Can we finally unmask serial killer ‘Jack’?
PUBLISHED: 15:00 27 September 2016 | UPDATED: 15:02 28 September 2016
Ex-detective Dick Kirby’s new book, Laid Bare, on the unsolved murders of eight women
Well, that’s a bit of a surprise – opening an ex-detective’s book to read a call for the legalisation of prostitution.
Dick Kirby, who moved to a village near Bury St Edmunds after spending half his police service with Scotland Yard’s Serious Crime Squad and the Flying Squad, has always thought that sex work should be de-criminalised and brothels run by the Government.
“In a clean environment, prostitutes would receive regular medical check-ups to free them of unpleasant antisocial diseases, payment would be subjected to income tax – a far less painful and a cheaper way than recompensing a ponce (the men who control prostitutes) – and the women would at least be comparatively safe from physical harm.
“Is that being excessively simplistic?” he writes. “I suppose it is. Right, moral statement over.”
He addresses the issue, briefly, because his new book examines the serial killings of eight prostitutes more than 50 years ago. News of the murders gripped the capital and the country back in the 1960s. Imagine the coverage if it happened in our era of social media and rolling news.
The murders were carried out in and around west London between 1959 and 1965 – the final six within 12 months. The victims were asphyxiated.
Newspapers dubbed the murderer Jack the Stripper – nice – because all the women were left naked.
Scotland Yard’s Det Ch Supt John Du Rose led the manhunt, flooding night-time London with police officers in plain clothes. Female officers dressed as prostitutes carried out risky decoy patrols.
About 1,700 potential suspects were interviewed. They were whittled down to 26 – and then one. But before he could be questioned further, the man committed suicide and the investigation was closed.
In Laid Bare, retired detective Dick talks to former officers and sifts the evidence of a case that remains unsolved. Why did he choose to write about it? Did it convince him to join the Metropolitan Police soon after (in 1967), or did it make him think twice?
“I had no intention to write about ‘The Nude Murders’ – it was something that happened 50 years ago, I knew no-one connected with it and very little about it,” he says.
“I’d heard that a security guard was supposed to have been the killer and that he had committed suicide, and that was all. So when my publishers suggested that I write a book about the case, I was less than keen – all of the victims were prostitutes and nobody had been caught for the murders. ‘Ah’, said my publishers, ‘but the same applied to the Jack the Ripper murders all those years ago – plus, you were a Scotland Yard detective, so you’d be able to approach it from a detective’s point of view’.
“Eventually, before I caved in, I added a caveat; I would only do it if I could get people who were there to talk to me. That’s what happened; a number of people came forward with quite a lot of interesting information.
“All this happened whilst I was still in the printing industry, a year or so before I joined the police, and there was a terrific amount of publicity in the media with the discovery of each subsequent body.
“It gripped not only the capital but the news of the killings went worldwide. But, in all honesty, the case neither attracted me nor repelled me from joining the police – I was married, with two kids, living in a rented flat in a dead-end job – all I wanted was secure employment for a growing family!
“These killings did not receive the same publicity as the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders, but then the public were not aware of the circumstances of these murders.
“Everyone knows the horrifying circumstances of ‘Jack the Ripper’s’ bloody spree but the ‘Jack the Stripper’ murders were quite different. The bodies of the victims were stripped naked; their clothes, handbags and jewellery were never found. Very little force appeared to have been used and all the women were asphyxiated. Their teeth or dentures were taken, after death – they were not found. And most important, there was identical paint spotting and other materials found on their bodies. It meant their bodies had all been stored in the same place.”
Is he surprised the murderer wasn’t caught?
“There was an enormous input into the investigation. The senior investigating officer, Det Ch Supt John Du Rose (he was known as ‘Four Day Johnny’, due to the speed he solved murders) flooded the area with officers. They searched 648 streets, questioned 120,000 people, checked the owners of 300,000 vehicles, 3,100 forensic samples were submitted to the police laboratory and 123,000 searches were made in the files at Scotland Yard.
“The 24 square miles of London where the murders had occurred were saturated by police; uniform, CID, as well as officers from the Flying Squad, Regional Crime Squad and Special Patrol Group – plus some very courageous women police who posed as prostitutes in an effort to find the killer.
“With hindsight, I’m not surprised the killer wasn’t caught. After Du Rose started his operations, there were no more killings, either because the murderer was scared off, had left the country, was in prison or dead.”
Does Dick think the suspect who committed suicide was the killer?
“When it comes down to it, I don’t know who the killer is. There is no-one amongst the 26 suspects who can be put at the scenes of the crimes. The security guard who committed suicide after the last murder may have been the killer; but Du Rose didn’t think so at the time. It was only five years later, after he retired and wrote his memoirs, that he needed someone who couldn’t answer back to be the killer – so that he could say that if the man hadn’t committed suicide, he would have been arrested.
“Was that true? No, it wasn’t. Could that man have been the killer? Yes, he could. All I can do is lay out the facts and let the readers make up their own minds.”
Dick’s written a vast amount about historical crime since 2001’s Rough Justice – Memoirs of a Flying Squad Detective. Why does he love it?
“Probably because it reminds me of a saner time when the ordinary person in the street had greater moral values than many do nowadays, were more anxious to assist the police, and the police themselves were not hampered and distracted by so many pettifogging rules and regulations. There’s another reason as well. Nowadays, the bookshelves are flooded with books by ‘gangsters’ in which they either dilute their crimes or glory in them. I think it’s high time that they’re shown up for what they really are – and to give some credit to the detectives who caught them.”
Laid Bare is published by The History Press at £16.99