Peter Sutcliffe
Most Notorious Serial Killers

Yorkshire Ripper

Early Life

Sutcliffe was born in Bingley in the West Riding of Yorkshire into a working class family. He was brought up as a Catholic by his parents, John William Sutcliffe and his wife Kathleen Frances, née Coonan. Reportedly a loner, he left school aged 15 and had a series of menial jobs, including two stints as a gravedigger in the 1960s. Between November 1971 and April 1973 Sutcliffe worked at the Baird Television factory on a packaging line. He left when he was asked to go on the road as a salesman.

After leaving Baird, he worked night-shifts at the Britannia Works of Anderton International from April 1973. In February 1975 he took redundancy and used the pay-off to train as an HGVdriver and gained his licence on 4 June 1975. He began work as a driver for a tyre firm on 29 September. On 5 March 1976 he was dismissed for the theft of used tyres. He was unemployed until October 1976, when he found a job as an HGV driver for T.& W.H. Clark (Holdings) Ltd. on the Canal Road Industrial Estate in Bradford.

Sutcliffe, by some reports, used prostitutes as a young man, and it has been speculated that he had a bad experience during which he was conned out of money. Other analyses of his actions have not found evidence that he actually sought their services although he clearly expressed unusual behaviour before the killings.

He met Sonia Szurma on 14 February 1967; they married on 10 August 1974. She suffered several miscarriages and they were informed that she would not be able to have children. She resumed a teacher training course, during which time she had an affair with an ice-cream van driver. When she completed the course in 1977 and began teaching, they used her salary to buy a house in Heaton, Bradford, into which they moved on 26 September 1977, and where they lived at the time of Sutcliffe's arrest.

Through his childhood and much of his teens, Sutcliffe showed no signs of abnormality. Later, in part related to his occupation as a gravedigger, he developed an unhealthy, macabre sense of humour. In his teens, Sutcliffe developed a growing obsession with voyeurism and spent much time spying on prostitutes and the men seeking their services.

Victims

1969

Sutcliffe assaulted a prostitute he had met whilst searching for a woman who had tricked him out of money. He left his friend's minivan and walked up St Paul's Road in Bradford until he was out of sight. When he returned, he was out of breath, as if he had been running. He told his friend Trevor Birdsall to drive off quickly. Sutcliffe said he had followed a prostitute into a garage and hit her over the head with a stone in a sock. According to his statement, Sutcliffe said, "I got out of the car, went across the road and hit her. The force of the impact tore the toe off the sock and whatever was in it came out. I went back to the car and got in it".

Police visited his home the next day, as the woman he had attacked had noted Birdsall's vehicle registration plate. Sutcliffe admitted he had hit her, but claimed it was with his hand. The police told him he was "very lucky" as the woman did not want anything more to do with the incident - she was a known prostitute, and her husband was serving a jail term for assault.

1975

Sutcliffe committed his second assault on the night of 5 July 1975 in Keighley. He attacked Anna Rogulskyj, who was walking alone, striking her unconscious with a ball-pein hammer and slashing her stomach with a knife. Disturbed by a neighbour, he left without killing her. Rogulskyj survived after extensive medical intervention but was emotionally traumatised by the attack.

Sutcliffe attacked Olive Smelt in Halifax in August. Employing the same modus operandi, he struck her from behind and used a knife to slash her, this time above her buttocks. Again he was interrupted, and left his victim badly injured but alive. Like Rogulskyj, Smelt suffered emotional scars, including clinical depression. On 27 August, Sutcliffe attacked 14-year-old Tracy Browne in Silsden. He struck her from behind and hit her on the head five times while she was walking along a country lane. He ran off when he saw the lights of a passing car, leaving his victim requiring brain surgery. Sutcliffe was not convicted of the attack, but confessed to it in 1992.

The first victim to lose her life in a Sutcliffe attack was Wilma McCann on 30 October. McCann, from Chapeltown in Leeds, was a mother of four. Sutcliffe struck her twice with a hammer before stabbing her 15 times in the neck, chest and abdomen. An extensive inquiry, involving 150 police officers and 11,000 interviews, failed to find the culprit. One of McCann's daughters died by suicide in December 2007, reportedly after suffering years of depression over her mother's death.

1976

Sutcliffe committed his next murder in Leeds in January 1976, when he stabbed Emily Jackson, aged 42, 51 times. In dire financial straits, Jackson had been using the family van to exchange sexual favours for money. Sutcliffe hit her on the head with a hammer and then used a sharpened screwdriver to stab her in the neck, chest and abdomen. Sutcliffe stomped on her thigh, leaving behind an impression of his boot.

Sutcliffe attacked 20-year-old Marcella Claxton in Roundhay Park, Leeds, on 9 May. Walking home from a party, she accepted an offer of a lift from Sutcliffe. When she got out of the car to urinate, Sutcliffe hit her from behind with a hammer. She was left alive and testified against Sutcliffe at his trial. At the time of this attack, Claxton had been four months pregnant, and subsequently suffered a miscarriage.

1977

On 5 February Sutcliffe attacked Irene Richardson, a Chapeltown prostitute, in Roundhay Park. Richardson was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Once she was dead, he mutilated her corpse with a knife. Tyre tracks left near the murder scene resulted in a long list of possible suspect vehicles.

Two months later, on 23 April, Sutcliffe killed Patricia "Tina" Atkinson, a prostitute from Bradford, in her flat, where police found a bootprint on the bedclothes. Two months later on 26 June, he murdered 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald in Chapeltown. She was not a prostitute, and in the public perception, showed that all women were potential victims. Sutcliffe seriously assaulted Maureen Long in Bradford in July. He was interrupted and left her for dead. A witness misidentified the make of his car. More than 300 police officers collected 12,500 statements and checked thousands of cars, without success. On 1 October 1977 Sutcliffe murdered Jean Jordan, a prostitute from Manchester. Her body was found ten days later and had been moved several days after her death. In a confession, Sutcliffe said he had realised the new £5 note he had given her was traceable. After hosting a family party at his new home, he returned to the wasteland behind Manchester's Southern Cemetery, where he had left the body, to retrieve the note. Unable to find it, he mutilated Jordan's corpse and moved it.

The following morning, Jordan was discovered by a local dairy worker, Bruce Jones, who had an allotment on land adjoining the site where the body was found and was searching for disused house bricks when he made the discovery. The £5 note, hidden in a secret compartment in Jordan's handbag, was traced to branches of the Midland Bank in Shipley and Bingley. Police analysis of bank operations allowed them to narrow their field of inquiry to 8,000 employees who could have received it in their wagepacket. Over three months the police interviewed 5,000 men, including Sutcliffe. The police found that the alibi given for Sutcliffe's whereabouts was credible; he had indeed spent much of the evening of the killing at a family party. Weeks of investigation led to nothing, leaving police officers frustrated that they collected an important clue.

On 14 December Sutcliffe attacked Marilyn Moore, another prostitute from Leeds. She survived and provided police with a description of her attacker. Tyre tracks found at the scene matched those from an earlier attack.

1978

The police discontinued the search for the person who received the £5 note in January 1978. Although Sutcliffe was interviewed about it, he was not investigated further (he was contacted and disregarded by the Ripper Squad on several further occasions). That month, Sutcliffe killed again. His victim was Yvonne Pearson, a 21-year-old prostitute from Bradford. He repeatedly bludgeoned her about the head with a ball-pein hammer then jumped on her chest before stuffing horse-hair into her mouth from a discarded sofa under which he hid her body near Lumb Lane. Her body was not found until 26 March.

Ten days later, he killed Helen Rytka, an 18-year-old prostitute from Huddersfield. He struck Rytka on the head five times as she exited his vehicle, before stripping many of her clothes from her body (although her bra and polo-neck jumper were positioned above her breasts), before repeatedly stabbing her in the chest. Her body was found beneath railway arches in the timber-yard to which he had driven her three days later.

On 16 May, Sutcliffe killed Vera Millward in an attack in the car park of Manchester Royal Infirmary.

1979

Almost a year passed before Sutcliffe attacked again. During this period, in November 1978, his mother Kathleen died.

On 4 April 1979, Sutcliffe killed Josephine Whitaker, a 19-year-old building society clerk whom he attacked on Saville Park Moor in Halifax as she was walking home. Despite forensic evidence, police efforts were diverted for several months following receipt of a taped message purporting to be from the murderer taunting Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, who was leading the investigation. The tape contained a man's voice saying "I'm Jack. I see you're having no luck catching me. I have the greatest respect for you, George, but Lord, you're no nearer catching me now than four years ago when I started."

Based on the recorded message, police began searching for a man with a Wearside accent, which linguists narrowed down to the Castletown area of Sunderland. The hoaxer, dubbed "Wearside Jack", sent two letters to police and The Daily Mirror in March 1978 boasting of his crimes. The letters, signed "Jack the Ripper", claimed responsibility for the murder of 26-year-old Joan Harrison in Preston in November 1975. At the time, police mistakenly believed that the Preston murder was not public knowledge. (The hoaxer case was re-opened in 2005, and DNA taken from envelopes was entered into the national database. On 20 October 2005, John Samuel Humble, an unemployed alcoholic and long-time resident of the Ford Estate in Sunderland - a few miles from Castletown - was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice for sending the hoax letters and tape. Humble, whose DNA had been taken following drunk and disorderly offence in 2001, was remanded in custody and on 21 March 2006 was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.)

On 1 September, Sutcliffe murdered 20-year-old Barbara Leach, a Bradford University student. Her body was dumped at the rear of 13, Ashgrove under a pile of bricks, close to the university and her lodgings. It was his sixteenth attack. The murder of a woman who was not a prostitute again alarmed the public and prompted an expensive publicity campaign emphasising the Wearside connection. Despite the false lead, Sutcliffe was interviewed on at least two other occasions in 1979. Despite matching several forensic clues and being on the list of 300 names in connection with the £5 note, he was not strongly suspected. Sutcliffe was interviewed by police nine times.

1980

In April 1980 Sutcliffe was arrested for drink-driving. While awaiting trial, he killed two more women. He murdered 47-year-old Marguerite Walls on the night of 20 August, and 20-year-old Jacqueline Hill, a student at Leeds University, on the night of 17 November. Hill's body was found in the grounds of the Lupton Residences. He attacked three other women who survived; Dr Uphadya Bandara in Leeds on 24 September, Maureen Lea (known as Mo), an art student attacked in the grounds of Leeds University on 25 October and 16-year-old Theresa Sykes, attacked in Huddersfield on the night of 5 November. On 25 November Trevor Birdsall, an associate of Sutcliffe, reported him to the police as a suspect but the information vanished into the paperwork already accumulated.

Arrest

On 2 January 1981, Sutcliffe was stopped by the police with 24-year-old prostitute Olivia Reivers in the driveway of Light Trades House in Melbourne Avenue, Broomhill, Sheffield. A police check revealed his car had false number plates and Sutcliffe was arrested and transferred to Dewsbury Police Station. At Dewsbury he was questioned in relation to the Yorkshire Ripper case as he matched many of the known physical characteristics. The next day police returned to the scene of the arrest and discovered a knife, hammer and rope he had discarded when he briefly slipped away from the police after telling them he was "bursting for a pee". Sutcliffe hid a second knife in the toilet cistern at the police station when he was permitted to use the toilet. The police obtained a search warrant for his home at 6, Garden Lane in Heaton, Bradford and brought his wife in for questioning.

When Sutcliffe was stripped at the police station he was wearing an inverted V-neck sweater under his trousers. The sleeves had been pulled over his legs and the V-neck exposed his genital area. The front of the elbows were padded to protect his knees as, presumably, he knelt over his victims' corpses. The sexual implications of this outfit were considered obvious, but it was not made public until the 2003 book, Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, by Michael Bilton was published. After two days of intensive questioning, on the afternoon of 4 January 1981 Sutcliffe suddenly declared he was the Ripper. Over the next day, Sutcliffe calmly described his many attacks. Weeks later he claimed God had told him to murder the women. He displayed emotion only when telling of the killing of his youngest victim, Jayne MacDonald, and when questioned about the murder of Joan Harrison, which he vehemently denied committing. Harrison's murder had been linked to the Ripper killings by the "Wearside Jack" claim, and in 2011, DNA evidence proved it had been committed by convicted sex offender Christopher Smith, who died in 2008.

Sutcliffe was charged at Dewsbury on 5 January. At his trial, he pleaded not guilty to 13 charges of murder, but guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The basis of his defence was he claimed to be the tool of God's will. Sutcliffe claimed to have heard voices that ordered him to kill prostitutes while working as a gravedigger. He said the voices originated from a headstone of a deceased Polish man, Bronisław Zapolski, and that the voices were that of God.

He pleaded guilty to seven charges of attempted murder. The prosecution intended to accept Sutcliffe's plea after four psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia but the trial judge, Mr Justice Boreham, demanded an unusually detailed explanation of the prosecution reasoning. After a two-hour representation by the Attorney-General Sir Michael Havers, a 90-minute lunch break and another 40 minutes of legal discussion, the judge rejected the diminished responsibility plea and the expert testimonies of the psychiatrists, insisting that the case should be dealt with by a jury. The trial proper was set to commence on 5 May 1981.

The trial lasted two weeks and despite the efforts of his counsel James Chadwin QC, Sutcliffe was found guilty of murder on all counts and was sentenced to twenty concurrent sentences of life imprisonment. The trial judge said Sutcliffe was beyond redemption, and hoped he would never leave prison. He recommended a minimum term of 30 years to be served before parole could be considered meaning Sutcliffe would have been unlikely to be freed until at least 2011. On 16 July 2010, the High Court issued Sutcliffe with a whole life tariff, meaning he is unlikely ever to be released. The whole life tariff was introduced by the government in 1983, and over the next 20 years it was reported that Sutcliffe was among the small group of prisoners to have been issued with a whole life tariff. Politicians were stripped of their powers to set minimum terms for life sentence prisoners in November 2002, and the final say on how long a life sentence prisoner can serve has since rested with the High Court. When a list of 35 prisoners issued with whole life tariffs was made public by the Home Office in December 2006, Sutcliffe was not on the list.

After his trial, Sutcliffe admitted two other attacks. It was decided that prosecution for these offences was "not in the public interest". West Yorkshire Police made it clear that the victims wished to remain anonymous.

Prison and Broadmoor Hospital

Following his conviction and incarceration, Sutcliffe chose to use the name Coonan, his mother's maiden name. He began his sentence at HMP Parkhurst on 22 May 1981. Despite being found sane at his trial, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Attempts to send him to a secure psychiatric unit were blocked. While at Parkhurst he was seriously assaulted by James Costello, a 35-year-old career criminal with several convictions for violence. On 10 January 1983, he followed Sutcliffe into the recess of F2, the hospital wing at Parkhurst Prison and plunged a broken coffee jar twice into the left side of Sutcliffe's face, creating four wounds requiring 30 stitches. In March 1984 Sutcliffe was sent to Broadmoor Hospital, under Section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

His wife obtained a separation from him in 1982 and a divorce in April 1994. On 23 February 1996, Sutcliffe was attacked in his room in Broadmoor Hospital's Henley Ward. Paul Wilson, a convicted robber, asked to borrow a videotape before attempting to strangle him with the cable from a pair of stereo headphones. Two other convicted murderers, Kenneth Erskine and Jamie Devitt, intervened on hearing screams.

After an attack with a pen by fellow inmate Ian Kay on 10 March 1997, Sutcliffe lost the vision in his left eye, and his right eye was severely damaged. Kay admitted trying to kill Sutcliffe, and was ordered to be detained in a secure mental hospital without limit of time.

In 2003 it was reported that Sutcliffe had developed diabetes.

Sutcliffe's father died in 2004 and was cremated. On 17 January 2005 Sutcliffe was allowed to visit Grange-over-Sands where the ashes had been scattered. The decision to allow the temporary release was initiated by David Blunkett and ratified by Charles Clarke when he became Home Secretary. Sutcliffe was accompanied by four members of the hospital staff. Despite the passage of 25 years since the Ripper murders, Sutcliffe's visit was the focus of front-page tabloid headlines.

On 22 December 2007, Sutcliffe was attacked by fellow inmate Patrick Sureda, who lunged at him with a metal cutlery knife while shouting "You fucking raping, murdering bastard, I'll blind your fucking other one". Sutcliffe flung himself backwards and the blade missed his right eye, stabbing him in the cheek.

On 17 February 2009, it was reported that Sutcliffe was "fit to leave Broadmoor". On 23 March 2010, the Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, was questioned by Julie Kirkbride, Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, in the House of Commons seeking reassurance for a constituent, a victim of Sutcliffe, that he would remain in prison. Straw responded that whilst the matter of Sutcliffe's release was a parole board matter, "that all the evidence that I have seen on this case, and it's a great deal, suggests to me that there are no circumstances in which this man will be released".

Appeal

An application by Sutcliffe for a minimum term to be set, offering the possibility of parole after that date if it is thought safe to release him, was heard by the High Court of Justice on 16 July 2010. The High Court decided that Sutcliffe will never be released. Mr Justice Mitting stated:

This was a campaign of murder which terrorised the population of a large part of Yorkshire for several years. The only explanation for it, on the jury's verdict, was anger, hatred and obsession. Apart from a terrorist outrage, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which one man could account for so many victims.

Psychological reports describing his mental state were taken into consideration, as was the severity of his crimes. Barring judicial decisions to the contrary, Sutcliffe will spend the rest of his life in Broadmoor Hospital. On 4 August 2010, a spokeswoman for the Judicial Communications Office confirmed that Sutcliffe had initiated an appeal against the decision.

The hearing for Sutcliffe's appeal against the ruling began on 30 November 2010 at the Court of Appeal. It was rejected on 14 January 2011. On 9 March 2011, the Court of Appeal rejected Sutcliffe's application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

In December 2015 Sutcliffe was assessed as being "no longer mentally ill". In August 2016, a medical tribunal ruled that he no longer required clinical treatment for his mental condition, and could be returned to prison. Sutcliffe is reported to have been transferred from Broadmoor to Frankland Prison in Durham in August 2016.