The Halifax Slasher

A tour of key locations

 

In November 1938, the mill town of Halifax in the West Riding of Yorkshire suffered a remarkable panic. A mysterious, almost supernatural figure who became known as 'the Halifax Slasher' stalked the streets, stalking and attacking his victims - mostly but not all women - with a razor before melting away into the fog and shadows. The town all but shut for business, rewards were offered, vigilante gangs roamed the streets, and detectives from Scotland Yard were called in to help capture this terror.

The detectives soon came to a remarkable conclusion - there was no attacker. Nearly all of the supposed victims admitted that their wounds were self-inflicted. The case now ranks alongside the 'London Monster' of 1790 and the 'Mad Gasser of Botetort' as a classic example of how a society can go briefly insane with fear of some phantom menace.

In late July 2002 and prompted by a visit from Mr Barry Kavanagh, who is working on a film script about the Slasher, I visited the key sites involved in the case. Most of the 'attacks' took place in the streets around Lister Lane and Gibbet Street to the west of the town centre, and many of the locations have changed relatively little in the intervening 65 years.

The following pages feature brief details of the key Slasher 'attacks' and other incidents, with photographs of the sites as they appear today. Information on the attacks is taken from Michael Goss' The Halifax Slasher: An urban terror in the north of England, a Fortean Times Occasional Paper published in April 1987 and the definitive account of this strange case.

The key incidents -

Old Bank Lane, Ripponden
16 November 1938 - Gertrude Watts and Mary Gledhill attacked by a mallet-wielding man

Lister Lane
21 November - Mary Sutcliffe 'attacked' in the first Slasher incident

Jasper Street
24 November - Clayton Aspinall 'attacked' outside the School of Art

Elland Lane, Elland
25 November - Percy Waddington 'attacked' outside his own shop

Green Lane
25 November - Hilda Lodge 'attacked' by Slasher, Clifford Edwards attacked by vigilante mob

Bedford Street North
27 November - Beatrice Sorrel 'attacked' close to the famous Halifax Gibbet

Copley
27 November - Fred Baldwin attacked by drinkers outside the Standard of Freedom Inn

Crib Lane
29 November - Margaret Kenny 'attacked' at Dean Clough mill

 

West Halifax today, as seen from the Wainhouse Tower at King Cross.

A final word of advice to anyone wanting to visit these sites themselves - now as then, the west central area of Halifax is a close-knit working-class neighbourhood, where the locals can be suspicious of strangers. Be respectful, and remember that these terraced streets are people's homes.

For more on the Slasher and other strange incidents from Halifax history, see this essay, originally published in Strange Attractor Journal.