The Yorkshire Ripper: The Murders of Peter Sutcliffe


In the late 1970s, a serial killer the press dubbed “The Ripper” terrorized England. Just like his predecessor 90 years earlier, this “Ripper” cleverly eluded the police while he committed his vicious crimes. Unlike Jack the Ripper, however, the Yorkshire Ripper was eventually caught by police, unmasked so the whole world would know his name.


Peter Sutcliffe was born in 1946 and was raised in a working-class household. As a child he was bullied for his small size, to the point where he would hide from school. He eventually dropped out at the age of 15. He worked a number of menial jobs in his teen years, including as a gravedigger. He reputedly enjoyed toying with skeletons and was seen stealing jewelry from the corpses. Sutcliffe also became obsessed with prostitutes. He took pleasure in watching them discreetly from a distance while they walked the streets and interacted with their customers. Though Sutcliffe got married in 1974, his fascination with prostitutes continued, and he often visited the nearby red-light district.


In 1969, Sutcliffe committed his first attack on a woman. It was not until six years later, however, that he took his first life. In October 1975, Sutcliffe attacked and killed 28-year-old Wilma McCann, a mother of four. Sutcliffe struck McCann in the head with a ball-peen hammer and viciously stabbed her 15 times. His appetite whet, the killer attacked again just a few months later, in January 1976. Emily Jackson was a 42-year-old prostitute using her van as her place of business. Sutcliffe again attacked with a hammer, then stabbed Jackson dozens of times with a sharpened screwdriver.

The next month, another attack, but this time the victim survived the assault. Sutcliffe cooled his pace, refraining from more attacks until early 1977, when he resumed his murder spree: another prostitute, killed with a hammer and a sharp object. Two months later, yet another murdered prostitute was discovered in the city of Bradford. As the murder count began to rise, the press dubbed the maniac the “Yorkshire Ripper,” after the part of England where the crimes were occurring.

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Incredibly, police interviewed Peter Sutcliffe a total of 9 times during the course of the Ripper investigation, but he was never considered seriously as a suspect. Some speculate that Sutcliffe targeted prostitutes because he was once cheated out of money by a prostitute and her pimp, or perhaps because of his father’s jealous relationship with his mother.

Regardless of the reason, Sutcliffe was clearly no longer in control of his violent impulses. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s and into the 1980s he continued to attack and murder women. But though the attacks continued for years, police encountered dead end after dead end in their investigation. It wasn’t until January 2, 1981 that the Yorkshire Ripper’s deadly reign finally finished.

On that day, Sutcliffe was confronted by police because he was parked in a driveway with a prostitute in his car. After discovering that his car had fake plates, Sutcliffe was taken to police headquarters for questioning. It was obvious just by looking at Peter Sutcliffe that he closely resembled the police drawing of the Yorkshire Ripper suspect. The drawing was based on eyewitness accounts of women who had survived his attacks.


When police searched the scene of Sutcliffe’s arrest, they found a knife, a hammer, and some rope. On January 4, 1981, after two days of questioning, Peter Sutcliffe finally confessed to being the Yorkshire Ripper. Sutcliffe later claimed that he carried out his evil deeds because God had commanded him to kill prostitutes. After a two-week trial, Sutcliffe was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 20 life sentences. After a later diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, he was removed from prison and placed in a locked mental institution, where he remained for 32 years, until he was found fit and transferred back to prison in 2016. His diagnosis was contentious, as Sutcliffe’s brother contended he had never seen any signs of mental illness before Sutcliffe was arrested.

It is confirmed that Sutcliffe killed 13 women out of the 20 he viciously attacked, and police suspect that he was most likely responsible for many more attacks between 1969-1981. As recently as April 2017, police have reviewed 17 additional cases that may be linked to Sutcliffe.

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Today, 70-year-old Peter Sutcliffe remains behind bars, where he will spend the remainder of his life.