Why mystery of who killed Derbyshire woman Wendy Sewell may never be solved after death of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe

The murder of Bakewell woman Wendy Sewell has been shrouded in mystery for almost 50 years – and the death of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe could mean it remains unsolved.
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Retired detective Chris Clark has always pointed to evidence linking Sutcliffe to a series of other killings over a 12-year period, including Wendy’s death in 1973.

Thirty-two-year-old Wendy was beaten around the head with a pickaxe handle and sexually assaulted in Bakewell cemetery in 1973.

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Bakewell man Stephen Downing, a 17-year-old with learning difficulties, was found guilty of her murder in 1974. However, Mr Downing's conviction was overturned in 2002 after a campaign by the Matlock Mercury and he was released from jail after almost 30 years.

The death of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, may mean other killings remain unsolved.The death of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, may mean other killings remain unsolved.
The death of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, may mean other killings remain unsolved.

Mr Clark, a former intelligence officer, said as many as 17 unsolved killings bore hallmarks of the Ripper.

Sutcliffe, who the Prison Service announced had died in hospital yesterday, was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven others in 1981.

However, at the time, detectives believed the lorry driver must have committed more attacks.

Wendy Sewell. Wendy Sewell.
Wendy Sewell.
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Mr Clark believed Sutcliffe’s work as a driver could have given him the opportunity to kill further afield, and in 1973 his work would have brought him close to Bakewell.

Former Matlock Mercury editor and author Don Hale, who helped to bring the police's case against Stephen Downing tumbling down, interviewed Mr Clark for his book Murder in the Graveyard and says the ex-detective was ‘convinced’ Wendy could have been another Ripper victim.

“Sutcliffe was a lorry driver and used to travel through the Peak District on a regular basis and used the M1 turn off near Chesterfield,” Mr Hale said.

"He also allegedly had some friendly contacts in the area, with several later quizzed by the police over two of the murders.

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“I have always believed that Mrs Sewell's murder in September 1973, may have been linked to two other similar killings, those of Barbara Mayo, and Jackie Ansell-Lamb in Cheshire in 1970, just 3 years earlier.

“Ms Mayo's body was found close to Junction 29 of the M1 near Chesterfield, only about 12 miles from Bakewell.”

Derbyshire Police later linked the murders of Ms Mayo and Ms Ansell-Lamb, and Mr Hale says many of the scene of crime and murder details were ‘very similar for all three murders’.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.