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Yorkshire Ripper serial killer Peter Sutcliffe dies

Written by on 13 November 2020

The serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper has died.

Peter Sutcliffe, one of the UK’s most notorious prisoners, was serving a whole-life term for murdering 13 women across Yorkshire and the North West between 1975 and 1980.

He was jailed in 1981 and spent several years at Broadmoor Hospital where he was treated for paranoid schizophrenia, before he was transferred to HMP Frankland in County Durham in 2016.

A Prison Service spokesman confirmed on Friday that Sutcliffe had died at University Hospital of North Durham, three miles from where he was an inmate.

He had contracted COVID-19 but is understood to have refused treatment for the virus.

The 74-year-old – who was obese and had a number of health problems, including diabetes and heart issues – had been treated for a suspected heart attack two weeks ago before returning to prison.

He was then readmitted to hospital after testing positive for coronavirus.

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Sutcliffe’s victims and families left behind

Downing Street described Sutcliffe as a “depraved and evil individual” and said it was right that he died behind bars.

“The prime minister’s thoughts today are with those who lost their lives, the survivors and with the families and the friends of Sutcliffe’s victims,” Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said.

“Peter Sutcliffe was a depraved and evil individual whose crimes caused unimaginable suffering and appalled this country.

“Nothing will ever detract from the harm that he caused, but it is right that he died behind bars for his barbaric murders and for his attempted murders.”

Portrait of British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, a.k.a. 'The Yorkshire Ripper,' on his wedding day, August 10, 1974. (Photo by Express Newspapers)
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Sutcliffe was jailed for 13 murders in 1981. Pic: Shutterstock

Once the most feared man in the country, Sutcliffe’s killing spree instilled terror in the north of England as police failed to pick up the clues in their pursuit of the notorious murderer.

As the story of his crimes grew, he became known as the Yorkshire Ripper, a reference to the Victorian killer Jack the Ripper who also mutilated his victims.

In all, 13 women were killed and seven more were viciously attacked, although police suspect the number of victims is higher.

The 13 murder victims of  Peter Sutcliffe. Pic: Shutterstock
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The victims (top left to right): Wilma McCann, Jayne McDonald, Yvonne Pearson, Patricia Atkinson, Josephine Whitaker, Vera Millward, Jacqueline Hill, Barbara Leach, Marguerite Walls, Irene Richardson, Helen Rytka, Emily Jackson and Jean Jordan

A woman who survived an attack by Sutcliffe said she still suffers from the effects of his attack in Leeds, 44 years on.

Marcella Claxton told Sky News: “I have to live with my injuries, 54 stitches in my head, back and front, plus I lost a baby, I was four months pregnant.

“I still get headaches, dizzy spells and black outs.”

Marcella Claxton survived an attack by Sutcliffe
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Marcella Claxton survived an attack by Sutcliffe

The broad spectrum of victims from various walks of life – including teenage girls, shop assistants and prostitutes – meant no woman was safe with Sutcliffe at large.

During the five years it took police to catch him during his murderous rampage, women in some areas were urged not to go out alone at night.

“Do not go out at night unless absolutely necessary and only if accompanied by a man you know,” police warned at the time.

Peter Sutcliffe. Pic: Shutterstock
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Sutcliffe killed women across Yorkshire and the North West. Pic: Shutterstock

Sutcliffe grew up in West Yorkshire and after leaving school held a number of different low skilled jobs, including a job as a gravedigger.

He married in 1974, but had also become obsessed with female sex workers.

He started attacking women in the late 1960s, but the first known murder happened in 1975 when he killed 28-year-old Wilma McCann, a mother-of-four from Leeds.

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Sutcliffe victim’s son speaks out

Her son Richard McCann told Sky News: “He ruined so many lives.

“He will go down as one of those figures from the twentieth century in the same league I suppose as someone like Hitler.

“It was never just a drunken fight, he went out there with tools and implements and he murdered people again and again and again and again.”

British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, a.k.a. 'The Yorkshire Ripper,' in police custody, 1983. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
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Sutcliffe was given a whole-life sentence in 2010

The 13 known murder victims were: Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson, Tina Atkinson, Jayne MacDonald, Jean Jordan, Yvonne Pearson, Helen Rytka, Vera Millward, Josephine Whitaker, Barbara Leach, Marguerite Walls and Jacqueline Hill.

Neil Jackson, whose mother Emily was stabbed 52 times by Sutcliffe in Leeds in 1976, told Sky News he was relieved to hear the killer was dead.

“Good riddance to him – at least we can stop paying to keep him,” Mr Jackson said.

“He didn’t just kill my mum, he killed our family – some of us haven’t spoken these past 40 years.

“That’s what he’s done to us – he killed our family.”

(Original Caption) January 4, 1981 - Sheffield, England: This is the scene in a red light district late on the street where police arrested a man identified as Peter Sutcliffe for questioning in relation to the "Yorkshire Ripper" murders.
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The Sheffield street where Sutcliffe was arrested in 1981

Sutcliffe avoided detection for years due to a series of missed opportunities by police to snare him, but he confessed in 1981 when he was called in to a police station over stolen number plates on his car.

He later decided to contest the charges – leading to an Old Bailey trial during which he claimed he was on a mission from God to kill prostitutes.

His sentence was made a whole-life term in 2010.

Wanted poster. Pic: Simon Wilkinson/Shutterstock
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A wanted poster for the Yorkshire Ripper. Pic: Simon Wilkinson/Shutterstock

Sutcliffe’s cause of death has not been confirmed, but will be investigated by the coroner.

Confirming his death, a Prison Service spokesman said in a statement: “HMP Frankland prisoner Peter Coonan (born Sutcliffe) died in hospital on 13 November. The prisons and probation ombudsman has been informed.”