Vera Millward (1938? to 16th May 1978)

 

Here I am in Manchester at the murder location of Vera Millward who was butchered by Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. She was his ninth murder victim and the last prostitute he killed.

 

Though 40 years old Vera was a frail woman after undergoing three major operations (she had one lung.) She was a prostitute who lived in on a rundown council estate on the skirts of the city. On Tuesday 16th May 1978 she was suffering from stomach pains but still left her flat at about 10pm to make some money. She told her Jamaican boyfriend that she was going to buy cigarettes but he knew this meant she’d be meeting a customer who picked her up most Tuesday nights. Had this customer turned up Vera might still be alive but he didn’t and she had to hang around on the streets waiting for business.

 

That night Sutcliffe had left Bradford in his Ford Corsair and driven an hour over the Pennines to murder in Manchester. He had not murdered for three and a half months at this stage and was ready - a hammer and knives lay under his seat. Women were becoming too wary in West Yorkshire so he thought the Manchester prostitutes may be less likely to suspect he was the beast causing terror in the north of England (even though he'd killed 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 hospital on Oxford Street just a short walk from the city centre. Initially he stopped the car at the front of the hospital but 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 with so many windows around. The doctors and nurses were well used to seeing prostitutes entertaining their customers; it was a bit of cheap entertainment while smoking out at the back. Vera got out of the car to get on the back seat. Sutcliffe pulled out his hammer from under his seat and went round to the back door. As Vera was opening the door he struck on the back of the skull with a hammer. Whether this killed her is unknown, though probably not as man said he heard three screams for help from the hospital grounds but thought they were from a patient. At some point walloped Vera's head another two times with the hammer. She fell flat on her face and Sutcliffe gripped her wrists and pulled her about 4m to a fence. He pulled up her dress and underskirt and stabbed her repeatedly. He slashed her stomach so viciously that her intestines spilled out. He turned her over and stabbed her back repeatedly. Her right eyelid had been punctured and the eye bruised. Her left her facing down on her right side, her arms folded beneath her. He lay her coat over her body but it wasn’t long enough to cover everything and her head and feet poked out. He placed her shoes neatly on her body and covered her head with a piece of paper. She was found by gardeners at 8am the next morning when they arrived to tidy up the grounds. 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 had 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 and Vera was the last prostitute he attacked. It would be April the following year when he continued the murder spree. He wouldn’t pick up any victims in his car again.

 

I drove down to Manchester Infirmary and saw that it had changed drastically since 1978. I'd watched new footage of the murder, paused it when the camera swept across the back of the hospital and then printed it off in colour. It didn't help much though. The main body of building was still visible but the hospital had extended considerably. There's still a car park at the back but the not large stretch of grass on the news footage had gone and it was a road. I walked around the whole place and in circle and returned to the car park, all the time looking at the old bones of the building. It will have been much quieter around there in 1978. The hospital frontage is on Oxford Street on the other side and the car park would have been dark and quiet. I'm not sure exactly where Vera was bludgeoned to death but it was probably near that back wall.

 

One Sunday afternoon I went to look for Vera's grave in Southern Cemetery. I'm not sure I found it though as there's no headstone. According to official burial records she's buried in plot 1489 in Section "I" in the Roman Catholic section. The graves are well numbered and pretty much in order so I found plot 1487 easily enough. There are no 1488 or 1489 graves though. The next two headstones are too old for people buried in the seventies (the names don't match the burials records.) Perhaps Vera is beneath the patch of grass shown in the photos. She was penniless and probably given a paupers burial - put into the next available hole, in a cheap box coffin and under unmarked turf. She was buried with three adults and two children - none are related. Perhaps she's behind the headstone which would be 1489.

 

I walked around Section "I" as it's not very big and looked at every headstone thinking it may be tucked away in a corner. I didn't find anything though. I'd guess Vera was buried for free by the council and her grave isn't marked. I did a hearty salute to the area that is probably I1489 and left.

 

 

 

The rear of the hospital in 2019...

 

The side of the hospital and entrance to the car park at the back...

 

 

Taken from television footage...

 

 

 

 

 

 

The front of the hospital in 2019...

 

 

Perhaps she's buried on the patch of grass before me...

 

 

 

 

At the back of the headstones. Perhaps Vera is here...