Student of Homicide Is Charged in Three Murders
By JOHN F. BURNS
Published: May 27, 2010
LONDON — In a grisly case that British newspapers have compared to the Yorkshire Ripper murders of the 1970s, the police on Thursday charged a 40-year-old man pursuing a Ph.D. in 19th-century homicides with the murders of three women identified by the police as prostitutes.
One victim was caught on closed-circuit television last week being killed with a crossbow shot to the head before her dismembered body was dumped in a nearby river.
The man charged with the killings, Stephen Griffiths, is a former van driver with a psychology degree who was enrolled in a postgraduate course in criminology. The Times of London reported that he had told a neighbor in Bradford, the rundown industrial city in West Yorkshire where he lived until his arrest on Monday, that he was studying for “a Ph.D. in murder and Jack the Ripper,” the pseudonym given to the unidentified serial killer of prostitutes in London’s Whitechapel slum district in the 1880s.
But it was the resonance of another serial murder case involving a man from the Bradford area that helped make the latest killings a newspaper sensation. In a case that terrorized much of northern England and led to years of inquiries about police investigative failures, Peter Sutcliffe, the so-called Yorkshire Ripper, was convicted in 1981 of murdering 13 women, including several prostitutes, and of attempting to murder 7 others.
He was given 20 concurrent life sentences and has been held for nearly 30 years in the Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital west of London. After a legal battle to be considered for parole, he was told by officials this year that he would never be released.
With the country’s voracious tabloid papers competing in a frenzy over the latest killings, the police sealed off the third-floor walk-up on the edge of Bradford’s red-light district where Mr. Griffiths lived alone for more than a decade.
Neighbors were quoted in leading British newspapers as calling him an oddball and “a bit of a Goth,” obsessed with prostitutes and given to wearing a long black leather coat and dark glasses. One said he was known as “the lizard man” for his habit of taking his two pet monitor lizards, one of them four feet long, for walks on leashes around the apartment block where he lived, and feeding them captive mice.
The BBC and other news organizations said the police were investigating possible links to the killings of two other prostitutes in the same area of West Yorkshire in the past 20 years, and the disappearance of a third.
Mr. Griffiths was arrested after the police investigating the disappearance of the three women he is accused of killing reviewed closed-circuit video footage from security cameras outside his apartment. The Times of London quoted officers as saying the video showed one of the missing women, Suzanne Blamires, 36, a former nursing trainee who friends said had taken up prostitution to pay for an addiction to drugs and alcohol, being chased down a corridor by a man who knocked her to the ground. Moments later, the officers said, the man returned with a crossbow and shot Ms. Blamires in the head.
These accounts said the video later showed the same man taking several plastic garbage bags away from the property. After Mr. Griffiths was arrested on Monday, parts of Ms. Blamires’s body were found floating in the River Aire near Shipley, a town a few miles north of Bradford, and a woman’s head was found in a rucksack by the riverbank. The bodies of the two other women Mr. Griffiths is charged with murdering, Shelley Armitage, 31, and Susan Rushworth, 43, both said to be friends of Ms. Blamires, have not been found.
The Times said that according to neighbors, Mr. Griffiths was hauled from his apartment by the police and made to lie facedown at gunpoint before being led away, showing no emotion. “As he was taken away, he had the usual cold expression on his face,” one neighbor was quoted as saying. “There was no shock, surprise or emotion. The only thing he was bothered about was the police locking his door properly.”