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Killed Prostitutes in the Name of God: Peter Sutcliffe, AKA “The Yorkshire Ripper”!

Killed Prostitutes in the Name of God: Peter Sutcliffe, AKA “The Yorkshire Ripper”!

In the dark corners of crime history, a name sends shivers down the spine – Peter Sutcliffe. His story is an alarming tale that scared Yorkshire in the late 1970s. 

People called him the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’, and he left a lasting shadow of fear in the community. Let's dive into the chilling details of Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes and find out how he became infamous.

Early Days

Born on June 2, 1946, in Bingley, West Riding of Yorkshire, to John William Sutcliffe and Kathleen Frances Coonan, his journey began in the heart of a working-class family. 

Peter Sutcliffe was born as a premature baby. He spent his initial days in the hospital. His mother, Kathleen, endured domestic abuse and a stressful pregnancy during that time.

Sutcliffe's parents, John and Kathleen, were from different religious backgrounds—John was a member of the Anglican church choir, and Kathleen was a devout Roman Catholic. Raised in his mother's faith, Peter served as an altar boy.

At the age of 4, Peter Sutcliffe started his educational journey at St. Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, only to be met with severe bullying that would leave a lasting impact on his formative years.

Father’s Impact

Sutcliffe's father, John, was a heavy drinker with a tendency for violence. At just five years old, Peter experienced brutality for the first time when his father smashed a beer glass over his head for sitting in his chair at the Christmas table.

John Sutcliffe's dislike for his wife and dismissal of Peter as a "mummy's boy" set the stage for an abnormal upbringing. His mother, in contrast, tried to shower Peter with attention, creating an idealised image in his young mind.

The atmosphere at home was marked by fear and abuse. John, described by Sutcliffe's siblings as "a monster," used to whip his children with a belt as a form of punishment. His life revolved around sports, choir activities, beer, and womanizing.

The Disturbing Shift

As Peter Sutcliffe transitioned into adulthood, a disturbing shift in his psyche began to emerge. His infatuation with “voyeurism”, i.e., the weird likeness towards watching people having sex, took a dark turn, leading him to spy on prostitutes and the men seeking their services.

Sutcliffe was described as a loner who departed school at 15 and started labour jobs. Among these, he had two stints as a gravedigger at Bingley Cemetery in the 1960s, cultivating a weird sense of humour that disturbed his co-workers. Shockingly, as per reports, Sutcliffe not only enjoyed his work too much but also willingly volunteered for overtime shifts washing the corpses.

Between November 1971 and April 1973, Sutcliffe worked hard on a packaging line at the Baird Television factory. However, his trajectory changed when he was asked to hit the road as a salesman. 

Melodramatic Marriage

Peter Sutcliffe's marriage to Sonia Szurma is like a puzzle with many pieces. They met on 14th February 1967 and got married on August 10, 1974. Sonia, a girl from a Czech family, wanted to become a teacher but faced a tough challenge when she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Their relationship was quite tricky. Gordon Burn, a writer, described it as Sonia being in charge of treating Peter like a naughty child. Sometimes, when Sonia got angry without any reason, Peter had to physically hold her to keep things under control. These details show that Sutcliffe's personal life had its own set of difficulties and added another layer to the story of the Yorkshire Ripper.

Outset of Crime

Peter Sutcliffe's journey into doing unnatural things started when he was looking for a woman who deceived him. His first assault was in 1969, attacking a prostitute.

On the night of July 5, 1975, in Keighley, Sutcliffe attacked Anna Rogulskyj, a 36-year-old lady walking alone. He used a hammer to make her fall and a knife to cut her stomach. Thankfully, a neighbour came, and he had to leave, saving Anna's life.

But he didn't stop. On August 15 in Halifax, he hurt Olive Smelt, a 46-year-old lady, using the same way. He hit her head with a hammer and cut her back with a knife. She survived because someone interrupted him again.

The scary pattern continued. On August 27, Sutcliffe attacked Tracy Browne, a 14-year-old girl, hitting her head five times. He ran away when he saw car lights, but Tracy needed surgery to survive. These were just the signs foreshadowing the terror that would soon grip Yorkshire.

The First Strike: Wilma McCann

In the records of criminal history, certain dates become sculpted in infamy. October 30, 1975, is one such date in the context of Peter Sutcliffe's story. On that fateful night, Wilma McCann, a 28-year-old mother of four, became the first victim of the Yorkshire Ripper. Sutcliffe brutally attacked her with a hammer and then stabbed her multiple times. The gruesome nature of the crime sent shockwaves through the community, but authorities failed to find the culprit.

A Pattern Emerges

The murder of Wilma McCann marked the beginning of a dreadful pattern that would unfold over the next few years, casting a dark shadow over Yorkshire.

On January 20, 1976, in Leeds, he ruthlessly attacked 42-year-old Emily Monica Jackson, stabbing her fifty-two times. The streets trembled with fear as the Yorkshire Ripper's brutality escalated.

Just months later, on May 9, 20-year-old Marcella Claxton experienced the nightmare firsthand. Accepting a seemingly harmless lift from Sutcliffe in Roundhay Park, she fell victim to his sinister plan. Striking her from behind with a hammer when she stepped out to relieve herself, Sutcliffe's violence knew no bounds.

The pattern continued its macabre dance on February 5, when 28-year-old Irene Richardson, a Chapeltown prostitute, crossed paths with the Ripper in Roundhay Park. Bludgeoned to death with a hammer and stabbed three times in the stomach, Richardson became another tragic chapter in Sutcliffe's hideous narrative.

Thus, many more women lost their lives in the following time without the culprit untraced. Sutcliffe's mode of operation was consistent – he targeted women, often prostitutes, in the dimly lit streets of Yorkshire. The weapon of choice, a hammer and a knife left a brutal signature on each crime scene.

Media Sensation and Police Hunt

In the pursuit of justice, over 150 police officers engaged in the Yorkshire Ripper investigation, tirelessly scanning the streets for any trace of Peter Sutcliffe. 

Despite their dedicated efforts, the killer managed to evade capture for years. The police hunt intensified as the body count rose, and the media amplified the urgency of the situation.

The Misguided Investigation

Challenges and missteps flawed the investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper case. The police received numerous letters and tapes supposed to be from the killer. 

One such letter, sent to the Daily Mirror in March 1978, claimed responsibility for the murders. However, the police, misled by a series of hoaxes, struggled to separate fact from fiction.

Survivors Speak Out

Amid the horror, some women managed to survive Peter Sutcliffe's attacks, providing crucial insights into the mind of the Yorkshire Ripper. 

Their testimonies offered a glimpse into the brutality of the assaults and the calculated cruelty of the perpetrator. These survivors became the unsung heroes in the fight against the terror that gripped Yorkshire.

The Breakthrough: Arrest of The Yorkshire Ripper

On January 2, 1981, the tables turned for Peter Sutcliffe as he was stopped by the police in Sheffield, caught in the act with a 24-year-old prostitute named Olivia Reivers. Probationary constable Robert Hydes, in a routine check, uncovered false number plates on Sutcliffe's car, leading to his immediate arrest and transfer to Dewsbury police station.

At Dewsbury, Sutcliffe faced relentless questioning regarding the Yorkshire Ripper case. The breakthrough came when Sergeant Robert Ring, fueled by a gut feeling, revisited the arrest scene. 

There, hidden behind an oil storage tank, Ring discovered a chilling arsenal – a knife, hammer, and rope discarded by Sutcliffe in a hasty attempt to escape. Meanwhile, a second knife hidden in the toilet cistern at the police station, part of Sutcliffe's calculated deception.

The police obtained a search warrant for Sutcliffe's Heaton home and brought his wife in for questioning. This marked the beginning of the end of the period created by Yorkshire Ripper’s haunting crimes.

Confession: ‘God’s Messenger’

After being questioned for two days, Peter Sutcliffe shocked everyone on Sunday, January 4, 1981, by admitting he was the Yorkshire Ripper. 

He calmly described his attacks, deeming his victims as "filth" and "bastard prostitutes" littering the streets. He even said God told him to do it to clean up the streets. Sutcliffe only showed regret when talking about Jayne MacDonald. 

While asked about Joan Harrison, he got emotional but strongly denied killing her. Later, DNA proved Harrison's case was a mistake and another person had committed the crime.

Trial and Conviction

At his trial in 1981, Peter Sutcliffe faced charges of murdering thirteen women, but he claimed not guilty to murder and instead pleaded guilty to manslaughter due to diminished responsibility. His defence argued that he was following God's orders, hearing voices instructing him to kill while working as a gravedigger.

Peter Sutcliffe also admitted to seven charges of attempted murder. Although psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia, the trial judge rejected the diminished plea, insisting on a jury decision. 

After a two-week trial, Sutcliffe was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life imprisonment. The judge recommended a minimum term of thirty years, later changed to a whole-life tariff in 2010.

Life Behind Bars

Peter Sutcliffe spent the rest of his life behind bars, incarcerated at the Broadmoor Hospital. This life for Peter Sutcliffe was harsh. After ten years, his wife divorced Peter.

In 1997, an inmate attacked him, leaving him blind in one eye. Ten years later, another attack targeted his other eye. Despite surviving, Sutcliffe faced the brutality of prison life until his transfer to a non-psychiatric prison in 2016.


In November 2020, the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, aged 74, succumbed to Coronavirus while imprisoned at Frankland Prison.

Legacy and Impact

The legacy of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, extends beyond the pages of criminal history. 

In the years that followed, Peter Sutcliffe's story became a cautionary tale. His case highlighted the challenges and shortcomings of criminal investigations, prompting a reevaluation of police procedures. The fear and trauma instilled in the victims and their families left an indelible mark on the social fabric of Yorkshire.

The Ripper: A NETFLIX Documentary

The Netflix documentary, titled "The Ripper," delves into the chilling crimes of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. It carefully examines the police investigation, shedding light on their challenges in capturing him, and tells the unsettling story of Sutcliffe's crimes.

Peter Sutcliffe's tale lingers in the shadows of Yorkshire's dimming past. As we close the chapters on the Yorkshire Ripper, let's remember the survivors' strength, the lessons learned, and the resilience of communities that stood against terror. The haunting echoes of history serve as a stark reminder that even in the darkest corners, the light of justice can prevail.

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