The headline on the front page of The Daily Mail on May 23, 1981 was short and to the point: ‘They’ll never let him out.’ And nearly 40 years on, it has proven to be entirely accurate.
Handed 20 life sentences for the murders of 13 women and the attempted murder of seven more, for once life really did mean life.
And yet Peter Sutcliffe’s time behind bars was rarely far from controversy. At his trial the jury rejected evidence that he was suffering from a mental disorder when he killed. They convicted him on the basis he was a sadistic sex murderer – not a madman.
Sutcliffe meets boxer Frank Bruno and the late paedophile Jimmy Savile at Broadmoor in 1991. The visit was set up by Savile, says Bruno
And yet after spending just three years in a high-security prison, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. That led to him being transferred to Broadmoor, the top-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, where he would spend the next 32 years.
At a cost of £300,000 a year, his time there cost the taxpayer almost £10million in today’s money.
One of his regular visitors was the late Jimmy Savile. A fellow inmate claimed that the radio DJ and TV presenter, who was revealed to be a serial paedophile after his death, would take tea with the Ripper in his cell.
He was transferred to Broadmoor (pictured), the top-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, where he would spend the next 32 years.
Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe (pictured) has died at the age of 74 after contracting coronavirus
On one occasion Savile introduced Sutcliffe to Frank Bruno when he visited Broadmoor in 1991.
The boxer was photographed shaking hands with Sutcliffe but later claimed he had no idea who he was and the stunt had been organised by Savile.
The accommodation, facilities and regime at Broadmoor enjoyed by Sutcliffe were markedly different from that of a normal jail.
Assigned his own room complete with Freeview TV and a DVD player, he whiled away the hours watching reality TV shows such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.
His favourite comedy was Mrs Brown’s Boys. At weekends he boasted that he was allowed to lie in until 8am.
Also available to those on his ward was a communal area complete with comfy chairs and sofas where he could talk with the dozen or so other patients on the unit.
Among those he befriended was Robert Napper, who stabbed mum Rachel Nickell to death on Wimbledon Common in front of her two-year-old son Alex in 1992.
So-called therapeutic workshops on offer included pottery classes and cooking – indeed his Yorkshire puddings were deemed to be of such high quality that he was allowed to cook them for a ward meal. But Sutcliffe’s hopes that he would see out his days amid such cushy surroundings came crashing down when a panel of doctors decided he was no longer mentally ill.
Despite protesting that the move would kill him, in 2016 he was transferred to Durham’s Frankland Prison – dubbed Monster Mansion for its roster of inmates – where he would spend his final days.
There a battery of health problems left him blind and incontinent, reliant on a fellow prisoner to help guide him around the prison and to read out the ‘fan’ mail that he continued to receive until his death.
Because, given the vileness of his crimes, it might have been imagined that Sutcliffe would have been shunned in prison. The reality was very different.
On the day of his conviction his wife Sonia made it clear that she had no intention of abandoning him. ‘Of course I’m standing by him,’ she said. ‘I still love him.’ She added that she intended to visit him as often as possible – and was true to her word for much of Sutcliffe’s time inside.
‘She has always remained loyal as she knows the kind of person I am!’ he once wrote of her in correspondence leaked to the Press.
In another he noted: ‘I had a visit from Sonia on Friday afternoon which was nice but she couldn’t visit in the evening. So alas, we only had one-and-a-half hours.’
Peter Sutcliffe’s (pictured on his wedding day in 1974) time behind bars was rarely far from controversy. At his trial the jury rejected evidence that he was suffering from a mental disorder when he killed.
Only in the last years of his life did that contact diminish. Sutcliffe blamed it on the influence of Sonia’s second husband, Michael Woodward. The pair married in 1997.
‘I have been ringing Sonia but Michael tells her off if I speak to her or leave messages,’ Sutcliffe complained to a friend following his transfer to Frankland: ‘He acts like a spoilt brat and should get over his jealousy and accept we are friends.’
The only other close family member to visit him was his brother Mick, 69, who is now an invalid living in sheltered accommodation.
For years, Sutcliffe rang him every Monday morning at 9am for a 15-minute chat. But those calls stopped three weeks ago – presumably due to Sutcliffe’s declining health – and Mick’s repeated calls to the prison went unanswered. The oldest of six children, Sutcliffe was not in touch with sisters Jean and Maureen. Another sister, Anne, died from cancer in 2005.
He had intermittent contact with his other brother, Carl, but when he was approached earlier this week, Carl said he wanted nothing more to do with his brother and thought he should die in jail for the terrible crimes he committed. He also said he would not attend his funeral.
Sutcliffe was also ‘friends’ with a number of women. Much of his time inside was devoted to letter-writing – using an old-fashioned pen and paper and he would send 30 or more letters a week.
Only in the last years of his life did that contact diminish. Sutcliffe blamed it on the influence of Sonia’s second husband, Michael Woodward (pictured with Sonia). The pair married in 1997
More latterly, Sutcliffe also had access to email. Monitored by staff, they would print out messages sent to him and hand them over personally. The vast majority of his correspondence was with female ‘admirers’ who, attracted by his notoriety, had always written to him, often sending in pictures of themselves.
‘Women write to him all the time and some send pretty raunchy photos,’ said a source.
Over the years he put together a gallery of the ones he found most attractive, pinning them to the walls of his ward and cell.
They were also decorated with watercolours painted by Sutcliffe. Alongside rural scenes copied from magazines he also turned out a number of altogether more chilling works while at Broadmoor.
One painting showed a man in a lime-green Capri approaching a woman walking a dog in broad daylight. He owned a similar car when he attacked and killed a number of his victims in the mid-1970s.
A second painting was a Christ-like crucifixion scene featuring a man who resembles Sutcliffe nailed to a cross. Criminologists have speculated that the first picture was him ‘memoralising’ his previous crimes as a form of ‘perverted pride’, while the second showed that Sutcliffe regarded himself as a victim, rather than perpetrator.
Inevitably, details of his correspondence with female admirers leaked to the Press.
Written in a looping hand, he would sign his letters Peter Coonan, adopting his mother’s maiden name. Many of the notes were decorated with children’s stickers, including butterflies, love hearts and teddy bears.
The tone was openly – and outrageously – flirtatious, for example asking one woman if she had a steady boyfriend and telling another: ‘I’m thinking of you 24/7.’ The killer even sent a Valentine’s card to one admirer, signing off with the words ‘I love you’.
Much of the thrust of his letters was to encourage women to visit him – both in Broadmoor and Frankland – or discuss visits they had already made. ‘Don’t worry, I’m very easy to talk to and I will put you at ease,’ he wrote to one. ‘I’m very fond of you. I guess you know that by now.’ Another read: ‘I’m way up on cloud nine after seeing you today I can tell you. OK then gorgeous, take care for now.’
Sutcliffe was allowed up to four face-to-face visits a week. Visitors had to be assessed for ‘suitability’ in an interview with social workers, something Sutcliffe would tell them was nothing more than a ‘formality’.
Even aged into his seventies, Sutcliffe continued to make the most of his notoriety. One of his female Polish penpals was just 17 years old. He spoke with her on the phone, encouraging her to travel to the UK and visit him in jail.
That was despite an increasingly complex range of medical problems that left him blind and virtually incontinent.
He also suffered from a persistent hacking cough, raised blood pressure and angina and had undergone a hernia operation.
Underlying all those issues was Type 2 diabetes, a problem exacerbated by his poor diet and excessive weight. Partly as a consequence of his visitors’ misplaced generosity, Sutcliffe always had the cash to indulge his love of junk food – Diet Coke and chocolate bars on top of three canteen meals a day followed by toast and honey in his room at night. All of which contributed to dramatic weight gain.
Indeed, despite being banned from eating fry-ups and encouraged to eat more fruit, he tipped the scales at some 20st in the years leading up to his death.
Diabetes was also to blame for his fading eyesight, details of which emerged in 2015 when he was seen in public for the first time heading in to Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey for treatment to his right eye. (In 2005 he had been secretly allowed out of Broadmoor to visit the Lake District where his father’s John’s ashes were scattered.)
Sutcliffe had been blind in the other eye since 1997 when he was stabbed in the face with a pen by fellow Broadmoor patient Ian Kay.
Convicted murderer Kay pinned Sutcliffe to the floor after asking to borrow an envelope. He then stabbed him about ten times with the homemade weapon. Sutcliffe had further treatment to the right eye in 2017 when he underwent laser surgery. At the time MPs and victims complained that the NHS’s scarce resources should not have been wasted on him.
A composite of 12 of the 13 victims murdered by Sutcliffe. Victims are: (top row, left to right) Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson, Patricia Atkinson; (middle row, left to right) Jayne McDonald, Jean Jordan, Yvonne Pearson, Helen Rytka; (bottom row, left to right) Vera Millward, Josephine Whitaker, Barbara Leach, Jacqueline Hill
‘My dad had a degenerative eye disease and was almost blind by the time he died,’ said Julie Lowry, whose mother, Olive Smelt, was one of Sutcliffe’s first victims. She miraculously survived after being struck twice on the head with a hammer and slashed with a pick-axe near her home in Halifax, West Yorkshire.
‘There wasn’t anything they could do to save his sight. How many other people could they have spent that money on?’ Then in September 2018 he was taken to a special unit at Sunderland Royal Infirmary for emergency treatment after collapsing in prison with a bladder problem, where he was fitted with a catheter and bag.
While he would be returned to prison after a short stay in the end, it was Covid-19 that brought Sutcliffe’s life to an end. He reportedly refused all treatment for the virus at the University Hospital of North Durham, where he had also been taken two weeks ago, after suffering a suspected heart attack.
For the relatives of his victims it has not come a day too soon. Back in 1981 many spoke of how they wished Sutcliffe could have faced the death penalty rather than be jailed.
And none will have sympathy for the suffering he endured in the almost four decades he was behind bars.
‘Nothing will be bad enough for him in my view,’ said Irene MacDonald, whose daughter Jayne, 16, was killed by Sutcliffe, speaking at the time of his conviction. ‘It was like he was stepping on beetles – not killing human beings.’
THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER’S REIGN OF TERROR: A TIMELINE OF HIS MURDERS
Photograph of Peter Sutcliffe an English serial killer who was dubbed the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ by the press
Sutcliffe, who lived in Bradford, West Yorkshire, believed he was on a ‘mission from God’ to kill prostitutes, although not all his victims were.
His other victims, aged between 16 and 47, included two university students, a civil servant, a bank clerk and a supermarket worker.
Sutcliffe was dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper because he mutilated his victims using a screw driver, hammer and knife.
He was also convicted of seven counts of attempted murder in and around Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester.
Summer 1975: Peter Sutcliffe begins attacking women, two in Keighley and one in Halifax. All three survive and police do not link the attacks.
30 October 1975: Sutcliffe carries out his first fatal attack on Wilma McCann, a 28-year-old prostitute from the Chapeltown district of Leeds.
20 January 1976: He murders Emily Jackson, 42, from Leeds, battering her with a hammer and stabbing her with a screwdriver.
5 February 1977: He kills Irene Richardson, 28, another prostitute from Leeds.
23 April 1977: Sutcliffe strikes for the first time in his home town of Bradford, murdering 32-year-old Patricia Atkinson.
26 June 1977: The case comes to the attention of the national press after Sutcliffe murders Jayne MacDonald, a 16-year-old shop assistant. The murder, and the realisation that a serial killer is on the loose in Yorkshire, shocks the country.
The attacker is dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper by the press, and West Yorkshire Chief Constable Ronald Gregory appoints his most senior detective, Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, to investigate the murders.
1 October 1977: Sutcliffe chooses Manchester for his next attack – on Jean Jordan, 20. He dumps her body on an allotment and throws her bag, containing a brand new £5 note he gave her, into nearby shrubs.
Police find the bag and trace the serial number on the note back to the payroll of Yorkshire hauliers T and W H Clark, who employ Peter Sutcliffe.
Sutcliffe is interviewed by police but provides an alibi placing him at a party.
21 January to 16 May 1978: Sutcliffe murders three prostitutes – Yvonne Pearson, 21, from Bradford; Helen Rytka, 18, from Huddersfield, and 40-year-old Vera Millward from Manchester.
4 April 1979: Sutcliffe kills Halifax Building Society clerk Josephine Whitaker, 19.
June 1979: A tape is sent to police by a man calling himself Jack the Ripper, who has already sent a series of hand-written letters from Sunderland. Assistant Chief Constable Oldfield mistakenly decides that these are the work of the Ripper. Wearside Jack, as he becomes known, is pinpointed to the Castletown district of Sunderland by voice experts. Detectives are told they can discount suspects who do not have a Wearside accent.
July 1979: Police interview Sutcliffe for the fifth time. Detective Constables Andrew Laptew and Graham Greenwood are suspicious but their report is filed because his voice and handwriting do not fit the letters and tape.
Officers carry out a fingertip search on an area of waste ground as part of the Ripper investigation in 1979. The probe dominated the nation’s consciousness for years
2 September 1979: Sutcliffe murders Barbara Leach, 20, in Bradford.
2 October 1979: A £1million campaign is launched to catch the Yorkshire Ripper.
20 August 1980: The Ripper claims another victim, Marguerite Walls, 47, from Leeds, followed by Jacqueline Hill, 20, a Leeds University student, on November 17.
November 1980: Detective Chief Superintendent James Hobson replaces Oldfield. Hobson downgrades the importance of the Wearside Jack tape and letters.
3 January 1981: Sutcliffe admits he is the Yorkshire Ripper after police arrest him with a prostitute. Police admit the killer does not have a Wearside accent.
22 May 1981: Sutcliffe is jailed for life at the Old Bailey. The judge recommends a minimum sentence of 30 years. He is transferred to Broadmoor secure hospital in Berkshire in 1984.
24 May 1989: Wife of Sutcliffe wins damages.
21 March 2006: John Humble, a former builder, is sentenced to eight years in prison after he admits to being the Yorkshire Ripper hoaxer known as Wearside Jack.
1 June 2006: A report which has been kept secret for nearly 25 years reveals that Sutcliffe probably committed more crimes than the 13 murders and seven attempted murders for which he was convicted.
April 2017: Sutcliffe is questioned by police officers over 17 unsolved cases that bear similarities to his past crimes. He is not being investigated over any murders and it is unknown which of the incidents police think are linked to the serial killer.
May 2017: Sutcliffe is investigated over the murders of two women in Sweden. Detectives are said to have enquired about the murders of a 31-year-old woman found dead in Gothenburg in August 1980, and a 26-year-old woman found dead in Malmo a month later. Both bodies were found on building sites.