The full true story of the Yorkshire Ripper hoax which cost £1million and three lives

It’s been called one of the most notorious hoaxes in criminal history

Netflix has just released a new documentary series about The Yorkshire Ripper. “The Ripper” looks at the hunt for the notorious killer, the impact on victims and how the crimes affected the country. But the huge manhunt was greatly set back by a hoax – another man who was claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper to police.

This hoax story is said to have cost the case £1million and three innocent lives. It’s been called one of the most notorious hoaxes in criminal history. The man in question taunted the police, making regular contact with them and saying they would never find him. This took investigators down a rabbit hole, making them believe the person they were looking for was from somewhere else entirely and allowed the real killer to avoid justice nine times.

Here’s the full story of what happened.

CW: Details of murder and crime which may be upsetting. 

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Detectives listening to his tapes, via Netflix

Whilst the case was going on, a man pretended to be the notorious killer and taunted police

The Yorkshire Ripper hoax was a man named John Samuel Humble. He pretended to be the notorious killer, and gained the nickname of “Wearside Jack”. He sent hoax recordings, letters and made phone calls to police during 1978 and 1979. The nickname “Wearside Jack” came from Humble’s thick Sunderland accent, which is what took the Ripper investigation away from the West Yorkshire area and hindered the real arrest for around 18 months. This allowed the real killer, Peter Sutcliffe, to kill more women.

Humble, who was an unemployed labourer living on the Ford Estate in Sunderland, sent three letters claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper. These were postmarked from Sunderland. The first letter read:

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 s***s. 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 w****s 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. W****s getting younger each time. Old s*** next time I hope. Huddersfield never again, too small close call last one.

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via Netflix

Humble was said to be motivated by a wish for notoriety, a hatred for police and an obsession with Jack the Ripper. He also sent audio recordings, taking responsibility for the crimes. His accent led police to launch a full scale investigation into the Castletown area of Sunderland. It’s been reported that the investigation, called “Project R” contained 40,000 people who were involved to varying extents in the manhunt. A hotline for information was set up, pleas placed on 5,000 billboards and 300 newspaper adverts. This line of investigation is said to have cost £1million.

A few weeks after the audio recording, voice experts told police they were worried it was a hoax, but they were reportedly ignored. A victim of the Ripper who had survived the attack was also insistent that the man who attacked her was local, and did not have the accent John Humble did. Over the course of five years, Peter Sutcliffe who actually committed the murders, was interviewed nine times but released on the basis of his accent and handwriting not matching the hoaxer.

While West Yorkshire Police was investigating the leads, Sutcliffe murdered three more women, and attacked two others. It was only after Sutcliffe’s confession that Wearside Jack was found out to be a hoax.

The Yorkshire Ripper hoax made a number of calls to police saying he was the killer

One of the most shocking parts of the Yorkshire Ripper hoax case were the chilling calls he made to police, claiming he was the man they were looking for. He addressed the audio to Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, and said: “Lord! You are no nearer catching me now than four years ago when I started.” He claimed police on the case couldn’t “be much good” if they hadn’t yet found him.

Listen to the calls here:

What happened to the Yorkshire Ripper hoax after he was found out?

DNA samples from an envelope of one of the letters John Humble had sent to West Yorkshire Police matched his profile which on the database from an unrelated incident in 2001, where he was cautioned for being drunk and disorderly. He was arrested on 18th October 2005.

Humble is said to have appeared deeply ashamed for what he did, and said he was “evil” and deserved to be in prison. He admitted to the hoax and was charged with four counts of perverting the course of justice. He initially pleaded not guilty, but later admitted to being Wearside Jack and in March 2006 changed his plea to guilty on four counts of perverting the course of justice.

On 21st March 2006, Humble was sentenced to eight years in prison and was released in 2009 after serving four years of his sentence.

The Ripper is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook. 

Related stories recommended by this writer:

How Bruce Jones from Coronation Street became a suspect in the Yorkshire Ripper case

The Ripper on Netflix: Who was Wearside Jack the hoaxer and where is he now?

• Ranked: The best true crime documentaries on Netflix, according to Rotten Tomatoes