40 years ago today: Death of the Yorkshire Ripper’s first victim

THE darkest chapter in Yorkshire’s history began 40 years today - with a gruesome discovery by a Leeds milkman.

Ripper. Murder victim Wilma McCann.

Alan Routledge was on his morning round when he spotted what he thought at first was a bundle of rags or a Guy Fawkes dummy. But then his younger brother Paul shouted: “It’s a body.”

Wilma McCann, 28, had been attacked and murdered by Peter Sutcliffe in the early hours of that morning, October 30, 1975.

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He had been driving through Leeds in his green Ford Capri when he saw Ms McCann thumbing for a lift. He pulled over and she jumped in.

Police searched for clues after the murder of Wilma McCann - but it was five years before Peter Sutcliffe was brought to book

Parked up near the Prince Phillip Playing Fields, near her home, he stabbed her, hit her on the head with a hammer and escaped into the night.

No-one knew it then, but at least 12 more women would be murdered and at least seven more left for dead before Sutcliffe was finally captured - five long years later.

After his arrest in late 1980, following Britain’s biggest-ever manhunt, Sutcliffe told police that Ms McCann’s murder was “the incident that started it all off.

He said in a statement to detectives: “I was driving through Leeds late at night, I’d been to somewhere having a couple of pints, you’ll know the date better than me. It was Wilma McCann. I was in a Ford Capri, K registered, a lime green one with a black roof with a sun grill in the back window.

Police searched for clues after the murder of Wilma McCann - but it was five years before Peter Sutcliffe was brought to book

“I saw this woman thumbing a lift where the Wetherby Road branches to the right, but you can carry straight on. She was wearing some white trousers and a jacket. I stopped and asked her how far she was going. She said, ‘Not far, thanks for stopping,’ and she jumped in.”

He later added: “I hit her with the hammer on her head. I was stood up at that time behind her. I think I hit her on the top of the head, I hit her once or twice on the head. She fell down flat on her back and started making a horrible noise like a moaning gurgling noise.”

“I thought, ‘God what have I done?’ I knew I had gone too far. I ran to the car intending to drive off. I sat in the car for a while, I could see her arm moving. I was in a numb panic, I still had the hammer in my hand. I put it back in my tool box.”

The tragedy did not end there. In 2007 Ms McCann’s daughter herself at her home in Leeds.

Police searched for clues after the murder of Wilma McCann - but it was five years before Peter Sutcliffe was brought to book

Sonia Newlands, 39, had suffered suffering years of mental torment, health problems and addiction issues following her mother’s violent end.

Ms McCann’s son Richard served time in prison on drugs charges before becoming a leading motivational speaker and publishing two best-selling books about his life – Just A Boy and The Boy Grows Up.

He said at the time of his sister’s death that not only had he and his siblings lost their mother, they had also lost their childhood.

His books tell how he and Sonia wandered the streets looking for their mother at 5.30am after she was murdered.

Police searched for clues after the murder of Wilma McCann - but it was five years before Peter Sutcliffe was brought to book

Former Bradford lorry driver Peter Sutcliffe, now 69, remains in custody in Broadmoor and is unlikely ever to be released.

Police searched for clues after the murder of Wilma McCann - but it was five years before Peter Sutcliffe was brought to book