'I killed her, not the Ripper': Sex offender admits to 1975 murder in scrawled deathbed confession
9th February 2011
A scrawled deathbed confession has cracked a 35-year-old unsolved ritualistic sex killing which was once feared to be the work of the Yorkshire Ripper.
Wracked with guilt and dying of cancer, convicted sex offender Christopher Smith wrote of his desire to set the record straight and apologised for the pain he has caused. He also begged God for forgiveness for the sake of his family.
Smith raped and battered to death mother-of-two Joan Harrison, 26, in 1975 - only to evade capture.
Police initially feared the murder was carried out by Peter Sutcliffe but as inquiries continued, Smith slipped under their radar and disappeared into anonymity as a father and grandfather and seemingly devoted family man.
A squad of 80 detectives interviewed almost 100,000 people and took more than 6,000 statements and saliva samples but despite one man being arrested, no-one was ever charged.
Author David Peace has written about this particular case in books and articles. His Red Riding trilogy of novels, which where dramatised for television by Channel 4, were written partly against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper Murders. In them, he argued that the Yorkshire Ripper did not commit the murder.
The case has previously been linked to Wearside Jack, the name given to hoaxer John Samuel Humble, who was jailed in 2006 for perverting the course of justice, while several other theories had also been posited.
Smith's deathbed confession was found at his family home in Leeds, West Yorks - just five miles from Sutcliffe's hometown of Bradford - after advances in DNA technology matched him to the scene of Joan's murder.
Smith had a string of criminal convictions ranging from assault to theft to sexual attacks but died in 2008, aged 60 from lung cancer.
He had written the note shortly before his death then hidden in it away in a drawer.
In the note littered with spelling mistakes he wrote: 'Two how ever it concerns I would like to put the record straight. I can't go on with the guilt.
'I have lived with it for over 20 years. I am truly sorry for all the pain I have caused to anyone. Please believe me when I say I am sorry.
'I love my grandkids and my daughter. I cannot go back to prison anymore. Please God help my family who I worship. I have been out of trouble for over 20 years so please God help me. I am so sorry. God forgive me. I love you all forever.'
Six days before he died, Smith was arrested for drink driving and a swab was taken. After his death the note was recovered and officers then began the process of matching the DNA on the swab with that taken from the crime scene at the time of the murder.
That process has only recently been finished and today Lancashire Police confirmed they have now closed the file on Joan after informing her family who are being offered support by trained officers.
The mother-of-two's partially naked body was found in a disused garage in Preston, Lancs, November 1975. She had been raped and beaten to death.
Her killer had left a deep bite mark on her left breast, stolen her jewellery and ritually placed some of her clothing and shoes in positions repeated in later murders.
Three years later, as Peter Sutcliffe spread terror across the north of England, police received letters from a man saying he was the feared serial killer and claiming 26-year-old Joan as his victim.
The entrance to the garage is on the left-hand side of this street. Mrs Harrison was last seen walking the badly-lit streets into the town centre on her way to have a late-night drink just before 10.30pm
But when Sutcliffe was arrested in 1981 evidence at the crime scene ruled him out of the investigation. Ripper hoaxer John Humble - known as Wearside Jack - who was once suspected of the murder, was also eliminated.
Joan was drinking heavily, taking drugs and having casual sex to pay for her addictions after two failed marriages.
She was last seen walking the badly-lit streets into the town centre on her way to have a late-night drink just before 10.30pm. Her body was discovered two days later dumped in a lock-up garage.
In 1978 detectives in West Yorkshire received a letter, signed 'Jack the Ripper', hinting at responsibility for Joan's murder. It taunted: 'Up to number eight now, you say seven but remember Preston 1975, get about a bit you know.'
The letter, two further notes, a tape and forensic evidence from them wrongly linked her death to the Ripper.
But when Sutcliffe, now serving life in Broadmoor hospital for murdering 13 women and attacking several others, was ruled out, the investigation was back to square one.
Then in 2001 police questioned a 59-year-old man living in a London hostel alleged to have been seen in The Balmoral pub on Manchester Road, Avenham, where Mrs Harrison was drinking the night she disappeared.
He was alleged to have left the pub and returned with a blood-stained shirt and was said to have tried to sell a gold ring belonging to Joan the following day. The man was later released without charge.
Lancashire Police said advances in forensic techniques have allowed the interpretation of DNA found at the original scene to reveal sufficient evidence that would have led to Smith being charged with murder.
Det Chief Supt Graham Gardner said: 'This has been a long running and complex homicide enquiry for the Constabulary.
'Joan lost her life in a most brutal way and despite the enormous efforts of all those originally involved, no charges were ever brought.
'Advances in DNA interpretation over the years has finally allowed us to identify Smith as the man at the scene of Joan's murder.
'That fact, coupled with other evidence we have gathered over recent months, has been sufficient to convince the Crown Prosecution Service that Smith would have been charged with her murder, had he been alive today.' 'It is with some regret that Smith is not still alive to stand trial for his crime. One can only try to imagine the sadness endured by Joan's family over the years and I truly hope this development will finally bring some closure surrounding their tragic loss.'
John Dilworth, head of CPS Lancashire and Cumbria Complex Casework Unit, said: 'This recent development has revealed evidence that would have been sufficient to prosecute Christopher Smith, if he were alive.
'Had Mr Smith lived, my decision would have authorised the police to begin the legal process by charging him. The CPS agreed to look at the evidence on a deceased suspect because of the very exceptional circumstances of this case.'