The year is 1981. Thirteen women are dead—bludgeoned, stabbed, and mutilated in a display of brutality that hasn’t been seen in England since Jack the Ripper. There were attempts on the lives of at least seven others, and police would still be asking questions about other possible victims nearly 30 years later. The British press and tabloids are having a field day with Peter Sutcliffe, a man they would dub “the Yorkshire Ripper.”
From 1975 to 1980, someone had been terrorizing England, largely in the Yorkshire area. The murders mostly consisted of prostitutes, and in a move right out of Jack the Ripper’s playbook, the corpses were almost always mutilated. It was the heyday of modern serial killers, and everyone in England is trying to make sense of what just happened. Sutcliffe was a loner who did very poorly in school and was always a little weird. He had been caught with a prostitute and was arrested for having false plates on his car. Before long, the police were convinced they had their man. Here are ten facts about Peter Sutcliffe, also known as the Yorkshire Ripper.
10 The Gravedigger
Peter Sutcliffe had a pretty typical childhood, aside from some minor hiccups and weird bits. He was a loner and a high school dropout who left school to work instead. He was a bit of a mamma’s boy, and his dad was a pretty run-of-the-mill dude, as he literally owned a mill. Sutcliffe worked on an assembly line at a factory, was a door-to-door salesman, and worked at plenty of regular jobs, but he also had an occupation that was unusual in serial killer history: Peter Sutcliffe was a gravedigger on two separate occasions in his youth.
During his time as a gravedigger, he would steal objects of value from the bodies he would bury, and some speculate that he developed necrophiliac tendencies from this. How much of an impact, if any, being around all of those dead bodies all day had on young Peter is debatable. The Yorkshire Ripper would later report hearing the voice of God calling him from a grave, instructing him to kill “harlots.”
9 STD Obsession
Being a gravedigger, a loner, and a high school dropout in an era when it wasn’t exactly fashionable weren’t Sutcliffe’s only oddities; Peter was also reportedly obsessed with STDs of different sorts. As a child, he went to a local wax museum and was absolutely fascinated by the effects of sexually transmitted diseases on the human body and how these afflictions caused pain and misery to their sufferers.
Considering the nature of Sutcliffe’s later crimes, It’s quite possible that he found this to be some weird, macabre inspiration. While plenty of children grow up mesmerized by the world and learning, during a stage of life where curiosity is a natural trait, it’s doubtful that many of them carry a memory of deep fascination with the effects of sexually transmitted diseases on people. It’s safe to say it’s not a subject that too many really like to think about often.
8 Paranoid Schizophrenia
Peter Sutcliffe was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which played a role in the murderous atrocities he would commit. As we’ve already observed, Sutcliffe began hearing voices in his youth. Note that the average age of onset for schizophrenia in men is 18, with most being diagnosed in their twenties.
Sutcliffe genuinely believed that the voice of God had instructed him to kill prostitutes, and thus, his murder spree was more than just a self-serving indignation or need to satiate a twisted, morbid sexual appetite. Due to his paranoid schizophrenia, the Yorkshire Ripper truly believed he was doing God’s work in murdering and attacking the women he did, often with a hammer.
7 Broadmoor Hospital
Broadmoor Hospital is located in Berkshire and houses some of England’s toughest criminals. It’s a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane and generally the worst of the worst. Most brutal serial killers are housed there. Charles Bronson, a notorious madman and killer, has been incarcerated there, as has the “real-life Hannibal Lecter,” Robert Maudsley, who had his own torture chamber straight out of The Silence of the Lambs.
Of course, the infamous Yorkshire Ripper was housed at Broadmoor among these madmen. Sutcliffe spent approximately 30 years at Broadmoor hospital, the toughest psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane in England, before eventually being transferred to an actual prison in 2016.
6 Attempted Murders
Most serial killers generally test the waters in various ways before they come out and start taking lives. Peter Sutcliffe was no different, and his first attempts at killing people failed. From Peter Kurten, who started with sex with animals that he would stab and kill during intercourse, to Jeffrey Dahmer, who tortured and killed small animals during his youth, most serial killers actually have to grow into killing people. Very few people just come out with a murder rampage like Donald Harvey did, killing several victims in his first month at 18 years old.
In 1969, Peter would attempt to kill two people with a sock that he had filled with stones. But it would only be a matter of time before Peter, like the rest of them, would eventually fine-tune his methods and become a terrifying murderer who would shock a nation. In his 1969 attempt, he went cruising the red-light districts of Yorkshire in the company of a friend with whom he’d frequent prostitutes. Peter would assault his first woman, a prostitute, and was reportedly out of breath by the time he had returned to his friend’s car, where he requested that the friend drive away immediately. Peter would later recount that the toe portion of the sock had torn, and everything inside came spilling out, so he abandoned the murder attempt.
5 The Hammer Attacks
After having his first two attempts at murder fail, Peter would finally find what would become his weapon of choice: the hammer. Like Peter Kurten, Peter Sutcliffe would be one of the infamous murderers to use a hammer. The nature of blunt-force trauma and beating someone to death, leaving behind gory scenes of mangled faces and spattered blood, is enough to terrify and shock most. The brutality and sheer rage of his crimes helped to catapult the Yorkshire Ripper into infamy and make him feared by everyone in England for five full years.
In 1975, Sutcliffe would commit his first assault with a hammer, when he struck a young woman whom he’d found walking alone. He knocked her unconscious and then slashed her stomach with a knife. The young woman, Anna Rogulskyj, would ultimately survive, due to a neighbor happening upon the scene and forcing Sutcliffe to flee, but she suffered severe trauma from the attack. This would be the beginning of a long rampage of murder and bloodshed by the Yorkshire Ripper that would rival Jack the Ripper.
4 The Prostitute Murderer
Peter Sutcliffe would ultimately kill prostitutes, as Jack the Ripper had done in England before him, and he believed he was commanded by God to do so. He felt it was his true duty, mandated by a higher authority, to rid the world of prostitutes.
Many killers develop a “Madonna-whore complex,” in which men view women as either angelic icons of purity or filthy, wretched subhumans deserving of murder, e.g. “Madonnas” or “whores.” Originally identified by Sigmund Freud, the Madonna-whore complex has caused a lot of pain and suffering in the world, especially where serial killers and mass murderers are concerned. The Madonna-whore complex makes those who suffer from it see gender roles as determining the value of an individual, and any sexuality displayed by women is met with resentment, anger, force, violence, and sometimes death.
It is said that the Yorkshire ripper had contracted an STD from a prostitute he had seen and/or was ripped off of money, which either inspired his killing spree or just enraged him further, but there is no debating the fact that Peter Sutcliffe had an extreme hatred for prostitutes.
3 Copycat Murders
There are so many indicators that the Yorkshire Ripper may have been a copycat murderer. Copycat serial killers copy the actions of a previous murderer and try to relive the original crimes in the original killer’s shoes. The practice of copycat murder so common that Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper and copycat of Jack the Ripper, even had his own copycat who began to follow in his footsteps and murder other prostitutes in Yorkshire in 1978, while Sutcliffe himself was still killing. Later, another man, David Parsons, would begin to copy the Yorkshire Ripper as well. A search of his apartment would reveal tons of Peter Sutcliffe memorabilia and collectables after the man killed a prostitute he had hired.
The parallels are also striking between the Yorkshire Ripper and Jack the Ripper: Both largely attacked prostitutes or those they believed to be prostitutes, both stalked back allies for their victims, both killed only on weekends, both worked the red-light districts, and both mutilated the corpses of the women they had killed. Is it possible that Peter Sutcliffe consciously attempted to recreate the Jack the Ripper murders almost 100 years later in Yorkshire? It’s very possible. We’ll let you be the judge.
2 Body Count
There is some dispute as to the actual body count that Peter Sutcliffe left in his wake. While it has been substantiated that Sutcliffe murdered at least 13 victims, all of which he was tried and convicted for and subsequently sentenced to 20 life terms in prison, there is a little confusion and ambiguity regarding exactly how many people he killed. While he was rotting in a cell at 60 years old, some 30 years after the spree of murders that left at least 13 dead, investigators were still piecing together exactly how many victims the Ripper claimed altogether.
With some saying that he killed 13 more people and other estimates as high as 23, including one man on top of all the women, it has been speculated that Sutcliffe may be responsible for a lot more bodies. Killing a man is something that Sutcliffe has denied time and time again, saying he never killed men and that his intended goal was always to kill women.
The hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper would end up becoming the largest in England’s history. Never before had so many individuals of law enforcement come together to find one man. From 1979 until Sutcliffe’s arrest, British police would search more than 20,000 homes with a task force comprised of up to 250,000 people in order to catch the Ripper.
During this time, authorities received a tape recording and several letters supposedly from the Yorkshire Ripper and launched an investigation into the tape with up to 40,000 law enforcement agents. The police wanted their man and would stop at nothing to get the Ripper. But the tape turned out to be a hoax by a 23-year-old man named John Humble, who would become known as “Wearside Jack.” Wearside Jack would eventually be caught and charged with perverting the course of justice, as what he saw as a harmless prank took up valuable police time and resources while the real Ripper killed with impunity. But Sutcliffe’s days were still numbered. During investigation of the hoax tape, the police actually interviewed Sutcliffe in connection with the murders, but since his voice didn’t match the accent on the tape, he was let go and ruled out as a suspect.
Peter Sutcliffe’s final murder would take place on November 17, 1980, when he murdered 20-year-old Jacqueline Hill. On a chance encounter on January 2, 1981, a policeman spotted a man and what looked like a prostitute in a car, a woman he had remembered dealing with previously for prostitution. The officer stopped them and, unbeknownst to him at the time, he was face-to-face with none other than the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe. The police ended up arresting Sutcliffe after discovering that he had false plates on his car, something Sutcliffe did to avoid detection during his murders. After they had him in handcuffs, Sutcliffe told the officer that he desperately needed to urinate, and the officer obliged, allowing him to go behind a nearby storage tank.
While Peter was in custody at the police station, they noticed the uncanny resemblance between Sutcliffe and the descriptions of the Ripper. The following day, on a hunch, police returned to the scene of the arrest where they had allowed Sutcliffe to urinate. There, they found what he had ditched the previous day: a hammer and a knife, both weapons of the Yorkshire Ripper. On January 4, Sutcliffe confessed to his crimes. He gave a 15-hour statement about his murders. Blood evidence would later confirm that Peter Sutcliffe was in fact the Yorkshire Ripper beyond a reasonable doubt. Sutcliffe would be tried and convicted. He remains behind bars for his crimes to this day.
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