Peter William Sutcliffe (born 2 June 1946 in Bingley, West Riding of Yorkshire) is an English serial killer who was dubbed The Yorkshire Ripper.
Sutcliffe was convicted in 1981 for murdering 13 women and attacking several others. He is currently serving life imprisonment in Broadmoor
Hospital. Sutcliffe began using the name Peter William Coonan at some point after his conviction.
Sutcliffe was the son of John and Kathleen Sutcliffe. Reportedly a loner at school, he left at the age of 15 and took a series of menial jobs, April
1973 on the packaging line, but left when he was asked to go on the road as a salesman. After leaving Baird's, he worked nightshifts at the
Britannia Works of Anderton International from April 1973. In February 1975 he took redundancy, used the pay-off to gain an HGV licence on 4
June 1975, and began working as a driver for a tyre firm on 29 September of that year. However, he was sacked for the theft of used tyres on 5
March 1976. He was unemployed until October 1976, when he found another job as an HGV driver for T & WH Clark (Holdings Ltd.) on the Canal
Road Industrial Estate, between Shipley and Bradford.
Sutcliffe frequented prostitutes as a young man and it has been speculated that a bad experience with one (during which he was allegedly
conned out of money) helped fuel his violent hatred of women.
He first met Czech-born Sonia Szurma on St Valentine's Day in 1967 and they married on 10 August 1974. His wife suffered a number of
miscarriages over the next few years and eventually the couple were informed that she would not be able to have children. Shortly after this she
returned to a teacher training course. When she completed the course in 1977 and began teaching, the couple used the extra money to buy their
first house in Heaton, Bradford, where they moved on 26 September 1977 and where they were still living at the time of Sutcliffe's arrest for the
murders in 1981.
Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering the following 13 victims:
Date Name of victim Age at death Body found
30 October 1975 Wilma McCann 28 Prince Phillip Playing Fields, Leeds
20 January 1976 Emily Jackson 42 Manor Street, Sheepscar, Leeds
5 February 1977 Irene Richardson 28 Roundhay Park, Leeds
23 April 1977 Patricia Atkinson 32 Flat 3, 9 Oak Avenue, Bradford
26 June 1977 Jayne MacDonald 16 Adventure playground, Reginald Street, Leeds
1 October 1977 Jean Jordan 20 Allotments next to Southern Cemetery, Manchester
21 January 1978 Yvonne Pearson 21 Under a disused sofa on waste ground off Arthington Street
31 January 1978 Helen Rytka 18 Timber yard in Great Northern Street, Huddersfield
16 May 1978 Vera Millward 40 Grounds of Manchester Royal Infirmary
4 April 1979 Josephine Whitaker 19 Savile Park, Halifax
2 September 1979 Barbara Leach 20 Back of 13 Ashgrove, Bradford
20 August 1980 Marguerite Walls 47 Garden of a house called "Claremont", New Street, Farsley
17 November 1980 Jacqueline Hill 20 Waste ground off Alma Road, Headingley, Leeds
Sutcliffe committed his first documented assault in Keighley on the night of 5 July 1975. He attacked Anna Rogulskyj (aged 36), who was walking
alone, striking her unconscious with a ball-pein hammer and slashing her stomach with a knife. Disturbed by a neighbour, he left without killing
her. Rogulskyj survived after extensive medical intervention but was emotionally traumatised by the attack.
Sutcliffe attacked Olive Smelt (aged 46) in Halifax in August, using the same M.O., striking her from behind and using a knife to slash her above her
buttocks. Again he was interrupted, and left his victim badly injured but still alive. Like Rogulskyj, Smelt suffered emotional scars from the attack,
including clinical depression.
On 27 August, Sutcliffe attacked Tracy Browne (aged 14) in Silsden. He struck her from behind and hit her on the head five times while she was
walking in a country lane. Sutcliffe was not convicted of this attack, but confessed to it in 1992.
He killed his first victim, Wilma McCann (aged 28), from the Chapeltown district of Leeds, a mother of four, on 30 October. Sutcliffe struck her twice
with a hammer before stabbing her 15 times in the neck, chest and abdomen. Traces of semen were found on the back of her underwear. An
extensive inquiry, involving 150 police officers and 11,000 interviews, failed to uncover Sutcliffe. One of McCann's daughters committed suicide in
December 2007, reportedly after suffering years of torment over her mother's death.
Arrest and Trial
On 2 January 1981, Sutcliffe was stopped by the police with prostitute Olivia Reivers (aged 24) in the driveway of Light Trades House, Melbourne
Avenue, Broomhill, Sheffield. He was arrested, on grounds of having fitted his car with false number plates. He was transferred to Dewsbury Police
Station in connection with this offence. At Dewsbury, he was questioned in relation to the Yorkshire Ripper case, as he matched so many of the
physical characteristics known. Next day, the police discovered the knife, the hammer and the rope he discarded when he was arrested on
Melbourne Avenue, and a second knife that he had placed in the toilet cistern at the police station under the pretext of needing to urinate, which
increased police interest. The police obtained a search warrant for his home at 6 Garden Lane in the
When Sutcliffe was stripped of his clothing at the police station, he was discovered to be wearing a V-neck sweater under his trousers; the arms
had been pulled over his legs, so that the V-neck exposed his groin; the elbows were padded to protect his knees as, presumably, he knelt over
his victims' corpses. The sexual implications of this outfit were held to be obvious, but this fact was not communicated to the public until disclosure
in a book by writer Michael Bilton, published in 2003, called Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.
After two days of intensive questioning, Sutcliffe suddenly declared he was the Ripper on the afternoon of 4 January 1981. Over the next day,
Sutcliffe calmly described his many attacks. Weeks later he claimed to have been told to murder the women by God. He displayed emotion only
when telling of the murder of his youngest victim, Jayne MacDonald, and when he was questioned about the murder of Joan Harrison, which he
vehemently denied. He was charged at Dewsbury on 5 January.
At his trial, Sutcliffe pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of murder, but guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The basis of
his defence was his claim that he was the tool of God's will. Sutcliffe first claimed to have heard voices while working as a gravedigger, that
ultimately 'ordered' him to kill prostitutes. He claimed that the voices originated from a headstone of a deceased Polish man, Bronislaw
Zapolski, and furthermore that the 'voices' were that of God.
He also pleaded guilty to seven counts of attempted murder. The prosecution intended to accept Sutcliffe's plea after four psychiatrists all
diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia. However, the trial judge, Mr Justice Boreham, demanded an unusually detailed explanation of the
prosecution reasoning, and after a two-hour representation by the Attorney-General Sir Michael Havers, a 90-minute lunch break and a further 40
minutes of legal discussion, he rejected the diminished responsibility plea, insisting that the case should be dealt with by a jury. The trial proper
was set to commence on 5 May 1981.
The trial lasted two weeks and, despite the efforts of his counsel James Chadwin QC, Sutcliffe was found guilty of murder on all counts and
sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial judge said that Sutcliffe was beyond redemption, and that he hoped that he would never leave prison.
He recommending a minimum term of 30 years to be served before parole is considered. This recommendation meant that Sutcliffe was unlikely to
be freed until at least 2011, at the age of 65.
After his trial, Sutcliffe admitted two further attacks to detectives. It was decided at the time, however, that prosecution for these offences was
"not in the public interest". West Yorkshire Police have made it clear that the female victims wish to remain anonymous.
Prison and Broadmoor Hospital
convictions for violence. On 10 January 1983, he followed Sutcliffe into the recess of F2, the hospital wing at Parkhurst Prison. He plunged a
Sutcliffe was finally sent to Broadmoor Hospital, under section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
His wife Sonia obtained a separation from him in 1982 and a final divorce in April 1994; she went on to contest and win nine libel cases against
various publications, most notably Private Eye.
On 23 February 1996, Sutcliffe was attacked in his private room in the Henley Ward of Broadmoor Hospital. Paul Wilson, a convicted robber, asked
to borrow a video cassette before attempting to strangle him with the flex from a pair of stereo headphones. Two other murderers, Kenneth
Erskine (the "Stockwell Strangler") and Jamie Devitt, intervened upon hearing Sutcliffe's screams.
After an attack by fellow inmate Ian Kay on 10 March 1997 with a pen, Sutcliffe lost vision in his left eye, and his right eye was severely damaged.
 Kay admitted he had tried to kill Sutcliffe, and was ordered to be detained in a secure mental hospital without time limit. Rumours suggested
that Sutcliffe received nearly £200,000 in compensation for the attack, but West London Mental Health Trust, which runs Broadmoor Hospital,
issued a statement on 18 January 2008 stating that no compensation had been paid in relation to this incident. In 2003, reports surfaced that
Sutcliffe had developed diabetes.
Despite being given a whole life tariff by successive Home Secretaries, Sutcliffe could still be released from custody if the parole board decides that
he is no longer a danger to the public. He was originally sentenced to a minimum of 30 years, so he could be released from prison in 2011
because the system under which his tariff was increased has since been declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights and also the High
Court. The main point of conflict is that the continued detention of Sutcliffe and other life prisoners is currently controlled by a politician – the Home
Secretary – rather than by a member of the judiciary. A European Court of Human Rights hearing which opened in February 2007 is reviewing
whether life imprisonment is a violation of human rights; if life imprisonment is outlawed, then Sutcliffe and all other prisoners serving such
sentences in Europe would have their cases recalled to court for a new sentence to be set.
Sutcliffe was not on a Home Office list, published in late 2006, of 35 murderers in England and Wales who had been told by various judges and
politicians that they should never be released.
Sutcliffe's father died in 2004 and was cremated. On 17 January 2005, Sutcliffe was allowed to visit Grange over Sands, where the ashes had
been scattered. The decision to allow the temporary release was initiated by David Blunkett and later ratified by Charles Clarke when he took
over the role of Home Secretary. Sutcliffe was accompanied by four members of the hospital staff. Despite the passage of 25 years since the
Ripper murders, Sutcliffe's visit was still the focus of front-page tabloid headlines.
On 22 December 2007, Sutcliffe was attacked once again. A fellow inmate named Patrick Sureda lunged at him with a metal cutlery knife. Sutcliffe
flung himself backwards and the blade missed his right eye, instead stabbing him in the cheek.
On 17 February 2009, it was reported that Sutcliffe was "fit to leave Broadmoor". If the Ministry of Justice agrees with the doctors' verdict, he will
be sent to a medium-secure unit where he could be allowed out on short release for rehabilitation.
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