Peter Sutcliffe

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Peter Sutcliffe (born June 2, 1946), infamous as the "Yorkshire Ripper", was convicted in 1981 of the murders of thirteen women and attacks on seven more from 1975 to 1980.


Early life

Peter William Sutcliffe was born in Bingley, West Yorkshire, the son of a mill-worker. Reportedly a loner at school, he left formal education at the age of fifteen and took a series of menial jobs, including a stint as a grave-digger, before settling into a job on the nightshift at a local factory.

He met Sonia Szurma in 1966, and they married in 1974. Shortly after his marriage, he was made redundant and used the pay-off to gain a HGV license in June 1975 and began working as a driver in September. His wife suffered a number of miscarriages, and eventually the couple was informed that she would not be able to have children. Shortly after this, his wife returned to a teacher-training course. When she completed the course in 1977 and began teaching, the couple used the extra money to get their first house, in Bradford.

Criminal career


Sutcliffe was convicted for murdering the following 13 victims:


The first known assault by Sutcliffe was in Keighley on the night of July 5, 1975. He attacked Anna Rogulskyj (aged 36) who was walking alone, striking her unconscious with a ball-peen hammer and slashing her stomach with a knife. Disturbed by a neighbour, he left before killing her. Anna Rogulskyj survived after extensive medical attention. Later she would meet Sutcliffe's father, encouraging him to probe his fingers into the two indents that still remain in the back of her head. He attacked Olive Smelt (aged 46) in Halifax in August with the same modus operandi and again was disturbed and left his victim badly injured. Later in August he attacked Tracy Browne (aged 16) in Silsden. She was struck from behind and hit on the head five times while walking in a country lane. Sutcliffe was not convicted of this attack, but later confessed to it.

His next victim, Wilma McCann of Leeds (aged 28) and a mother of four, was killed on October 30. He struck her twice with a hammer before stabbing her fifteen times. An extensive inquiry, involving 150 police officers and 11,000 interviews, did not uncover Sutcliffe.


He did not kill again until January 1976, stabbing Emily Jackson (aged 42) 51 times in Leeds.

Due to repeated tardiness, Sutcliffe lost his first driving job in March 1976 and did not find another until October. He attacked Marcella Claxton (aged 20), another prostitute, in Roundhay Park in Leeds on May 9. He struck her with a hammer and left her with 25 stab wounds.


The next murder took place in February 1977. He attacked Irene Richardson (aged 28), another Chapeltown prostitute, in Roundhay Park, this time killing her with a series of weighty hammer blows, followed by a post-mortem stabbing. Tyre-tracks left near the murder scene resulted in an enormous list of possible suspect vehicles.

Two months later he killed Patricia "Tina" Atkinson (aged 32), a Bradford prostitute, at her flat, where police found a bootprint on the bedclothes. It was another two months later that Sutcliffe moved up a gear with a vicious murder in Chapeltown. Jayne MacDonald (aged 16) was not a prostitute, and her death suddenly made every woman a potential victim. He seriously assaulted Maureen Long (aged 42) in Bradford in July; interrupted, he left her for dead. He was seen by a witness, but they misidentified the make of his car. The police had over 300 officers working the case and amassed 12,500 statements and checked thousands of cars, without result.

Sutcliffe killed a Manchester prostitute, Jean Jordan (aged 20) in October. Her body was not found for ten days, but had obviously been moved several days after death. The recovery of her handbag offered a valuable piece of evidence. Sutcliffe had given the woman 5. The note was new and was traced to banks in Shipley and Bingley and from there into the wages of 8,000 local employees. Over three months the police interviewed 5,000 men, including Sutcliffe, but did not connect him. Sutcliffe had known the note could expose him: he had returned to the body a week after the killing to locate it and, unable to find the handbag, had tried to remove Jordan's head with a broken pane of glass. Chillingly, he had undertaken this event after hosting a family party at his home.

Sutcliffe attacked another Leeds prostitute, Marilyn Moore (aged 25) in December. She survived and offered another reasonable description of her attacker, and tyre-tracks found matched those of an earlier attack.


Despite this, the police withdrew their intensive search for the person who received the 5 in January 1978. Sutcliffe was interviewed about the 5 note, but not investigated further; he would ultimately be contacted, and disregarded, by the Ripper Squad many more times. In that month Sutcliffe killed again, attacking a Bradford prostitute, Yvonne Pearson (aged 21), this time hiding the body under a discarded sofa so that it was not found until March. He killed a Huddersfield prostitute, Helen Rytka (aged 18), in late January; her body was uncovered three days later.

After a two month hiatus Sutcliffe killed again, attacking Vera Millward (aged 40) in the car park of the Manchester Royal Infirmary on May 16.


Almost a year passed before he struck again; during this time his mother died. On April 4, 1979, he killed Josephine Whitaker (aged 19), a bank clerk, in Halifax; he assaulted her in a park as she was walking home. Despite new forensic clues, the police efforts were diverted for several months into a fruitless search for a man with a Wearside accent, which was pinned down to a small area of Sunderland, following a hoax tape message taunting George Oldfield who was leading the search. The same hoaxer had sent two letters to the police boasting of his crimes in 1978 signed "Jack The Ripper" and claimed a murder in Preston in November 1975.

Sutcliffe killed Barbara Leach (aged 20), a Bradford student, in September, his sixteenth attack. Yet again the death of a woman other than a prostitute aroused the public and prompted an expensive publicity campaign, which unfortunately pushed the Geordie connection. Even with this false lead, Sutcliffe was re-interviewed on at least two occasions in 1979 but, despite matching several forensic clues and being on the list of just 300 names in connection with the 5 note, he was not strongly suspected. In total, Sutcliffe was interviewed by the police on nine occasions.


In April 1980 he was arrested for drunken driving. While awaiting trial on this charge he killed two more women, Marguerite Walls (aged 47) in August and Jacqueline Hill (aged 20) in November 1980. He also attacked two other women who survived—Upadhya Bandara (aged 24) in Leeds and Theresa Sykes (aged 16) in Huddersfield. Following the November murder, one of Sutcliffe's friends reported him to the police as a suspect, this information vanished into the enormous volumes already created.

Arrest and trial

In January 1981 he was stopped by the police in Sheffield while in his car with prostitute Olivia Reivers (aged 24); he was arrested. Having fitted his car with false plates, he was transferred to Dewsbury police station in connection with this offence. At Dewsbury he was questioned in relation to the Yorkshire Ripper case, as he matched so many of the physical characteristics known. The discovery of a knife, hammer and rope he had tried to dispose of during his arrest increased police interest, and they obtained a search warrant for his home and brought his wife in for questioning.

After two days of intensive questioning, he suddenly declared he was the Ripper and, over the next day, calmly described his many attacks, claiming to have been told by God to murder the women. He was charged on January 6 and went to trial in May.

The basis of his defence was his claim that he was the tool of God's will. However, there was a twist to the tale that, had it been made public, would have shattered this defence, and exposed Sutcliffe as the sexual killer many believed he was. When Sutcliffe stripped out of his clothing at the police station, he was discovered to be wearing a V-neck pullover under his trousers. The arms had been pulled over his legs, so that the V-neck exposed his groin; the elbows were padded to protect his knees as, obviously, he knelt over corpses. The sexual implications of this outfit were obvious. But this fact was not communicated to the public until disclosure in a recent book, Beyond Belief.

His trial lasting just two weeks, he was found guilty of thirteen counts of murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of thirty years. His appeal was denied. Since incarceration, he has been informed that he will die a prisoner.


He began his sentence at Parkhurst prison. Despite being found sane at his trial, he was soon diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia. Attempts to send him to a secure psychiatric unit were initially blocked. During his time at Parkhurst he was seriously assaulted. His wife Sonia obtained a separation from him in 1982 and a final divorce in 1994; she then went on to contest and win nine libel cases against various publications. In 1984 he was finally sent to Broadmoor hospital. In an attack by a fellow inmate in 1997, his eyesight was severely damaged, and his attacker was charged with attempted murder.

Despite being given a whole life tariff by successive Home Secretaries, Sutcliffe could still be released from custody if the parole board decides that he is no longer a danger to the public. He was originally sentenced to a minimum of 30 years, so he could be released from prison in 2011 (at the age of 65) because the system under which his tariff was increased has since been declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights and also the High Court. THe main point of conflict is that Sutcliffe's (and other lifers) continued detention is presently controlled by a politician (The Home Secretary) rather than a member of the judiciary.

On 17 January, 2005, Sutcliffe was allowed to visit the site of his father's ashes, who had died from cancer the year before. The decision to allow the temporary release was initiated by David Blunkett and later ratified by Charles Clarke when he took over the role as Home Secretary. Sutcliffe was accompanied by four members of the prison staff. Despite the passage of twenty five years since the Ripper murders, Sutcliffe's visit was still the focus of front-page tabloid headlines [1].

  1. The Sun, 21st January 2005

Related Controversy

There is an unresolved controversy relating to this case.

The body of Yvonne Pearson lay undiscovered for two months on wasteground, near Lumb Lane in Bradford. Although Sutcliffe was charged with her murder, he stated to the Police that he could not remember killing her.

Police handwriting analysis of the packaging from the hoax Geordie tapes suggests strongly that whoever sent the tape also wrote the two hoax notes. The controversy arises from the fact that in the first letter to the Police, dated March 8th 1978, the author wrote "...Up to number 8 now you say 7 but remember Preston '75...". At that point the number of bodies was officially only 6—Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson, Pat Atkinson, Jayne McDonald and Jean Jordan. (Correction: the official death toll from the Ripper attacks at this date was seven, including Helen Rytka (January 1978)).

The second letter, sent March 13th also says "...Up to murder 8 now you say seven but remember Preston '75...". The reference to "Preston 1975" probably refers to the murder of Preston prostitute Joan Harrison, on November 20, 1975. In 1992, according to Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable of Cleveland at the time, Peter Sutcliffe also confessed to being responsible for the attack on an Irish student, but did not give a date for this attack.

This, say some, implies the author of the letters knew of the dead body of Yvonne Pearson, and also of the murder of Joan Harrison, and therefore must have been involved in one or both killings. (See correction above: when the Ripper toll is correctly calculated, the implication of the letter's claim is clearly that the writer knew of the Harrison murder but NOT the Pearson killing). Bite marks on Joan's thigh did not match Sutcliffe, and there has never been any conclusive evidence linking Sutcliffe to her. As Sutcliffe worked alone, the conclusion is that the Geordie who made the tapes and wrote the letters also was involved in these two murders. (See correction)

No one has, as of yet, resolved this anomaly. (See correction) The accusation is that the Police have essentially ignored forensics in favour of relying on Sutcliffe's confessions of murder.

Another consequence of this investigation was the criticism that the Police were inadequately prepared for an investigation of this size. Sutcliffe was interviewed numerous times but all the information from all these interviews, and all the thousands of others, was stored in paper form, making cross reference almost impossible. The second criticism was that this position was made worse by the television appeal for information, which generated thousands of more documents to process. Thirdly, the Police became fixated on the Geordie tape and letters, allowing Sutcliffe to remain on the loose longer than necessary as he didn't fit the profile of the sender of the tape and letters. All this caused the investigation and ultimately the implementation of the forerunner of the Police National Computer system.

Related works

  • "Nineteen Seventy Four" by David Peace
  • "Nineteen Seventy Seven" by David Peace
  • "Nineteen Eighty" by David Peace
  • "Nineteen Eighty Three" by David Peace

This celebrated "Red-Riding Quartet" was published to critical acclaim between 1999 and 2002. Set against the backdrop of the Ripper murders across Yorkshire, it depicts the seedy underbelly of both the Police Force and journalism.


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