The Yorkshire Ripper Tape

The Yorkshire Post front-page headlines on Wednesday the 3rd of December 1980 read

Voice expert dismisses vital clue as just a red herring

Ripper tape made by super-hoaxer, says police adviser

By Roger Cross

A voice expert advising Yorkshire Ripper Squad detectives believes the letters and tape allegedly sent to police from Sunderland by the 13-times killer are the work of a super-hoaxer.

Mr. Jack Windsor Lewis says that, while the author of the taunting letters and tape-recorded message does live on Wearside, he is not the man who has brought fear to the North for the last five years.

The police officer in charge of the hunt refused last night to discuss the startling claims made by Mr. Windsor Lewis, who has worked closely with Ripper squad police since the 190-second cassette was received 17 months ago.

If Mr. Windsor Lewis, a lecturer in linguistics and phonetics at Leeds University, is right, then hundreds of thousands of police man-hours have been wasted, particularly in Sunderland, searching for a Geordie-accented Ripper.

The letters and tape, sent between March, 1978 and June, 1979 may have diverted the suspicions of relatives, neighbours and friends of the real Ripper because he does not speak with a Geordie accent.

If the tape is a fake, the police would still have tried to trace the hoaxer but far fewer men would have worked on that aspect of the case.

Mr Windsor Lewis's difference of opinion with the police is revealed today in a special article on page 9, but Ripper squad officers have been aware of his views for some months.

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman who was asked to put Mr Windsor Lewis's claim to Assistant Chief Constable Mr. Jim Hobson, said "Mr. Hobson is not prepared to elaborate at all on what he has said about the tape".

When he was put in charge of the case last week, Mr. Hobson said he was "99 per cent sure" the letters and tape were from the so-called Yorkshire Ripper.

Mr. Windsor Lewis believes the only explanation for the sender of the tapes being undetected is because he is not the Yorkshire Ripper.

[From page 9:]

Why I believe [the] Ripper tape is a hoax

By J. Windsor Lewis Department of Linguistics and Phonetics, University of Leeds

Assistant Chief Constable Jim Hobson released the information on Saturday November 29 that certain experts in the field of phonetics and speech therapy believe the famous so-called "Ripper" recording was made by a man who ordinarily has a stammer.

My first impressions of that tape — obtained from a copy brought to me by BBC Television to enable me to comment on it in interviews later on the day of its release — were very positive in two ways. The speaker possessed, it seemed clear, a fairly narrowly identifiable variety of Geordie accent and his manner was totally undisguised. I should be truly staggered if anyone proved that he normally spoke with a much different accent.

Some people are very clever mimics, but the Geordie types of accent are outstandingly difficult to imitate for anyone who has not grown up in the area. It seems Peter Sellers never attempted one, and neither has Mike Yarwood to my knowledge. In any case, mimics tend to give themselves away by adopting the most striking characteristics of an accent and overdoing them. And what is more this man would very probably have boasted that his voice was a disguised one.

Certainly that quite long and clear recording is the sort of thing an investigator might well pray for. Its 257 words are a very rich source of identifying characteristics. Taken with the letters, it was no wonder that Assistant Chief Constable Oldfield was reported as saying that they had the breakthrough they had been waiting for. In the course of conferring with the police on phonetic matters, it was agreed that I should make an investigation of the linguistic features of the letters for comparison with the evidence of the tape. It seemed very likely that they originated from the same person, but this seemed worth checking, and there was the consideration that the envelope containing the tape was the only one on which the handwriting was in print style.

I found no reason to doubt their common origin, but the letters added a good deal of detail to the originator's linguistic and educational profile. After many hours work, I made a detailed report of something like 1,400 words which listed quite a number of highly individual characteristics of spelling, punctuation, phraseology and handwriting style, many of which could possibly help to lead to the writer if they were made known.

The report was in the form of an article which carefully avoided revealing anything of importance about the content of the 555 words of the letters which have not been disclosed (about 146 of the 701 words they contain have been made public). I hope that Assistant Chief Constable Hobson may decide to release this article soon. [See Yorkshire Ripper Letters on this website.]

However, to return to the tape. Though not the thickest possible kind of regional accent, it is quite strongly dialectal. So much so that various reporters misunderstood the sentence "They can't be much good, can they" making wrong substitutions for the word "they".

It contains plenty of specific characteristics likely to occur together only in a fairly limited district of the Geordie area. On the other hand it lacks some of the most striking Geordie features.

There is no real trace of the "burr", the famous but now less common Geordie guttural r-sound.

There is no occurrence of the common Geordie kind of vowel that makes for example "hope" sound like a sort of pouted "hurp" with a quality found in France, Germany or Scandinavia. This could be heard generally from the excellent performers in the BBC-TV serial "When the Boat Comes In".

There is nothing of the old-fashioned Geordie style that makes for example "learn" sound like "lorn".

There is only a slight effect of the ah-like vowel at the end of words like "Ripper" and "October" that you get, for example, from typical South Shields speakers.

There is hardly any trace of the very characteristic melodic lilt in much Geordie speech.

On the other hand, there are very characteristic vowels in words like "town", "book" and "me" which one can only hint at by spellings like "teown", "buik" and "may".

There are various other points even more impossible to convey without technical language.

There are hundreds of thousands of people with some degree of Geordie accent, but factors like the ones I have mentioned narrow down the field to tens of thousands and even to thousands. The accents, taken together with purely personal features – like the individual voice quality of the speaker and various little minor imperfections of articulation which are not marked enough to label as speech defects – suggest that we can think in terms of only a few hundreds of people who can sound anything near to exactly like this.

In several places the quality of sound made a slight suggestion that certain childhood defects of speech had been not quite perfectly put right.

The quality for example on the sound of "L" in one word resembles the quite abnormal "r" sound heard from the actor who played Billie Seaton in "When the Boat Comes In".

The expression "book of records" has a kind of gulp in it which could be due to a hesitation over whether to insert the word "Guinness" into the phrase or could have a less obvious basis.

The expression "Sssorry it wasn't Bradford" certainly has a very marked trace of stammer. Non-stammerers can occasionally produce such effects especially in the tense situation of making a recording, but this could be symptomatic of a childhood tendency now largely overcome or almost entirely so.

It was very interesting to learn earlier this year how strongly a friend and colleague of mine in a similar department to my own in a university some distance from Yorkshire had become convinced that the maker of the tape does currently stammer.

Like myself, in his first examinations of the tape as a phonetician, he had only rather casually registered peculiarities like the ones I have just mentioned. It was a very close associate of his, a speech therapist, who first became convinced that the speaker stammers at present.

Their conviction has been strengthened by the reactions of a number of other speech therapists who were asked to listen to the tape with this in mind. Their majority concurrence is no doubt the "consensus" to which Mr. Hobson referred at his Press conference on Saturday.

I think Mr. Hobson is quite right in keeping an open mind on the matter. There was an earlier suggestion from the same source that the speaker was actually employing a physical device possessed only by a fairly limited number of stammering speech therapy patients. But a police check-out on all people known to have access to such a device seemed to discount that possibility quite safely.

Even so there is what strikes me as possibly an important piece of supportive evidence for the stammerer theory. I mentioned that I first heard the tape in a BBC version, the form in fact in which it was broadcast. When, shortly afterwards, I was given an "undoctored" copy of the original by the police, I was rather startled by one curious difference between it and the BBC version.

The original version could not possibly have been broadcast as it stood, unedited. If they had done so, countless irritated listeners would have sprung to their radio sets to see what was wrong with them. The BBC version was a full minute shorter than the original 190-second tape. Yet they did not cut out a single word – only silences.

The original version contained nine silences of three seconds or more; four of them six seconds or more, and one a remarkable 13 seconds. Particularly where the speaker is unseen, a silence of two or more seconds by a speaker is unusually long.

Most people making a recording would be likely to stop and re-start the machine if they were unable to continue speaking for several seconds. Stammerers often have to take unusually long pauses in order to gather their strength if they are to continue with normal delivery.

What, then, are the inferences to be drawn from all this assembly of information and hypotheses? With so much to look for, why have the massive investigations not led to the murderer?

There is no doubt in my mind that in June,1979, in view of the contents of the letters and tape in front of them, the police had no choice but to let people hear the recording to make that very distinctive voice known, so that its owner could be tracked down. Within a week or two, numerous people who knew this speaker personally must have heard his voice broadcast.

His accent is so individual that I believe the man would have been brought to police attention if he were living in Leeds, Bradford or anywhere else but Wearside.

I cannot believe (a) that the man is disguising his real voice and (b) that he can be living anywhere but the Sunderland area. This suggests that the only likely possibility is that this voice which has become so familiar to the nation is the voice of a super-hoaxer. If he had an obvious cast-iron alibi regarding the murders – such as a physical disability, advanced age or even inability to drive – he would, no doubt, have been passed over quickly by investigators.

It seems to me that it may well be that the greatest single obstacle to the successful pursuit of the man who has committed these murders is the red herring of the Geordie letter-writer and tape speaker. It would be a good thing to see such a person, if I am right, eliminated from the whole matter.

The only way to locate him is to begin the search for him afresh with no prejudice whatsoever as to whether he could ever have committed any murders.

We know only too well that crime of the ghastly sort we are concerned with excites many sadly sick minds to disgusting hoaxes of this type. In the period since the broadcast of the tape there have been, on average, at least to or three a month. Two dozen or more have been brought for examination. No doubt plenty of others have been too pitifully feeble for us to have been bothered with them by the police. They have very wisely released no information about them to the press. Only where irresponsible editors have rushed into sensation-mongering print, without first asking proper advice, have the public heard of them. There were two on the day of the announcement of the recent murder. The half-dozen recorded words of the most recent one bore no serious resemblance to the speech of the original tape.

I know that my colleague Stanley Ellis shares these misgivings. It is only to be expected that we should be acutely aware of these possibilities, We were both similarly involved in the search for the so-called Black Panther. Then, too, Sir John Morrison was equally fully justified in having broadcast the tape of the voice of a man who seemed to be intimately familiar with the details of the case in question. That was a Black Country voice of a hoaxer who has never been brought to justice. The real criminal had a relatively undistinctive type of Leeds/Bradford accent.

The sooner the owner of the Geordie voice is brought to justice the better.

[The headlines, paragraphing and punctuation etc of the above have been largely reproduced as adapted from my copy by the Yorkshire Post sub-editors to the paper's customary style except in a few places mainly where mis-spellings or mis-wordings had been introduced.]