The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper

TELEVISION has offered several superb true-crime documentaries and dramas recently.

Making a Murderer and The Keepers have been thought-provoking and absorbing. Meanwhile, dramas such as Code of a Killer and Rillington Place have sensitively explored crimes that seem inexplicable and shocking.

I have now made a contribution to the true-crime bookshelves with The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper. This is a reinvestigation into a shocking unsolved series of murders from the 1960s – and one that today is largely forgotten.

More victims than Jack the Ripper

The Nude Killings occurred in west London in 1964-65 and saw six prostitutes murdered and left naked in public places. The unknown culprit, indelicately called Jack the Stripper by the media at the time, claimed more victims than Jack the Ripper 77 years previously.

In addition, two other killings – in 1959 and 1963 – were tentatively linked to the tally.

The killing spree sparked the biggest police manhunt ever seen, with hundreds of officers scouring west London for the perpetrator, including WPCs disguised as prostitutes. 

Swinging London’s dark secret

It is an extraordinary case, touching the Kray gang and the Profumo Scandal. London was Swinging – the Beatles were performing at the Hammersmith Odeon that year and the Who were making a name for themselves in clubs around the Goldhawk Road. Meanwhile, a calculating killer was stalking those same streets for vulnerable women in the sex trade.

Why was he never caught? Who might it have been? And why is this shocking case unknown to many people these days?

These questions are all explored in The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper, which is currently on discount – £3.85 – on Amazon and at Tesco.

Oh, and one or two TV producers have been prompted by the book to consider the case for a new series…

The Secret, ITV, James Nesbitt

Gripping account of the murders committed by Northern Irish couple Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan

★★★ ITV, Friday, 29 April, 9pm

SOMETIMES the true story on which a drama is based is so riveting it almost can’t fail to keep you rooted to the sofa. This ITV series is one of those.

It recounts the crime committed by a couple in Northern Ireland, Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan. They met at their local Baptist church and started an affair that had appalling consequences. Greed, lust, hypocrisy and evangelism make it a distressing but compelling story [as this is a true story, there are some spoilers in this preview].

From Hat Trick Productions The Secret: Ep1 on ITV Pictured: Hazel Buchanan [Genevieve O'Reilly] and Colin Howell [James Nesbitt]. This photograph is (C) Hat Trick Productions and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above or ITV plc. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website For further information please contact:

Secret liaison: Hazel Buchanan (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Colin Howell (James Nesbitt)

It is accompanied by fine performances by James Nesbitt as the dentist Howell and Genevieve O’Reilly as Buchanan, along with an unflashy but convincing script from Stuart Urban. Nesbitt, in particular, is so believable as the grossly self-serving “Christian” that before the first episode is even finished you want to punch the screen every time he appears.

A faked suicide pact

In the first of four episodes, we watch the genesis of the affair. While Howell’s wife, Lesley, is expecting their fourth child, he begins to pursue married schoolteacher Buchanan. [Read more…]

The People v OJ Simpson joins true crime wave

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: +++Publication of this image is strictly embargoed until 00.01 hours Friday January 15th, 2016+++ Robert Kardashian (DAVID SCHWIMMER), Robert Shapiro (JOHN TRAVOLTA) - (C) The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story © 2016 Fox and its related entities. All rights reserved. - Photographer: Fox

Legal fight: Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) and Robert Shapiro (John Travolta)

JOHN TRAVOLTA, David Schwimmer and Cuba Gooding Jr are among the stars of an ambitious 10-parter coming to FX in the US and BBC2 next month. It will deal with the explosive 1995 trial of former football star OJ Simpson for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Based on the book The Run of His Life: The People v OJ Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin, the series delves into the true-crime genre – currently riding high following the huge success of Netflix documentary Making a Murderer – by going behind the scenes of the manoeuvrings of the legal teams.

It is described as a story of over-confidence on behalf of the prosecution, alongside defence shrewdness and the Los Angeles Police Department’s record in dealing with the African-American community. Travolta and Schwimmer play defence lawyers Robert Shapiro and Robert Kardashian, and Gooding Jr is Simpson. Sarah Paulson will protray prosecutor Marcia Clark, Courtney B Vance is defence attorney Johnnie Cochran, and Bruce Greenwood plays District Attorney Gil Garcetti.

Kim Shillinglaw, Controller of BBC2 and BBC4, says: ‘I’m absolutely thrilled to be bringing this gripping, highly distinctive series to BBC2. With an outstanding cast and a top-rate creative team, it is just the kind of grown-up, contemporary drama I want to see on the channel.’

Check out:

OJ Simpson trial on Wikipedia

ABC News: OJ Simpson Trial – Where are they now

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: +++Publication of this image is strictly embargoed until 00.01 hours Friday January 15th, 2016+++ O.J. Simpson (CUBA GOODING JR.), Polygraph Examiner (JOSEPH BUTTLER) - (C) The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story © 2016 Fox and its related entities. All rights reserved. - Photographer: Fox

Accused: OJ Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr) takes the polygraph test

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, ITV, Jason Watkins, Anna Maxwell Martin PREVIEW

Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
In the spotlight – when police suspicion falls on Jefferies, the media circus consumes him. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: Wednesday, 10 December, 9pm; Thursday, 11 December, 9pm

Story: When Joanna Yeates, the resident of a property he owns, is found murdered, the pedantic and eccentric retired teacher Christopher Jefferies finds himself under suspicion.

ITV HAVE become specialists in dramatising true crime stories that have grabbed national headlines in recent decades. These have sometimes been controversial but usually sensitively produced.

This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, See No Evil: The Moors Murders, The Widower and Appropriate Adult (about Fred West) are all recent examples.

This latest is another considered and absorbing production, following events in 2010 surrounding the murder of Joanna Yeates. It focuses on the media frenzy and vilification of the victim’s landlord, the eccentric – ‘Nutty’ as the headlines had it – Christopher Jefferies, who was wrongly arrested for the crime.

Jason Watkins is terrific in the lead

It’s an absorbing drama, with fine performances depicting how the tragic disappearance and murder

Shaun Parkes as Paul Okebu in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
Shaun Parkes as Jefferies’ solicitor

of Joanna Yeates ruptured the everyday normality in this little Bristol community. Jason Watkins is terrific as the pedantic, bookish and eccentrically coiffured Jefferies, hair-spraying his barnet or asking investigating plod if he should correct the spelling on the statement they are taking down from him.

Shaun Parkes is also very good as his solicitor, listening to the detectives going round in circles trying to corner Jefferies with their questions, while he seethes at the injustice visited on his client.

In one telling scene towards the end of the first of this week’s two 90-minutes instalments, Jefferies is finally released from the nick to be confronted by the media character assassination that accompanied his incarceration.

‘Based on true events’ genre

‘Weird’, ‘sinister’, ‘creepy’ scream the headlines, while even the school he work at for 34 years

Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies and Howard Coggins as Custody Officer in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
In custody – Jason Watkins as Jefferies

distances itself from him. In the aftermath of Hackgate, this story is another reminder of how ordinary people can get caught and minced in the grinder of media excess.

Peter Morgan, the writer behind true-life dramatisations such as Frost/Nixon, The Damned United and The Queen, among others, does a fine job of allowing the story to unfold in a sober but compelling way.

The ‘based on true events’ genre is a difficult one to do well and truthfully, but ITV have become masters of the form. I think the value of these stories is that they take us behind the wild headlines and the legal process, giving some small insight into how such dark events could ever have unfolded.

Cast: Jason Watkins Christopher Jefferies, Ben Caplan Charles Chapman, Shaun Parkes Paul Okebu, Nathalie Armin Melissa Chapman, James Lailey Dc Paul Connor, Joe Coen Dc Paul Batty, Ben Frimstone Postman, Anna Maxwell Martin Janine, Matthew Barker Greg Reardon, Carla Turner Joanna Yeates, Joe Sims Vincent Tabak, Jennifer Higham Tanja, Colin Mace Peter Stanley

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This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper — Killer 50 No.37

ITV, 2000
‘You mean he’s going for innocent women now’ – Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield
Alun Armstrong, Richard Ridings, James Laurenson, John Duttine
Identikit: Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield takes over the police investigation into the hunt for the 1970s serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper, a campaign that becomes bogged down in errors and data overload.


Dramatisation of the real-life investigation for the Yorkshire Ripper in the late 1970s, a meticulous and evocative exploration of the human miscalculations and technical shortcomings of the campaign to track down Peter Sutcliffe. Alun Armstrong puts in a powerful performance as Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, whose health and career come under strain as the investigation stagnates, drinking and smoking his way through most scenes and going from gruff and forceful to a twitching, gasping wreck by the end of this 120-minute drama. Initially, Oldfield’s arrival seems to give the investigation renewed vigour, as he shifts it away from detectives relying on ‘instinct’ and introduces better record keeping and methodology. This approach is not popular at first, one senior officer asking sarcastically, ‘Can you catch a murderer with paperwork?’ However, the police effort is still blighted by blatant sexism (‘innocent’ women who’d been attacked and offered statements were often discounted because the Ripper was only thought to target prostitutes), along with inter-force rivalries and general confusion. As the years pass and the murder toll rises, Yorkshire police collect some 60 conflicting descriptions of the perpetrator. As one officer says, if it turns out to be Quasimodo they’ve probably got a photofit of him somewhere. And Oldfield himself says in exasperation that they’ve checked bearded men, unbearded, soldiers, sailors, engineers, agricultural workers, big men, little men… And then comes the infamous ‘Wearside Jack’ hoax tape, which throws the investigation off the scent of Sutcliffe’s stamping grounds of Leeds/Bradford towards Sunderland. The drama’s title, This Is Personal, refers to the way Oldfield took the hoaxer’s taunts personally and effectively allowed the investigation to be sidetracked. But the drama also evokes the pain and tragedy that the murder spree inflicted on the victims’ families, particularly when Oldfield promises the parents of ‘innocent’ Jayne MacDonald in 1977 to catch the teenager’s killer, a promise that loads more stress and guilt onto the detective. Apart from the killer, though, there are few baddies in this drama, just flawed individuals struggling to do the right thing – which makes it all the sadder. But the investigation was badly bungled. Before he was convicted of killing and mutilating 13 women, Sutcliffe was interviewed by police nine times, and various statements and reports pointing to him as the culprit were buried in the deluge of data coming in (computers were only just being introduced). The force of ITV’s drama was that it was sober, affecting, quite brilliantly acted (particularly by Armstong), and a world away from the clean, tidy format of most fictional cop shows.

Watercooler fact: After This Is Personal, scriptwriter Neil McKay followed up with stints on Heartbeat and Holby City, but also became something of a specialist in the far more difficult discipline of exploring real-life crimes through controversial – but award-winning – dramas such as See No Evil: The Moors Murders and Appropriate Adult (about Fred West).

More of the Killer 50

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Five Daughters — Killer TV No.41

BBC1, 2010
‘I’m not a waste of time, space or oxygen. I deserve the air that I breathe. I stand on corners, alone, lonely, waiting, always for one last time. I love and I am loved. I am alive, except when I choose to play dead…’ – Annette Nicholls
Ian Hart, Sarah Lancashire, Jaime Winstone, Ruth Negga, Joseph Mawle, Vicky McClure, Kierston Wareing
Identikit: Factually based drama telling the stories of five young women who were murdered in Ipswich in 2006.


‘This is madness,’ says DCS Stewart Gull in this fact-based drama, and those words sum up the dismay – among public and within the police – that surrounded the shocking series of five murders in Ipswich during late 2006. Amid the car chases, brilliant deductions, twisting whodunits and maverick cops, British television occasionally produces a serious drama that punctures the fiction by offering an insight into the real pain behind the crime story headlines. Five Daughters was about the Ipswich serial murders committed by Steve Wright and the impact on the victims’ families. Stephen Butchard wrote a hugely compassionate three-parter that showed that the victims, whatever their backgrounds as sex workers and drug users, were individuals who were loved and profoundly missed by those close to them. Completely free of cop-show cliches, it was based on the personal testimonies of those close to the events in 2006. It tells, for example, of Anneli Alderton’s hopes of

starting her own hairdressing business after coming out of Holloway Prison, or Gemma Adams turning to a drug charity project to break her heroin addiction and get out of the sex trade. And all along is the loving support of mothers, siblings and friends as the women battle to turn their lives around. Cops and killer were not the focus, but the ordinary lives devastated by these awful crimes were. The production was low-key and sensitive, and beautifully acted by a fine cast of young and experienced actors. Though painful to watch at times, the mini-series went some way to help redress the wrong done to the women by showing them as the good, decent people behind the often lurid headlines. 

Watercooler fact: Following Five Daughters, writer Stephen Butchard returned to the fiction side of crime with Sky Atlantic’s Falcon and BBC1’s excellent Good Cop, starring Warren Brown.

Other links…
Best crime dramas of 2010

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Appropriate Adult — KIller TV No.43

DC Savage (Sylvestra La Touzel) with Leach (Emily Watson) and West (Dominic West). Pics: ITV

2011, ITV1

‘You’re helping me through the most terrible time. You’re my only friend.’ – Fred West
‘I’m not your friend, Fred.’ – Janet Leach
‘You are. We’re going on journey together, Janet.’ – Fred West
Dominic West, Emily Watson, Monica Dolan, Robert Glensiter
Identikit: The true story of how ordinary housewife and mother Janet Leach became the Appropriate Adult, or civilian counsellor, for one of Britain’s most notorious mass killers, Fred West, during his questioning by police.


The crime genre – books and films – frequently and luridly dabbles in depictions of serial killers, but few if any capture some of the mundane and evil truth of such criminals as powerfully as this two-part ITV drama. Extraordinary, sensitive and chilling, it offers a glimpse into the depraved world of Gloucestershire murderer Fred West and his wife Rosemary. It was criticised as insensitive in some quarters, but it is nevertheless a serious and carefully produced mini-series revealing some of the reality behind a crime few people could comprehend. It is based on the true story of Janet Leach, a social worker who volunteered to act as an Appropriate Adult, a liaison to help and support juveniles or vulnerable adults in police custody. Her very first appointment is to assist a 52-year-old man. No sooner has she entered the police interview to sit alongside him than the man is describing how he strangled his own daughter, Heather. ‘Hadn’t wanted to hurt her,’ he explains. ’I was scared, so I was gonna put her in the Wendy house, but then I thought I’d put her in the dustbin…’ He matter-of-factly describes using an ice saw to cut off her legs and head. He is, of course, Fred West, and Janet Leach finds herself acting as a supporting shoulder for one of the most disgusting mass killers in British history. Emily Watson plays Janet with wide-eyed dismay, and watching her the audience cannot help wondering what a trauma she went through. Dominic West, a long way from The Wire here, is extraordinary as the West Country bumpkin who lies, wheedles and charms as easily as he breathes, and who is by turns maudlin and monstrous. ‘Time for a cuppa, I’d say, Hazel,’ he chirps to the detective questioning him. When a third thigh bone turns up in his garden, Fred says innocently to the same detective, DC Hazel Savage, ‘Don’t know where that came from.’ Janet is a woman who must go home to a partner and her children at night and somehow keep a lid on the nightmare she is exposed to at the police station, while also finding it difficult to stop listening to the unfolding horror story she hears as Fred’s confidante. This is an appalling burden for her, but at one point she talks him into telling the whole truth and he admits to a further eight, ‘all right, nine, killings’. It was a controversial production, as any dramatisation touching on victims of recent crimes will be (some police officers were particularly critical), but the portrayal was not sensational or leering at the Wests’ crimes. No horror or crimes were depicted, just a disturbing portrayal of horrendously dysfunctional people. Dominic West, Emily Watson and Monica Dolan, who played Rose West, all won Baftas for their performances.
Watercooler fact: This was the third of ITV’s major dramas exploring real crimes, following This Is Personal (2000, about the Yorkshire Ripper) and See No Evil (2006, the Moors Murders).

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The Widower, ITV, Reece Shearsmith, Sheridan Smith PREVIEW

REECE SHEARSMITH as Malcolm Webster. The Widower ITV
Not such a nice, ordinary bloke – Malcolm Webster (Reece Shearsmith). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: starts Monday, 17 March, 9pm

Story: A true story recounting how, over a 13-year period, Malcolm Webster set about poisoning and murdering his first wife, attempting to do the same to his second wife and moving on to a further scheme to deceive his third fiancée.

WRITER Jeff Pope has got form when it comes to dramatising true crimes. As writer or producer he’s recently covered Lord Lucan in ITV’s Lucan, the Great Train Robbery in Mrs Biggs, Fred West in the excellent Appropriate Adult, and the Yorkshire Ripper in the equally gripping This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.

Meanwhile his films have included last year’s triumph Philomena, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman and the TV movie Fool’s Gold: The Story of the Brink’s-Mat Robbery.

Now he’s co-written with James Barton this three-part drama about Malcolm Webster, a killer not as notorious as others he has visited, but that’s probably because this potential serial killer was stopped early in his career.

Reece Shearsmith as smarmy killer Malcolm Webster

SHERIDAN SMITH as Claire Webster. The Widower ITV
First wife Claire (Sheridan Smith)

Webster, as portrayed here by The League of Gentlemen‘s Reece Shearsmith, is a compelling study in evil. A man whose smarminess hid his secret side as a drugger and killer of his first wife, who then moved on to exploit and plot to remove a second wife.

It is Webster’s everyday, ordinary quality that fascinates Jeff Pope and is the thread through much of his work. He says, ‘Evil men don’t necessarily come with red eyes or fang-like teeth. They can be the bloke next door, who you’d never believe was capable of murdering someone.

‘They can be the man next to you on the bus, the guy opposite you at work. They can even be your loving husband. Malcolm Webster appeared unthreatening, benign, a “nice bloke” to friends and colleagues. Some of the people who came into his life still refused to believe he was capable of murder right up to his conviction, so plausible was the face he presented to the outside world.’

Webster – apparently so normal

Crime dramas dominate TV, but watching Pope’s brand of unflashy, considered fact-based adaptations is a slightly addictive experience. However abridged and edited these productions are – and they often stir controversy – they are a glimpse of cruelty and wickedness most of us can’t get our heads

REECE SHEARSMITH as Malcolm Webster and KATE FLEETWOOD as Felicity Webster. The Widower ITV
Snooping through the purse of his second wife, Felicity

round when reading the court reports of these cases.

Shearsmith’s self-justifying, deluded killer helps to give us an idea of how such normal-seeming criminals operate. We first encounter him at his wedding to Claire (Sheridan Smith), who is saying how he makes her feel so special. In a matter of months his controlling nature rears its head – ‘Take your hands out of your pockets… looks so slovenly.’

A nurse, he had access to Temazepam, which he used to drug Claire and manipulate her. The most chilling words viewers will hear this week are him saying, ‘How about a cup of tea?’

He snares another woman

It is disturbing to watch his lies being accepted by the police and loved ones. After Claire’s murder, he snares another trusting woman who he meets in New Zealand, Felicity. Being a sponger, Webster is soon administering the sleeping drugs and trying to fleece her too.

Knowing that Jeff Pope’s true crime tales are an approximation of what really happened makes them absorbing, dismaying, thought-provoking. You almost want to shout at the screen – ‘Watch out! He’s behind you!’

It’s a safe way to confront some of life’s monsters, before getting back to the made-up stuff.

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