The Yorkshire Ripper: the true story of Peter Sutcliffe that inspired The Ripper

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England is the country where one of the most mysterious and terrifying chains of crime in history took place, the well-known murders of Jack the Ripper, today still unsolved.

Almost a hundred years later, England had to face the presence of another serial killer, no less brutal and gory than his predecessor, who became known as The Yorkshire Ripper. A thorough investigation with a solution that comes after more than five years, among endless false leads that prevented reality from coming to surface.

The Yorkshire Ripper

Leeds, 30 October 1975. A milkman is walking around the neighborhood when he suddenly notices a silhouette lying on a field. He approaches to see better and discovers with dismay that it is the corpse of a woman brutally battered. He warns the police that Immediately proceed with the first surveys.

The victim was hit twice in the head with a hammer, before being stabbed 14 times in the stomach and chest area. The woman killed is called Wilma McCann, she was 28 and worked as a prostitute. Her purse was stolen and officers initially think they are facing a robbery attempt ended in tragedy.

It will take a short time, however, to discover the real nature of the murder setting the entire area under attack from a bloodthirsty subject.

January 20, 1976. The lifeless body of Emily Jackson, a 42-year-old prostitute, is found in an alley in Chapeltown. She too was hit by two blows to the head and her body was hit by 50 stab wounds and a screwdriver blows. During the attack, the killer also left the imprint of his shoe on the victim’s thigh. It is the second attack in a matter of weeks. Is anyone targeting street women in the Leeds area?

After this episode the situation seems to calm down albeit that will unfortunately be only a momentary pause.

February 5, 1977. A third body emerges inside a playing field. The victim is named Irene Richardson, 28. In this case she was killed with three blows to the skull and a series of stab wounds.

On April 22 of the same year, the lifeless body of 32-year-old Patricia Atkinson is found. Compared to the previous murders, the victim was not killed in the open air but inside her apartment. At the crime scene there is a bloody imprint that matches the one found on the body of Emily Jackson.

It is now clear that a serial killer is on the loose. The press nicknamed him The Yorkshire Ripper because of some similarities with Jack the Ripper, the killer that in the previous century had sown terror in Whitechapel.

June 26, 1977. A group of boys discover yet another female body, located on a playground in Chapeltown. She was hit three times in the skull with a hammer and later stabbed. The killer also stuck a broken bottle in her chest. The victim is called Jayne MacDonald. Two differences with respect to the victimology of the other murders: the girl did not work as a prostitute and was much younger than the previous ones, being 16 years old.

These elements undermine the certainties of the investigators who are working on the case. Perhaps the murderer is adjusting his targets and has tales the opportunity to kill women without discrimination. This means that potentially any woman crossing his path could be in danger.

On 9 October 1977 the body of the sixth victim Is found, this time in the Manchester area. Jean Jordan, 20-year-old prostitute. Through the analysis it turns out that she was killed on 1 October with eleven blows to the head. In this instance, the murderer attacked the victim with a terrifying ferocity. The girl’s body was battered by numerous post-mortem stab wounds and the killer also used a piece of glass in an attempt to behead her body, without success.

It will later be discovered that these terrible mutilations were inflicted eight days after the murder when the Yorkshire Ripper had returned to the crime scene trying to recover a banknote he had left with the victim and by which the police could identify him. Unable to find this potential clue, he vented his anger on Jean’s now defenseless body.

The serial killer is in full power and shows no intention to stop his criminal action. In the following months and years he continues to sow death in the nation. He maintains always the same modus operandi, killing prostitutes and women who carried out other jobs. He initially attacks the victim with hammer blows, after which he drags the bodies to isolated areas to perform overkilling actions, slaughtering the bodies with knives, screwdrivers and any other object he gets in his hands on.

At the end of 1980 there will be 13 killings and 10 other attacks in which the victims manage to survive and thanks to their reports and photo-fits the identikit of the attacker emerges.

The police follows a series of leads but none of them seem to lead to the person responsible. The investigation has grown and now characterized by an innumerable amount of files that are impossible to put together.

Then, one of the first evenings of 1981, it comes the turning point.

January 2. It’s 10:30 pm and two officers are patrolling the Melbourne Ave area when they spot a parked car and decide to check it out. Inside the car there are a man and a woman. The cops check the license plate and discover that it does not belong to that vehicle. At this point they decide to take the driver and the passenger to the plant. First, however, the man says he has to take a moment to go and take care of his needs behind a hedge. As soon as he returns, the officers head to the Hammerton Road Police Station. Once there, the subject exposes his first statements.

His name is Peter Sutcliffe, he lives in Bradford and works as a truck driver. During the investigation he had already been questioned nine times due to numerous reports of his license plate in suspicious areas. The woman who was with him is Olivia Reivers, a prostitute in the area. While Sutcliffe is held in the cell waiting to clarify his position, the patrol officers return to the area where they had stopped him earlier. They remember that the subject had withdrawn to fulfill physiological needs and decide to go and check that area, discovering that a hammer and a knife have been hidden in the middle of the leaves.

At this point the policemen are increasingly convinced that they have intercepted the perpetrator of the crimes and try to put him in the corner through tight interrogations. The suspect initially denies everything but in the end the evidence forces him to confess that he is the murderer they have been hunting for years. The nightmare was finally over.

Peter Sutcliffe’s position had always been rather ambiguous and his name had already appeared in the papers of the investigation, but the presence of numerous other leads of investigation that were pursued and ended in nothing allowed him to act basically undisturbed all that time.

Peter Sutcliffe

Born in Bingley on 2 June 1946 to John and Kathleen Sutcliffe. He grows up with five other brothers and sisters. Initially the father has a certain type of expectations towards Peter as he was convinced that he would become an outgoing and extroverted person like him, hoping to share and partake to the same passions and activities However, the child has a more calm and introverted character, which will make him feel unsuitable and wrong to the eyes of his father. Because of this, Peter forms a more confidential relationship with his mother as he feels accepted and well-liked with her, regardless of his way of being.

At school he spends a lot of time alone, unable to integrate with his classmates. Over time he becomes the favorite victim of bullies, who don’t mind taking advantage of his frailties. To avoid these bad situations, Peter will be absent from school for two weeks. Eventually the school will intervene resolving the issue in his favor. In the following months, things start to change and he gradually forges relationships with his teammates and even gets passionate about sports. However, at 15 he leaves school for good.

He begins to do various  temporary jobs, including as gravedigger at Bingley Cemetery. A few years later he meets a his future wife, a girl named Sonia Szurma. He is licensed as a truck driver and works initially for a tire company, but he gets fired for stealing used tires. Later he finds employment as a truck driver for another company achieving a certain job stability.

Peter is recognized from the outside as a quiet man and a hard worker, a person who leads a regular life without particular shadows. Perhaps a particular episode acts as a watershed in his existence, definitively bringing out the dark side of him.

One Saturday night, after arguing with his partner, he decides to go out in search of paid sex. On the street he approaches a prostitute and invites her into the car. The woman directs him to a house where the service is scheduled. As they prepare to complete the act, Peter has second thoughts deciding to stop everything. At this point the prostitute is taken back to the pick up place. After exiting the vehicle, she approaches another client and Peter observes that the two are mocking and making fun of him for what had just happened. Sutcliffe decides to return home in resentment, feeling humiliated by what had happened.

From this moment on he begins to cultivate a deep hatred towards street women, associating their image with that unpleasant event that he cannot forget. He will start thinking about revenge on them, somehow believing that by doing so he would get rid of that memory.

His first attack dates back to September 1969.

Peter is in the car of Trevor, a friend of his, in the Bradford area when at one point he asks him to stop the car. He exits the vehicle and then disappears from view. He comes back after 10 minutes in obvious trouble and tells Trevor to leave quickly. While traveling, he confides to his friend that he has followed a prostitute and hit her in the head with a stone.

The woman report the attack to the police and the next day two officers go to Sutcliffe’s home. He admits his responsibility of the occurrence but lies declaring that he had hit the victim with his hands and not with a blunt object. The policemen tell him to consider himself lucky because the woman had no intention to press charges.

After this event a period of silence will follow in which Peter returns to his ordinary life.

Six years passed when in 1975 the trigger was pulled again and he carries out two more attacks, this time also using a knife. Fortunately, both victims are able to survive. His fury does not subside, on the contrary he will go even further when he realizes to feel pleasure in causing pain to people. The next tragic step will be to succeed in carrying out the first murder, when on October 30, 1975 he kills Wilma McCann. From this moment on, it will be an escalation of violence and death, creating panic for the next five years, until his capture.

The sentence

During the trial Sutcliffe pleads guilty but claims not full responsibility as he suffers from mental disorders. Four psychiatric examinations are performed and all recognize paranoid schizophrenia In him. Despite this, the judge refuses the request for a shorter sentence.

After two weeks of trial, the jury sentences Peter Sutcliffe to life imprisonment.

He spends almost forty years in prison, where he will be victim of four attacks by other inmates, including an assault that will cause him total loss of vision in his left eye and partial in his right one. In October 2020 he was seen for a suspected heart attack. It will be later revealed that after contracting COVID-19 he refuses treatment and eventually will perish from the disease on November 13, 2020, at the age of 74.

Thus ends the life of the Yorkshire Ripper. A subject that has marked indelibly many lives, writing one of the darkest pages of the English crime news and beyond.

The story still continues to be discussed today; the Netflix platform has distributed a documentary on the subject entitled The Ripper, that describes the events from the crimes to the capture of Sutcliffe.