Jobless alcoholic who has admitted to one of the most notorious – and damaging – hoaxes in criminal history Kate O'Hara Crime Correspondent "I DID it because I was bored and on the dole" – that was John Humble's lame excuse for one of the most costly and damaging hoaxes of all time.
When the law finally caught up with him last year, he also told them: "I don't know why I've done it – I must've been daft."
But detectives believe Humble knew what he was doing when he penned two letters to Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield and the Daily Mirror in March 1978, sending another letter and a sinister recorded message the following summer.
His "I'm Jack" taunts in a thick Geordie accent completely threw them off the scent of the real Ripper.
The jobless alcoholic cuts a pathetic figure today – neighbours called him "John the Bag" because he was always carrying a bag of alcohol – but delving into his past reveals a more sinister side to the man who became known as "Wearside Jack".
John Samuel Humble had a morbid fascination with the original 1888 Jack the Ripper, and was no fan of the police.
Officers think he had such a strong dislike of the law that he deliberately tried to scupper the Ripper inquiry.
A recording of a call he made to Sunderland police station in September 1979 reveals Humble did try to tell them the tape was a hoax – but did he try hard enough?
Anonymously telling an officer the tape was "a fake" in a call just a few seconds long did nothing to change the direction of the inquiry.
Local newspaper reports also show that in November the same year, a tortured Humble tried to take his life by jumping into the River Wear. He was saved, ironically, by two police officers.
John Humble had an unremarkable childhood.
One of three children, he grew up with his late mother Violet, brother Harry and sister Jean on the run-down Hylton Lane Estate in Sunderland. His father Samuel died when he was just eight.
After leaving school he had stints as a security guard, builder's labourer and window cleaner.
He was a keen darts player, enjoyed watching football and would often drop into the nearby Round Robin pub.
But often out of work, Humble became dangerously bored. He became a crime writing fan and was obsessed with Jack the Ripper.
At the local library Humble found a book, Jack The Ripper – which he became so obsessed with he never returned it. He used details in the book to base his own letters on.
Thrilled by the danger, he bought a tape from Woolworths and used his brother's tape machine to record the message which later made his voice the most famous in the land.
Humble's life began looking up in 1990 when he married Anne Mason.
In the early years of their marriage, Humble was the perfect stepfather to her children Joseph and Colleen. But nine years later his life began to spiral out of control when he lost his job and his wife left him.
Neighbours said that since the split Humble's best friend was the bottle.
Retired detective defends decision to concentrate on letters and tape
The retired detective who was second-in-command of the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry in the 1970s has defended the decision to concentrate on the Wearside Jack letters and tape.
Former Det Supt Dick Holland admitted the inquiry team made a serious mistake by not separating the murder hunt from the investigation into the Sunderland-based suspect.
But he believes the detailed information contained in the letters provided a compelling case to take them seriously.
Mr Holland, now 73, said criticism levelled at his boss, George Oldfield, for devoting so much effort to the voice on the tape was nothing compared with what would have happened if they had not taken it seriously and it had turned out to be genuine.
He insisted inquiry chief Mr Oldfield had a duty to investigate the Wearside Jack letters and tape.
"We took the view that there was so much in it that was true, could we afford not to examine it?" he said.
Mr Holland explained how the first letter was posted to Mr Oldfield but, due to the slowness of West Yorkshire Police's internal mail, the team was first aware of the second letter, posted to the Daily Mirror in Manchester.
He said the paper took the letter to Mr Oldfield and agreed to a year-long embargo on publishing it.
"Could we afford not to follow it up?" Mr Holland asked.
"If we hadn't done and something in it had been right, we would have come in for even more criticism."
Mr Holland, who still lives in West Yorkshire, admitted the letters and tape did divert huge amounts of effort.
"I think the main effect was the tremendous amount of resources taken up," he said.
"Three girls died while the investigation continued but we mustn't jump to the conclusion these girls died because of that distracted inquiry. It doesn't follow that, in any major crime, if you double the number of people on a case you halve the time it takes to solve it."
He continued: "It was a mistake not to keep the letter and tapes inquiry separate from the murder inquiry.
Mr Holland said it was the detail in the letters which made them believe they were genuine – particularly the apparent reference to the murder of Joan Harrison in Preston, Lancashire, in 1975.
Sutcliffe always denied involvement in this crime and was not charged with it but many officers believed there was a link – and mistakenly believed it had not been made public.
"We didn't know that had been in the press," Mr Holland conceded.
He agreed the investigation took a huge toll on Mr Oldfield, who had a heart attack before Sutcliffe was tracked down, and died in 1985.
He said his boss felt a personal responsibility for stopping the Ripper, and the letters and tape, with their direct references, inevitably intensified this.
Sick cranks who crave notoriety
JOHN Humble may be the most infamous hoaxer of modern times, but he is by no means alone.
Almost every high-profile crime brings with it a string of cranks who seek notoriety by association, claiming to have played some part in the terrible deeds of others.
Just last November, university drop-out Imran Patel was jailed for claiming he was the fifth London bomber.
Patel's pack of lies to the News of the World wasted 4,000 police man hours and 60,000 of public money. The 27-year-old from Dewsbury was jailed for four months for wasting police time.
In December 2002, a hoaxer who claimed he had kidnapped Soham schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells was also jailed for wasting police time.
Howard Youde, 45, rang Cambridgeshire Police from a public phone box in his home town of Wrexham to say he had taken the 10-year-olds.
He made the calls on August 15, when the search for Holly and Jessica was at its height.
Youde was initially arrested on suspicion of abducting the schoolgirls.
The Yorkshire Ripper case itself generated hundreds of calls from hoaxers during the six-year inquiry.
Professor Carey Cooper,
a psychologist from Lancaster University, said such hoaxers have three main motivations.
"The first is probably insignificant people... who want to inject a bit of risk into a life not risky at all," he said.
"The second type is the attention seeker, who wants to get caught.
"There is a third category of people... who actually identify in some way
with the murderer or kidnapper," he added.
ONE OF THE HOAX LETTERS
Third letter, sent to George Oldfield. Posted from Sunderland on March 23, 1979
Sorry I havn't written, about a year to be exact but I havn't been up North for quite a while. I was'nt kidding last time I wrote saying the whore would be older this time and maybe I'd strike in Manchester for a change. You should have took heed. That bit about her being in hospital, funny the lady mentioned something about being in the same hospital before I stopped her whoring ways...I bet you are wondering how come I hav'nt been to work for ages, well I would have been if it hadnt been for your curserred coppers I had the lady just where I wanted her and was about to strike when one of your cursen police cars stopped right outside the land, he must have been a dumn copper cause he didn't say anything, he didnt know how close he was to catching me...That was last month, so I don't know know when I will get back on the job but I know it wont be Chapeltown too bloody hot there...
The tape posted to West Yorkshire Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield on June 17, 1979 was marked "From Jack the Ripper". The following is a full transcript of the chilling recording.
"I'm Jack. I see you are still having no luck catching me. I have the greatest respect for you George, but Lord, you are no nearer catching me now than four years ago when I started. I reckon your boys are letting you down, George. They can't be much good, can they?
"The only time they came near catching me was a few months back in Chapeltown when I was disturbed. Even then it was a uniformed copper, not a detective.
"I warned you in March that I'd strike again. Sorry it wasn't Bradford. I did promise you that but I couldn't get there. I'm not quite sure when I will strike again but it will definitely be some time this year, maybe September, October, even sooner if I get the chance. I am not sure where, maybe Manchester.
"I like it there, there's plenty of them knocking about. They never learn, do they George? I bet you've warned them, but they never listen.
"At the rate I'm going I should be in the book of records. I think it's 11 up to now isn't it?
"Well, I'll keep on going for quite a while yet. I can't see myself being nicked just yet. Even if you do get near I'll probably top myself first. Well, it's been nice chatting to you George. Yours, Jack the Ripper.
"No good looking for fingerprints. You should know by now it's as clean as a whistle. See you soon. Bye.
"Hope you like the catchy tune at the end. Ha Ha."
The stilted monologue had lasted three minutes and 16 seconds. Several more seconds of blank tape hissed by, before a 22- second snatch of the song Thank You For Being a Friend, by Andrew Gold, was played.
How advances in DNA science helped police snare their man
IT was dubbed one of the great unsolved mysteries of British criminal history, and for more than a quarter of a century John Humble must surely have thought he had got away with it.
But the advent of DNA technology and the determination of the modern West Yorkshire force to nail the hoaxer case once and for all, meant that over 27 years after Humble sent his letters, detectives were finally able to knock on his door.
The traces of saliva he left on the envelopes may not have been enough to identify him in the seventies, but with DNA identification developments, Humble's days were numbered.
The breakthrough came when senior officers from West Yorkshire Police's Homicide and Major Inquiry Team (HMET), headed by Chief Supt Chris Gregg, decided to review the case.
HMET have become world leaders in using DNA technology to crack modern crimes.
Over the years the whereabouts of the letters and tapes had always been a mystery, but officers knew that if they could find them, they had a chance of gleaning crucial forensic evidence which could lead them to the hoaxer.
An initial trawl, though, proved frustrating. A search of West Yorkshire Police's own archives drew a blank.
Still worse news was to come when a drawer labelled "Ripper tapes and letters" at the Forensic Science Service's (FSS) laboratory in Wetherby was found to be empty. It is thought the evidence was irrevocably damaged by initial forensic tests.
Then detectives made a crucial breakthrough. A small piece of the gummed seal from one of the envelopes was found in a London lab.
But there was still the mystery of the missing tape. Last summer, the Yorkshire Post and other newspapers ran a story that the tape and letters could not be found.
The publicity prompted a scientist from the south of England, who had long since retired, to write to the investigation team.
He told them George Oldfield gave him the tape for analysis – and he had kept
The team had everything they needed to solve the "Wearside Jack" mystery.
The gummed seal was given to FSS in Wetherby, who worked on the Peter Falconio murder inquiry.
Their analysis showed a profile with only a one-in-a-billion chance of it being anybody other than John Samuel Humble, a jobless 49-year-old from Sunderland's Ford Estate, who had sent the letters.
Humble had been entered on the national police database in 2001 for a minor offence of drunkenness.
When arrested – more than 27 years after the "Wearside Jack" mystery began – Humble confessed that he was the author of the letters, and that the infamous voice on the tape was his.
HOW VOICE EXPERT BROKE HIS SILENCE ON TAPE
While Ripper detectives were fruitlessly concentrating their search on Sunderland, the Yorkshire Post was the first to warn that West Yorkshire Police's own advisers were convinced the "I'm Jack" tape was the work of a super-hoaxer – and always had been.
The article caused a sensation when – against the wishes of senior officers – voice expert Jack Windsor Lewis finally broke his silence on December 3, 1980. He exclusively told the Yorkshire Post that only three weeks after being played the tape, both he and fellow voice expert Stanley Ellis had told murder squad detectives the man on the tape was indeed from Sunderland, but was not the killer they were looking for.
Last night the former adviser, who is now retired, spoke to the Yorkshire Post again. He said the decision of senior officers to concentrate on Wearside was "absolute folly".
"It was the great red herring," he said. "We begged them to drop the suggestion that the murderer was the voice, but they just floundered on.
"We begged them and told them again and again, 'for God's sake don't look for the Ripper in Sunderland', but it was poor judgment right at the top of the investigation team."