Families of Yorkshire Ripper’s victims tell of finally ‘having closure’ after his death at 74


Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe (pictured) has died at the age of 74 after contracting coronavirus

Families of the Yorkshire Ripper’s victims today say they ‘won’t shed a tear’ and finally have ‘closure’ after his death aged 74.

The serial killer, who murdered at least 13 women in the 1970s and 1980s, has died at the University Hospital of North Durham.

He began his killing spree in 1975, battering 28-year-old sex worker Wilma McCann to death on October 30, 1975, which followed three non-fatal attacks on women earlier in the year.

Three months later, he murdered 42-year-old Emily Jackson, from Leeds, battering her with a hammer and stabbing her with a screwdriver.

In the same city, he struck again the following year, killing prostitute Irene Richardson, 28, on February 5, 1977.

Later that year, he then killed Patricia Atkinson, 32, in his home town of Bradford, Jayne MacDonald, a 16-year-old shop assistant which brought the case to the attention of the national press, and then 20-year-old Jean Jordan in Manchester.

In 1978, he went on to murder three more prostitutes  – Yvonne Pearson, 21, from Bradford; Helen Rytka, 18, from Huddersfield, and 40-year-old Vera Millward from Manchester, before killing Halifax Building Society clerk Josephine Whitaker, 19, on April 4, 1979.

Five months later, he murdered Barbara Leach, 20, in Bradford before claiming two more victims in 1980, Marguerite Walls, 47, from Leeds, followed by Jacqueline Hill, 20, a Leeds University student, on November 17.

Today, Neil Jackson, whose mother Emily was murdered, told of his relief that the Yorkshire Ripper was dead, adding that he should have been hanged after conviction.

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

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

The 13 murder victims of the Yorkshire Ripper

Wilma McCann

Wilma McCann

Wilma McCann

Age: 28

Killed on: October 30, 1975

A sex worker and mother of four, Sutcliffe battered Wilma McCann to death with a hammer and stabbed her in the neck, chest and stomach after picking her up in Leeds. He carried on life as normal with wife Sonia, and was to tell police: ‘After that first time I developed and played up a hatred for prostitutes in order to justify within myself a reason why I had attacked and killed Wilma McCann.’ Her body was found in Prince Phillip Playing Fields.

Emily Jackson

Emily Jackson

Emily Jackson

Age: 42

Killed on: January 20, 1976

A part-time sex worker, Sutcliffe pretended his car wouldn’t start when he picked her up and battered her twice with a hammer as she offered to help. He the dragged her body into a yard and used a screwdriver to viciously stab her a total of 52 times in the neck, breasts, lower abdomen and back. Her body was found on Manor Street in Leeds.

Irene Richardson

Irene Richardson

Irene Richardson

Age: 28

Killed on: February 5, 1977

Another prostitute Sutcliffe picked up, he attacked her in Roundhay Park, Leeds, where they had stopped so she could go to the toilet. As she crouched down, the killer delivered three heavy blows to her head with a hammer, then he tore open her jacket and blouse and began to stab and slash her with his Stanley knife.

Patricia Atkinson

Patricia Atkinson

Patricia Atkinson

Age: 32

Killed on: April 23, 1977

Sutcliffe’s first victim in his home town of Bradford was another prostitute. He picked her up and took her to a flat in Oak Avenue, where he picked up a hammer and dealt four massive blows to the back of her head. He also stabbed her six times in the stomach with a knife and tried to do the same to her back, before throwing bed linen over the top of her body and leaving.

Jayne MacDonald

Age: 16

Killed on: April 23, 1977

A shop assistant who had just left school, Jayne MacDonald was the first ‘non-prostitute’ victim and it was her death that saw the hunt for the killer draw national attention. Sutcliffe spotted her in the early hours of the morning in Leeds and followed her into an adventure playground, where he struck her with a hammer on the back of the head. After she fell down, he then dragged her, face down, into the play areas and stabbed her several times in the chest and back. 

Jean Jordan

Age: 20

Killed on: October 1, 1977

A young prostitute, Jean Jordan was the Ripper’s first victim in Manchester.  He beat her 11 times with a hammer in allotments next to Southern Cemetery, dumped her body and threw her bag, containing a brand new £5 note he gave her, into nearby shrubs. Police found the bag and traced the serial number on the note back to the payroll of Yorkshire hauliers T and W H Clark, who employed Peter Sutcliffe, but when questioned he provided an alibi that he was at a party.

Yvonne Pearson

Age: 21

Killed on: January 21, 1978

A young prostitute, Sutcliffe took her to a piece of waste ground at the back of Drummond’s mill in Bradford, where his father worked. There he hit her several times with a hammer. He pulled her body behind an old sofa, stuffed horsehair down her throat before kicking her in the head and jumping down on her chest.  

Helen Rytka

Age: 18

Killed on: January 18, 1978

A teenage prostitute, Helen Rytka was picked up and driven to a timber yard in Great Northern Street, Huddersfield by the killer.  There he beat her with a hammer several times but she remained alive until he grabbed a knife and stabbed her multiple times through the heart and lungs. Before leaving, he hid her body behind a stack of timber.

Vera Millward

Age: 40

Killed on: May 16, 1978

A prostitute living in a run-down council flat in Hulme, Manchester, Vera Millward was Sutcliffe’s ninth victim. He took her Manchester Royal Infirmary where he attacked her with a hammer as soon as she got out the car. After killing her with the hammer blows, he then dragged her body to a spot by a fence and began to stab her with a knife.

Josephine Whitaker 

Age: 19

Killed on: April 4, 1979

A teenage building society clerk, Josephine Whitaker was approached by Sutcliffe in Savile Park, Halifax where they got chatting. He hit her from behind with a hammer and again as she lay on the ground before dragging her into the darkness after hearing voices. He then stabbed her 21 times with a screwdriver in the chest and stomach as well as in the leg. Her skull had been fractured from ear to ear.   

Barbara Leach

Age: 20

Killed on: September 20, 1979

Barbara Leach was a university student, about to start her third and final year in social psychology. He spotted her while driving in Bradford and opened the car door to get out as she was walking towards him. He attacked her with a hammer and dragged her into a back yard, before stabbing her with the same screwdriver that he had used on Josephine Whitaker. He then placed her body in a distorted jack-knife position behind a low wall into an area where dustbins were usually kept, covering her body with an old piece of carpet and some stones. 

Marguerite Walls

Age: 47

Killed on: August 20, 1980

A civil servant who worked at the Department of Education and Science office in Pudsey, Marguerite Walls was the Ripper’s twelfth victim. After spotting her in Leeds, he attacked her with a hammer blow, yelling ‘filthy prostitute’. He then looped rope around her neck and dragged her into a garden when he would strangle her and strip her of all her clothing except her tights. He partially covered the body with grass cuttings and leaves before making his escape. 

Jacqueline Hill

Age: 20

Killed on: November 17, 1980

An English student at Leeds University, Jacqueline Hill had taken the bus home from a meeting with probation service workers where she had applied to become a volunteer. 

Jacqueline was studying English at Leeds University and on the night she was murdered she had been to a  meeting with probation service workers where she had applied to become a volunteer. 

The group decided to go to a nearby pub at the end of the meeting and Jacqueline was invited along.

The final-year student then took the bus home, which stopped 300 yards from her halls of residence around 9.20pm.

Her body was discovered on a stretch of wasteland 100 yards from where she lived. She suffered four skull fractures and cuts to her head, a stab wound to her left breast and a stab wound to her right eye.

Jacqueline Hill (Age 20) : Killed On 17 November 1980. Body found at Waste ground off Alma Road, Headingley, Leeds.

 

 

The 62-year-old building site labourer, from Leeds, told MailOnline: ‘Thank God for that. It a great relief. The sooner the better.

‘It would have been a lot better if he had been hanged after he was convicted.

‘It would have save the country a lot of money and saved the families of the victims and the surviving victims a lot of heart ache.

‘Whenever Sutcliffe is mentioned I think of my mum. In fact I think of her every day. I have photos of my mum up all over the house.

‘She was taken too soon.’

Marcella Claxton, who was attacked by Sutcliffe and left needing more than 50-stitches after being over the head with a hammer added that she was ‘happy’ the Yorkshire Ripper had died.

Ms Claxton, whose family had moved to Leeds from the West Indies when she was 10, was attacked by the killer after she had left a late-night house party.

Although she survived, she lost the baby she was four months pregnant with.

Today she told MailOnline: ‘I’m happy he’s gone.

‘I’ve thought about what he did to me every day since and although the news that’s he’s died brings those horrible memories back at least now I may be able to get some closure.

‘I’m hoping it will bring me a little peace knowing he’s no longer with us.’

The family of another Ripper victim Olive Smelt were also relieved that Sutcliffe had died and hit out at him being allowed to live in ‘luxury’ for so many years.

Mrs Smelt was attacked by Peter Sutcliffe in August 1975 – the Ripper’s second victim.

Then aged 46, she was struck twice on the head with a hammer and slashed with a pickaxe near her home in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

She survived the attack but passed away in 2011.

Daughter Julie Lowry said: ‘I think it’s about time, Sutcliffe should have died a long time ago.

‘He’s taken a lot of people’s lives away from them. I’m not sad, not at all

‘It’s a bit of closure. We’ve had to live with what he did all our lives. Not just us but all victims and their families, people whose lives he affected and destroyed.

‘I think he’s been kept in luxury for how many odd years, so I won’t shed a tear or share any grief at this news.’

Former Senior Officer from West Yorkshire Police, Bob Bridgestock, one of the first officers on the scene when Josephine Whittaker was attacked in 1979.

He said: ‘Peter Sutcliffe wasn’t an intelligent killer he was just brutal. He is in my mind, along with [Ian] Brady, a serial killer who will be detested until he is gone.

‘I have walked with my dog this morning and seen people say ‘good news, good riddance’. He destroyed lives as a brutal attacker of sex workers.

‘Then with Josephine Whittaker that opened it up and people in West Yorkshire were afraid to go out. 

‘I was 30 years as a detective, and what I found is it is the victims and the victims’ families that truly serve the life sentence.

‘For them today, they will have some kind of closure that he’s died. But it won’t bring any of the family members back.

‘The news in the media today will bring back sad memories for maybe of them. We should remember the victims not the killer.’

He added: ‘Today is about the families and they won’t shed a tear for him, but it will bring back terrible memories and the peace will come from knowing they won’t have to her about him anymore.’

Michael Bilton, former Sunday Times investigative journalist who wrote: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper told BBC Today: ‘My feelings today go out for the children of people he made motherless. 

‘The thing about this man’s crimes is the victims’ families and some of those who survived, he actually attacked an awful lot of women who survived, they can ever escape the memory of Peter Sutcliffe and what he had done.

‘He somehow managed to keep his notoriety going from inside Broadmoor and later inside prison.’

Meanwhile, retired detective Roger Parnell, who worked on the Ripper inquiry, rejected accusations the officers ‘did not care less’ about prostitute victims.

He told BBC Radio 5Live: ‘We certainly did, I can assure you we did.

‘These ladies were wives, they were mothers, they were sisters. And the inquiry did not change at the murder of Jayne MacDonald.

‘We were all determined from the beginning to catch the perpetrator of all these murders.

‘When I heard this morning that Peter Sutcliffe had died, I just could not care less, to be honest.’

Mr Parnell said: ‘The senior officers at the time …. they just swallowed hook, line and sinker the Wearside Jack tape.

‘Many of us, the officers on the ground, the DCs and the sergeants, we didn’t swallow this, to be quite honest.

‘We let our thoughts be known but we were ignored.’

The emotion showed on the face of the elderly mother of the Ripper’s final victim, Jacqueline Hill, today as she answered the door of her home in Middlesbrough.

Mrs Hill nodded when asked whether she had heard Sutcliffe had died, but said: ‘I’m sorry I don’t walk to talk about it.’

Her daughter, a former Sunday School teacher, was 20 when Sutcliffe bludgeoned her to death on a patch of waste ground near her student halls in Leeds on November 17th 1980.

He struck as Jacqueline was walking to the halls her parents, Mrs Hill and husband Jack, had persuaded her to move to for her own safety while the Ripper was on the loose.

Following her death many female students left their courses and went home. 

Jacqueline was studying English at Leeds University and on the night she was murdered she had been to a  meeting with probation service workers where she had applied to become a volunteer. 

The group decided to go to a nearby pub at the end of the meeting and Jacqueline was invited along.

The final-year student then took the bus home, which stopped 300 yards from her halls of residence around 9.20pm.

Her body was discovered on a stretch of wasteland 100 yards from where she lived. She suffered four skull fractures and cuts to her head, a stab wound to her left breast and a stab wound to her right eye.

One of the probation volunteers, who’d met Jacqueline that night, later said: ‘It never occurred to any of us that this was a risky thing to do.

‘This was just getting too much. If somebody could be killed at 9.15pm in the evening in a reasonably busy area – this just took it up a level, this has got to stop.’

Jacqueline’s death sparked marches in the streets by groups of women incensed that females were being given a night-time curfew. They believed it should have been men forced to stay indoors during hours of darkness.

Mrs Hill always maintained her daughter would be alive today but for shortcomings in the police investigation and in 2013 asked for an investigation into the way the enquiry was handled.

A newspaper clipping from October 1975 describes a 'savage and sadistic sex attack on Leeds mother in fear' Wilma McCann

A newspaper clipping from October 1975 describes a ‘savage and sadistic sex attack on Leeds mother in fear’ Wilma McCann

Crowds gathered outside Dewsbury court in England after the Yorkshire Ripper was caught and appeared there to be charged with the murder of Jacqueline Hill

Crowds gathered outside Dewsbury court in England after the Yorkshire Ripper was caught and appeared there to be charged with the murder of Jacqueline Hill

Reign of terror compounded by tragic blunders: How newlywed grave digger Peter Sutcliffe’s barbaric rampage hung a dark cloud over the North… made worse by police incompetence at catching him

Within the annals of 20th-century serial killers, one name – and one moniker – represents a particularly disturbing chapter.

The fear wrought by Peter Sutcliffe’s barbaric and bloody attacks on young women were compounded by the police incompetence that let him slip the net for so long.

Sutcliffe was the newly-married former grave digger whose brutal reign of terror instilled unshakeable worry in the North of England as police failed to pick up the clues in their pursuit of the notorious murderer known as the Yorkshire Ripper.

Sutcliffe pictured at his father's home with his wife Sonia in late 1980 in the midst of his killing spree

The fear wrought by Peter Sutcliffe's barbaric and bloody attacks on young women were compounded by the police incompetence that let him slip the net for so long

The fear wrought by Peter Sutcliffe’s barbaric and bloody attacks on young women were compounded by the police incompetence that let him slip the net for so long

Police digging outside the Ripper's house at Heaton in 1981, after his killing spree which saw 13 women murdered

Police digging outside the Ripper’s house at Heaton in 1981, after his killing spree which saw 13 women murdered

Sutcliffe's unexpected confession to police in 1981 was followed by his decision to contest the charges - leading to an Old Bailey trial during which he claimed he was on a mission from God to kill prostitutes

Sutcliffe’s unexpected confession to police in 1981 was followed by his decision to contest the charges – leading to an Old Bailey trial during which he claimed he was on a mission from God to kill prostitutes

A newspaper clipping from October 1975 describes a 'savage and sadistic sex attack on Leeds mother in fear' Wilma McCann

A newspaper clipping from October 1975 describes a ‘savage and sadistic sex attack on Leeds mother in fear’ Wilma McCann

For five years, Sutcliffe stabbed, twisted and butchered the flesh of his victims.

They were teenage girls, shop assistants, prostitutes, clerks. They were mothers, daughters, sisters, wives. And the broad spectrum of victims from various walks of life meant that no woman was safe with Sutcliffe at large.

In all, 13 were killed and seven more were viciously attacked, although police remain convinced the Yorkshire Ripper’s grim roll call of female victims remains higher – not least because a red herring and copious missed opportunities gave Sutcliffe the chance to continue his murderous rampage.

Sutcliffe’s unexpected confession to police in 1981 was followed by his decision to contest the charges – leading to an Old Bailey trial during which he claimed he was on a mission from God to kill prostitutes.

He died on Friday November 13, aged 74, after close to four decades in custody. His killing spree, which began before he turned 30, remains among the most sickening murder investigations of the last century.

Peter William Sutcliffe was born on June 2 1946 in Bingley, West Yorkshire.

‘We don’t worry about the Ripper’, said surviving victim’s husband 

Olive Smelt was attacked by the Yorkshire Ripper as she walked home in Halifax on a summer evening in 1975

Olive Smelt was attacked by the Yorkshire Ripper as she walked home in Halifax on a summer evening in 1975

One of Peter Sutcliffe’s surviving victims rarely thought about the man who left her in need of brain surgery, her husband said in 2010.

Olive Smelt was attacked by the Yorkshire Ripper as she walked home in Halifax on a summer evening in 1975.

She was hit twice on the head with a hammer and needed brain surgery to overcome her injuries, but later made a full recovery.

She went on marry and have three children.

Her husband, Harry, aged 85 when the High Court ruled Sutcliffe would spend the rest of his life behind bars, said it was the correct decision for Sutcliffe’s own good.

‘I think it’s as well for him that he does have to remain in,’ Mr Smelt said.

‘There’s a kind of ranking in among prisoners – the more notorious they can be the better it is for them.

‘Think of what would happen if one of the prisoners outside got to him and could say ‘I’m the one who got Peter Sutcliffe’. He could live off that for the rest of his life.’

Mr Smelt said then that neither he nor his wife worried about what would have happened had Sutcliffe been released, and their priorities had changed.

He said in 2010: ‘We don’t worry about it.

‘Olive is very severely disabled now and wheelchair-bound – the last thing she worries about is Peter Sutcliffe.’

Olive Smelt died in 2011. 

A relative loner at school, he left education aged 15 and took on a series of menial jobs. His work as a grave digger was said to have nurtured an awkward and macabre sense of humour.

On August 10 1974, Sutcliffe married Sonia. Less than a year later, the lorry driver picked up a hammer and began attacking women, two in Keighley and one in Halifax.

All three survived and police did not notice the similarities between the attacks.

The first fatality was Wilma McCann. The 28-year-old sex worker and mother-of-four was battered to death in the early hours of October 30 1975.

She was struck with a hammer and stabbed in the neck, chest and stomach after Sutcliffe picked her up in Leeds.

He was later to tell police: ‘After that first time, I developed and played up a hatred for prostitutes in order to justify within myself a reason why I had attacked and killed Wilma McCann.’

But life continued as normal for the Sutcliffes.

His next victim – 42-year-old Emily Jackson from Leeds – was murdered in similarly bloody circumstances in January the following year.

He would apparently wait more than a year before striking again. It was his fifth murder, that of 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald in April 1977, that saw the national press wake up to the fact a serial killer was on the loose.

Dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper, the assailant’s identity went unknown for years – in fact police were totally misled by a hoax which took detectives to Sunderland, allowing Sutcliffe to keep on killing.

In 1979, a tape was sent to police by a man calling himself Jack the Ripper. He had already sent a series of hand-written letters from Sunderland and police believed they were on to the killer, discounting all those without a Wearside accent on their substantial database of suspects – Sutcliffe included.

By the summer of that year, Sutcliffe had been interviewed five times. He also bore a significant resemblance to a widely-circulated image of the prime suspect while a banknote discovered near one victim’s body was traced to Sutcliffe’s employer at the time.

However, the fact his accent and handwriting did not match those of the hoaxer meant Sutcliffe remained a free man.

He was finally caught in January 1981 when police ran a check on his car to discover the number plates were stolen.

His passenger was 24-year-old street worker Olivia Reivers – detectives later discovered a hammer and a knife nearby. Their search was over.

Despite a 24-hour-long confession to the killings, Sutcliffe entered not-guilty pleas when indicted at court.

In May 1981, he was jailed for 20 life terms at the Old Bailey, the judge recommending a minimum sentence of 30 years.

He was transferred from Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight to Broadmoor secure hospital in Berkshire in 1984 after he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

More than two decades later, a secret report revealed that Sutcliffe probably committed more crimes than the 13 murders and seven attempted murders for which he was convicted.

He left Broadmoor and moved back into mainstream prison in 2016, serving at Frankland Prison, Durham.

He was taken to hospital in October 2020 after suffering a suspected heart attack and returned to the University Hospital of North Durham a fortnight later having contracted coronavirus.

Sutcliffe, who had reportedly refused treatment for Covid-19 and was also suffering from underlying health conditions, insisted on being addressed by his mother’s maiden name of Coonan, but will be forever known as the Ripper.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk