Years ago as I helped to clear out the family home, I came across a box of childhood memorabilia. It contained the usual stuff, swimming certificates and medals, school reports and my old autograph book containing just one celebrity signature (Michael Caine) among a clutter of notes, poems and messages from friends at my sixth form college. For old time’s sake I leafed through the pages and stopped short at two, neat words written in black fountain pen: “Love Jacqueline”.
Jacqueline Hill. Or Jackie as we all called her. Funny, clever, sometimes silly Jackie, one of the best people I ever knew, who brought only goodness to the world. She would have gone on bringing goodness to the world. But her life was savagely and peremptorily stopped when she was just 20. On the evening of 17 November, 1980, Jacqueline got off a bus in a Leeds and crossed the path of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. He murdered her and left her body on waste ground.
To the wider world Jacqueline will always be a final act, a piece of history; she will for ever be known as Sutcliffe’s last victim. He was caught just two months later. Details of her death are all over the internet; her name and the photograph issued by police after her death are the full stop to Ripper TV documentaries like Channel 5’s Crimes That Shook the World (Thursday). She and her fellow victims are incidental features of any newspaper story involving Sutcliffe, most recently during the Savile furore with claims that Savile was interviewed as a Ripper suspect. There was her picture, again. One of 13.
To me, Jackie was the lovely, kind girl with the endearingly silly sense of humour. We sat together for two years of O-level French lessons at our northern comprehensive school. She was much better at French than I was. We became pals, we giggled at Jackie’s daft jokes, we had the kind of light friendship that 14-year-old girls are so good at.
I remember she bought me bath cubes for Christmas one year. I can’t remember what I bought her. Later, at sixth form college, we’d chat in the common room and share our delight in one of our A-level set texts, Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. Then we went our separate ways, Jackie to university in Leeds, me to train as a journalist at a paper in the South West.
This was decades before email, Facebook and Twitter, we were wrapped up in new lives and contact was lost. Memories faded, until Jackie unwittingly became part of Peter Sutcliffe’s story. I read about her murder in the “stop press” of my own newspaper. Later, I sat in my tiny flat, staring at nothing. During Sutcliffe’s trial the following year my thoughtful fellow journalists, my friends, wouldn’t let me read the details of her murder in our paper. Having read them since, I can understand why.
I couldn’t foresee then what I know now. That being the victim of a man who will live in infamy makes you a public property. You can be presented however anyone wishes you to be presented on cheap real-crime TV documentaries. Crimes That Shook the World features repeated, graphic, tawdry reconstructions of Sutcliffe’s murders. Though, significantly, only those of the prostitutes he killed, presumably on the grounds that they were only prostitutes so who cares anyway. Thuds on the soundtrack as an actor wields a hammer that we later see dripping with blood. Actresses posed as dead bodies, “wounds” revealed in lip-smacking close-up,
including – and this is beyond the pale – maggots in supposedly festering cuts.
Then there’s the doomy music, the jagged editing. It’s Silent Witness, it’s Waking the Dead. Yet TV dramas treat their “victims” with more respect. Dramas that have depicted Sutcliffe’s crimes, notably Channel 4’s
Red Riding (based on David Peace’s novels) and ITV’s This Is Personal, were nowhere near as intrusive.
Sutcliffe’s crimes were committed in living memory. His victims are not props in an entertainment show. They were more than the manner of their deaths. They have families and friends. Jacqueline’s murder and the murders of Sutcliffe’s “respectable” victims are not depicted but this matters little. His victims are just a lump of 13 women, 13 black-and-white photos, set in the context of a programme featuring an actor pretending to club women with a hammer.
I still think of Jacqueline. I often raise a silent toast to her on significant occasions as I wonder where she would be and what she would have achieved. She, and all her fellow victims and the victims of any killer, anywhere, are worth so much more than Crimes That Shook the World. She will live in the memories of everyone who knew her, for all the right reasons.