The ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ killings started in July 1975 and continued until November 1980, during which time 13 women were murdered in the north of England by a Jack The Ripper-style killer.
The killer struck by night, smashing his victims’ heads with a hammer and usually mutilating the bodies. The women ranged in age from 16 to 47 and nine of them were prostitutes.
During the five-year investigation into the killings, 200 full-time officers and another 300 part-time investigators conducted more than 200,000 interviews in an attempt to track down the mass killer. Meanwhile, the Yorkshire Ripper sent several letters to the police, taunting them for not catching him.
In January 1981, vice squad police cruising a red light district in Sheffield, Yorkshire, detained Bradford truck driver Peter Sutcliffe, aged 35, when they found him in a car with stolen number plates.
After being questioned by the Ripper squad, Sutcliffe was charged with all 13 counts of murder and seven charges of attempted murder.
A jury of six men and six women deliberated for nearly six hours after Sutcliffe’s trial at London’s Old Bailey Central Criminal Court before handing down a guilty verdict on all charges, rejecting Sutcliffe’s guilty plea to manslaughter charges on grounds of diminished responsibility or mental incompetence.
Sutcliffe showed no emotion when the judge, Sir Leslie Boreham, told him: “You are a very dangerous man indeed . . . I express the hope that when I have said ‘life imprisonment’, it will mean precisely that.” Sutcliffe testified that he had been driven by a “divine mission” to kill prostitutes and would kill again if freed.
He began his sentence under special security at London’s Wormwood Scrubs Prison.
During the 14-day trial, Attorney General Sir Michael Havers, the prosecutor, revealed that police interviewed Sutcliffe nine times in the five-year investigation and on each occasion they let him go. Police had also sighted Sutcliffe 50 times in red light areas of northern cities where many of the Ripper murders occurred and let him go.