April 02, 2022
“All I know is that I’ve got a plate in my head and some of my skull missing and stab wounds up the front of my stomach and in my back” Maureen Long said in a 1999 Documentary- Manhunt: The Yorkshire Ripper.
Long was one of a handful of women who managed to escape the serial killer, along with a pregnant woman who was attacked in a park when she accepted a ride home from him after leaving a party . Long now lives with a metal plate in her head and a sash of healed stab wounds as a grim reminder of the night Sutcliffe brutally attacked her with a hammer and sharp implement before leaving her bleeding in the street in 1979.
Sutcliffe murdered 13 women and attacked 9 more in the north of England between 1975 – 1980. His victims had little in common, aside from the fact that some were sex workers and that they were all female, striking fear in women across the North who walked the streets with the paranoia that they could be next.
He had been a person of interest in the murders and was interviewed a total of nine times throughout the investigation, however, despite clues and evidence, police were unable to link him to his victims and Sutcliffe remained free to stalk the streets. He continued to pick off unsuspecting women for several years as he put distance between himself and his crimes by moving around the North, attacking and murdering women in Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Huddersfield, Halifax, Keighley and Silsden.
His modus operandi was to strike women across the back of the head two or three times, usually with a regular hammer that could be purchased at any general hardware store, before stabbing them repeatedly with a sharp instrument, usually a knife or screwdriver. His first victim was hit across the head with a hammer and stabbed around 15 times, his second was also struck over the head and stabbed 51 times with a screwdriver. The first two women were sex workers, leading police to believe the killer was specifically targeting prostitutes- a fact that would later prove to be incorrect and hamper the investigation. A handful of women had described Peter Sutcliffe to sketch artists after reporting being attacked but despite their matching descriptions and the general proximity of the crimes, police neglected to connect the attacks to the killer because the women were not sex workers.
Sutcliffe left boot prints at several of the crime scenes. Forensic investigators determined that he wore a sized 7 (UK) shoe, likely a wellington boot, but they had no idea who he was. Other than the occasional boot print on or near the victim, and tyre marks from his vehicle, the attacker left no trace of himself behind. Forensic investigators were unable to collect even a single hair from the crime scenes or victims clothing. The Yorkshire Ripper was like a phantom who seemingly attacked women at random after finding them alone or luring them into his vehicle.
In 1977 the police caught up with Sutcliffe when he paid one of his victims, a 21-year-old sex worker and mother of 2 from Manchester named Jean Jordan, with a £5 note from his most recent pay packet. He solicited the woman for sex in an allotment behind a cemetery before killing her with a hammer and stabbing her multiple times as per his modus operandi. After fleeing the scene, he feared the note would be traced back to him, so he returned to the body to retrieve it. Frustrated that he was unable to find the £5 note, he proceeded to mutilate the decedent and attempted to cut off her head before leaving. The victim was not discovered until 10 days later. Just as the Ripper suspected, the note lead police right to Sutcliffe.
At the time of his arrest Peter Sutcliffe was working as a lorry driver. He was married to a woman named Sonia Szurma and the two lived in their new home in Heaton, Bradford. When investigators came knocking at 6 Garden Lane, Szurma told them Sutcliffe had been with her at their housewarming party at the time of the murder.
The £5 note wasn’t the only thing Sutcliff left behind at the Jean Jordan crime scene. He also left a set of clear tire marks on the ground. Police had been working through a list of vehicles with the same tires, but abandoned the line of enquiry three-quarters of the way through, an action that would later draw criticism as Sutcliffe was on the list, they just hadn’t reached him yet.
These tire marks would later be linked to those found at the scene of the Yorkshire Ripper’s other victims. Mishandling of the cases and confused lines of enquiry saw Sutcliffe a free man who continued to kill more women.
To make matters worse, an individual claiming to be the Ripper began sending letters and a cassette tape to police, taking responsibility for the murders. Months were spent following the lead that police were convinced could lead them to the Yorkshire Ripper. The hoaxer, who came to be known in the media as Wearside Jack due to his North East accent, was later debunked, but it wasted enough time to take the attention off Sutcliffe, who continued on with his crimes against women.
Wearside Jack eventually called to police to confess to his lies and decades later the man behind the hoax was identified through DNA he left on an envelope as John Samuel Humble. Reports describe Humble as an unemployed alcoholic whom police had to detain for a day until he was sober enough to partake in a formal interview. He was eventually sentenced to 8 years behind bars for perverting the course of justice in the Yorkshire Ripper case. Humble had read up extensively on Victorian serial killer, Jack the Ripper, and incorporated phrases from the Jack the Ripper letters into his own: "That photo in the paper gave me fits" Humble wrote. Jack the Ripper had penned a similar phrase in 1888 when he allegedly wrote to police: "That joke about the leather apron gave me fits".
Sutcliffe was questioned again after his vehicle was recorded going in and out of the Red Light district area in Bradford, but he told police he passed through the area for work and his wife, once again, backed him up. To those following the case it seems astonishing that police neglected to arrest Peter Sutcliffe after the £5 note was traced back to him and he had been caught frequenting the Red Light district, but he kept slipping through the net due to a series of admin errors and unconnected dots.
In April 1979, 19-year-old Josephine Whittaker, a building society clerk, was murdered on her way home from work. Her attacker left behind a bite mark and evidence that told investigators the perpetrator they were looking for was a gap-toothed man with size 7 shoes who may work in a factory or with vehicles.
Eventually investigators turned their attention back to Sutcliffe, who had slipped through the authorities’ fingers over and over. He was arrested on drunk driving charges in 1980 and released yet again, despite all clues pointing in his direction. Two more women were slain before he was eventually caught in Broomhill, Sheffield, while in the company of a sex worker and likely his next victim. He had stolen registration plates a month or so earlier in December 1980 from a scrap yard in Huddersfield and affixed them to his own vehicle. When officers ran the plates, they were registered to a Skoda, however, Sutcliffe was driving a Rover. Police later discovered weapons Sutcliffe had discarded at the time of his arrest when they let him out momentarily to urinate at the side of the road. They would later discover a knife he had hidden in the police station bathroom. He was arrested, his house searched, wife questioned, and after two days of interviews he finally confessed to his crimes.
When questioned about his motives he said God had told him to kill prostitutes and that they were “filth”. He claimed that he heard the voice of God in his head instructing him to kill women and that he had heard this voice since the 1960s, when he worked one of his first jobs as a grave digger.
Sutcliffe was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to Broadmoor Hospital where he received treatment . He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release and was incarcerated at HMP Frankland in County Durham.
Peter “The Yorkshire Ripper” Sutcliffe has recently died at the University Hospital of North Durham after allegedly rejecting treatment for COVID-19. He was reported to have other health conditions as well as obesity.
He was cremated at a secret funeral service with only one attendee. His family told the media they were disappointed that they were unable to attend the funeral and that it was not broadcasted via a link as they had been told.
His brother told the Independent newspaper: “Peter, all of your family love you as Peter Sutcliffe, although you ruined all our lives when you became the Yorkshire Ripper.”
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