Flowers at the scene of the murder of Jacqueline Hill in 1980
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The judge who caged him branded him “cowardly” but right up to his death, Peter Sutcliffe’s name sent shivers down spines.
The fiend – who claimed God had told him to murder prostitutes – was locked up for nearly 40 years.
He killed 13 of the 20 women he attacked and his sickening crimes cast a shadow of fear across West Yorkshire and Manchester, sparking the biggest police manhunt Britain had known.
But the Yorkshire Ripper’s agonising death from Covid-19 is unlikely to bring comfort to the families of victims. Harry Smelt, husband of survivor Olive, once said a death sentence was too good.
“He left 26 orphans,” he said. “How can anyone be punished for that adequately?”
Evil Peter Sutcliffe murdered at least 13 women between 1975 and 1980
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Final miserable hours of Yorkshire Ripper as serial killer dies alone with Covid-19
Sutcliffe was born in Bingley, West Yorks, in 1946. The first of six kids, he was a skinny, shy boy who was bullied.
Peter Aylward, a psychoanalyst who investigated his case and upbringing, said he was “a very timid and very insecure child”.
He left school at 15 and did menial jobs, including two stints as a gravedigger – which he talked of obsessively.
He met Sonia Szurma in 1967 and married her in 1974, settling in Heaton, Bradford, in 1977. They lived quietly and by then he was a HGV driver.
But his double life was already in full swing.
Fascinated with sex workers and violence, he spent nights cruising red-light areas. His first attack was in 1969, hitting a woman with a stone in a sock. Police visited but the victim did not press charges.
Sutcliffe next struck in July 1975, attacking Anna Rogulskyj in Bradford and, weeks later, Olive Smelt in Halifax. He hit both over the head with a hammer and slashed their stomachs.
A month later, he attacked Tracy Browne, 14, in Silsden, near Bradford, and left her needing brain surgery.
The first woman to die at Sutcliffe’s hands was Wilma McCann, 28, on October 30 – hit with a hammer before being stabbed 15 times in the neck. He later told police of the time: “I carried on trying to act as normal, living with my wife.”
The killer died from Covid-19 at the age of 74
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Sutcliffe’s second victim was Emily Jackson, 42, in Leeds in January 1976.
He drove her to an industrial estate where he beat her with a hammer, stabbed her with a screwdriver and stamped on her with such force he left an impression of his boot.
In May 1976, he attacked 20-year-old Marcella Claxton in Leeds. She survived but lost her baby. Irene Richardson was killed in February 1977 and left near the spot where he attacked Marcella.
He then killed Patricia Atkinson on April 23, in her Bradford flat. On June 26, Sutcliffe killed Jayne MacDonald, 16, in Chapeltown, Leeds – the first victim who was not a sex worker. The national press took an interest and he was dubbed The Yorkshire Ripper.
Victims of the Yorkshire Ripper: (Top row) Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson and Patricia Atkinson. (Middle row) Jayne McDonald, Jean Jordan, Yvonne Pearson and Helen Rytka. (Bottom row) Vera Millward, Josephine Whitaker, Barbara Leach and Jacqueline Hill
A month later, he attacked Maureen Long in Bradford but was interrupted and fled, leaving her for dead. He went on to murder Jean Jordan in October in Manchester. Bruce Jones, who later played Les Battersby in Coronation Street, found her on an allotment in Chorlton.
In 1978, Sutcliffe killed three prostitutes: Yvonne Pearson, 21, from Bradford; Helen Rytka, 18, from Huddersfield; and 40-year-old Vera Millward, from Manchester.
Then, in April 1979, he killed 19-year-old Halifax Building Society clerk Josephine Whitaker, the second victim who was not a sex worker. The pressure was on for the police to catch him but despite 2.5 million man hours on the hunt, he eluded them.
Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times, while blunders left even him amazed he was not stopped sooner. At his Old Bailey trial, he said: “It was just a miracle they did not apprehend me earlier – they had all the facts.”
Once, Sutcliffe was interviewed by officers who showed him a picture of the Ripper’s bootprint near a body, failing to notice he was wearing the exact same boots. Police also overlooked his arrest in 1969 for carrying a hammer in a red light district and attempts by friend Trevor Birdsall to flag him in an anonymous letter.
Sutcliffe struck again in September 1979, murdering Bradford student Barbara Leach, 20. He was finally arrested in 1980 – for drink-driving. While awaiting trial, he killed Marguerite Walls, 47, in August and student Jacqueline Hill, 20, in November.
In January 1981, three months after his final murder, Sutcliffe was arrested in Sheffield while sitting in a car with 24-year-old prostitute Olivia Reiver, because it had false number plates.
Before taking him for questioning, officers let him pee behind an oil tank, where they later found a hammer and knife. In his interview, he said, “The last one I did was Jacqueline Hill”, as though he was talking about cleaning his car. And asked about his crimes by brother Carl, he said: “I were just cleaning up the streets, our kid.”
Sutcliffe confessed to murdering 13 women on January 4 and in 1981 got 20 life terms. At Leeds crown court, Justice Boreham told him: “The jury found you guilty of 13 charges of murder – murder of a very cowardly nature. For each was a woman.”
He was sent to Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight, transferred to Broadmoor in Berkshire after a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, then moved to Franklin Prison in Durham. Lags attacked Sutcliffe a number of times and he lost an eye in one incident.
In 2010, he made a High Court bid for a minimum term, which failed.
Mr Justice Sitting said: “This was a campaign of murder which terrorised Yorkshire for years. The only explanation for it, on the jury’s verdict, was anger, hatred and obsession.”
A sense of fear: what it was like to be a woman in Yorkshire when the ripper was at large
by Ann Cryer, former MP for Keighley
Before I was the MP for Keighley, my late husband Bob was elected to represent the constituency from 1974 to 1983.
I remember him coming home from an advice surgery pretty shaken from the experience of just having talked to Anna Rogulskyj (how are we spelling this? I’ve seen ‘Rogulsky’ too?), one of the first Yorkshire Ripper victims. She was attacked behind the Ritz cinema in Keighley. He hit her on the head with a hammer but was disturbed fortunately and she was taken to hospital.
In the late 1970s the attacks were the non-stop subject of conversation. Women were terrified. It was a terribly, terribly frightening period. I think it affected most of the women and girls in West Yorkshire at that time. You had no idea who was going to be the next victim. Any woman who was alone in the dark was fair game for him. It affected the men too – we had two very good friends who were questioned just because they had beards.
We were very, very careful and you certainly wouldn’t let young girls go out by themselves. My daughter Jane was nine or 10 at the time and had piano lessons in an area of Bradford which hadn’t been mentioned in connection with the Yorkshire Ripper. But I would walk her to the bus and I’d meet her off the bus – and we would walk in the middle of the lane as we headed home because we were sure he could be hiding in the bushes.
But after Sutcliffe was arrested we realised he lived about five minutes away from where Jane had her piano lessons. It was horrific to think I’d been sending her into that area.
That whole experience has lived in many of us ever since.
When I heard Sutcliffe had died I felt relief – but I think a lot of women would have had much stronger feelings. Jane texted me this morning: “Great news. We are so civilised treating people like that well.”