Josephine Whitaker (? to 4th April 1979)


Here I am in Halifax at the grave of 19-year-old Josephine Whitaker who was the tenth woman to be murdered by Peter Sutcliffe. Most of his victims had been prostitutes but Josephine was a clerk in a building society so her death injected more panic throughout West Yorkshire. Now any woman could be murdered violently.


On Wednesday 4th April 1979 Josephine had been visiting her grandparents. It was late and she going to stay over for the night but she wore contact lenses and didn’t have any saline to put them in overnight. She decided to take the short walk home, cutting across the fields at Savile Park. It's a large open park area just outside central Halifax. That night Sutcliffe was circling the park in his Sunbeam Rapier. He'd been out with a friend, dropped him off and then headed for Savile Park looking for someone to butcher. He'd been dormant for about a year after murdering Vera Millward in Manchester but something in him had re-ignited. About a month earlier he'd attacked Ann Rooney in Leeds but she’d survived. Green and leafy Savile Park wasn’t his usual hunting ground; there wouldn't be prostitutes who'd readily get into cars with strangers. It’s a flat open expanse of mown grass and football fields lined with mature trees. It’s not surprising that Sutcliffe saw nothing considered bait. He drove in repeated circuits of the park and then spotted Josephine who was alone. Better still there was no dog.


He parked up and put a hammer and a giant sharpened screwdriver into his pocket (the lining had been adjusted to hold the tools.) He ran across the field and caught up with Josephine asking if she had far to go (she was about 90m from home.) When she said she usually walked directly across the dark field Sutcliffe warned of caution. He asked Josephine for the time which she read off the clock-tower. “Seven minutes to twelve,” she answered. He looked at the clock and slowed down pretending to be impressed by her eyesight. She didn't see him withdraw a hammer. He walloped Josephine on the back of the skull and she fell to the grass moaning (later it was found her skull had been fractured ear to ear.) According to a witness she made “the type of noise that makes your hair stand on end”. To quieten her he hammered her again and then saw someone walking along the pavement. He dragged Josephine about 10m into darkness and was horrified to hear voices behind him. Two people were hurrying across the field and passed by. Josephine was still moaning so he yanked her clothing back, turned her over, and stabbed her chest, stomach and legs with his screwdriver a total twenty-one times. At some point he bit one breast so hard he left a clue - the teeth marks showing a distinctive gap between two teeth.


At 6:30 the next day a woman waiting for a bus stop saw “a bundle of rags until I saw a shoe nearby." Creeping closer she saw the rags were a fresh corpse, ran home and telephoned the police. Oddly Josephine’s 13-year-old brother was returning from his newspaper round and saw police on the field. He walked close enough to recognise one of the his sister's shoes and sprinted home to tell his mum. When they found Josephine’s empty bed they called the police.


Initially police thought Josephine had been the victim of a road accident - hit by a car before collapsing onto the grass. However her appalling injuries were in line with previous victims of Yorkshire Ripper. Later boot prints were like those found by two previous victims. The right sole was worn from the wearer pressing some sort of pedal (Sutcliffe drove a lorry.)


Grave : The grave sits just off the path in one of the most forlorn graveyards I've visited. It's behind a church and though refurbishment had been done to the building the graveyard seems nearly abandoned.  The Whitaker family grave is clean and clear though. There's a stone marking the end of the brother David's life. He died aged 52 and was cremated so I'd guess his ashes are here. If Josephine had a something to bathe her contact lenses in she probably wouldn't have walked home and would be alive now. I did a salute and left.


Murder location: I'd called at Savile Park before without knowing this had been a murder location. Using photographs from old newspapers I could pinpoint the spot where Josephine had been found about 50 feet in from Free School Lane. A shower passed through and I sheltered in the bus stop where the woman who saw the "rags" had probably been standing. I saw people looking oddly at me as I took photos with me pointing to the grass where a young life ended. I did a salute and left.