Wearside Jack is the nickname given to John Samuel Humble (born 8 January 1956), who pretended to be the Yorkshire Ripper in a number of hoax communications in 1978-79.
Humble sent three letters, taunting the authorities for failing to catch him, as well as an audio-message spoken in a Wearside accent, causing the investigation to be moved away from West Yorkshire area, home of the real killer Peter Sutcliffe, and thereby helping prolong his attacks on women and prevent his potential arrest by two years.
Some 25 years after the event a fragment from one of Humble's envelopes was traced to him through DNA, and in 2006 he was sentenced to eight years in prison for perverting the course of justice.
Over the course of a year between March 1978 and March 1979, Humble sent three letters claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper. Postmarked from Sunderland, two were addressed to George Oldfield, the Assistant Chief Constable of the West Yorkshire Police who was heading the Ripper inquiry, and one to the Daily Mirror.
First letter: 8 March 1978
Written to George Oldfield
- Dear Sir
- I am sorry I cannot give my name for obvious reasons. I am the Ripper. I've been dubbed a maniac by the Press but not by you, you call me clever and I am. You and your mates haven't a clue that photo in the paper gave me fits and that bit about killing myself, no chance. I've got things to do. My purpose to rid the streets of them sluts. My one regret is that young lassie McDonald, did not know cause changed routine that night. Up to number 8 now you say 7 but remember Preston '75. get about you know. You were right I travel a bit. You probably look for me in Sunderland, don't bother, I am not daft, just posted letter there on one of my trips. Not a bad place compared with Chapeltown and Manningham and other places. Warn whores to keep off streets cause I feel it coming on again.
- Sorry about young lassie.
- Yours respectfully
- Jack the Ripper
- Might write again later I not sure last one really deserved it. Whores getting younger each time. Old slut next time I hope. Huddersfield never again, too small close call last one.
"Preston '75" was a reference to the murder of Joan Harrison. The actual Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, was never charged with this crime. It would remain unsolved until 2011, when DNA evidence from the crime scene was matched to a man named Christopher Smith.
On 17 June 1979, Humble sent a cassette to Assistant Chief Constable Oldfield, where he introduced himself as Jack and claimed responsibility for the Ripper murders to that point.
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?
The cassette ended with a segment from "Thank You for Being a Friend" by Andrew Gold. The police focused on Humble's Wearside accent. Together with voice analysts they decided (based on dialectology) that the accent was distinctive to the Castletown area of Sunderland. This led to 40,000 men being investigated – to no avail as the real killer actually came from Bradford, approximately 78 miles southwest. Police also commenced a substantial publicity campaign, including 'Dial-the-Ripper' hotlines, billboards, and full page ads in newspapers. Around £1 million was invested into the publicity campaign alone.
Peter Sutcliffe (who actually committed the murders) was interviewed about the murders a total of nine times, both before and after Humble's correspondence, before he finally confessed to the crimes after his arrest in January 1981. The police concentration on the voice on the tape as a point of elimination rather than as a line of enquiry was one criticism of a notoriously botched police investigation. The satirical magazine Private Eye (no. 463 of 14 September 1979) reported under the headline "STOP PRESS: Ripper – 'I'm a woman'" the receipt of "a video cassette in which (the Ripper) claims, in a strong Irish accent, to be the Leader of the Liberal Party".
While the West Yorkshire Police were investigating the leads, Sutcliffe was free to continue killing, murdering three more women. It was only after Sutcliffe's confession that Wearside Jack was proven to be a hoax. ACC Oldfield took early retirement following what he considered to be a complete humiliation; he died in 1985.
Following Sutcliffe's conviction, the identity of Wearside Jack remained a mystery for over 24 years. On 17 September 2003, the BBC reported that police had decided to call off the search for the hoaxer. Assertions were also made that there were no plans to re-open the case, as too much time had passed and modern forensic tests would most likely be inaccurate due to chemicals used in original testing in the 1970s.
Revisiting the mystery
A major breakthrough came during 2005 when senior officers from West Yorkshire Police's Homicide and Major Inquiry Team (HMET), headed by Det Chief Supt Chris Gregg, decided to review the case. A small piece of the gummed seal from one of the envelopes was located in a forensic laboratory and following publicity about the cold case review the hoax tape was retrieved from a retired scientist who had worked on the original investigation.
As a result of this cold case review, DNA from envelopes sent by Humble as part of the hoax were matched in the United Kingdom National DNA Database with samples police had obtained from Humble in an unrelated incident in 2000, when he had been arrested and cautioned for being drunk and disorderly. By this time Humble had become an alcoholic loner.
Humble, who was living on the Ford Estate in Sunderland, was arrested on 20 October 2005, and charged with four counts of perverting the course of justice. Upon his arrest, Humble had been so drunk that police had to wait several hours before he was considered sober enough to be interviewed. Humble admitted responsibility for the letters and the cassette, but denied perverting the course of justice, and his legal team pushed in vain for a lesser charge of wasting police time.
At times during police interviews Humble appeared ashamed of what he had done, referring to the acts as evil although not being able to explain why they were evil. He revealed that the motive for his crime was a quest for notoriety, although a BBC documentary later suggested he had a hatred of the police dating back to 1975 when he was imprisoned for assaulting a police officer. Humble laughed at several points during the interview, including when asked about the tune played at the end of the tape. During the interviews he also claimed not to have told any other individual he was a hoaxer, and that he did not realise the impact his actions were having on the police investigation.
Humble also confirmed to police that he had used library books as a source of inspiration for his letters and tape. He confirmed he had attended school in the Castletown area of Sunderland, and that he had panicked as police interviewed men in that area. It was also revealed that his neighbours had been interviewed by police searching for Wearside Jack, but he had not.
In fact Humble attended Havelock Senior School in Fordfield Road, Ford Estate near to Flodden Road where he was eventually captured.
Trial and conviction
Humble was tried at Leeds Crown Court on 9 January 2006, and initially pleaded not guilty. He admitted to being Wearside Jack on 23 February 2006, and on 20 March 2006, changed his plea to guilty on four counts of perverting the course of justice.
During the trial, his defence barristers reported he had attempted suicide on a number of occasions, including one occasion shortly after the tape was made public. The defence also claimed he had lived an "inadequate life", and had been driven by guilt to alcoholism. Despite this, Humble did not contact the police voluntarily to acknowledge his guilt, even when it was obvious his tapes and letters were diverting police resources away from the real Ripper. A BBC documentary broadcast on 27 March 2006 reported that Humble had telephoned the incident room and informed them that the tape was a hoax. Although key individuals in the investigation were convinced that this caller was the hoaxer, it was officially discounted. In addition, the US profiling expert Robert Ressler revealed in his book, "Whoever Fights Monsters", that he told the English police that the main tape was a hoax immediately when he heard it.
After hearing Humble's change of plea, the mother of one of the victims of the true Ripper expressed her belief that Humble should be punished, telling the BBC "I think it's started off as a hoax but he should have realised he was misdirecting the police and he was causing criminal damage to people." On 21 March 2006, Humble was sentenced to eight years in jail. In July 2006, he launched an appeal against his sentence, which was rejected in October of the same year.
On 5 September 2009 the Daily Mail Online ran a story "Yorkshire Ripper hoaxer Wearside Jack to be freed from prison next month".
In an article published in July 2013, Humble was confirmed to be out of prison and gave his first interview.
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