Growing up in the West Yorkshire town of Halifax, I have always heard stories and sightings of the infamous Yorkshire Ripper. Everyone you speak to who was of an age to remember events at that time will tell me how they think they saw the Yorkshire ripper at the local bonfire, or drinking a pint in the pub down the road but is this true? The crimes committed, starting in the late 1970’s, terrorised England – mostly terrorising women of West Yorkshire who became too afraid to leave their own homes. Just like his predecessor 90 years earlier, the ‘ripper’ cleverly disguised his crimes from the police until eventually the Yorkshire Ripper was captured.
Peter Sutcliffe was born in the West Yorkshire area of Bingley in to a typical working-class family on the 2nd June 1946. His parents, John William Sutcliffe and Kathleen Frances, were Catholic and therefore raised Peter in a catholic household. Peter had a number of siblings, their names : Anne Sumner, Carl Sutcliffe, Jean Sutcliffe, Maureen Sutcliffe and Mick Sutcliffe. Little is reported about Peter’s childhood but certain reports suggest information such as the fact that Peter was a premature baby and doctors were unsure as to whether he would live, but he did. Other reports suggest that Peter’s father, John, was a known alcoholic who did not respect his wife. Peter was the eldest of the six children and was devoted to his mother, but he did not stand up for her as he was anxious that he would be beaten by his father. The only information which could be found to be completely true is that at the age of 15 Peter left school and was labelled by many who attended school with him as a ‘loner’. At this age he took up a series of menial jobs, including working as a gravedigger in the 1960’s. In the book, ‘The Gates of Janus’ wrote by Ian Brady, Brady writes about how he interviewed Peter while they were both detained at Ashworth Mental Health Hospital. The book states, in Ian Brady’s words, that Peter began hearing voices from God himself and was given a mission while working as a gravedigger in a Catholic cemetery in Bingley. According to the book, Peter told Brady that he had been digging a grave and began to feel hot and tired and therefore decided to sit next to the grave. Without any warning, Peter spoke of how he began to hear a voice, which at first Peter thought was a human being playing a trick on him but Peter describes how the voice had a weird echoing noise to it that he assumed must be down to his own hearing. Peter reported to Brady how he heard the voice again and again and after getting up to investigate where the voice was coming from he realised it was coming from a grave – the grave of a Polish individual. Peter confirmed to Brady that, ‘the name on the grave was Zipolski’. Peter finally concluded the interview with Brady by confirming that the message he had been sent by God was to kill all the prostitutes and this was the beginning of the crimes. From a teenager, Peter had been known to hire prostitutes and spent a lot of his money on paid sex and even faced financial troubles during this habit. Maybe this problem of essentially being ‘addicted’ to prostitutes which led to the financial troubles could be the reason why Peter believes that the voice spoke of murdering just prostitutes.
Between November 1971 and April 1973, Peter worked at the Baird Television factory, working on the packaging line. He then left this job to work the nightshifts at the Britannia Works of Anderton International. This employment did not last long, as in February 1975, he took redundancy and used half of the pay-off to gain a licence as a HGV driver. On the 5th March 1976, Peter was dismissed from his current job for the theft of tyres and remained unemployed until October of that year until he found a job working as a HGV driver for T & W.H. Clark Ltd in the city of Bradford. Peter continued at this place of employment for many years, and on Valentines Day in 1967, Peter met his wife Sonia Szurma and after a whirlwind romance they married on the 10th August 1974. Their relationship was turbulent – Sonia suffered from several miscarriages during the marriage and the couple were informed that they would not be able to have children. The experience of going through multiple miscarriages left Peter suffering with mental health problems. This was not made any better by the reports that Sonia was having an affair with an ice-cream vendor and many believe this was when Peter grew a hatred for women. Throughout the problems of conceiving, Peter and Sonia stuck together and in September 1977 they bought a house in Heaton, Bradford. Even though Peter had heard the voices telling him to kill prostitutes, he still continued to visit the local Red Light District near his home in Bradford.
Saturday the 5th July 1975 at 1:30am was the time when Peter snapped and let his violent outbursts and thoughts out without fearing any of the consequences. Around this time was when the relationship between himself and Sonia had been disrupted by the news of another miscarriage and this could be the reason why he finally snapped. The woman attacked was Anna Rogulskyj, aged 36. It is reported this was not her first encounter with Peter. Peter had heard from a group of workmates that Keighley had a large group of prostitutes. On the first encounter between the pair, Anna was approached by a man with dark hair and a beard in the Town Hall Square and was asked by the man if she wanted to go to her house for a cup of tea. She declined the offer and began walking towards her home up Highfield Lane where she lived but the man followed her. She eventually threw him off. The second meeting was a few weeks later when the same man stalked her again into Wild’s Coffee Bar in the town centre. He offered to buy her a drink, but he disappeared when she declined yet again. On the 4th July, Peter was driving around the centre of Keighley alone and Anna had been out drinking in Bradford before returning back to Keighley. As she walked back to her home she decided to visit her on and off boyfriend and realised that there was a man in doorway who propositioned her for sex. She quickened her pace back to her boyfriend’s house, but he did not answer so she headed back towards her home. The same man appeared again and asked the same question to which she declined again. It was at this point that Peter Sutcliffe attacked her with a hammer, hitting her three times on the head. Once she was laid on the floor, he slashed across her abdomen and was going to stab her in the stomach but was interrupted by a male who had heard the screams and shouts. In his statement to the police, following his arrest later on in life, Peter stated, ‘Yes, that was me. She had a funny name and I asked her if she fancied it. She declined and went to try and get into a house. When she came back, I asked again, and she elbowed me. I followed her and hit her with a hammer, and she fell down. I intended to kill her, but I was disturbed’.
The second victim was Olive Smelt on a Friday night at 11:45pm on August 15th, 1975. Olive Smelt was a forty-six-year-old cleaner from Halifax and on the night of her attack, she had enjoyed her night out in town with her friends. She had a couple of drinks at The Royal Oak before deciding on visiting the local fish and chip shop to get a late supper for herself and her husband. Peter and his friend, Trevor Birdsall, were also out drinking on that night and had decided to visit Halifax, stopping at The Royal Oak. At closing time, Olive Smelt got a lift off a friend to a lay-by close to her home and began walking to the chip shop. Peter and Trevor had started driving to Bradford, but less than a mile from the pub he saw Olive walking and stated to Trevor, ‘That is a prostitute we saw in the public house’. Peter stopped his car and got out and walked in the same direction of the woman. At around 11:45pm, he had caught up to Olive and began speaking about the weather. As he passed her, he struck her twice on the head with a hammer and made two slash marks across the top of her buttocks. Peter was interrupted by a car and fled back to his car. Statements again by Peter show just how much he could remember of each crime as he told police, ‘I saw her in the Royal Oak. She annoyed me. I took her to be a prostitute. I hit her on the head and scratched her buttocks with a piece of hacksaw blade or maybe a knife. My intention was to kill her, but I was disturbed by a car coming down the road’.
The first woman to lose her life to Peter’s wicked ways was Wilma McCann. At 1:30am on Thursday the 30th October 1975 Wilma took her final breaths. On the 29th October, Wilma had gone out of her house at approximately 7:30pm and headed into the Chapeltown area of Leeds and headed for the pubs and clubs. She finished the night at 1:00am at the Room At The Top Nightclub before leaving and walking the short trip back home. She was flagging down cars at the side of the road, when Peter drove through Leeds in his Ford Capri GT. He pulled over and she jumped it. Peter propositioned Wilma, to which Wilma told him it would cost him a fiver. Sutcliffe pulled up near the playing fields and suggested that they do it on the grass, but Wilma was not impressed and stormed off up the hill. Peter placed his coat on the grass, to which Wilma sat on top of and then suddenly Peter struck Wilma was the same hammer several times. Wilma’s body was found at 7:41am, and was found lying on her back with the trousers down by her knees. Extract from Peter Sutcliffe’s confession in January 1981 states, ‘That was the incident that started it all off… I saw this woman thumbing for a lift… She was wearing some white trousers and a jacket… I stopped and asked her how far she was going and she jumped in. I was in quite a good mood and we were talking on the way… She told me where to park the car and she told me it would cost a fiver… I was a bit surprised, I was expecting it to be romantic… At this point she opened the car door and got out. She slammed the door and shouted, ‘I’m going, it’s taking you all fucking day’… I suddenly felt myself seething with rage… I then hit her with the hammer on the head… I half expected her to get up, and realised I would be in serious trouble…I was in a blind panic when I was stabbing her, just to make sure she wouldn’t tell anyone.’
Emily Jackson was in her early 40’s and was a part-time prostitute. Around Christmas of 1975, due to financial problems, Emily decided to take money from the men she picked up on their walks home from the pubs. One of Emily’s favourite spots was the Gaiety Pub in Leeds. She was there on the 20th January 1976. Just one hour after leaving her house, at 7pm Peter saw Emily and she said it would cost £5. She got in the car and they drove to a derelict land away from the main road. Sutcliffe pretended the car wouldn’t start and she offered to hold a lighter under the bonnet to illuminate the engine. As she did so, Peter hit her twice with a hammer. Peter than dragged the body into a yard and stabbed her 52 times with a screwdriver in the neck, breasts and back.
Over one year later, the next victim to be murdered was Irene Richardson. On the 5th February 1977, Irene was living on the streets and did not have a penny to her name. She was last spotted around Cowper Street in Leeds. Peter had spent the evening of the 5th kerb crawling in his white Ford Corsair and spotted Irene. He stopped a few yards behind her, and she ran up the street and jumped into the car with him. Peter drove to Roundhay Park. Irene got out of the car as she wanted to use the toilet, but they were locked. With no other alternative, Irene urinated onto the grass. As she was crouched over, Peter took the hammer and screwdriver out of his jacket pocket and again, hit her over the head with the hammer before slashing at her skin with the screwdriver. Near the body, police discovered an important clue. Peter had driven his car onto soft soil and therefore left tire marks which could be linked to 100,000 vehicles in West Yorkshire.
76 days later, Patricia Atkinson, a prostitute was murdered again in Bradford. On Saturday 23rd April 1977, Patricia had been out for a drink at the local pubs near her flat before heading back home at around 11:00pm. In Peter’s words, ‘I saw this woman in St Pauls Road at a junction, she appeared drunk…I pulled up to her and stopped and without asking she jumped in the car…she told me where she lived and told me she lived alone… I picked up a hammer as I got out of the car… I followed her into her flat, she closed the curtains and hung my coat on the hook at the back of the door… She took her coat off and sat on the bed, her back was slightly towards me. I hit her on the back of the head with a hammer. When she was on the floor I hit her again twice…I drove home and put my car in the garage… I saw that I had some blood on the bottom of my jeans and rinsed them under the cold tap’.
The one murder that changed everything was when an innocent 16 year old, who was not a prostitute was murdered in Leeds. Jayne MacDonald had previously left education and on 26th June 1977 she went to visit her friends in the Leeds City Centre. There she met 18 year old Mark Jones and danced with him before at 10:30pm the pair headed to the main shopping street to get something to eat. Jayne reportedly missed her bus so the pair sat on a bench till around midnight before heading to Mark’s home. Mark then walked Jayne towards her home and they hung out together until 1:00am. The two went separate ways at 1:30am. Peter had spent the night with Ronald and David Barker at the pubs in Braford. Before heading home alone, Peter decided to head off on a drive around Leeds. At 2:00am, Peter saw Jayne walking. He parked up and watched her for a few moments before exiting his car with a hammer and a kitchen knife. He followed her into Reginald Street and struck Jayne on the head with a hammer. As she fell down, he dragged her about 20 yards into the nearby play area. He hit her again with the hammer and then stabbed her several times. The murder of a young, innocent girl shocked the nation as it was not linked at all to the murder of prostitutes. Not only did this murder bring huge media attention it also caused an outrage from the pubic that an innocent girl could be murdered because the police could not catch the killer. This murder changed the whole investigation, escalating the Ripper murder investigations.
On October 1st 1977, Jean Jordan, a known prostitute was killed in Manchester. The events which unfolded around the murder led to an important clue which could have directly traced the murders to Peter. After picking up Jean, Peter drove again away from the pick up site. They haggled over the price before settling on a fiver for business. Peter states, ‘I gave her the £5 note before leaving the car… she got out the car and headed for a greenhouse… There was no entrance to the greenhouse so I told her we would have to climb over the fence… As she was climbing I hit her over the head with the hammer…I hit her again and again until the moaning stopped… I realised when I had left that I had given her a new £5 note… I decided I could not risk going back to retrieve the £5 note… I was puzzled when no mention of the murder was mentioned in newspapers or TV and decided that she was undiscovered and that I would go back to retrieve the £5… I could not find her bag which I had thrown in the bushes and frantically searched… I grew frustrated and picked up a piece of broken glass and slashed her stomach with it… I read about the body and sat back waiting for the inevitable, as I had assumed that the line of enquiry about the £5 would follow… I read about the note being traced… by some miracle I escaped’. The police continued this investigation into 1978 and even interviewed Peter about the note but he was not investigated further. That month, Peter struck again with yet another prostitute.
21 year old Yvonne Pearson left her two children with a neighbour to go visit the local pub. She left the pub at 9:30pm to go earn some money. Yvonne was due in court in five days with charges of soliciting. This would not be her first conviction. Peter saw Yvonne at the side of the road and pulled up next to her. She agreed on a price of £5 and the pair drove to a piece of wasteland. Yvonne got out of the car and Peter hit her several times with a hammer. As Yvonne fell, a car pulled up directly next to them so Peter dragged her body behind an old sofa. He stuffed horsehair into her mouth to keep her quiet. Eventually the car drove away and Peter then started kicking Yvonne’s head and body.
Peter’s next victim was in Huddersfield on 31st January 1978. Helen Rytka, 18 years old, was new to the trade of soliciting. Helen worked alongside her sister, Rita, and as a pair they decided to accept clients at the same time and after twenty minutes they would both return to the same spot. They would both take down the licence plate of the other’s client and if they were not back they would then become suspicious. On this night, the two left their flat at 8:30pm to head to the Red Light District. At approx. 9:10pm, Rita saw her sister get into a dark-coloured car. Rita was shortly picked up afterwards. Helen arrived back first and this was when she met Peter who convinced her that she would have time for a quick one before her sister was back. Helen agreed and climbed into the car. Once in the back of the car, Peter swung the hammer, hitting the roof but catching the top of Helen’s head. Peter reports that Helen said that there was no need for the weapon and that he would not have to pay. He hit her head again, before dragging her from the car. To keep her quiet, as two taxi cabs had pulled up in the area, Peter decided to go through with the sexual act as a way to keep her quiet. After the taxi drivers had left, Peter hit Helen again with the hammer and threw all her belongings away. He stabbed her several times through the heart and lungs before leaving her dead body behind a pile of timber.
On 4th April 1979, 19 year old Josephine Whitaker left grandparent’s house in Halifax and began walking home at 11:40pm. Peter had been drinking with his friend Trevor and after dropping Trevor off he decided to go for a drive. He circulated and followed random roads throughout Halifax before spotting Josephine. He parked up quickly, and began to follow her and within a few minutes he had caught up to her. They walked and talked and as they approached the centre of the field, Peter hit Josephine with a hammer and knocked her to the ground. As he crouched over the body he heard voices nearby and began to panic. He quickly thrust the screwdriver into her twenty-one times and also thrust the screwdriver into her vagina. Police arrived at the scene the next day and found some important evidence as to who the murderer could be. The first was a boot mark, which had been consistent with those found at the Emily Jackson and Tina Atkinson murders, the second was a trace of milling oil used in engineering shops. The police theorised that the murderer could be a lorry driver and in 1980, Peter was interviewed surrounding the footprint found at the scene of Josephine’s murder. Peter claims he remained calm and was let go. Despite the forensic evidence, the police were diverted when they received a taped message from a man claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper. Based on the accent, the police suggested that the man was from Wearside, an area of Sunderland. However, these taped messages were a hoax and in 2005, John Samuel Humble, an unemployed alcoholic was charged with perverting the course of justice.
The tape meant that Peter could continue his murdering spree and his next victim was 20 year old Barbara Leach. Barbara was a university student and was in her final year studying social psychology. Barbara found herself in the Mannville Arms in Bradford on September 2nd 1979. The group she was with left at around 12:45am, and Barbara decided to walk home alone. Peter saw Barbara leave her group of friends and walk off by herself. He quickly drove past her and as she walked past he attacked her with a hammer from behind. He stabbed her with the same screwdriver that he had used on Josephine Whitaker. He covered the body with an old carpet and drove away. The police saw that the wounds were similar to that of Josephine Whitaker and this indicated that the Yorkshire Ripper had struck again, and much to the police and the public’s outrage the victim was yet again another innocent victim which strayed from the norm of being a prostitute.
In 1980, Peter was arrested for drunk driving yet before he was sentenced he murdered two more times. The first of the two was 47 year old Marguerite Walls who was murdered in Leeds on August 20th at 11:00pm. Peter states, ‘I was on my way to Leeds, with a view to kill a prostitute, when I saw that this woman was walking towards me… she disappeared around a corner and I was already in some kind of rage and it was just unfortunate that she was where she was at the time… I parked the car and followed her… I hit her with the hammer, and it seems as though there was a voice inside my head saying kill, kill, kill, and I shouted, you filthy prostitute… I then dragged her into a gateway which appeared to be someone’s garden… I didn’t have a knife on me, but I had a length of cord which I strangled her with’. The second of the murders was Jacqueline Hill who was 20 years old and was in her third year of an English degree. Peter again watched Jacqueline walk before quickly switching off the ignition and waiting for her to walk past before delivering a blow to her head.
On Friday 2nd January 1981, 46 days after the murder of Jacqueline Hill, Peter Sutcliffe left his house in Heaton and told his wife Sonia he was going to collect a broken down car. Instead, Peter drove to a scrapyard and salvaged two number plates. He fixed the stolen plates over that of his own and drove to the red-light-district in Sheffield. Denise Hall, a prostitute was walking along when she spotted Peter in his car and assumed he was a potential customer. She bent down to look in the car but on seeing Peter she felt disturbed and told him she was not selling any business. Olivia Reivers was walking along a nearby street when she was stopped by Peter. He told him it would be £10, with a rubber, and he said that he was ok with that. After she got in the car, the pair drove half a mile before pulling over. While Olivia was removing the pants she was wearing, Peter laid out plastic on the backseats. He unzipped his trousers and tried for 10 minutes to get an erection. As Peter tried to gain an erection, they were illuminated by carlights, car lights which belonged to a police car. PC Robert Hydes noticed that the plates on the car may not have been real and checked on the national police computer. After getting the information stating that the plates actually belonged to a different car, the officers returned to talk to Peter. After being left alone in the car for a few moments, Peter made the move to pick up the hammer and knife from the car seat and ask for permission to go for a pee in the bushes. He was allowed and here he threw away the weapons before returning to the scene. Both Peter and Olivia were taken to the local police station, where Peter claimed needing the toilet again. There was a knife in his pocket which he disposed of in the water cistern. After being interviewed, the police officer remembered that Peter had gone to relieve himself in the bushes and returned to the scene to investigate. Among the bushes and weeds he found the hammer and knife and immediately phoned to the station. The Yorkshire Ripper team were phoned and their interest in Peter intensified when they realised how many times Peter had been interviewed in the past.
The officers concentrated their focus on the night of the attack of Theresa Skyes, a woman who had been attacked on Bonfire Night. He claimed he had finished work just after 5pm before stopping for a drink at the pub. He claimed he was home no later than 8:00pm. Unknown to Peter, but his wife Sonia had told police that Peter had arrived home at 10:00pm. What you read next is an extract of Peter’s confession to the murders of twelve women.
Boyle: “You didn’t go to the side of the house to urinate, did you?”
Sutcliffe: “No, I knew what you were leading up to. You’ve found the hammer and the knife, haven’t you?”
Boyle: “Yes we have, where did you put them?”
Sutcliffe: “When they took the girl to the Panda car I nipped out and put them near the house in the corner. I was panicking, I was hoping to get bail from there and get a taxi back and to pick them up. Then I would have been in the clear.”
Boyle: “Tell me, if you are the so-called Ripper, how many women have you killed?”
Sutcliffe: “Eleven, but I haven’t done that one at Preston. I’ve been to Preston but I haven’t done that one.”
Boyle: “Are you the author of the letters and the tape-recording posted from Sunderland to the police and the Press from a man admitting to be the Ripper?”
Sutcliffe: “No I am not. While ever that was going on I felt safe. I’m not a Geordie. I was born at Shipley.”
Boyle: “Have you any idea who sent the letters and the tape?”
Sutcliffe: “No, it’s no one connected with me. I’ve no idea who sent them.”
Boyle: “How did all this start?”
Sutcliffe: “With Wilma McCann. I didn’t mean to kill her at first, but she was mocking me. After that it just grew and grew until I became a beast.”
Later on, Sutcliffe was asked by Det Insp Boyle: “Do you know all the names of your victims?”
Sutcliffe: “Yes, I know them all.”
Boyle: “Do you keep any Press cuttings of them or make any records?”
Sutcliffe: “No, they are all in my brain reminding me of the beast I am.”
The murder count was revised after Det Insp Boyle inquired: “You say you have killed eleven women. Just take your time and think about how many there are.”
Sutcliffe: “It’s twelve, not eleven. Just thinking about them all reminds me what a monster I am. I know I would have gone on and on but now I’m glad I’ve been caught, and I just want to unload the burden.”
It took 15 hours and 45 minutes for Peter to dictate a detailed statement covering all the attacks and murders which he had committed. At 10:30pm, Peter requested to be the one to tell his wife, this was granted. The trial began on May 5th 1981 and came to an end on May 22nd 1981 when the Verdict was delivered. Peter had pleaded not guilty to murder on grounds of diminished responsibility after a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and this was rejected. He was found guilty and is now serving 20 concurrent sentences of life imprisonment. He began his sentence at HMP Parkhurst. While he was serving time here, Peter was assaulted by James Costello. James followed Peter and plunged a broken coffee jar twice into the left side of Peter’s face which left his eyesight damaged on this side. In March 1984, he was sent to Broadmoor Hospital. He was divorced in April 1994. In 1996, Peter was attacked once more by a convicted robber who attempted to strangle him with a pair of headphones. Again in 1997, Peter was attacked with a pen by Ian Kay and this lead to Peter losing vision in his left eye and severe damage to his right eye.