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Killing prostitutes had become an obsession with me. I could not stop myself. It was like a drug.
Sutcliffe

Peter William Sutcliffe, a.k.a. The Yorkshire Ripper, was a prolific British serial killer and rapist.

Background

Sutcliffe was born in Bingley in West Riding of Yorkshire the first-born child of six. His parents were John and Katherine Sutcliffe. His father was well-liked and friendly, and so his parents hoped that he would grow up to be like him. Instead, Peter was shy, introverted, quiet and preferred reading to playing sports. He was closer to his mother, whom his father suspected of having an affair. In secondary school, he was often bullied, driving him to truancy. He was absent for two weeks before his parents were notified. During his later secondary school years, he made an effort to fit in with his peers, taking up bodybuilding with noticeable results. Though he took up some sport activities, he didn't show much interest in girls, of whom he was very shy. Because of his fear of being conspicuous, he never did very well in anything school-related. Leaving school at the age of 15, he spent two years at various jobs. He then got an engineering apprenticeship but dropped out after a few weeks. After a brief period working as a laborer at a factory, he took a job as a gravedigger at the Bingley Cemetery. He was eventually fired from that job as well because he often showed up late. He also had habits of taking trophies from bodies he buried and talking about necrophilia with coworkers. In 1975, he found steady employment as a long distance truck driver.

At the age of 20, Sutcliffe pursued a relationship for the first time in his life. He approached Sonia Szurma, the daughter of Czech immigrants, on Valentine's Day of 1967. They married in August of 1974 and tried to conceive several times; all of them ended in miscarriages. When they learned from the doctor that they wouldn't be able to conceive a child together, they gave up on it. While Sutcliffe appeared quite normal to those close to him, he had a darker side. He and his brother-in-law, Robin Holland, would regularly visit the red light district and solicit prostitutes. Holland eventually broke it off with him because he was always so outspoken about infidelity while at home with the family. In 1969, Sutcliffe committed his first known violent crime. While out with a friend, he attacked a prostitute with a stone stuffed in a sock, striking her on the head with it. The victim escaped when the sock broke and the stone fell out. Luckily for Sutcliffe, she wasn't interested in pressing any charges. He was arrested again in October when he was caught hiding behind a lawn in Bradford carrying a hammer and a knife. While he had brought the weapons with him intending to attack another prostitute, he was only charged with being "equipped for theft" and fined £25.

Killings, Arrest, and Incarceration

In July of 1975, Sutcliffe claimed his second victim, striking 36-year-old Anna Rogulskyj with a hammer and slashing her with a knife. Because he was forced to flee when someone nearby heard the noise, she survived. He tried to attack two more women the same way in August before successfully killing 28-year-old Wilma McCann. For the following six years, Sutcliffe continued terrorizing Yorkshire, attacking prostitutes in the night. The cases were connected by his consistent M.O. of first striking his victims with a hammer and then stabbing and mutilating them. Because of the similarities to the Jack the Ripper case, Sutcliffe was nicknamed "The Yorkshire Ripper". The case didn't attract too much attention until 1977; when Sutcliffe killed Jayne McDonald, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, the media labeled her as the first "innocent" victim. Sutcliffe himself was interviewed a total of nine times by police over the course of the investigation, but his luck with evading the law continued. In 1977, he killed prostitute Jean Jordan, leaving a £5 note that could be traced to him in her handbag. The note led to thousands of men being interviewed, among them Sutcliffe. The investigators were sidetracked in 1978, when they received the first in a series of letters signed "Jack the Ripper", who claimed to be the Yorkshire Ripper. The first later came in March and the third a year almost to the day later. In June of 1979, the sender sent one of the investigators a cassette tape where he taunted them. It was noted that he spoke with a Wearside accent, leading to him being nicknamed "Wearside Jack".

Sutcliffe after a vicious prison attack in 1983.

40,000 men were interviewed based on the tape; Sutcliffe, who came from Bradford, wasn't one of them. In 2005, a man named John Samuel Humble was identified as Wearside Jack and was sentenced to eight years in prison for perverting the course of justice. It wasn't until 1981 that Sutcliffe was finally arrested for the last time. On January 2, he was caught driving a car with false license plates with a prostitute in the car. Pretending to leave to urinate, he stashed away his murder weapons after being arrested. They were found the next day when police returned to the scene. On January 4, Sutcliffe confessed to being the Yorkshire Ripper, describing his many assaults and murders. In court, he tried to claim diminished capacity, claiming to have heard voices from God telling him to kill prostitutes. Though four psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia, the judge rejected the claim. After two weeks on trial, Sutcliffe was found guilty of 13 murders and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison. In 2010, the sentence was extended to full life imprisonment. He was later properly diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized at Broadmoor Hospital in 1984. He and his wife divorced in 1994. Since his conviction, several attempts have been made on Sutcliffe's life. Sutcliffe died on November 13, 2020 from Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), aged 74.

Stephen Griffiths, another British serial killer, later claimed that Sutcliffe was his favorite serial killer and studied him.

Modus Operandi

Sutcliffe usually targeted prostitutes and would attack them on the streets. After approaching them pretending to buy sex from them or simply blitzing them, he would subdue them with strikes to the head from a hammer and pull their upper body clothing up to their armpits and their lower body clothing down to their ankles. He would strike them (and sometimes also claw them) with a hammer and then kill them by stabbing them with a knife or a screwdriver. A few of his later victims were strangled to death with a length of rope instead of being stabbed, while a few other victims were killed with the hammer only. One victim, Yvonne Pearson, was killed by being beaten to death with a boulder instead. At least two victims were raped, one with a screwdriver.

Profile

In 1979, famed FBI profilers John Douglas and Robert Ressler drafted a profile of the Yorkshire Ripper while drinking beer with John Domaille, one of the investigators assigned to the case. Douglas and Ressler were in the UK visiting Police Staff College, Bramshill (at the time the equivalent of the FBI Academy in Quantico), hoping to establish contacts and stir interest for an exchange program. According to them, the killer was in his late twenties or early thirties, probably a school dropout or a man who had not been through higher education. He was able to enter the areas of the murders in a way that rendered him near invisible. He got there without people paying attention to him, because business regularly took him to various areas; he would be a cabdriver or a truck driver or a mail carrier or possibly even a policeman. He was not a total loner, and would have a relationship with a woman, even though the absence of a sexual penetration of the victims suggested that he had some serious mental problems that had taken years to develop. The fact that he quickly rendered his victims unconscious and his postmortem mutilations showed hatred of women. Both also agreed that the man who had sent the letters and tape was a hoaxer, since the real killer was not the type of extroverted man who would be communicating with the police, but rather the quiet, introverted, woman-hating type. When the two profilers asked crime-scene materials, Chief Inspector George Oldfield opposed, since he did not agree with their profile and could not accept the fact that he was so easily misled and that thousands of police man-hours had been wasted in a fruitless search for the wrong man. It turned out the two profilers were right.

Known Victims

Most of Sutcliffe's victims.

Anna Rogulskyj.

Theresa Sykes.

  • September 1969, Bradford, City of Bradford, West Yorkshire: "Stone-in-Sock" (real name undisclosed; attempted; struck on the head with a stone-filled sock)
  • 1975:
    • July 5, Keighley, City of Bradford, West Yorkshire: Anna Rogulskyj, 36 (attempted; struck with a ball-peen hammer and slashed across the abdomen; survived)
    • August 15, Halifax, Calderdale, West Yorkshire: Olive Smelt, 46 (attempted; struck with a hammer and slashed; survived)
    • August 27, Silsden, West Yorkshire: Tracy Browne, 14 (attempted; struck with a hammer)
    • October 30, Chapeltown, Leeds, West Yorkshire: Wilma McCann, 28 (struck with a hammer and stabbed in the abdomen, chest, and neck)
  • 1976:
    • January 20, Manor Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire: Emily Jackson, 42 (struck twice with a hammer and stabbed 52 times in the neck, breasts, lower abdomen, and back with a screwdriver)
    • May 9, Roundhay Park, Leeds, West Yorkshire: Marcella Claxton, 20 (alleged; struck once with a hammer; survived)[1]
  • 1977:
    • February 5, Roundhay Park, Leeds, West Yorkshire: Irene Richardson, 28 (struck three times with a hammer and stabbed in the neck, throat, and stomach with a Stanley knife)
    • April 23, Oak Avenue, Bradford, West Yorkshire: Patricia Atkinson, 32 (struck in the head four times and clawed with a hammer, then fatally stabbed six times in the stomach; covered her body with a bed linen)
    • June 26, Chapeltown, Leeds, West Yorkshire: Jayne MacDonald, 16 (struck with a hammer and stabbed 20 times in the chest and back)
    • July 10, Mannington, Bradford, West Yorkshire: Maureen Long, 42 (attempted; struck with a hammer and stabbed in the chest, stomach, and back)
    • October 1, Southern Cemetery, Manchester, Greater Manchester: Jean Jordan, 20 (struck 11 times with a hammer, stabbed 18 times, and disemboweled)
    • December 14, Buslingthorpe, Leeds, West Yorkshire: Marilyn Moore, 25 (attempted; struck eight times with a hammer, but not stabbed)
  • 1978:
    • January 21, Huddersfield, Kirklees, West Yorkshire: Yvonne Pearson, 21 (stuffed horse hair down her mouth and throat, beaten to death with a boulder, and covered her body with soil, rubble, and turf)
    • January 31, Huddersfield, Kirklees, West Yorkshire: Helen Rytka, 18 (Beaten and stabbed to death with a hammer and a knife; was also sexually assaulted)
    • May 16, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Manchester, Greater Manchester: Vera Millward, 40 (beaten to death with a hammer and stabbed post-mortem)
  • 1979:
    • April 4, Halifax, Calderdale, West Yorkshire: Josephine Whitaker, 19 (beaten with a hammer, fatally stabbed 27 times in the chest, stomach, and right leg, and sexually violated with a screwdriver)
    • September 2, 13 Ashgrove, Bradford, West Yorkshire: Barbara Leach, 20 (struck with a hammer and stabbed with a screwdriver)
  • 1980:
    • August 20, Farsley, Leeds, West Yorkshire: Marguerite Walls, 37 (struck with a hammer and fatally strangled with rope; undressed and partially covered her with grass and leaves post-mortem)
    • September 24, Headingly, Leeds, West Yorkshire: Upadhya Bandara, 34 (attempted; struck with a hammer and strangled with a rope)
    • October 25, Chapeltown, Leeds, West Yorkshire: Mo Lea, 21 (attempted; struck with a hammer and stabbed with a screwdriver)
    • November 5, Huddersfield, Kirklees, West Yorkshire: Theresa Sykes, 16 (attempted; struck with a hammer)
    • November 17, Headingly, Leeds, West Yorkshire: Jacqueline Hill, 20 (struck with a hammer and stabbed in the eye and chest with a screwdriver)

Notes

  • Sutcliffe is very similar to Herbert Mullin - Both are serial killers with the same middle name, murdered 13 victims, killed primarily one gender (Sutcliffe killed women, while Mullin mostly killed men, but also killed women, teenagers, and even children), were both diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and were institutionalized prior to being incarcerated (Mullin was institutionalized before his arrest, while Sutcliffe was institutionalized and later deemed sane and sent to prison), had varying M.O.s (including stabbing and bludgeoning), performed post-mortem actions on most of their victims (Mullin sometimes stabbed his post-mortem, while Sutcliffe also did post-mortem stabbings, as well as sometimes covering his victim's bodies with something), and both were motivated by schizophrenic delusions revolving around a religious 'noble' cause of sorts (Mullin heard voices he believed were from God telling him to kill in order to prevent earthquakes and even believed his victims communicated to him telepathically; he believed his first victim claimed he was Jonah, meanwhile Sutcliffe heard voices he believed were from God telling him to cleanse the streets of prostitutes).

On Criminal Minds

  • Season Two
    • "Legacy" - Sutcliffe was mentioned when the BAU realizes that the unsub is a so-called "house cleaner", a mission-oriented serial killer who targets people because he thinks the world is a better place without them. The pathology is compared to Sutcliffe, who is quoted by Reid: "The women I killed were filth - bastard prostitutes who were littering the streets. I was just cleaning up the place a bit". However, Sutcliffe's claims that he was on a mission for God to kill prostitutes was nothing more than a ploy to avoid prison.
  • Season Three
    • "Lucky" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Sutcliffe appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Floyd Feylinn Ferell - Both are serial killers who mainly targeted prostitutes but also killed a handful of low-risk victims (albeit for different reasons), killed a total of thirteen women, killed them by slashing and attacking their necks (though this was just one of Sutcliffe's methods), and evaded justice for years. Both also legally changed their names (although Sutcliffe did so after his arrest, while Ferell changed his name before he was caught), believed they were operating under the instructions of a deity (a demon in Floyd's case, while Sutcliffe claimed he was "on a mission from God"), and were both initially institutionalized after their arrests (although Sutcliffe was convicted at trial while Floyd was not). Later they both claimed that they were no longer threats to society because of the treatments they received and asked to be released. Finally, during their bids to be released, both were ultimately found mentally fit and were subsequently incarcerated. And lastly both inspired a copycat killer who studied their murders before starting their own series of murders. Ferell also appears in Season Thirteen.
  • Season Eight
    • "The Apprenticeship" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Sutcliffe appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsubs, David Roy Turner and Toby Whitewood - Both were serial killers (budding in Whitewood's case) who targeted prostitutes, lured them with a ruse, and attacked them with hammers.

Sources

References

  1. Sutcliffe confessed to the attack, but it was never officially linked to him
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