D Wray and Sons was a bakery but they had their vehicle workshop in Roscoe St, Scarborough Ignition Co Ltd (automobile electrical engineers) then there was Pickups (a really big engineering firm – this firm still exists and is now situated on our trading estate). Pickups had deliveries every day and as Roscoe St is not very wide there deliveries were resented by the residents in the area. However, the old goods yard was quite busy in those days; it is now our Sainsburys. As an aside many of the people who worked at these firms used Iris’s cafe so if they had Sutcliffe deliver to them they would have almost certainly either taken him, or directed him to the cafe.”
Witness 2 is Iris Scott, who is now sadly deceased, as is her husband. Her evidence at the time as related to the NYE by Norman and specified above, was that Peter Sutcliffe had been a regular patron of her café.
Witness 3 was traced by Chris as part of our effort to verify Norman’s evidence. He is a friend of Mr and Mrs Scott who has perfectly confirmed Norman’s account that Iris Scott was definite she had seen Peter Sutcliffe in her café on multiple occasions:
“Yes top end next to Boro taxis. She was our neighbour for a while at Newby. I remember Iris saying she was convinced Peter Sutcliffe had been in her café. Sadly after retirement both Iris and her husband Bill passed away”.
Witness 4 was not directly involved in these events. His information relates to the mystery caller. However, the authors are not prepared to release anything more, for reasons of national security.
Witness 5 is Ms Kristina Rose who has now consented to be named, but was previously referred to as “Child A” in the NYE coverage. Kristina and another girl were abducted by Sutcliffe in 1977 or 1978 in his lorry and taken from Hammersmith in London to Sunderland.
Her evidence is critical, because supports the conclusion that Sutcliffe used his lorry to abduct women. It can be accessed in full here.
Witness 6 was involved in these events. His information came to the NYE through a third party. However, the authors are not prepared to release anything more to maintain the confidentiality of our source.
Witness 7 is Tim Hicks. His information relates to the identity of the mystery caller. However, he is not prepared to release anything more, for reasons of national security.
The response of North Yorkshire Police’s Cold Case Review Team
The authors always felt the case was one witness away from a resolution. As Tim wrote to Chief Constable Winward on the 11th of May 2019 “I believe this murder is still solvable”. Unfortunately, the North Yorkshire Police Cold Case Review Team has ignored requests from the authors to make arrangements so that all of this information can be passed on. This is not a reflection on the Cold Case Review Unit or its leader Mr Adam Harland. Chief Constable Winward pursues a policy of prohibiting contact between her force and the NYE, which they have to comply with. This is unfortunate, because media coverage is essential in resolving cold cases and the Chief Constable’s policy inhibits the ability of Mr Harland and his team to progress the case. A clear example of “Lions led by Donkeys”.
The authors have been highly critical of both the 1981 and 2011/12 investigations by NYP, in the articles below:
- The failures in the 1981 investigation are discussed in this article: Nude in the Nettles – Was it Sutcliffe?
- The various phases of the NYP investigations from 1981 and 2012 are analysed in this article: Nude in the Nettles – New Developments
Both investigations maintained that the person known as the “Mystery Caller” was the prime suspect. When in fact it was obvious to the authors that he was someone that had inadvertently discovered the body, did not want to get involved for fear of becoming a suspect. Designating this important witness as a suspect was a serous failure, because it diverted police attention away from other suspects and ensured that he would not come forward.
The NYE team know that our articles are read by many Officers from North Yorkshire Police including officers from the Cold Case Review Team. It appears that our articles have had a positive impact. NYP have confirmed to the Yorkshire Post that they now accept that the mystery caller is no longer designated as a suspect and that he was probably a witness, as the authors have consistently maintained. Again, this vindicates the quality of the NYE’s investigative analysis.
The authors cannot help but feel that the police assessment that this poor woman was a prostitute or “down and out” has affected the police investigation. If she was a policeman’s wife or a school teacher with vociferous relatives demanding answers, the Chief Constable would have no choice but to order that the witness evidence developed by the NYE was investigated. As it is, because there is no one championing her cause other than the authors, the Chief Constable can follow her media policy of not engaging with the NYE, which the authors believe is damaging and retarding the NYP investigation with impunity.
Throughout this investigation, a key concern of the authors has been that although the evidence is overwhelming that “Hope” is a victim of Peter Sutcliffe, they could be wrong. If this is so, then a murderer is still at large, possibly one of “Hope’s” clients, who may still be resident in Scarborough.
Tim has therefore written to Scarborough & Whitby MP Mr Robert Goodwill (Conservative) asking him to raise this with the Chief Constable, in the wider interests of progressing the investigation into the murder of his constituent. The NYE will report back on his response in due course
The impact of the new evidence on our knowledge of Sutcliffe’s murders
The authors allege that “Hope” was murdered by Peter Sutcliffe in his lorry, probably by ligature strangulation, or he took her to Sutton Bank in his lorry and murdered her there.
Until now, Sutcliffe was believed to have offended only in his car, in the West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire Police force areas. The new evidence discovered by the NYE shows that Sutcliffe used his lorry to commit murders. He drove his lorry all over the country from Scotland to Dover. So the conclusion is inescapable that Sutcliffe operated across a wider geographical range than previously believed possible and had many more opportunities to attack women. It follows from this that that Sutcliffe had many more victims than previously believed.
The NYE will be following up on this line of enquiry with a series of articles entitled the lorry murders, covering all of the unresolved murders that Sutcliffe may have committed from his lorry.
Finally, as usual, we will finish the article with an appeal for information.
NYE Appeal for Information
Three-dimensional wax reconstruction of the victims head and face
- She was 5’ 2” in height, aged between thirty five and forty.
- She had a slender build and wore her natural dark brown hair in a page-boy style.
- She had given birth to two or three children and had a displaced septum between her nostrils.
- Her toenails were painted pink – the varnish coming from the Max Factor Maxi range.
- She would have worn a size four shoe.
- Staining on her teeth revealed that she was a heavy smoker that did not look after herself.
- She had a Yorkshire or Lancashire accent, but may not be originally from Scarborough.
- All her upper teeth were missing, she had an upper dental plate fitted, and she had only six lower teeth.
- She had an old fracture to her right ankle and an abnormality to her neck vertebrae which would have caused backache.
- Do you remember someone like “Hope” from the shelter in Victoria Street, Scarborough?
- Were you one of “Hope’s” clients?
- Were you a police officer in Scarborough in the period 1977 – 1979? Did “Hope” come into custody for being drunk and disorderly, soliciting or vagrancy, or did you see her at the shelter?
- Were you a social worker, health care professional, or member of the Salvation Army that came into contact with “Hope” and other down and outs from Victoria Road Scarborough?
- Did you find a dark blue quilted body warmer, blouse, jumper, dark mini skirt discarded along on the A170?
- Did you see Peter Sutcliffe or a lorry from TW Clarke (Image at beginning of the article circa 1976) in Scarborough, or any location mentioned in the article?
- Did you work at Victoria Road, Roscoe Street, Andrews of Scarborough (motorcycle dealers), Deardens builder’s merchants, North Sea Winches D Wray and Sons, Scarborough Ignition Co Ltd or Pickups or the old goods yard which is now Sainsburys?
- Were you a taxi driver for Boro Taxis next to the café, or did you use taxis from there?
- Did you frequent the café in Victoria Road and see Peter Sutcliffe there?
- Did you know the café owner Iris Scott, or see Sutcliffe in her cafe?
If you have any information on the ‘Nude in the Nettles’ mystery 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 are followed up and will be treated in the strictest confidence.