Friday 26 April 2019

Irish Annie: the first victim of the Yorkshire Ripper

 

Serial killer: Anna Rogulskyj at the Old Bailey in London during the trial of Peter Sutcliffe, aka the Yorkshire Ripper
Serial killer: Anna Rogulskyj at the Old Bailey in London during the trial of Peter Sutcliffe, aka the Yorkshire Ripper
Peter Sutcliffe, aka The Yorkshire Ripper
Somebody's Mother, Somebody's Daughter by Carol Ann Lee

Anna Patricia Brosnan was born in Tralee on March 21, 1933, to farmer Michael Brosnan and his wife. All the Brosnan children - nine girls and three boys - were brought up in Tralee but were keen to explore beyond it. Fifteen-year-old Anna left home in 1948, joining her eldest sister, Helen, who had settled in the Yorkshire town of Keighley after World War II. Eleven miles north-west of Bradford, Keighley had a rich seam of Irish Catholic immigration; those fleeing the Great Famine of the 1840s found work in the wool and cotton mills, and factories producing machinery.

Anna was employed as a playing-cards sorter in Waddington's factory when she met textiles-accessories maker Roman Rogulskyj, six years her senior. They shared a background of farming and Roman Catholicism, coupled with new lives in a different country.

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Anna and Roman were married on February 19, 1955 at St Anne's Church in Keighley, with Roman's father, Mychalo, as a witness. The marriage lasted 18 years, ending in divorce in July 1973; there were no children. Anna lost some of her confidence after the divorce. Known as 'Irish Annie' in the town's pubs and cafés, she enjoyed working in Woolworths near her home on the sloping thoroughfare of Highfield Lane. Keighley was then in sharp economic decline: derelict mills and factories crumbled beside the River Worth, while brutal town planning swept away fine buildings, leaving boarded-up terraces and lacklustre pubs.

It was in one of these bars that Anna caught the eye of Geoffrey Hughes, who had recently moved into a terraced house on North Queen Street. Much later, Anna learned that he had been discharged from a psychiatric hospital with a recommendation to "keep away from women for five years".

Peter Sutcliffe, aka The Yorkshire Ripper
Peter Sutcliffe, aka The Yorkshire Ripper

Geoff spent more time at Anna's home than his own, taking out his unpredictable temper on her. Two incidents in early summer 1975 convinced Anna to stick with Geoff. Walking through Town Hall Square one afternoon, she was approached by a man near the Cenotaph, who pestered her to have a cup of tea with him.

Anna refused and quickened her step. He stayed close behind as she crossed the road, and was a short distance away when she reached Highfield Lane. Resisting the urge to run home, Anna took different routes until she managed to shake him off. But he appeared again a few weeks later, in Wild's Coffee Bar where she used to work, and sat down opposite her.

'Racing' eyes

Anna recalled that he had 'racing' eyes and 'dainty' hands, thick dark hair and a springy beard. She declined his offer of a drink and grew angry at his persistence. It was only when she warned him that the whole café would know what a creep he was unless he left her alone that he finally walked out.

On July 4, 1975, Anna told Geoff she wanted to go out alone. His temper snapped and she ran crying into another room. Weeping, she pulled on a pair of green slingbacks and reached for her handbag, then stepped out into the warm evening air intending to visit her sister. Helen was not in, so Anna headed for the bar of the Victoria Hotel. After a couple of drinks she caught the bus to Bradford, making her way to Bibby's, a lively West Indian club on Cornwall Terrace.

She spent the evening with a couple of friends, telling them her troubles. They gave her a lift back to Keighley at midnight. When Anna let herself into the house, she realised that Geoff had moved out. Then she saw that Dumdum, her adored stray kitten, was missing. Convinced that Geoff had taken him, she grabbed her handbag again. It was a 10-minute walk from Highfield Lane to North Queen Street. Anna cut through on to Mornington Street, crossed the main road and headed into Alice Street. The old Ritz cinema loomed on her right. North Queen Street was a row of mostly derelict houses with the odd alleyway. Preparing for a confrontation with Geoff, Anna was startled when a man's voice called to her from a doorway, asking if she "fancied it".

"Not on your life!" she retorted and hurried towards Geoff's home, where she banged her fist repeatedly on the door, waking an elderly neighbour. A wide alleyway ran between the end of the terrace and the back of the cinema. As Anna passed it, the man who had propositioned her before emerged from the shadows, asking her to have sex with him. This time, she emphasised her refusal with an elbow to his ribs. A few more steps would have brought her to the open stretch of Alice Street, but Anna didn't make it. An unendurable pain burst into her skull and the world slipped into darkness.

At 2.20am, a youth taking a shortcut through the alley found Anna lying unconscious, face upwards in a pool of blood. Her clothing had been disturbed and the green slingbacks lay a short distance from her untouched handbag.

Shards of bone were removed from Anna's brain during a 12-hour operation at Leeds General Infirmary. Although given the last rites, within hours she was recovering on a ward, head swathed in heavy bandages. Forensic pathologist Dr Michael Green of St James's University Hospital examined Anna's injuries. He found three crescent-shaped lacerations to her skull and fractures caused by a heavy object.

There was defensive bruising to her hands and right forearm and peculiar marks on her abdomen: a graze about seven inches long with six or seven deep scratches above it, inflicted by her attacker before he had pulled her blouse back into position. There was no evidence of sexual interference.

"Woman in Hospital After Alley Attack," read Monday's report in the Yorkshire Post. "Mrs Anna Patricia Rogulskyj… has regained consciousness but is still very ill and the policewomen will remain at her bedside until she can give an account of what happened."

West Yorkshire Detective Superintendent Peter Perry headed the investigation, but there were few lines of enquiry. Anna was unable to remember anything after breaking the window, but was convinced that her attacker was local.

Geoff and the youth who had found her were questioned and eliminated from the inquiry. Geoff's neighbour told detectives that Anna had broken the window between 1am and 2am, and he had seen a man in his twenties or thirties, about 5ft 8in and wearing a checked jacket, around the time of the attack.

But this information led nowhere. Anna's relationship with Geoff was over. Having always taken pride in her appearance, Anna was distressed when her hair grew back steel grey. She stopped visiting her regular salon when a stylist was unable to hide her shock at the injuries to her skull. Leaving home became a challenge in itself; Anna kept to the edge of the pavement, panicking if anyone walked behind her. She fought hard not to lose sight of the woman she had been before the attack. But then her assailant struck again.

 

⬤ The above extract has been lightly edited.

⬤This is an extract from 'Somebody's Mother, Somebody's Daughter' by Carol Ann Lee, a new book telling the histories of victims and survivors of Peter Sutcliffe, better known as the Yorkshire Ripper. It is out now

 

Five facts on Sutcliffe

1 In 1981, Peter Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven others.

2 He had carried out the brutal murders over five years, mainly in the Leeds and Bradford areas of Yorkshire.

3 At his trial, Sutcliffe pleaded not guilty to murder on grounds of diminished responsibilty after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but his defence was rejected by the jury.

4 Following his conviction, Sutcliffe began using his mother's maiden name, Coonan.

5 He served much of his sentence at a psychiatric hospital, but was transferred back to prison in 2016.

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