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The Oldest Profession

The Bristol prostitute murdered as the Yorkshire Ripper hunted red light districts

Published in The Bristol Post
16th April 2017

Bristol
It was the summer of 1979 and with the Yorkshire Ripper hunting the red light districts, prostitutes across the country were living in fear. Then came the news that Bristol had been dreading.

Workmen had found the mutilated body under a pile of sand on a St Paul’s building site just off Backfield. It turned out to be that of 32-year-old Wendy Jenkins.

It didn’t take long for Bristol police to call in their counterparts from the Northern city - after other victims had been similarly mutilated by the serial killer, later discovered to be Peter Sutcliffe.

Straight away Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Hobson leading the search for the Yorkshire Ripper was clear – he would be speaking to Bristol’s finest about the murder. Within a few days he travelled to Bristol to find out if Wendy’s death was the work of the ripper, who was thought to have claimed as many as 11 victims at the time, and had threatened to strike again. When the Bristol investigation began, little details were known, as police sealed off the area and detectives began hunting for clues.

Wendy, who lived in Eccelstone House in Barton Hill, had sustained head injuries, but it was unclear exactly how long ago that her body had been dumped between the two new warehouses. She was found at around 8.30am on Tuesday, August 28, 1979, by labourer Denis Winterfield, 22, shortly after he had started work at the site – but the sand had been delivered the Friday before.

Another labourer, Richard Blankford, 20, found what turned out to be a major clue in the investigation. He discovered a handbag, shoes, a coat and nylons in an alley on the side of one of the new warehouses and left the property in a hole – covering it with rubble.

“I thought nothing more of it at the time,” he told the Bristol Post at the time of the discovery. “Now it all seems to fit into place.”

The horrific murder sent shockwaves through the working girls in Bristol. One told the Post: “We are petrified. He must be a raving maniac. We’re scared he may do it again. A lot of us carry knives for protection, but they may not be much good if we are attacked. We take a risk every time we go with a customer. We don’t know what he is going to be like. But maybe the killer wasn’t a customer.”

Another woman – Maureen, who was aged in her 30s – said although girls were scared, the brutal murder would not affect them going out to work because they all needed the money. She said Wendy was a “really nice girl” and a lot of the women were not “terrified”.

As detectives travelled from Yorkshire, those in Bristol started putting more information together.

Detective Superintendent Alan Elliott who was leading the Bristol hunt, said in the days after her body was found: “We have to maintain an open mind and a connection (with the ripper) cannot be ruled out. However, there are certain features common to all to the Yorkshire offences which don’t appear in the Bristol offence.”

Officers were concentrating of trying to track Wendy’s last known movements.

Witnesses said she had been drinking in the Inkerman pub on Grosvenor Road on the Saturday night. Before going onto the Shady Grove nightclub in Ashley Road – leaving at about 11.30pm and never returning. Officers were also trying to trace a white Volvo car with just one rear light working that was seen speeding away from the murder scene at around 10.30pm on the Sunday.

Witness Cefyn James, a 21-year-old book binder, told the Bristol Post how he looked out of his window from his City Road home after hearing screams. He said he then saw the car in Backfields Lane – just 100 yards from where her body was found.

Fellow prostitutes said they believed Wendy had often taken clients to the building and said she had only started working in the sex industry as she was short of money.

Meanwhile Wendy’s step-father, Reg Hoskins, 65, who she lived with in Barton Hill revealed she had been living in fear and previously beaten up and threatened. He said how Wendy and her mum had gone to St Paul’s with her mum to visit friends. “Apparently they met a man and there was a terrible argument,” he told the Post. “I never saw Wendy again. Whatever Wendy was she didn’t deserve to die like this. She may have gone with men but she never brought any home here – she knew I wouldn’t have stood for that.”

In the days after the tragedy police put out appeals for any information on Wendy’s whereabouts that weekend. Det Supt Elliott also warned women not to take unnecessary risks. “Prostitutes are always exposed to danger – but there must be an even greater danger as long as the man responsible for the murder is still at large,” he said.

Police continued trying to speak to Wendy’s friends and ex-boyfriends in an investigation which had taken them to Wiltshire, Devon, London and Gloucestershire.

The Yorkshire Ripper was eventually crossed off the suspect list as detectives said they strongly believed that Wendy’s killer was from Bristol.

Another witness also came forward, who was thought to have been the last person to see Wendy alive. He claimed he had seen her talking to a “tidily dressed” man, aged in his 30s on the corner of Drummond Road and City Road at around 5.30am on Bank Holiday Monday – and police believed Wendy was murdered shortly after. He was described by police at the time as “coloured” and about 5ft 8in tall with shortish hair.

Officers began house-to-house inquiries in the area and said they were “plugging away” with the investigation. And very soon the murder squad were about to strike. A 50 strong team were targeting all the men who picked up prostitutes in the St Paul’s area on the night she was brutally killed.

Det Supt Elliott put out a stark warning to the men: “We know who they are and so do they.” He said he would save the men the embarrassment of calling at their homes and confidence would be maintained, if they came forward. “Otherwise we will have to knock at their doors,” he added.

The stance followed a sweep operation of pubs, clubs and cafes. They were still looking for the mystery well-dressed man seen talking to Wendy, while she was “rather the worse for drink” police said.

Another appeal went out for another vehicle – an orange or red coloured Hillman Minx or Hunter Estate.

Two years after Wendy’s murder, the Yorkshire Ripper, who is now serving 20 life sentences behind bars, Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder another seven in the Leeds and Bradford areas – ending a five year murder spree.

Sadly Bristol police never managed to catch Wendy’s killer and nearly 40 years later he remains out there. Detectives from Bristol have not given up bringing her killer to justice though and it remains one of the 26 unsolved murder from around the city that is still on the police’s books.

Anyone with information about Wendy’s murder can still come forward, contacting police on 101 asking to speak to Detective Sergeant Pete Frake in the Major Crime Review Team.