Crime History: Who Was The Yorkshire Ripper?

Peter Sutcliffe's 1981 mug shot. [West Yorkshire Police]

Recently,“Yorkshire Ripper” Peter Sutcliffe has been deemed legally sane and transferred from his relatively palatial digs at Broadmoor Hospital to the harsh Frankland Prison, which is allegedly very dangerous and ruled by gangs. Sutcliffe is scared for his life and is considering converting to Islam so he can be protected by the Muslim gangs.

We thought it might be good to examine the events that brought Sutcliffe to Broadmoor Hospital to begin with.

Broadmoor Hospital. Photo: Andrew Smith via Wikimedia Commons

Broadmoor Hospital. Photo: Andrew Smith via Wikimedia Commons

Sutcliffe was convicted of committing 13 murders between 1975 and 1980, as well as seven attempted murders during that same time period. His first assault took place in 1969, when he told police that he had followed an older prostitute into a garage and bludgeoned her over the head with a rock that he’d loaded into his sock. He went quiet for a few years, resurfacing in 1975.

On July 5, 1975, Sutcliffe attacked Anna Rogulskyj with what was described as a ball-peen hammer. He also slashed her in the stomach with a knife. Sutcliffe would have killed Rogulskyj, but he was spooked into leaving the scene by a neighbor making a disturbance. Sutcliffe also attacked Olive Smelt and Tracy Browne in August 1975; as with Rogulskyj, unforeseen interruptions caused Sutcliffe to run off, leaving the victims with horrible injuries that they thankfully managed to survive.

Sutcliffe’s first actual kill was Wilma McCann on October 30, 1975. Sutcliffe reportedly hit her twice with a hammer, and then stabbed her 15 times in the upper body, including the neck and chest. In January 1976, Sutcliffe committed his second murder by stabbing 42-year-old Emily Jackson 51 times with a sharpened screwdriver. The list of victims went on and on. Most, if not all, were bludgeoned with a hammer and stabbed repeatedly. One other thing connected the victims – the vast majority of them were known prostitutes.

The nickname the “Yorkshire Ripper” began to stick when, in 1979, Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield of the West Yorkshire Police received a taped message, purportedly from the murderer – who identified himself as “Jack” – taunting Oldfield for his inability to apprehend him. The caller went on to send letters to Oldfield boasting about the crimes, signing them “Jack the Ripper.” It turned out, though, that none of the messages to Oldfield were sent by Sutcliffe. In 2005, police charged John Samuel Humble, a local man, with perverting the course of justice by committing this hoax.

1995 mug shot

A mug shot from 1995.

While Humble’s hoax is believed to have caused Yorkshire police to ignore evidence that would have led them to Sutcliffe, it didn’t stop Sutcliffe’s attacks. In September 1979, he committed his 16th known attack. The victim, Barbara Leach, was a college student and not a prostitute, a detail which threw the public into a bit of a tizzy. Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times by police about Leach’s death, but he was never considered a serious suspect, even though he matched more than a few forensic clues.

Sutcliffe’s downfall finally came in 1980 when he was arrested for drunk driving. While he was out on bail awaiting trial, he murdered his last two victims, Marguerite Walls and Jacqueline Hill. He also attacked at least two other women in that time frame, but both survived. According to reports, after the murder of Jacqueline Hill, one of Sutcliffe’s friends reported him to the police as a suspect. Somehow, that information vanished into the abyss. When Sutcliffe was finally arrested, he reportedly had a prostitute in his car – his intentions were with her can only be imagined.

Sutcliffe endured two days of intense questioning. Finally, on January 4, 1981, Sutcliffe confessed that he was the Ripper. Slowly, he began to describe to police all of the attacks he had committed, calmly explaining that God had instructed him to murder all of those women. Sutcliffe claimed that he had begun to hear voices while he worked as a gravedigger, that God was speaking to him through the headstone of Bronislaw Zapolski, a long-deceased Polish man.

At trial, Sutcliffe initially pleaded not guilty to the 13 murder charges, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter. His lawyers argued that he had diminished responsibility, and four psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia. The judge in the case rejected the findings of the psychiatrists, as well as the diminished-responsibility plea, insisting the case go to trial by jury. That trial lasted two weeks, and ended in the jury finding Sutcliffe guilty on all counts, punishing him with 20 life sentences.

Sutcliffe’s imprisonment began at HMP Parkhurst, where he began using his mother’s maiden name of Coonan. It did not take much time for the schizophrenia diagnosis to resurface. Eventually, after the Mental Health Act of 1983, Sutcliffe was sent to the high-security psychiatric facility Broadmoor Hospital in 1984. He has been tucked away in that relatively permissive facility ever since. In 2010, Sutcliffe applied to get a minimum term put on his sentence, but that was denied. He will, beyond any shadow of a doubt, die incarcerated.

Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson, Patricia Atkinson, Jayne MacDonald, Jean Jordan, Yvonne Pearson, Helen Rytka, Vera Millward, Josephine Whitaker, Barbara Leach, Marguerite Walls, Jacqueline Hill – these were the women who lost their lives because of Peter Sutcliffe. The list may not be complete, however. There are reports that Sutcliffe might soon face new charges for other attacks that took place during his killing spree.

Read more:



The Telegraph

The Guardian

Broadmoor Hospital website

The Sun

Main photo: Peter Sutcliffe’s 1981 mug shot via West Yorkshire Police


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