United Kingdom

Peter Sutcliffe’s timeline of terror that proved no women – or girl – was safe

For years women in the north of England were terrified of going out at night, knowing a callous and sadistic serial killer was on the loose.

Between 1975 and 1980 Peter Sutcliffe – who died on Friday after contracting Covid-19 – horrifically murdered 13 innocent women and attacked even more.

However, successfully managed to evade capture by police for years until he was eventually confessed after being arrested for driving with false numberplates.

His reign of terror shocked the country, as it soon became apparent that no woman – or girl, for his youngest murder victim was just 16, while the youngest person he attacked was a 14-year-old – was safe from his appalling violence.

Sutcliffe’s sickening murder technique quickly became apparent; hitting his unknowing victims on the back of the head with a hammer before slashing at their bodies in attacks between Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Halifax and Huddersfield.

At first his victims were believed to be sex workers, but the killing of 16-year-old shop assistant Jayne MacDonald changed that.

Her death in 1977, followed by those of university students in the following months and years – led people to fear that no women, or girl, was safe.

As the attacks continued, the then unmasked killer was dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper.

Peter Sutcliffe’s timeline of attacks

1969

Unnamed prostitute – survived

Sutcliffe had been in a minivan with a friend – searching for another prostitute who had tricked him out of money – when he came across the victim and followed her on his own into a garage to attack her, hitting her over the head with a rock in a sock.

He was later visited by police, who told him he was “very lucky” as the married woman – a known prostitute – did not want to press charges.

1975

Anna Rogulskyj – survived

Anna was knocked unconscious with a hammer and had her stomach slashed with a knife while she was walking along. Sutcliffe’s attack was disturbed by a neighbour, but Anna was left emotionally traumatised.

Olive Smelt in Halifax – survived

Again, Sutcliffe struck her from behind in an attack in August 1075, and used a knife to slash her above the buttocks. Like his previous attack, he interrupted and left his victim badly injured but alive. Her emotional scars included clinical depression.

Tracy Browne, 14, in Silsden – survived

Tracy Browne is believed to be one of Peter Sutcliffe’s earliest victims

Sutcliffe struck 14-year-old Tracy from behind and hit her on the head five times while she walked along a country lane near her home.

Years later she recalled how he lunged at her : “I pleaded with him, ‘Please don’t, please don’t’, and screamed for help.

“But he hit me five times and with so much force and energy that each blow was accompanied by a brutal grunting noise.”

He was again disturbed and his victim was left needing brain surgery, her eyes filled with blood after the attack.

Sutcliffe was not convicted of the attack, but confessed in 1992.

Wilma McCann, mum of four in Chapeltown, Leeds – died

Wilma McCann, the Yorkshire Ripper's first murder victim
Wilma McCann, the Yorkshire Ripper’s first murder victim

Sutcliffe’s first murder victim was Wilma McCann on October 30. He hit her twice with a hammer before stabbing her 15 times in the neck, chest and abdomen.

One of McCann’s daughters committed suicide in December 2007 after suffering years of depression.

1976

Emily Jackson, 42, in Leeds – died

Emily Jackson, one of the 13 victims of Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe
Emily Jackson, was stabbed 51 times by Sutcliffe

11 weeks after murdering Wilma McCann, Sutcliffe butchered Emily Jackson.

Desperate for money in January 1976, Jackson had been working as a prostitute out of a van.

After meeting Sutcliffe he hit her on the head with a hammer then stabbed her 51 times with a sharpened screwdriver in the neck, chest and abdomen. He also stamped on her thigh – leaving an impression of his boot.

Despite this, he was not caught.

Marcella Claxton, 20, in Roundhay Park, Leeds – survived

Peter Sutcliffe victim Marcella Claxton, pictured in 2005
Marcella Claxton survived an attack by Sutcliffe, but lost her unborn baby soon afterwards

On May 9 1975 Sutcliffe hit a 20-year-old Marcella – who was four months pregnant at the time – from behind with a hammer after she accepted a lift home from him while walking home from a party. Marcella later suffered a miscarriage.

She survived and testified against Sutcliffe at his trial.

“I have to live with my injuries, 54 stitches in my head, back and front, plus I lost a baby, I was four months pregnant,” she told Sky News after his death.

“I still get headaches, dizzy spells and black outs.”

1977

Irene Richardson in Roundhay Park, Leeds – died

Irene Richardson
Irene Richardson was hit with a hammer by Peter Sutcliffe

Richardson, a mother of two, was bludgeoned to death on February 5 with a hammer by Sutcliffe who then mutilated her corpse with a knife.

At the time of her death she was working as a prostitute, and her body was found behind a sports pavilion.

Patricia “Tina” Atkinson in Bradford – died

Mother-of-three Patricia Atkinson was killed in her flat on April 23. She and Sutcliffe had been drinking in a nearby pub, before returning to her home in his car.

Sutcliffe hit her with a hammer as she walked into her flat.

Police found a bootprint on the bedsheets.

Jayne MacDonald, 16, in Chapeltown – died

Jayne MacDonald smiling for the camera
Jayne MacDonald was just 16 years old when she was murdered

Jayne was a 16-year-old shop assistant who was killed while walking home from a night out. Her body was found by two kids in a playground.

Her brutal murder on June 26 led to the public fearing all women were potential victims as she was the first victim who was not a known sex worker.

Maureen Long in Bradford – survived

In July Maureen was left for dead Sutcliffe was interrupted during his attack.

A witness misidentified the make of his car. More than 300 police officers took 12,500 statements and checked thousands of cars, without success.

Jean Jordan in Manchester – died

Jean Jordan
Jean Jordan’s body was found 10 days after her murder

Jean’s exact date of death is not known, only that it was between September 30 and October 11.

Several days after killing her, Sutcliffe moved her body from a cemetery. In his confession, Sutcliffe said he had realised a new £5 note he had given her was traceable so moved her after a family party – and mutilated her corpse.

The £5 note – which he could no longer find hidden in her handbag – was traced to branches of the Midland Bank in Shipley and Bingley.

5,000 men, including Sutcliffe, were interviewed over three months, after police worked out 8,000 employees who could have received the note in their wage packets. Sutcliffe said he was at a family party, and cops found his alibi to be credible.

Marilyn Moore in Leeds – survived

Marilyn, a prostitute, survived her attack on December 14 and provided police with a description. Tyre tracks found at the scene matched those from an earlier attack.

1978

Yvonne Pearson, 22, from Bradford – died

Yvonne Pearson
Yvonne Pearson was another victim

Sutcliffe killed Yvonne Pearson between January 20 and March 26.

After stuffing horse hair into her mouth and jumping on her chest, he hid her body under an abandoned sofa – so it was not found until March.

Helen Rytka, 18, from Huddersfield on January 31 – died

18-year-old Helen lost her life on January 31, when she was hit on the head five times as she climbed out of his vehicle.

He then stripped the sex worker of most of her clothes before stabbing her in the chest.

Her body was found three days later under railway arches in a timber yard where he had stopped the car, her bra and polo-neck jumper pushed above her breasts.

Vera Millward – died

Vera Millward
Vera Millward was a mum of seven

Sutcliffe killed mother-of-seven Vera on May 16 before dumping her body at Manchester Royal Infirmary car park.

Vera, who was also a prostitute, was sickly before her death, but fought back during the attack.

A man recalled hearing screams from the hospital grounds, but thought the cries were from a hospital patient.

1979

Josephine Whitaker, 19, on Saville Park Moor in Halifax on April 4 – died

Josephine Whitaker
Josephine Whitaker was 19-year-old building society clerk

The building society clerk was attacked walking home on April 4 when she was set upon, and was the second of his victims was was not a known sex worker.

Josephine was killed while walking home, and while forensic evidence was left at the scene, police efforts were diverted for several months after they received a taped message purporting to be from the murderer.

The tape taunted Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, who was leading the investigation.

It contained a man’s voice saying: “I’m Jack. I see you’re having no luck catching me. I have the greatest respect for you, George, but Lord, you’re no nearer catching me now than four years ago when I started.”

John Humble
John Humble admitted being the infamous Yorkshire Ripper hoaxer

Cops started searching for a man with a Wearside accent – narrowed down to the Castletown area of Sunderland.

The hoaxer – aka ‘Wearside Jack’ – sent two letters to police boasting of his crimes signed ‘Jack The Ripper’.

The author claimed responsibility for the murder of Joan Harrison, 26, in Preston in November 1975.

In October 2005, unemployed alcoholic and Sunderland resident John Humble was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice – and eventually sentenced to eight years in prison.

Barbara Leach, 20, Bradford University student – died

Barbara Leach
Barbara Leach

Barbara was walking home from a night out when she was killed on September 1.

She died just yards from her home, again being hit over the head and stabbed eight times.

Her body was dumped under a pile of bricks near the university.

Sutcliffe was interviewed on at least two other occasions this year but not suspected. By this time he had been interviewed at least NINE times.

1980

Sutcliffe was arrested for drunk-driving in April – and bailed, allowing him to kill two more women and attack three others.

Marguerite Walls on August 20 – died

Marguerite Wells, 47, a civil servant from Leeds was strangled while walking home from work.

Sutcliffe later said he believed she was a prostitute.

Jacqueline Hill, 20, a Leeds University student November 17 – died

Jacqueline Hil
Jacqueline Hill was the last of Peter Sutcliffe’s murder victims

The body of Sutcliffe’s last known murder victim was found on wasteland.

He saw Jacqueline get off a bus in Headingley and followed her before launching his attack.

Dr Uphadya Bandara in Leeds on September 24 – survived

Maureen Lea, a Leeds University arts student on October 25 – survived

Theresa Sykes, 16, in Huddersfield on November 5 – survived

On November 25 an associate of Sutcliffe, Trevor Birdsall, reported him as a suspect to police but the information vanished into paperwork.

Speaking recently, criminal psychologist Dr David Holmes said: “Sutcliffe’s personal success with getting away with so many murders for so long would have emboldened him.

“He was an extremely callous, sexually sadistic serial killer.”

Arrest and conviction

Peter Sutcliffe looking at the camera
Peter Sutcliffe was finally caught in January 1981

On January 2 1981 Sutcliffe was arrested for having false number plates on his car shortly after stopping to let a prostitute into his car.

Despite sneaking off to dispose of his knife, hammer and rope – under the guise of going to the toilet – he was soon questioned about the murders as he matched the descriptions given.

He confessed, calmly describing his attacks, and was charged on January 5.

At his trial he pleaded not guilty to murder on grounds of diminished responsibility – due to his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia..

He also said he had heard “voices from God”, telling him to go on a mission to rid the streets of prostitutes.

But the jury rejected his claims of diminished responsibility, and he was given 20 life terms for the 13 murders and seven attempted murders

His trial judge described him as beyond redemption, and Sutcliffe became one of the UK’s few criminals to receive a whole life term, giving him no chance of ever being released.


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