On November 13th, 2020, Peter ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’ Sutcliffe died at the age of 74. Between 1975 to 1980, he murdered 13 female victims and seriously injured 9 others.
His first victim’s son, who was five when his mother was killed, told BBC News Sutcliffe’s death would bring “some kind of closure”.
This is The Yorkshire Ripper’s timeline of terror.
Born: June 2nd, 1946, in Bingley, Yorkshire, Northern England, to parents John and Kathleen Sutcliffe. The eldest of five siblings, his jealous father would constantly berate his mother as a “sluttish whore” and accused her of sleeping around. Deeply-rooted misogyny in Sutcliffe would last a lifetime.
1961: Age 15, Sutcliffe drops out of school and begins working as a gravedigger at Bingley Cemetery. He started playing ‘morbid pranks’ with the skeletons and robbing jewelry from the dead. He also started to visit a waxwork museum and his favorite section displayed the ‘devastating symptoms of advanced venereal disease.’
Also during his teenage years, he found employment in a mortuary. Harold Schechter, the author of ‘The Serial Killer Files’, writes Sutcliffe ‘enjoyed toying with the corpses-arranging them in grotesque poses and using them as ventriloquist dummies.’
September 1969: In the City of Bradford, he attacked one woman (identity remains anonymous) with a stone-filled sock on the head. She survived the attack and was not interested in pressing charges.
August 1974: Aged 28, Sutcliffe married Sonia Szurma, the daughter of Czech immigrants and the only woman he’d ever dated. Due to a lack of money, the newlyweds were forced to move in with Sonia’s parents. Sutcliffe was spending the little money they had cruising Yorkshire’s red-light areas looking for prostitutes.
Early 1975: Following several miscarriages, Sutcliffe and his wife are told they would never have children. Soon after this news, the murders began.
June 1975: Sutcliffe secures his lorry-driving license. He places a handwritten sign on the windscreen that reads: “In this truck is a man whose latent genius, if unleashed, would rock the nation, whose dynamic energy would overpower those around him. Better let him sleep?”
July 5th, 1975: Attacked 36-year-old Anna Rogulskyj, struck with a ball-peen hammer, and slashed across the abdomen. She survives.
August 15th, 1975: Attacked 46-year-old Olive Smelt, struck with a hammer and slashed. She survives.
August 27th, 1975: Attacked 14-year-old Tracy Browne, struck with a hammer. She survives.
Peter Sutcliffe typically targeted prostitutes. He would sneak up behind a victim and render her unconscious by beating her around the head with a ball-peen hammer. He then pulls their upper body clothing up to their armpits and their lower body clothing down to their ankles.
He would then bludgeon the victim to death with a hammer, or stab them with a knife and later in his attacks, a screwdriver. A few victims were strangled to death with a rope. One victim was beaten to death with a bolder. Many victims were slashed and mutilated with a knife on their genitalia and stomach.
Professor Laurence Alison, Forensic Psychologist said, “There isn’t a lot of torture in these cases and in the main, they are relatively quick, what we call blitz attacks, extremely violent and extremely sudden blitz attacks, without actually an awful lot of sexual behavior accompanied in them.”
October 30th, 1975: His first murder. 28-year-old Wilma McCann, struck with a hammer and stabbed in the abdomen, chest, and neck.
January 20th, 1976: Murder of 42-year-old Emily Jackson, struck twice with a hammer and stabbed 52 times in the neck, breasts, lower abdomen, and back with a screwdriver.
May 9th, 1976: Attacked 20-year-old Marcella Claxton, struck once with a hammer. She survives.
February 5th, 1977: Murder of 28-year-old Irene Richardson, struck three times with a hammer and stabbed in the neck, throat, and stomach with a Stanley knife.
April 23rd, 1977: Murder of 32-year-old Patricia Atkinson, struck in the head four times and clawed with a hammer, then fatally stabbed six times in the stomach; covered her body with bed linen.
June 26th, 1977: Murder of 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald, struck with a hammer and stabbed 20 times in the chest and back.
“Prior to that point, the fear, if you like, had been exclusively felt by working prostitutes. But from Jayne McDonald on there was this feeling that no woman was safe.” Henry Matthews, Former Journalist
July 10th, 1977: Attacked 42-year-old Maureen Long, struck with a hammer and stabbed in the chest, stomach, and back. She survives.
October 1st, 1977: Murder of 20-year-old Jean Jordan, struck 11 times with a hammer, stabbed 18 times, and disemboweled.
November 12th, 1977: Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group organized a number of ‘Reclaim the Night’ marches. The group criticized the police for victim-blaming, especially the suggestion that women should remain indoors at night. Eleven marches in various towns across the United Kingdom took place throughout the night to demonstrate that women should be able to walk anywhere without restriction and that they should not be blamed for men’s violence.
December 14th, 1977: Attacked 25-year-old Marilyn Moore, struck eight times with a hammer, but not stabbed.
January 21st, 1978: Murder of 21-year-old Yvonne Pearson, stuffed horsehair down her mouth and throat, beaten to death with a boulder, and covered her body with soil, rubble, and turf.
January 31st, 1978: Murder of 18-year-old Helen Rytka, forced to have sex with him, then beaten and stabbed to death with a hammer and a knife.
May 16th, 1978: Murder of 40-year-old Vera Millward, beaten to death with a hammer and stabbed post-mortem.
April 4th, 1979: Murder of 19-year-old Josephine Whitaker, beaten with a hammer, fatally stabbed 27 times in the chest, stomach, and right leg, and sexually violated with a screwdriver.
September 2nd, 1979: Murder of 20-year-old Barbara Leach, struck with a hammer and stabbed with a screwdriver.
August 20th, 1980: Murder of 37-year-old Marguerite Walls, struck with a hammer and fatally strangled with rope; undressed and partially covered her with grass and leaves post-mortem.
September 24th, 1980: Attacked 34-year-old Upadhya Bandara, struck with a hammer, and strangled with a rope.
November 5th 1980: Attacked 16-year-old Theresa Sykes, struck with a hammer.
November 17th, 1980: Murder of 20-year-old Jacqueline Hill, struck with a hammer and stabbed in the eye and chest with a screwdriver.
January 2nd, 1981: During a routine patrol, Sergeant Robert Ring notices a woman in a car with a man who he believes is soliciting sex. Peter Sutcliffe is in the vehicle and he tells the police his name is Peter Williams. The police notice he fits the physical profile of The Yorkshire Ripper and they soon discover his car license plates are fake. He is detained overnight.
Later, a blood test shows he is part of the rare blood group B. In total, 10% of people belong to blood group B, making it one of the least common blood groups.
Returning to the scene of the arrest, Sergeant Robert Ring discovers a ball-peen hammer and a knife that Sutcliffe had thrown away.
January 4th, 1981: Peter Sutcliffe confessed he is The Yorkshire Ripper. At Dewsbury police station, he is allowed to make a phone call to his wife.
The call recording:
Sonia: “What on earth is going on, Peter?”
Sutcliffe: “It’s me, I’m the Yorkshire Ripper. I killed all those women.”
Sonia: “What on earth did you do that for Peter?”
January 5th, 1981: Sutcliffe appears at Dewsbury Magistrates Court and pleads guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He explains killing prostitutes was a “God-given order”. Police believe Sutcliffe suffers from paranoid schizophrenia however a judge decides the serial killer will have to face a jury.
During a visit from his brother Carl in jail, Sutcliffe tells him: “I were just cleaning the streets.”
“My own sisters used to walk around with knives in their bag, in their handbags although they were probably the safest people on the planet from the Yorkshire Ripper. But they had no idea that it was our brother Peter.” – Carl Sutcliffe, brother of Peter Sutcliffe.
April 29th, 1981: Jury Trial Begins
May 22nd, 1981: Following six hours of deliberation, the jury gives a majority verdict of 10-2 finding him sane. Sutcliffe is found guilty of thirteen counts of murder and the attempted murder of seven others.
The judge sentences Sutcliffe to life for each murder and a minimum sentence of 30 years at HMP Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight.
January 10th, 1983: Parkhurst inmate James Costello plunged a broken coffee jar twice into the left side of Sutcliffe’s face, resulting in severe wounds requiring 30 stitches.
March 1984: Sutcliffe is transferred from HMP Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight to Broadmoor secure hospital.
April 1994: Sonia is finally granted a divorce.
November 13th, 2020: Peter Sutcliffe has died at the age of 74.