"This was a campaign of murder which terrorised the population of a large part of Yorkshire for several years. The only explanation for it, on the jury's verdict, was anger, hatred and obsession. Apart from a terrorist outrage, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which one man could account for so many victims."
—Mr Justice Mitting

Peter William Coonan (born Peter William Sutcliffe) is an english serial killer who was dubbed "The Yorkshire Ripper".

Serial Killer
Name Peter William Coonan

(born Peter William Sutcliffe)

Alias The Yorkshire Ripper
Gender Male
Birth Date June 2, 1946
Place of Birth Bingley, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Job Many menial jobs
Classification Serial Killer
Modus Operandi Beating his victims to death and mutilating their bodies
No. of Victims 13
Span of Killings 1975–1980
Status Alive (incarcerated in the Broadmoor Mental Hospital)

Nicknames Edit

From the fact that he attacked and mutilated women, some of whom were associated with prostitution (as in the case of Jack the Ripper), the nickname "Yorkshire Ripper" was applied to Peter Sutcliffe.

Early life Edit

Sutcliffe was born in Bingley, to a working-class Catholic family in West Riding of Yorkshire, a son of John Sutcliffe (December 11, 1922 - June 2004) and Kathleen Frances Sutcliffe (née Coonan, January 22, 1919 - 1978). Reportedly a loner at school, he left at the age of 15 and took a series of menial jobs, including two stints as a gravedigger during the 1960s. Between November 1971 and April 1973 Sutcliffe worked at the factory of Baird Television Ltd, on the packaging line. He left when he was asked to go on the road as a salesman.

After leaving Baird, he worked nightshifts at the Britannia Works of Anderton International from April 1973. In February 1975 he took redundancy, used the pay-off to gain an HGV licence on June 4, 1975 and began working as a driver for a tyre firm on September 29 of that year. On March 5, 1976 he was dismissed for the theft of used tyres. He was unemployed until October 1976, when he found another job as an HGV driver for T & WH Clark (Holdings Ltd.) on the Canal Road Industrial Estate in Bradford. Sutcliffe frequently used prostitutes as a young man and it has been speculated that a bad experience with one during which he was believed to have been conned out of money, helped fuel his violent hatred of women.

He first met Sonia Szurma (who was of Czech and Ukrainian parentage) on February 14, 1967; they married on August 10, 1974. His wife suffered several miscarriages over the following few years and the couple were subsequently informed that she would not be able to have children. Shortly after this, she resumed a teacher training course. When she completed the course in 1977 and began teaching, the couple used the salary from her job to buy their first house in Heaton, Bradford, where they moved on September 26, 1977, and where they were still living at the time of Sutcliffe's arrest.

Victims Edit

Photofits made of victims' descriptions

Date Name of victim Age at death Body found
October 30, 1975 Wilma McCann 28 Prince Phillip Playing Fields, Leeds
January 20, 1976 Emily Jackson 42 Manor Street, Sheepscar, Leeds
February 5, 1977 Irene Richardson 28 Roundhay Park, Leeds
April 23, 1977 Patricia Atkinson 32 Flat 3, 9 Oak Avenue, Bradford
June 26, 1977 Jayne MacDonald 16 Adventure playground, Reginald Street, Leeds
October 1, 1977 Jean Jordan 20 Allotments next to Southern Cemetery, Manchester
January 21, 1978 Yvonne Pearson 21 Under a discarded sofa on waste ground off Arthington Street, Bradford
January 31, 1978 Helen Rytka 18 Timber yard in Great Northern Street, Huddersfield
May 16, 1978 Vera Millward 40 Grounds of Manchester Royal Infirmary
April 4, 1979 Josephine Whitaker 19 Savile Park, Halifax
September 2, 1979 Barbara Leach 20 Back of 13 Ash Grove, Bradford
August 20, 1980 Marguerite Walls 47 Garden of a house called "Claremont", New Street, Farsley, Leeds
November 17, 1980 Jacqueline Hill 20 Waste ground off Alma Road, Headingley, Leeds

Timeline Edit

1969 Edit

Sutcliffe committed his first assault on an older prostitute whom he had met whilst searching for the woman who had previously tricked him out of money. He had left his friend's mini-van and walked up Pauls Road, Bradford, until he was out of sight. When he came back, he was out of breath, as if he had been running. He told a long-term friend of his, Trevor Birdsall, who was the driver of the vehicle that he was in, to drive off quickly. Sutcliffe said that he had followed a prostitute into a garage and hit her over the head with a stone in a sock. According to his statement, Sutcliffe stated, "I got out of the car, went across the road and hit her. The force of the impact tore the toe off the sock and whatever was in it came out. I went back to the car and got in it".

When the police visited his home the next day, they informed him that the woman, who bore no resemblance to the prostitute who had tricked him out of £10, had noted down Birdsall's mini-van vehicle registration plate. Sutcliffe admitted that he had hit her over the head, but claimed that it was only with his hand. The police told him he was "very lucky" as the prostitute didn't want anything more to do with the incident - she was a known prostitute and her common-law husband was serving a sentence for an assault.

1975 Edit

Sutcliffe committed his second assault on the night of July 5, 1975 in Keighley. He attacked Anna Rogulskyj, who was walking alone, striking her unconscious with a ball-peen hammer and slashing her stomach with a knife. Disturbed by a neighbour, he left without killing her. Rogulskyj survived after extensive medical intervention but was emotionally traumatised by this attack.

Sutcliffe attacked Olive Smelt in Halifax in August. Employing the same m.o. He struck her from behind and used a knife to slash her, though this time above her buttocks. Again he was interrupted, and left his victim badly injured but still alive. Like Rogulskyj, Smelt suffered emotional scars from the attack, including clinical depression. On August 27, Sutcliffe attacked 14 year old Tracy Browne in Silsden. He struck her from behind and hit her on the head five times while she was walking in a country lane. Sutcliffe was not convicted of this attack, but confessed it in 1992.

The first victim to lose her life was Wilma McCann, on October 30. McCann was a mother of four from the Chapeltown district of Leeds. Sutcliffe struck her twice with a hammer before stabbing her 15 times in the neck, chest and abdomen. Traces of semen were found on the back of her underwear. An extensive inquiry, involving 150 police officers and 11,000 interviews, failed to uncover the culprit. One of McCann's daughters committed suicide in December 2007, reportedly after suffering years of torment over her mother's death.

1976 Edit

Sutcliffe committed his next murder in January 1976, when he stabbed Emily Jackson 51 times in Leeds. In dire financial straits, Jackson had been using the family van to exchange sexual favours for money, a fact which shocked family and neighbours when it was revealed after the murder. Sutcliffe hit her on the head with a hammer and then used a sharpened screwdriver to stab her in the neck, chest, and abdomen. Sutcliffe also stamped on her thigh, leaving behind an impression of his boot.

Sutcliffe attacked Marcella Claxton in Roundhay Park, Leeds, on May 9. Walking home from a party, she was given a lift by Sutcliffe. When she later got out of the car to urinate, Sutcliffe hit her from behind with a hammer. She was left alive and was able to testify against Sutcliffe at his trial.

1977 Edit

On February 5, 1977, he attacked Irene Richardson, a Chapeltown prostitute, in Roundhay Park. Richardson was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Once she was dead, he mutilated her corpse with a knife. Tyre tracks left near the murder scene resulted in a long list of possible suspect vehicles.

Two months later, on April 23, Sutcliffe killed Bradford prostitute Patricia Atkinson in her flat, where police found a bootprint on the bedclothes. Two months later Sutcliffe committed another murder in Chapeltown, claiming his youngest victim, 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald, on June 26. In the public perception, her death showed that every woman was a potential victim (since she was not a prostitute). Sutcliffe seriously assaulted Maureen Long in Bradford in July. He was interrupted and left her for dead. A witness misidentified the make of his car. More than 300 police officers working the case amassed 12,500 statements and checked thousands of cars, without success. On October 1, 1977 Sutcliffe murdered Manchester prostitute Jean Jordan. Her body was found ten days later and had obviously been moved several days after death. In a later confession, Sutcliffe stated he had realised that the new £5 note he had given her was traceable. After hosting a family party at his new home, he returned to the wasteland behind Manchester's Southern Cemetery, where he left the body, to retrieve the note. Unable to do so he mutilated Jordan's corpse and moved its location.

The following morning, Jordan was discovered by actor Bruce Jones, who at that time was a local dairy worker. He had an allotment on the land adjoining the site where the body was found and was searching for disused house bricks when he made the discovery. The £5 note, hidden inside a secret compartment in Jordan's handbag, offered a valuable piece of evidence. The note was new, allowing it to be traced to branches of the Midland Bank in Shipley and Bingley. Police analysis of bank operations allowed them to narrow their field of inquiry to 8,000 local employees who could have received it in their wagepacket. Over three months the police interviewed 5,000 men, including Sutcliffe, whom they did not connect to the crime.

On December 14 Sutcliffe attacked another Leeds prostitute, Marilyn Moore. Moore survived and provided police with a description of her attacker. Tyre tracks found at the scene matched those from an earlier attack.

1978 Edit

The police discontinued the search for the person who received the £5 note in January 1978. Although Sutcliffe was interviewed about the £5 note, he was not investigated further (he would ultimately be contacted, and disregarded, by the Ripper Squad on several further occasions). That month, Sutcliffe killed again. His victim was 21-year-old Bradford prostitute, Yvonne Pearson. Sutcliffe hid her body under a discarded sofa and it was not found until March. He killed 18-year-old Huddersfield prostitute Helen Rytka, on the night of January 31. Her body was found three days later. On May 16 Sutcliffe killed again after a three-month hiatus. The victim was Vera Millward whom he killed during an attack in the car park of Manchester Royal Infirmary.

1979 Edit

Almost a year passed before Sutcliffe attacked again. During this period, in November 1978, his mother Kathleen died, which might have acted as a "trigger" for the next murders.

On April 4, 1979 Sutcliffe killed a 19-year-old bank clerk named Josephine Whitaker. He attacked her on Saville Park Moor, Halifax, as she was walking home. Despite new forensic evidence, police efforts were diverted for several months following receipt of a taped message purporting to be from the murderer. The message taunted Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield who was leading the investigation. The tape contained a man's voice saying "I'm Jack. I see you're having no luck catching me. I have the greatest respect for you, George, but Lord, you're no nearer catching me now than four years ago when I started."

Based on the recorded message police began searching for a man with a Wearside accent, which was narrowed down to the Castletown area of Sunderland. The message was much later revealed to be a hoax. The hoaxer, dubbed "Wearside Jack", sent two letters to the police in 1978, that boasted of his crimes. The letters, signed "Jack The Ripper", claimed responsibility for the murder of 26-year-old Joan Harrison in Preston in November 1975. On October 20, 2005, John Samuel Humble, an unemployed alcoholic and long-time resident of the Ford Estate area of Sunderland (a mile from Castletown), was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice for sending the hoax letters and tape. He was remanded in custody. On March 21, 2006 Humble was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.

On September 1 Sutcliffe murdered a Bradford University student, 20-year-old Barbara Leach. Leach was killed in Ash Grove, close to the university and her lodgings. It was his sixteenth attack. The murder of a woman who was not a prostitute again alarmed the public and prompted an expensive publicity campaign, which emphasised the Wearside connection. Despite the false Wearside lead, Sutcliffe was interviewed on at least two further occasions in 1979. Despite matching several forensic clues and being on the list of 300 names in connection with the £5 note, he was not strongly suspected. In total, Sutcliffe was interviewed by the police on nine occasions.

1980 Edit

In April 1980 Sutcliffe was arrested for drunk driving. While awaiting trial on this charge, he killed two more women. He murdered 47-year-old Marguerite Walls on the night of August 20, and 20-year-old Jacqueline Hill, a student at the University of Leeds, on the night of November 17. He also attacked two other women who survived. They were Dr. Uphadya Bandara, attacked in Leeds on September 24, and 16-year-old Theresa Sykes, attacked in Huddersfield on the night of November 5. On November 25, Trevor Birdsall, an associate of Sutcliffe reported him to the police as a suspect. This information vanished into the enormous amount of paperwork already created.

1981 - Arrest and Trial Edit

On January 2, 1981, Sutcliffe was stopped by the police with 24-year-old prostitute Olivia Reivers in the driveway of Light Trades House, Melbourne Avenue, Broomhill, Sheffield, in South Yorkshire. A police check revealed the car was fitted with false number plates and Sutcliffe was arrested for this offence and transferred to Dewsbury Police Station, West Yorkshire. At Dewsbury he was questioned in relation to the Yorkshire Ripper case as he matched so many of the physical characteristics known. The next day police returned to the scene of the arrest and discovered a knife, hammer and rope he had discarded when he briefly slipped away from the police after telling them he was "bursting for a pee". Sutcliffe had hidden a second knife in the toilet cistern at the police station when he was permitted to use the toilet. The police obtained a search warrant for his home at 6 Garden Lane in the Heaton district of Bradford and brought his wife in for questioning.

When Sutcliffe was stripped of his clothing at the police station he was wearing a V-neck sweater under his trousers. The sleeves had been pulled over his legs and the V-neck exposed his genital area. The front of the elbows were padded to protect his knees as, presumably, he knelt over his victims' corpses. The sexual implications of this outfit were held to be obvious, but it was not communicated to the public until the 2003 book, Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, written by Michael Bilton. After two days of intensive questioning, on the afternoon of January 4, 1981 Sutcliffe suddenly declared he was the Ripper. Over the next day, Sutcliffe calmly described his many attacks. Weeks later he claimed God had told him to murder the women. He displayed emotion only when telling of the murder of his youngest victim, Jayne MacDonald, and when he was questioned about the murder of Joan Harrison, which he vehemently denied. He was charged at Dewsbury on January 5.

At his trial, Sutcliffe pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of murder, but guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The basis of this defence was his claim that he was the tool of God's will. Sutcliffe first claimed to have heard voices while working as a gravedigger, that ultimately ordered him to kill prostitutes. He claimed that the voices originated from a headstone of a deceased Polish man, Bronisław Zapolski, and that the voices were that of God.

He also pleaded guilty to seven counts of attempted murder. The prosecution intended to accept Sutcliffe's plea after four psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia. However, the trial judge, Mr Justice Boreham, demanded an unusually detailed explanation of the prosecution reasoning. After a two-hour representation by the Attorney-General Sir Michael Havers, a 90-minute lunch break and a further 40 minutes of legal discussion, he rejected the diminished responsibility plea and the expert testimonies of the four psychiatrists, insisting that the case should be dealt with by a jury. The trial proper was set to commence on 5 May 1981.

The trial lasted two weeks and despite the efforts of his counsel James Chadwin QC, Sutcliffe was found guilty of murder on all counts and sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial judge said that Sutcliffe was beyond redemption, and that he hoped that he would never leave prison. He recommended a minimum term of 30 years to be served before parole is considered. This recommendation meant that Sutcliffe was unlikely to be freed until at least 2011, at the age of 65. On 16 July 2010 this sentence was extended to a full life term, meaning that Sutcliffe will not leave prison alive, barring any judicial developments to the contrary.

After his trial, Sutcliffe admitted two further attacks to detectives. It was decided at the time that prosecution for these offences was "not in the public interest". West Yorkshire Police have made it clear that the female victims wish to remain anonymous.

Prison and Broadmoor Hospital Edit


Recent photo.

After his conviction, Sutcliffe decided to go by the name Peter Coonan, which was his late mother's maiden name. Sutcliffe began his sentence at HMP Parkhurst on May 22, 1981. Despite being found sane at his trial, he was soon diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia. Attempts to send him to a secure psychiatric unit though were initially blocked. During his time at Parkhurst he was seriously assaulted for the first time. The attack was carried out by James Costello, a 35-year-old career criminal from Glasgow with several convictions for violence. On January 10, 1983, he followed Sutcliffe into the recess of F2, the hospital wing at Parkhurst Prison. He plunged a broken coffee jar twice into the left side of Sutcliffe's face, creating four separate wounds requiring a total of 30 stitches. In March 1984 Sutcliffe was finally sent to Broadmoor Hospital, under section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

His wife Sonia obtained a separation from him in 1982 and a divorce in April 1994. On February 23, 1996, Sutcliffe was attacked in his private room in the Henley Ward of Broadmoor Hospital. Paul Wilson, a convicted robber, asked to borrow a videotape before attempting to strangle him with the cable from a pair of stereo headphones. Two other convicted murderers, Kenneth Erskine (the "Stockwell Strangler") and Jamie Devitt, intervened upon hearing Sutcliffe's screams.

After an attack by fellow inmate Ian Kay on March 10, 1997 with a pen, Sutcliffe lost vision in his left eye, and his right eye was severely damaged. Kay admitted he had tried to kill Sutcliffe, and was ordered to be detained in a secure mental hospital without time limit.

In 2003, reports surfaced that Sutcliffe had developed diabetes.

Sutcliffe's father died in 2004 and was cremated. On January 17, 2005 Sutcliffe was allowed to visit Grange over Sands where the ashes had been scattered. The decision to allow the temporary release was initiated by David Blunkett and later ratified by Charles Clarke when he took over the role of Home Secretary. Sutcliffe was accompanied by four members of the hospital staff. Despite the passage of 25 years since the Ripper murders, Sutcliffe's visit was still the focus of front-page tabloid headlines.

On December 22, 2007, Sutcliffe was attacked again. Fellow inmate Patrick Sureda lunged at him with a metal cutlery knife. Sutcliffe flung himself backwards and the blade missed his right eye, instead stabbing him in the cheek.

On February 17, 2009, it was reported that Sutcliffe was "fit to leave Broadmoor". If the Ministry of Justice agrees with the doctors' verdict, he would be sent to a medium-secure unit where he could be allowed out on short release for rehabilitation. On March 23, 2010, the Secretary of State for Justice, then Jack Straw, was questioned by Julie Kirkbride, Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, in the House of Commons. Kirkbride was seeking reassurance for one of her constituents, a victim of Sutcliffe, that he would remain in prison. Straw responded, stating that whilst the matter of Sutcliffe's release was a parole board matter, "that all the evidence that I have seen on this case, and it's a great deal, suggests to me that there are no circumstances in which this man will be released".

2010 - Appeal and High Court Decision Edit

An application by Sutcliffe for a minimum term to be set (offering the possibility of parole after that date if it's thought safe to release him) was heard by the High Court of Justice on July 16, 2010.

The High Court decided that Peter Sutcliffe will never be released from prison. Mr Justice Mitting stated:

"This was a campaign of murder which terrorised the population of a large part of Yorkshire for several years. The only explanation for it, on the jury's verdict, was anger, hatred and obsession. Apart from a terrorist outrage, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which one man could account for so many victims."

Various psychological reports, describing the mental state of Sutcliffe were taken into consideration, as well as the severity of his crimes. Barring any judicial decisions to the contrary, Sutcliffe will spend the rest of his life in Broadmoor Hospital. On August 4, 2010, a spokeswoman for the Judicial Communications Office confirmed that Coonan had initiated his appeal against the latest decision.

The hearing for his appeal against this ruling began on November 30, 2010 at the Court of Appeal. This appeal was rejected on 14 January 2011. On March 9, 2011, the Court of Appeal rejected Sutcliffe's application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

External Links Edit