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Michael Green: forensic pathologist whose observations helped catch the “Yorkshire Ripper”

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 19 January 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n144
  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}
Credit: Jennifer Green

Within five weeks in 1975, Michael Green, then a senior lecturer in forensic in Leeds, examined two local women who had survived brutal attacks. Both had been hit on the head from behind with a hammer. Green warned the police that the same person had almost certainly carried out both attacks He was right. These were the first recorded assaults by Peter Sutcliffe, later dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper.

Within a few months Sutcliffe murdered two women, again attacking from behind with a hammer. Green was convinced a serial killer was at large, but because the second two women had been prostitutes, the police regarded their attacks as separate from the first two—a major error.

It wasn’t until 1978—after seven similar murders—that the police finally heeded Green’s advice. Sutcliffe subsequently confessed to 13 murders and seven attempted murders.

Forensic pathology

In 1982, shortly after Sutcliffe’s long overdue arrest, Green addressed Britain’s most senior police officers at a conference in Oxford. Green’s lecture, provocatively entitled “Is Sir Bernard Spilsbury dead?” highlighted the celebrated man purported to be Britain’s first ever forensic pathologist. Spilsbury, who helped to solve many gruesome cases, had a reputation for giving definitive evidence. Most famously, he provided the critical evidence that sent the notorious Dr Crippen to the gallows in 1910 for the murder of his wife.

The …

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