Here I am in Manchester at the location where Vera Millward was murdered by Peter Sutcliffe. She was his ninth murder victim and the last prostitute he killed. Though only 40 years old she was a frail woman after a hard life. She'd got married and had five children but when her husband died her three children (all under 18) were taken into care. After three major operations (she had one lung) she felt decrepit - her face was lined and she was underweight. Desperate for money she turned to prostitution and on Tuesday 16th May 1978 she left her rundown council flat to make money despite stomach cramps. She told her boyfriend she was going to the chemist for pills but he knew this meant she’d be meeting regular customer. He didn't turn up - had he turned up she'd probably have remained alive. She joined the other 400 prostitutes making a living on the streets.
That night Sutcliffe had left Bradford in his Ford Corsair and had driven an hour to Manchester. He had not murdered for three and a half months and had slid a hammer and knives under his seat. After eight murders women in West Yorkshire had become wary so he thought the prostitutes in Manchester may be easier prey (though he'd murdered Jean Jordan in Manchester the previous year.) Cruising around the red light district he saw Vera, asked her if she was doing business and asked if £5 would be okay. Yes and yes, she confirmed and got in. She gave Sutcliffe directions to the big hospital on Oxford Street a short walk from the city centre. Initially he stopped the car at the front of the hospital and then suggested it would be quieter around the back. She agreed and they parked at the back, Sutcliffe reversing the Corsair up to the wall for a quick getaway.
He was taking a risk: the hospital was occupied by 800 people, the car park was floodlit and people smoked outside. The medical staff were used to seeing prostitutes with their customers. When Vera got out of the car to get onto the back seat Sutcliffe struck her on the back of the skull. Whether this killed her is unknown, though probably not as someone later said they heard three screams for help. At some point Sutcliffe walloped Vera's head another two times and she fell onto her face. He gripped her wrists and dragged her about 4m to a fence. He pulled up her dress and underskirt and stabbed her repeatedly and then slashed her stomach until her intestines spilled out. He rolled her onto her stomach and stabbed her back repeatedly. He left her facing down on her right side, arms folded beneath her. He lay her coat over her body but it wasn’t long enough to cover her head and feet. He placed her wedge-heeled shoes neatly on her body and covered her head with a piece of paper. She was found by gardeners at 8am the next morning. Unloading their vans they saw the corpse and thought it was a tailor's dummy.
Police quickly deduced this was the Yorkshire Ripper - Jean Jordan who was killed 5 miles away bore the same mutilations. Tyre tracks confirmed it was him as they matched those left on grass in Leeds where Irene Richardson was butchered. Sutcliffe didn’t attack again in 1978. It would be April the following year when he continued the murder spree. He wouldn’t pick up any victims in his car again.
Since 1978 Manchester Infirmary has changed drastically, growing out in all directions. It could have been a new building. Thankfully I knew where to go though as I'd found out exactly where Vera had been murdered. It's still round the back of the hospital but is now the private fenced playground of a children's unit. A fixed external table tennis table sits at the location (within a few metres anyway.) It was a Sunday when I visited so the playground was closed. I received some odd looks as I put the camera on a long stick and took some photos using the timer. I wondered if the staff who work there know this was where a grisly murdered took place.
Vera was the last known prostitute to be murdered by Sutcliffe. It would be eleven months before he attacked again probably because his mum was gravely ill and he spent much time at her bedsides and then grieving.
I've attached photographs of a headstone here however I'm not sure she's buried directly under it. For a couple of years I visited the plot of grass which seems to be where she was buried (records show a pauper's plot bearing Vera and three unrelated adults and two children.) Sometimes there were flowers on it and once there was a pebble. However a headstone as since appeared and it's about two feet away and on the next row of graves.
Taken from television footage...