The killer of a 26-year-old woman whose murder was linked to the Yorkshire Ripper has finally been revealed more than 35 years later.
Fresh DNA evidence from the crime scene has led detectives to firmly believe that Christopher Smith bludgeoned to death Preston mother-of-two Joan Harrison.
Serial offender Smith, 60, from Leeds, died in 2008 but the Crown Prosecution Service said police had gathered sufficient evidence to charge him with murder if he was still alive.
A three-page note by Smith – penned the day before he died from a terminal illness – in which he seemingly admitted the murder was also found at his home which stated “I can’t go on with the guilt”, police said.
Mrs Harrison’s battered body was found in a disused lock-up garage in Berwick Road, Avenham, in November 1975. A bite mark was found on her breast and several items of jewellery were missing including two gold wedding rings belonging to the twice-married victim.
Two nights earlier she had left her home in Deepdale to head for a drink in Preston centre. It is understood Smith did not know his victim and may have come across her by chance after being released from a prison sentence he had served in the area.
The connection with Peter Sutcliffe came to light in 1978 – when the serial killer was still at large – as West Yorkshire Police received the first of three letters purporting to be from the Ripper.
Signed “Jack the Ripper”, it began: “I am sorry I cannot give my name for obvious reasons.. I am the Ripper” and later added: “Up to number 8 now you say 7 but remember Preston 75, get about a bit you know.”
Following Sutcliffe’s capture and confession, those messages were proved to be from hoaxer John Humble, known as Wearside Jack. In 1981 Sutcliffe, from Bradford, was jailed for life for murdering 13 women and attempting to kill seven more, while Humble, from Sunderland, was jailed for eight years in 2006 for perverting the course of justice.
Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Gardner, head of crime for Lancashire Constabulary, said: “This has been a long-running and complex homicide inquiry 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.”