Not many women survived Peter Sutcliffe’s attacks which usually started with a hammer blow on the back of the skull followed by stabbings. Maureen Long did; he picked her up near a nightclub in Bradford and brought her to an unlit road and attacked her. It's a miracle she survived; normally survivors remained alive when Sutcliffe fled when possibly witnessed were approaching. Nobody interrupted his attack on Maureen and he left her as dead. Here I am on a quite cobbled lane in an industrialised district of Bradford where things took place.
Birkshall Lane was a little scary on a bright Sunday afternoon. It’s off Back Bowling Lane which accurately points to it being on the edge of things. You’d only enter the lane to fly-tip an illegal load, dump a dead dog or do some snogging. It leads down to a landfill site and a big truck carrying cargo down stopped to watch me as I did some filming. The driver must have wondered what on earth my interest was but he was too high up and the engine too noisy for him to enquire.
What happened? Only two weeks after murdering 16-year old Jayne MacDonald in Leeds Sutcliffe was looking to kill again (by this time he’d murdered five women.) On Saturday 9th July 1977 he’d been out drinking in a few pubs with two friends. He dropped them off and instead of going home he cruised the Manningham area of Bradford looking for prey. Out drinking and dancing that night was Maureen, a 42-year-old mother-of-three grown up children who had been raised on a rough Bradford estate. At about 7:30pm she bumped into her estranged husband Ronnie and she agreed to spend the night with him later on. By midnight she’d been to the city’s famous Tiffany’s nightclub and danced with many men. When she left at 2am she was drunk.
Driving around in his Ford Cosair car Sutcliffe was watching and waiting for an opportunity. He spotted the small 5ft 1inch Maureen who was staggering along the road in a long, black evening dress and wedge shoes. He asked if she wanted a lift. She flopped in the passenger seat and directed Sutcliffe to Rendell Street where - by coincidence - he’d dropped of his friends. She pointed out the house where she was going to (her ex husbands) but asked Sutcliffe to wait on the corner. Maureen enquired if Sutcliffe was attracted to her and when he nodded she said they could go in the house if it was vacant. It was and she couldn't get inside and returned to the car and told Sutcliffe of a quiet spot. She directed him to Bowling Back Lane populated mostly by factories, engineering works and railway yards.
They turned off onto silent unlit Birkshall Lane, drove about 150m down the cobbles and parked. Maureen told Sutcliffe she needed to urinate. She walked across the cobbles, made her way up a bank leading to waste ground and crouched down. Sutcliffe had grabbed a hammer from under his seat and followed her. While Maureen was squatting he walloped her across the back of her head with the hammer. When she slumped to the ground he dragged her up the bank to the level waste ground, her knickers at her ankles. He hammered her head again and ripped off the drop of her dress. With a knife from his kitchen he cut her bra open to see her breasts and hitched her dress up to her waist. He stabbed her shoulder and torso nine times, one cut travelling from her breast to below her navel. He turned her over and stabbed her back four times.
Thinking her dead Sutcliffe threw a discarded mattress over the warm body, its weight making him fall into some rubble. One hand touched a discarded hand basin and he left a bloodstained palm print on its smooth surface. He drove off quickly and was probably spotted by a night-watchman working at a nearby ironworks whose dog was barking.
Even today there’s a traveller site by the lane. In 1977 there was one there and women in caravans heard cries and whimpers as Maureen gained consciousness. They thought it was a baby and found Maureen’s battered bloodied body at about 8.45am. She was still under the mattress shivering and terrified. An ambulance rushed her to Bradford Royal Infirmary where her life was probably saved. Later her brain was operated on at Leeds General Infirmary. She was hospitalized for nine weeks.
Sutcliffe later admitted to police it was the “end of the line” for him as she would certainly be able to identify him. Maureen was the fifth woman to have survived an attack. The police were crestfallen to find she was suffering from amnesia. Later on Sutcliffe claimed to have come face- to-face with Maureen Long in a shopping centre in Bradford. He said he “came face to face with her. I recognised her immediately, she seemed to look at me, but she obviously didn't recognise me."
I visited this place on a Sunday afternoon. I parked on the wrong street, got out and walked around. I found myself on a small estate for travellers who have decided to stay put. I received attention immediately strangers can expect on such an intimate estate. Even the dogs tied up outside caravans and houses looked at me. I strolled around and found Birkshall Lane. The spot where Sutcliffe parked up is still there. The banking where Maureen went to wee is no longer there - instead there's a fence and some containers.
I didn't hang around long. A truck carrying a miscellany of tangled metal appeared and slowed down as I took some photos. The driver was eyeballing me in his side mirror once he'd trundled passed me. I looked at the cobbles which Maureen had taken her last steps across, and the containers which now mark the spot where she nearly died. I did a salute and left.