How the Yorkshire Ripper was finally caught

Catriona Harvey-Jenner
·3-min read
Photo credit: Express Newspapers - Getty Images
Photo credit: Express Newspapers - Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

Warning: This article contains details of violence some readers may find distressing

Peter Sutcliffe, the man also known as the Yorkshire Ripper after he murdered 13 women in the north of England throughout the 70s and 80s, has died of coronavirus. He was 74.

Sutcliffe spent thirty years at Broadmoor Hospital before being moved to HMP Frankland in County Durham four years ago 2016. The BBC reports he refused treatment for COVID-19, and died in hospital as a result.

The Yorkshire Ripper began his gruesome crusade of violence against women in 1975, when he killed 28-year-old mother-of-four Wilma McCann, 28 as she walked home from a night out in the early hours of 30 October. The murderer continued, going untraced over the next five years despite murdering 12 more women and attempting to kill seven others.

It wasn't until January 1981, three months after his final attack on 20-year-old Jacqueline Hill in Leeds, that police caught up with Sutcliffe. But how did they finally discover who he was, after so many years falling under the radar?

The identification and subsequent capture of the man labelled 'The Yorkshire Ripper' by the media was actually quite fortuitous. Initially, Peter Sutcliffe was only stopped by police in Sheffield because they suspected his car had false number plates.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

The investigation took a while to get off the ground because, at first, police didn't link the murders. The attacks took place across Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Huddersfield and Halifax, which meant officers were thrown off the scent of a serial killer being to blame. But after a pattern began to emerge with all the killings - victims were all struck over the head with a hammer before being stabbed with a knife or screwdriver - it was clear they were after one man.

When two policemen in Sheffield walked past a brown Rover in January 1981, and noticed the car's registration plate did not match the number on the tax disc, they stopped the man at the wheel. Peter Sutcliffe was sitting inside the vehicle with a sex worker, and instantly came to the officers' attention because he fit the description of the Yorkshire Ripper.

Photo credit: Keystone - Getty Images
Photo credit: Keystone - Getty Images

After allowing Sutcliffe to go to the toilet behind a nearby building, the police sent him to Dewsbury to be interviewed. There, officers searched his car and discovered screwdrivers in the glove compartment. A later inspection back at the site of Sutcliffe's arrest revealed he had discarded a hammer and a knife when he supposedly went to relieve himself behind the building. The Yorkshire Post reports a second knife had been hidden in a police station toilet before he was searched.

During a strip search, officers noticed that Sutcliffe was wearing elbow padding, as well as an upside-down V-neck jumper under his trousers, exposing his genitals. With the evidence mounting up against him, after two days of questioning Peter Sutcliffe eventually admitted being the Yorkshire Ripper. He went on to describe all the attacks in a detailed confession that lasted 24 hours.

Photo credit: Keystone - Getty Images
Photo credit: Keystone - Getty Images

Sutcliffe was charged with multiple counts of murder, and was found guilty at a trial in the Old Bailey later that year. The Telegraph reports the murderer claimed he had been "directed by God to kill prostitutes" as reasoning for the grim attacks.

The killer was sentenced to 20 concurrent life sentences, and he remained imprisoned until his death this week.

Wilma McCann's son Richard, who was just five-years-old at the time of his mother's murder, said the serial killer's death would bring "some kind of closure" for himself and the other family members of his victims.

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