Peter Sutcliffe - The Yorkshire Ripper

From 1969 to 1980 a man terrorised women throughout West Yorkshire and Manchester. Using a hammer and a knife he attacked women, leaving some for dead and killing others. It wasn't until January 1981 that Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed The Yorkshire Ripper by press, was arrested and was convicted on 22nd May 1981.

I was just a baby when Peter Sutcliffe was convicted, having been born in January 1981, but it's one of those cases that has always intrigued me. I've read internet articles, done research, and read the book Wicked Beyond Belief by Michael Bilton. Not only was I interested in reading about the police investigation but the motive behind the killings, why someone would choose to do those things, kept me guessing.

About Peter Sutcliffe

On 2 January 1981 Peter Sutcliffe was stopped by police with a prostitute in his car.  After a check on his car it was found to have false number plates and he was arrested. He was questioned in relation to The Yorkshire Ripper case because he matched many of the known physical characteristics of the attacker.  When he was stripped at the police station he was found to be wearing an inverted v-neck sweater under his trousers, with the arms covering his legs and the padded elbows at his knees. Following 2 days of intensive questioning Peter Sutcliffe declared he was the Ripper.

Peter Sutcliffe - The Yorkshire Ripper | A judge rejected the diminished responsibility plea.

Peter Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder 7 others on 22nd May 1981 after a trial that lasted 2 weeks. Before the trial he claimed that he had heard the voice of God telling him to kill prostitutes but the judge, Justice Sir Leslie Boreham, after listening to a two-hour representation and 40 minutes of legal discussion rejected the diminished responsibility plea.

Peter Sutcliffe's Victims

In 1969 Peter Sutcliffe assaulted a prostitute by hitting her over the head with a stone in a sock. Police went to his home after the woman reported the registration of the car, they told him he was "very lucky" because the woman didn't want to press charges.


He attacked Anna Rogulskyj, in July, as she was walking alone, hitting her unconscious with a ball-peen hammer and slashing her stomach with a knife. He was disturbed and left without killer her.

His second victim, Olive Smelt was attacked in August. He struck her from behind and used a knife to slash her above her buttocks. He was again interrupted and left her badly injured but alive.

Peter Sutcliffe attacked a third woman, Tracy Browne, also in August. Tracy was 14 years old and he hit her over the head 5 times, from behind, while she was walking along a country lane alone. He ran off when he saw car lights. Tracy Browne required brain surgery after the attack. He was never convicted of this attack but admitted to it in 1992.

The first victim to lose her life was Wilma McCann in October 1975. She was a mother of four. He hit her twice with a hammer before stabbing her 15 times in the neck, chest and abdomen. There followed a large inquiry involving 150 police officers and 11,000 interviews, but they failed to find the culprit.


In January Peter Sutcliffe attacked Emily Jackson. He hit her on the head with a hammer, dragged her body into a rubbish strewn yard and used a sharpened screwdriver to stab her 52 times. He then stamped on her thigh, leaving an imprint of his boot behind.

Marcella Claxton was his next victim who was attacked in May 1976. She accepted a lift from Peter Sutcliffe after a party and when she got out of the car to pee he hit her over the head with a hammer. She was left alive and testified against him.

Peter Sutcliffe - The Yorkshire Ripper | He used a ball-peen hammer on his victims.


February 1977 brought the attack of Irene Richardson. She was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Once she was dead Peter Sutcliffe mutilated her corpse with a knife.

Patricia Atkinson was killed in April in her flat. He left a footprint on her bedclothes. In June he attacked a 16 year old girl, Jayne MacDonald, who was not a sex worker. This made the police and the public believe any woman was a potential victim. Maureen Long was assaulted and left for dead in July 1977. He left because he was interrupted.

In October he murdered Jean Jordan. In a confession later Peter Sutcliffe said he realised the £5 note he had given to her could be traced so he went back to where he'd dumped her body to look for it. Unable to find the money he mutilated the corpse and moved it.

Surviving an attack by the Yorkshire Ripper in December Marilyn Moore gave police a description of her attacker. Tyre tracks were found at the scene which matched an earlier attack.


Yvonne Pearson was repeatedly bludgeoned about the head with a ball-peen hammer. Peter Sutcliffe then jumped on her chest before stuffing horse-hair into her mouth from a discarded sofa under which he hid her body. Yvonne was not discovered until March of that year.

Ten days later Helen Rytka was killed. She was hit over the head 5 times as she exited his vehicle. He stripped her clothes before repeatedly stabbing her in the chest. In May Vera Millward was attacked in the car park of Manchester Royal Infirmary.


Josephine Whitaker, a Building Society Clerk, was attacked in April as she was walking home. In September Peter Sutcliffe attacked his 16th victim, Barbara Leach.


In April 1980 Peter Sutcliffe was arrested for drink-driving. While he was awaiting trial he murdered two more women; in August he attacked Marguerite Walls, and in November he attacked Jacqueline Hill. He also attacked three women who survived; Uphadya Bandara in September, Maureen Lea in October, and Theresa Sykes in November.

Peter Sutcliffe - The Yorkshire Ripper | He used his car.

West Yorkshire Police

There was widespread criticism of West Yorkshire Police following The Yorkshire Ripper case resulting in the Byford Report. Peter Sutcliffe was interviewed 9 times during the investigation and let go every time despite matching many of the physical descriptions of the attacker as well as other evidence found on scenes. This was due to all evidence being held in paper form which made it difficult to cross-reference.

Peter Sutcliffe - The Yorkshire Ripper | West Yorkshire Police faced criticism after the investigation.

The Byford Report brought about changes to investigative procedures that all police departments now follow. This helped all police investigations cross-reference information gathered.


Whenever I read about The Yorkshire Ripper case I can't help thinking how difficult it must've been keeping track of all the information during the case. Thousands of interviews, tips, and evidence all kept on paper. I read that the Incident Room floor had to be reinforced because of the weight of the paper!

This case also helps me appreciate how computerised evidence, interviews, and such, makes the police's job that much easier. Being able to cross-reference details of a case in order to catch a perpetrator sooner means less people are hurt. 

On a personal note I feel for the victims' families, what hurt they must go through every day because one man did terrible things. Their only solace is that the man who did these awful things is in prison and will stay there his entire life.

Are you intrigued by serial killer cases?

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