Peter Sutcliffe (June 2nd, 1946 - November 13th, 2020) was a British serial killer nicknamed the Yorkshire Ripper. In 1981, Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering thirteen women and attempting to murder seven others. He was sentenced 20 concurrent sentences of life imprisonment, which was increased to a whole life order in 2010. All except two of his murders took place in West Yorkshire; the others were in Manchester.
Sutcliffe was born in Bingley in the West Riding of Yorkshire to a working-class family. He was given a Catholic upbringing by his parents, John William Sutcliffe and his wife Kathleen Frances (née Coonan). Reportedly a loner, he left school aged fifteen and had a series of menial jobs, including two stints as a gravedigger in the 1960s. Between November 1971 and April 1973, Sutcliffe worked at the Baird Television factory on a packaging line. He left this position when he was asked to go on the road as a salesman.
After leaving Baird Television, Sutcliffe worked nightshifts at the Britannia Works of Anderton International from April 1973. In February 1975, he took redundancy and used half of the £400 pay-off to train as a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver. On 5 March 1976, he was dismissed for the theft of used tyres. He was unemployed until October 1976, when he found a job as an HGV driver for T.& W.H. Clark (Holdings) Ltd. on the Canal Road Industrial Estate in Bradford.
Sutcliffe, by some reports, used prostitutes as a young man, and it has been speculated that he had a bad experience, during which he was conned out of money. Other analyses of his actions have not found evidence that he actually sought their services, although he clearly expressed unusual behaviour before the killings.
Sutcliffe met Sonia Szurma on 14 February 1967; they married on 10 August 1974. She suffered several miscarriages and they were informed that she would not be able to have children. She resumed a teacher training course, during which time she had an affair with an ice-cream van driver. When she completed the course in 1977 and began teaching, she and Sutcliffe used her salary to buy a house in Heaton, Bradford, which they moved into on 26 September 1977, and where they lived at the time of Sutcliffe's arrest.
Through his childhood and his early adolescence, Sutcliffe showed no signs of abnormality. Later, in part related to his occupation as a gravedigger, he developed an unhealthy, macabre sense of humour. In his late adolescence, he developed a growing obsession with voyeurism and spent much time spying on prostitutes and the men seeking their services.
Sutcliffe initially attacked women and girls in residential areas, but appears to have moved to red light districts because he was attracted by the vulnerability of prostitutes. He carried out murders over five years, including women who were not prostitutes. After his arrest in Sheffield by South Yorkshire Police for driving with false number plates in January 1981, he was transferred to West Yorkshire Police, who questioned him about the killings. He confessed to being the perpetrator, saying that the voice of God had sent him on a mission to kill prostitutes. At his trial, Sutcliffe pleaded not guilty to murder on grounds of diminished responsibility, but he was convicted of murder on a majority verdict. Following his conviction, Sutcliffe began using his mother's maiden name of Coonan.
West Yorkshire Police were criticised for their failure to catch Sutcliffe despite having interviewed him nine times in the course of their five-year investigation. Because of the sensational nature of the case, the police handled an exceptional amount of information, some of it misleading (including the Wearside Jack hoax recorded message and letters purporting to be from the "Ripper"). Following Sutcliffe's conviction, the government ordered a review of the investigation, conducted by Lawrence Byford, known as the "Byford Report". The findings were made fully public in 2006 and confirmed the validity of the criticism against the force. The report led to changes to investigative procedures which were adopted across UK police forces. In 2019, The Guardian described the manhunt as "stunningly mishandled".
Sutcliffe was transferred from prison to a high-security psychiatric hospital in March 1984 after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The High Court dismissed an appeal by Sutcliffe in 2010, confirming that he would serve a whole life order and never be released from custody. In August 2016, it was ruled that Sutcliffe was mentally fit to be returned to prison, and he was transferred that month to HM Prison Frankland in Durham.
In 2020, Sutcliffe contracted COVID-19 while serving his prison sentence. He refused treatment at the hospital, where he had been taken two weeks earlier because of an unrelated heart attack. He died on November 13, 2020.