Wearside Jack: How John Humble's web of deception unfolded from the Sunderland hoaxer's interest in Jack the Ripper

After decades of investigations, theories and concerns, it was a bored alcoholic in his 20s who was found to be the man behind the Wearside Jack hoax.

Tuesday, 20th August 2019, 10:35 am
Updated Tuesday, 20th August 2019, 4:15 pm

Driven by his interest in the case of the Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper, Humble came up with the idea of sending the letters while sitting at home alone in the Hylton Lane Estate.

The letters

John Humble

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The first was posted from the post box on Hylton Road in March 1978 and was addressed to head of the Ripper Squad, Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield.

When there was no reaction to the letter in newspaper or on television, Humble decided to bypass the police and go straight to the media.

Using his knowledge of the original Jack the Ripper case, he started work on his second letter – this time to the Daily Mirror newspaper.

In each letter he posted, he signed the inside of the envelope flap "Jack the Ripper", so the recipient would know who he was when opening the envelopes.

Image released by West Yorkshire Police

But a year passed after he sent the second letter, and still no attention, so in March 1979 he wrote his final letter.

The tape

After his letters seemed to fall flat, he decided to make a tape using his brother's recorder and a cassette he bought from Woolworths in Fawcett Street, Sunderland.

Eventually it would be played to millions of television viewers across the country.

Picture dated 26/06/1979 of West Yorkshire's Assistant Chief Constable, Mr George Oldfield, at a police theatre at Wakefield, listens to an eerie tape recording of the man thought to be the "Yorkshire Ripper", which turned out to be Wearside Jack hoaxer John Humble. Picture by PA

The hoax sent police on the biggest wild goose chase in British criminal history as detectives switched their investigations to Sunderland.

All the letters were stamped with a Sunderland postmark, and officers pinpointed the accent on the tape down to the Castletown area of the city.

"I'm Jack," said the voice. "I see you are still having no luck catching me."

The tape was heard in 15million homes across the UK, with headlines in the Sunderland Echo proclaiming: "Ripper is a Wear Man".

Police images released in 1979 of four envelopes and two signatures of 'The Yorkshire Ripper' - which were actually from John Humble

In the previous four years the Ripper had brutally murdered 10 women in Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Huddersfield, Halifax and Preston.

In an article published in the Echo on June 27, 1979, Mr Oldfield stated: "I acknowledge that there is a possibility that this is a hoax, but there are factors in the letters that I have received that make me believe that the man who wrote the letters can only be the man known as the Ripper."