Yorkshire Ripper’s last gasps: Inquest opens today into Peter Sutcliffe’s final 17 days


Serial killer Peter Sutcliffe died of Covid after he refused to be shielded in prison, an inquest has heard.

Sutcliffe, also known as the Yorkshire Ripper, had been warned he was vulnerable to coronavirus by authorities at Frankland Prison near Durham.

Coroner Crispin Oliver, sitting in Crook, County Durham, was told that Sutcliffe, who changed his named to Coonan, died aged 74 at University Hospital of North Durham at 1.45am on November 13 2020.

Sutcliffe was serving a life sentence at Frankland for the murders of 13 women in the 1970s, and was in poor health. 

Mr Oliver was told that Sutcliffe had heart disease and diabetes – both risk factors for Covid-19.

Prison governor Lee Drummond said vulnerable prisoners had been warned of the dangers of coronavirus after the country locked down in March.

They were offered measures similar to shielding in the community, being kept apart from other inmates at meal times and to use the phone, but Sutcliffe turned down the offer. 

The killer was said to be ‘terrified’ of catching the virus – telling a pen-pal he hoped an ‘effective vaccine’ would be developed. 

However, he later died gasping for breath after catching Covid.  

One of Sutcliffe’s last acts in prison was to fall from his bed while trying to change the channel on his television, the inquest heard.

He did not suffer any injury in the fall which happened before he was admitted to hospital for the final time.

Sutcliffe was pictured in public for the last time on September 26, 2015 when he was being taken from Broadmoor to Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey for eye treatment

Peter Sutcliffe (left and right in 2015), 74, died after becoming infected with Covid-19 last November, having fallen ill in prison on October 27

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 killer was first taken to hospital on October 27 after feeling dizzy and being diagnosed at the prison’s healthcare unit with a blocked heart.

He returned to Frankland on November 4 and it was after this first hospital stay that he tested positive for Covid 19.

Prison nurse Angela Spence said Sutcliffe was treated with antibiotics for a cough and his health deteriorated and he had a rapid heart rate.

Mr Drummond said Sutcliffe went in and out of hospital on both November 8 and November 9, before being admitted a final time the next day.

His next of kin – ex-wife Sonia Woodward – was informed of his deteriorating health, the inquest heard.

She was aware of the inquest and was invited to attend in person or remotely, but declined, the coroner heard.

Mr Drummond said Sutcliffe was considered a retired prisoner, meaning he did not have to work unless he wanted to, and his health stopped him from doing tasks.

Sutcliffe, who arrived in 2016 after being held at Broadmoor secure psychiatric hospital, was a category A prisoner and was held on Alpha wing – ‘a more relaxed environment’ for prisoners with mobility issues.

Sutcliffe’s crimes terrified northern England in the 1970s, but Mr Drummond said: ‘For such a high-profile prisoner he was very unassuming and went about his daily business.’

Detective Constable Alistair Rogowski investigated Sutcliffe’s death, a routine process for police when a prisoner dies behind bars.

He said the jail’s Covid lockdown meant it was impossible to investigate his cell, but there was no evidence to suggest anything other than a death from natural causes. 

On August 10 1974, Sutcliffe married Sonia (they are pictured at their wedding day). Less than a year later, the lorry driver picked up a hammer and began attacking women, two in Keighley and one in Halifax

On August 10 1974, Sutcliffe married Sonia (they are pictured at their wedding day). Less than a year later, the lorry driver picked up a hammer and began attacking women, two in Keighley and one in Halifax 

Sutcliffe, under a blanket, arriving at Dewsbury Magistrates Court charged with the murder of 13 women and attempted murder of seven others in 1981

Sutcliffe, under a blanket, arriving at Dewsbury Magistrates Court charged with the murder of 13 women and attempted murder of seven others in 1981 

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

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

Pathologist Dr Clive Bloxham, appearing by videolink, said his post-mortem examination revealed Sutcliffe had ‘extremely heavy lungs’ – typical of someone with coronavirus.

He said the cause of death was Covid-19 infection, with heart disease and diabetes contributing.

He confirmed the death was not suspicious and was from natural causes.

Mr Oliver will give his conclusion later on Wednesday. 

Sutcliffe had written regular letters to a penpal during the pandemic and months before his death had boasted about feeling ‘much safer’ in prison than in the outside world. 

Mentioning the ‘horrible worldwide pandemic’, he told the correspondent, who asked to remain anonymous: ‘The world is stuck with this Covid. 

‘Makes me feel much safer being in here with all that’s going on in the world.’

He had regularly described his fears about contracting coronavirus in the months before he tested positive. He first mentioned it on March 16 writing: ‘You be careful with this horrible virus about.’

He also declined to have visitors due to his fears about the virus, writing on May 10: ‘Visits are going again but I won’t be bothering with them in the present circumstances. I’d rather wait until they’ve discovered an effective vaccine.’

In July 2020, Sutcliffe said he was ‘fed up with lockdown’ and moaned about a prisoner friend not being able to cook him a Full English breakfast, before mentioning on August 4 how he had taken a covid test that came back negative. 

In his last recorded words, he wrote: ‘Lockdown still no change here and with all the new spikes going on outside these walls I don’t there will be any change until the new year. Health-wise we are both doing OK and getting on with life the best we can.’ 

Transcript from letter on May 10: 'Here goes with another few lines to complete your letter our [removed for privacy reasons]. As you now know are going again but I won't be bothering with them in the present circumstances. I'd rather wait until they've discovered an effective vaccine. But I've put in for a video link between [removed] 2 to 3pm on Saturdays and 2.45 to 3.15 on Sundays. So we'll have to wait and see what transpires. I've just [unreadable] in a lot of trouble with his [unreadable]'

Transcript from letter on May 10: ‘Here goes with another few lines to complete your letter our [removed for privacy reasons]. As you now know are going again but I won’t be bothering with them in the present circumstances. I’d rather wait until they’ve discovered an effective vaccine. But I’ve put in for a video link between [removed] 2 to 3pm on Saturdays and 2.45 to 3.15 on Sundays. So we’ll have to wait and see what transpires. I’ve just [unreadable] in a lot of trouble with his [unreadable]’

Sutcliffe's letter on June 14 to his penpal - who asked to remain anonymous - in which he boasted about feeling 'safer' behind bars during the covid pandemic

Sutcliffe’s letter on June 14 to his penpal – who asked to remain anonymous – in which he boasted about feeling ‘safer’ behind bars during the covid pandemic

The Ripper had previously signed ‘do not resuscitate forms’ – while friends said he astonishingly believed he would ‘go to heaven’ after his death because he had become a Jehovah’s Witness. 

Families of his victims celebrated his death and said the serial killer will ‘rot in hell’. 

Marcella Claxton, who was left needing more than 50-stitches after being hit over the head with a hammer, 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.’

Neil Jackson, whose mother Emily was killed by Sutcliffe after he hit her 52 times with a hammer, heard about his death today in a phone call from his son. 

He said: ‘My first thought was ‘thank God for that’. It’s a big relief.’

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

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.

Timeline:

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

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. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk