Yorkshire Ripper dead: Serial killer Peter Sutcliffe dies after battle with Covid-19

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Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe has died aged 74 after being diagnosed with coronavirus.

It is said the frail serial killer's lungs failed and he was pronounced dead just after 1am with no visitors at his hospital bedside due to strict Covid-19 rules.

Sutcliffe, who died without ever apologising to his victims' families, had refused treatment for Covid-19 at the University Hospital of North Durham, three miles from the maximum security Frankland jail where he was an inmate.

Two weeks ago, the monster was treated at the same hospital after suffering a suspected heart attack. He went back to prison but was taken back to hospital after developing coronavirus.

Sutcliffe used hammers and screwdrivers to murder 13 women from all walks of life during the 1970s and 1980s. He is also known to have attacked at least nine other women before his arrest in 1981.

Richard McCann, the son of Sutcliffe's first recognised victim, Wilma McCann, said the killer's death had brought some closure to him, and Sutcliffe will go down as someone "in the same league I suppose as someone like Hitler".

A relative of a victim said the Covid-19 pandemic had produced "at least one happy ending" with the death of one of the UK's most notorious mass murderers.

Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe murdered 13 women during the 1970s and 1980s
(Image: PA)

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Mr McCann, whose mum was murdered 45 years ago on playing fields just yards from her home in Chapeltown, Leeds, told BBC Breakfast: "I'm surprised how I feel this morning. It brings me some degree of closure, not that I wished him dead, far from it.

"Every time we hear a news story about him, and my mum's photo is often shown, it's just another reminder of what he did.

"One positive to come from this is that we'll hear much less about him and no more reminders about what happened all those years ago."

He said a lot of the families and surviving children of the victims may be "glad he's gone", but "I am sorry to hear he has passed away".

"It's not something I could have said in the past when I was consumed with anger," he added. "I'm certainly not celebrating."

In a separate interview, Mr McCann, who was five in October 1975 when his mum was hit with a hammer and stabbed 15 times, told Sky News: "(Sutcliffe) ruined so many lives.

A composite of 12 of the 13 victims of the Yorkshire Ripper

Marguerite Walls, who was one of the Yorkshire Ripper's victims

"He will go down as one of those figures from the twentieth century in the same league I suppose as someone like Hitler.

"It was never just a drunken fight, he went out there with tools and implements and he murdered people again and again and again and again."

Mr McCann revealed that he had been in touch with one of Sutcliffe's brothers, Carl.

He told BBC Breakfast: "He reached out to me with compassion and I felt the same. I know he obviously did some horrendous things but he was still his brother so I felt like I wanted to call him."

Mr McCann said he was left terrified after his mother's death and when Sutcliffe killed Jayne MacDonald, who also lived in his street.

He said: "I was convinced as a child, having had no therapy of any description, that he was out there and that he was going to kill me."

He added: "It really affected me. I was ashamed of being associated with Sutcliffe and all his crimes and, possibly, to do with the way that lots of people in society looked down, and the police and some of the media – describing some of the women as innocent and some not so innocent.

Richard McCann, the son of the Yorkshire Ripper's first victim Wilma
(Image: YEP / SWNS.com)

"I'm sorry to harp on about this but I've had to live with that shame for all these years. There's only one person that should have felt any shame – although I doubt that he did – and that was Peter Sutcliffe."

He appealed to West Yorkshire Police to make a formal apology for the way in which his mother and other victims of Peter Sutcliffe were described by officers in the 1970s.

He said he wanted the force "once and for all" to "apologise to the families, who are still around, for the way in which they described some of the women as 'innocent', inferring that some were not innocent – including my mum.

"I'd invite them to make that apology."

He said: "They were innocent and it would set the records straight."

Mr McCann added: "I want her to be remembered as the mother of four children, the daughter of her parents.

"She was a family woman who, through no fault of her own, was going through adversity and made some bad decisions, some risky decisions. She paid for those decisions with her life."

A son of one of Sutcliffe's victims, who wasn't identified, told the Sun: "Good riddance. Who’d have thought that coronavirus could produce at least one happy ending?”

Later, West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable John Robins issued an apology to the relatives of Sutcliffe's victims for "the language, tone and terminology used by senior officers at the time".

One of the Yorkshire Ripper's surviving victims said she was still suffering from the effects of his attack in Leeds in May 1976, 44 years on.

Marcella Claxton told Sky News: I have to live with my injuries, 54 stitches in my head, back and front, plus I lost a baby, I was four months pregnant. I still get headaches, dizzy spells and blackouts."

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, urged people to remember Sutcliffe's victims.

He tweeted: "Lot's of breaking news about the death of convicted murderer Peter Sutcliffe. I understand why this is news worthy, but my ask of the media is lets show the faces of those he killed, not him. The 13 women he murdered and the 7 who survived his brutal attacks are in my thoughts."

Sutcliffe's death was confirmed by the Prison Service. A spokesman said: "HMP Frankland prisoner Peter Coonan (born Sutcliffe) died in hospital on 13 November. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has been informed."

It is thought he spent his last moments alone due to Covid-19 restrictions at the hospital. He had previously signed 'do not resuscitate' forms.

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A source told the Sun: "No tears were shed. His death was as pitiful as the vile life he had lived."

Sutcliffe, who was serving a whole life term, had tested positive for Covid-19 and was suffering from underlying health conditions. His health had been deteriorating for months.

There was no confirmation of the cause of death which will be investigated by the coroner.

It is understood he had a range of conditions including heart trouble, diabetes and obesity. He was almost blind in one eye and suffered a detached retina in the other after being attacked behind bars.

Last week, he told friends that he was having ‘difficulty breathing’ and ‘could barely sleep’. Sutcliffe was ‘terrified’ of Covid-19, and had refused any prison visitors during the pandemic.

“My eyesight is getting worse – I’m bumping into people,” he told one friend.

“I’ve been completely blind in one eye for 20 years and the other one is deteriorating at a fair old rate.”

It was claimed Sutcliffe, who became a Jehovah's Witness while incarcerated, had even been saying he believed he would go to heaven.

His younger brother Carl told the Mirror this week that he does not think it will be Covid-19 that kills his brother and admitted it would be “a bit of a relief” if Peter died.

Carl, who stopped speaking to his brother years ago, said: “He has got other things wrong with him. He’s got diabetes, he’s got all sorts.

"He’s put on a lot of weight. Last picture I saw he looks about 20 stone. I haven’t got a clue how he is now. They wouldn’t tell me. (His ex-wife) Sonia is his next of kin.”

He added: “It’s been a nightmare. I know it is a horrible thing to say because he’s my brother. But there will be sadness too, because he’s my brother at the end of the day.

“We still get pointed at in the street and they whisper ‘that’s the Yorkshire Ripper’s brother’. I can’t hear them but I can still lip read.”

Sutcliffe, from Bradford, was given 20 life terms for the murder of 13 women and attempted murder of seven others. Former detectives believe he could be responsible for up to 22 further killings.

He was moved to Frankland Prison in 2016 after more than 30 years in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was deemed stable enough to serve time in prison.

Sonia and Peter Sutcliffe at his father's home in late 1980, not long before his arrest

Carl, who lives in West Yorkshire, told the Mirror that his brother would not confess to any more crimes.

Carl said: “I’ve asked him if he killed more and he said no. He says there are no more, He says ‘that’s the lot!’

“He doesn’t seem to realise the damage he’s done. It doesn’t register.

“He stills says ‘It’s not fair’ he’s still in prison. He thinks he’s all fixed now, all better.”

Carl said Peter denied being responsible for his crimes, but he has always been convinced his brother faked his mental illness.

He said: “He would say ‘I didn’t know what I was doing’ and ‘it was the voices in my head’ and all that. Why would you get yourself alibis if you didn’t know what you were doing?”

Earlier this week, Sutcliffe's other brother, Mick, told the Bradford Telegraph and Argus that he had not heard from his brother for three weeks.

Mick, 70, said: “He rings me without fail every Monday, but he has not rung me for the last two or three Mondays. So I knew something must be up.

“If he died, I would not know until I watched about it on the television.”

Sutcliffe's reign of terror

Sutcliffe preyed on women from all walks of life in a reign of terror that left women in the region feeling unsafe and afraid to go out at night. His youngest known murder victim was 16 and the oldest 42.

Sentencing Sutcliffe at Leeds Crown Court in 1981, trial judge Justice Boreham said: “The jury have found you guilty of thirteen charges of murder, if I may say so, murder of a very cowardly nature. For each was a woman.

“It was murder by getting behind her and beating her on the head with a hammer from behind.

“It is difficult to find 108 words that are adequate in my judgment to describe the brutality and gravity of these offences and I say at once I am not going to pause to seek those words. I am prepared to let the catalogue of crimes speak for itself.”

Mr Boreham added that Sutcliffe’s crimes had left women from a ‘wide area’ of Yorkshire and Lancashire living in the ‘deepest fear'.

Sutcliffe was born in Bingley in West Yorkshire in 1946, to Kathleen and John Sutcliffe, who worked in a bakery. He later changed his name to Peter Coonan.

Sutcliffe, the first of six children, was a skinny, shy child who was regularly bullied. Peter Aylward, a psychoanalyst who investigated the serial killer's case and his upbringing, said Sutcliffe was 'a very timid and very insecure child'.

A series of police blunders left even Sutcliffe amazed that he had not been caught sooner
(Image: REX/Shutterstock)

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He added: "He was forever seen ensconced inside his mother's petticoat and dress, always hidden as if deeply insecure about any potential separation from the mother."

After failing his 11 plus left school aged 15, embarking on a series of menial jobs, including two stints as a grave digger.

Reports from the time say Sutcliffe talked obsessively about his work in the cemetery, volunteering for extra shifts, and building up a collection of rings from the bodies he buried.

He worked other jobs before taking redundancy and training to drive an HGV.

In 1967 he met Sonia Szurma, and the two went on to marry in 1974. They settled into a house in Heaton, Bradford in 1977.

They lived together quietly in a small home Sonia insisted on keeping neat and tidy. Sutcliffe was regularly seen polishing his car and his lorry and they appeared to be living quietly. But Sutcliffe’s double life was already in full swing.

Police dig outside the Yorkshire Ripper's house in Heaton in January 1981
(Image: Simon Wilkinson/REX/Shutterstock)

By this point Sutcliffe’s fascination with sex workers and violence was already well developed and by night he was cruising the red-light areas of various northern cities.

His first attack had been against a woman in 1969, approaching her from behind and hitting her with a stone in a sock. Though police later visited him, the woman declined to press charges.

Sutcliffe’s second attack took place in 1975. He used a hammer to attack Anna Rogulskyj, who was walking on her own.

After smashing her over the head he slashed her stomach with a knife. A neighbour interrupted the scene and he fled. Anna survived after extensive surgery at the Leeds General Infirmary.

Just a few weeks later he struck again. This time he attacked Olive Smelt in Halifax using the same methods. She was badly injured but lived.

In August of 1975 he attacked 14-year-old Tracy Browne in Silsden, near Bradford. He hit her on the head five times as she walked alone along a country lane, then fled when he saw car lights approaching.

First murder

The first woman to die at the hands of Sutcliffe was Wilma McCann on October 30. He hit her twice with a hammer before stabbing her 15 times in the neck.

He later told police that after that killing: “I carried on trying to act as normal, living with my wife.”

Sutcliffe’s next murder came a year later.

He picked up 42-year-old Emily Jackson outside a pub in Leeds. He drove her to an industrial estate where he attacked her, beating her with a hammer, stabbing her with a screwdriver and stamping on her with such force he left behind an impression of his boot.

Later that year he attacked 20-year-old Marcella Claxton in Leeds.

She was left alive, however, and gave evidence against him at his trial. She had been pregnant at the time of the attack and later lost the baby.

Clairvoyant Simon Alexander (centre) with Detectives Bradley (left) and Gledhill at the scene of Jayne McDonald's murder in Leeds in January 1981
(Image: Mirrorpix)

In 1977 he attacked and killed Irene Richardson, leaving her body 100 yards away from the spot he had attacked Marcella Claxton. Tyre tracks left at the scene were among the first clues he left – but police had too long a list of vehicles to narrow the search properly.

He then killed Patricia Atkinson, on 23 April. He went to the Bradford flat she lived in where he attacked and murdered her.

On 26 June he killed 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald in Chapeltown, Leeds.

Up to this point, all the women Sutcliffe had killed were sex workers. Jane’s murder showed the public that all women and girls were at risk – regardless of how they earned a living. The national press took an interest and Sutcliffe was dubbed ‘The Yorkshire Ripper'.

In July of 1977 he attacked Maureen Long in Bradford. Here he was interrupted again, and his car spotted by witnesses. More than 300 officers were called in to check the owners of cars that matched the description of Sutcliffe’s – thousands of them – but were unsuccessful.

Sutcliffe went on to murder Jean Jordan in October in Manchester.

A coffin is carried during the funeral for victim Barbara Leach at Kettering Parish Church in September 1979
(Image: Mirrorpix)

The Yorkshire Ripper's 13 victims

Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe's five-year reign of terror claimed the lives of 13 women.

They were:

– Wilma McCann (pictured), 28, from Chapeltown, Leeds, who was killed in October 1975.

– Emily Jackson, 42, a prostitute and mother-of-three from Morley, Leeds. Killed on January 20, 1976.

– Irene Richardson, 28, a mother-of-two from Chapeltown, Leeds. Killed on February 6, 1977.

– Patricia Atkinson, 32, a mother-of-three from Manningham, Bradford. Killed on April 24, 1977.

– Jayne MacDonald, 16, a shop assistant from Leeds. Killed on June 26, 1977.

– Jean Jordan, 21, from Manchester, who died between September 30 and October 11, 1977.

– Yvonne Pearson, 22, from Bradford. Murdered between January 20 and March 26, 1978.

– Helen Rytka, 18, from Huddersfield. Murdered on January 31, 1978.

– Vera Millward, 40, a mother-of-seven from Manchester, who was killed on May 16, 1978.

– Josephine Whitaker, 19, a building society worker from Halifax. Killed on April 4, 1979.

– Barbara Leach, 20, a student who was murdered while walking in Bradford on September 1, 1979.

– Marguerite Walls, 47, a civil servant from Leeds who was murdered on August 20, 1980 .

– Jacqueline Hill, 20, a student, who was found at Headingley on November 16, 1980.

Sutcliffe had given Jean, a sex worker, a five pound note that he later realised was traceable. He went back to the body to try and find the note. When he could not retrieve it he mutilated the corpse and moved it.

Her body was discovered on an allotment in Chorlton by Bruce Jones, who later played Les Battersby in Coronation Street.

Mr Jones later said: “I had to look at all of the pictures again.

“I didn’t want to see them ever again. I can still see her now.”

The £5 was hidden in a secret compartment in Jean’s handbag. It was traced by police who worked out it could only have come from the Midland Bank in Shipley and Bingley.

Ripper evades capture and kills again

They deduced it was only possible to have been in the pay packets of 8,000 employees in the area. They narrowed their search and in the space of three months interviewed 5,000 men – including Sutcliffe, who provided them with a convincing alibi.

The search was called off in 1978, and Sutcliffe went on to murder three women who worked as prostitutes that year: three prostitutes – Yvonne Pearson, 21, from Bradford, Helen Rytka, 18, from Huddersfield, and 40-year-old Vera Millward, a mother-of-seven from Manchester who he killed in the car park of Manchester Royal Infirmary.

The Ripper struck in Halifax for the first time in April 1979.

He killed 19-year-old Halifax Building Society clerk Josephine Whitaker and her body was later found in Savile Park.

It was the second time he had killed a woman who was not a known sex worker.

Shortly before the murder, Sutcliffe had been interviewed by police again, after his car was spotted seven times in the red light areas of Leeds and Bradford.

Sutcliffe was serving his sentence at Frankland Prison in County Durham

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But he told the police he had just been on his way to work, while his wife said they rarely went out at night.

Around this time, investigations into Sutcliffe were further complicated as police received a tape taunting ACC George Oldfield, who was in charge of the case.

The recording said: “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."

The hoax tape led police to believe their suspect was from the north-east. ‘Wearside Jack’ sent two letters to the police and the Mirror in March 1978 boasting of his crimes. He was later exposed as John Samuel Humble, an alcoholic from Sunderland who was jailed for eight years for his hoax and died in 2019.

Meanwhile, Sutcliffe continued to kill. This time he murdered Barbara Leach, a 20-year-old Bradford student in September 1979, after she had a night out at a pub near the university.

Just weeks before her murder Sutcliffe had been interviewed at his Bradford home.

DC Andrew Laptew was suspicious, claiming Sutcliffe had an 'uncanny resemblance' to a description given by one of his victims who had survived and his shoe size fitted the suspect's shoe size.

Detectives at the scene where Miss Leach's body was discovered in September 1979
(Image: Mirrorpix)

After leaving Sutcliffe's home, he had also said there was 'something sinister about the man, something weird'.

He submitted a report about his suspicions, but Sutcliffe's accent and handwriting did not fit the letters and tapes that had been sent in by the hoaxer so was ruled out.

In total, Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times during the police investigation but repeatedly ruled out.

A series of spectacular police blunders left even Sutcliffe amazed that he had not been caught before.

At his Old Bailey trial he said: "It was just a miracle they did not apprehend me earlier – they had all the facts."

In 1980 he was finally arrested – though only on drunk driving charges. While waiting for his 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, in November.

When interviewed by police after his arrest, he said, "The last one I did was Jacqueline Hill" – as though he was talking about cleaning his car.

When asked by his brother Carl why he had committed such crimes, he replied, "I were just cleaning up the streets, our kid."

Killer finally arrested

Three months after committing his final murder, Sutcliffe was arrested in January 1981 by two police officers when he was in the car with 24-year-old prostitute Olivia Reiver, outside a property in Sheffield.

They arrested him because the car he was in had false number plates.

The officers allowed him to urinate behind an oil tank, before he was taken to the police station for questioning.

When police returned to the scene the following day, they found a hammer and a knife behind the oil tank.

After two days of intense questioning, Sutcliffe was confronted with the discovery and confessed to murdering 13 women on January 4.

He later he claimed God had told him to murder the women.

In 1981, he was sentenced to 20 life terms for murdering 13 women and attempting to kill seven more.

Experts believe he could be responsible for more deaths, with some claiming up to 22 more murders and 13 other attacks.

He began his sentence at Parkhurst where he was attacked by a fellow inmate. He was later transferred to Broadmoor Hospital after a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

Sutcliffe was attacked a number of times by other inmates. One incident saw him lose an eye.

Later he was transferred to Franklin Prison in Durham.

In 2010 Sutcliffe applied to the High Court in a bid to be granted a minimum term for his sentence. It was refused. Mr Justice Sitting said: “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.”