Sunday 22 August 2010

John Humble and the Hoax Ripper Tapes

When I lived in Leeds for a couple of years in the 70s, the Yorkshire Ripper was at work, and my abiding memory is of how the serial killings terrified so many people, and interfered with the lives of so many women who were afraid to walk some of the city’s streets. It was a grim time, and there was real cause for celebration when, at long last, the police finally caught Peter Sutcliffe.

Arguably, his arrest was delayed by the hoax letters and tapes sent to the police and which set them off on a false trail. I remember a massive advertising campaign about the tapes – and it was thought that, because of the accent of the voice on the recordings, that the Ripper came from Sunderland. In fact, Sutcliffe came from West Yorkshire, where most of his crimes were committed.

I’ve just watched an interesting television programme on the hoax tapes which details the arrest of the man who was actually responsible for them – an alcoholic named John Humble. Apparently, Humble became depressed after sending the tapes, and attempted suicide. He also phoned a message to the police to say that the tapes were phoney, but did not give enough detail to substantiate his claim. He was only caught a few years back, thanks to advances in DNA testing, and was sentenced to eight years in prison (though presumably he will soon be released, if he is not out already.)

Humble was asked what his motive was, and his answer was ‘notoriety’. A sick twist on the celebrity culture, I suppose. The programme was a sobering reminder of Britain’s biggest manhunt, and a shocking episode in our history. Humble appears in many ways to be a pathetic character, and by misleading investigators who had become desperate for a lead, it is arguable that his hoax cost the lives of a number of young women. How sad, and what a pointless waste of life.


Anonymous said...

Martin - It is sad, isn't it? Thanks so much for sharing your memories of that sad time, too. Of course, not living there at the time, I just heard scattered bits of news that came to us in the U.S. about it, so for me, it's really interesting to get a deeper look and better perspective on what happened.

Mason Canyon said...

It is a sad thing. In some ways Humble assisted Sutcliffe by keeping the police looking elsewhere. It's hard for me to understand how a person could want notoriety that much.

Thoughts in Progress

Deb said...

It's a sad fact that during notorious cases, many people--I don't know what you'd call them, crime groupies? publicity hounds?--provide the police with misleading or completely false information in order to feel that they're part of the story, so to speak.

There's an interesting movie from the early 1980s called "Eyewitness," starring Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt. Hurt plays a man who keeps claiming more and more knowledge of a crime in order to get close to Weaver. It's worth a look if you haven't seen it before.

Dorte H said...

In crime fiction, these twists and red herrings are brilliant entertainment, but that real people need this kind of notoriety is terrifying.

Martin Edwards said...

Thank you for your comments. Deb, is that the film also known as 'The Janitor', by any chance?

Deb said...

I'm not sure about the title "The Janitor," but it would make sense, because I believe Hurt does play a janitor who claims to have witnessed a crime. It's been almost 30 years since I saw it, but I remember it as quite good.