LONDON – Peter Sutcliffe, who was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven more in a year which led to newspapers calling him the Yorkshire Ripper, died on Friday. He was 74 years old.
Mr Sutcliffe’s death was announced by the UK Prison Service, which said he had underlying health issues and had tested positive for the coronavirus. A coroner will investigate the cause of death.
He was convicted in 1981 of murdering 13 women over five years in the north of England and sentenced to life for each, the maximum allowed. The murders, which took place between 1975 and 1980, gripped the public and authorities alike, and the lengthy investigation was “a source of considerable embarrassment to the police,” the New York Times wrote at the time.
Mr Sutcliffe was questioned by police on several occasions during their investigations in the 1970s. His arrest came after he was found with false license plates on his car; he confessed to the murders, many of which were committed from behind with a hammer and knife. A jury of six men and six women convicted him.
“He has ruined so many lives,” Richard McCann, son of Mr Sutcliffe’s first known victim, told Sky News. “He will be one of those 20th century figures in the same league as I suppose someone like Hitler.
Mr McCann’s mother, Wilma McCann, was killed on October 30, 1975. Others would follow in a reign of terror as police focused on false leads and a hoax recording they believed came from the killer.
A 1981 report on the failures of the police investigation was released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2006. Known as the Byford Report, to the official who wrote it, he cited a “curious lull and unexplained ”in Mr. Sutcliffe’s criminal activities between 1969 and 1975. The report concluded that it was“ highly unlikely that the crimes for which Sutcliffe was charged and convicted were the only ones attributable to him ”.
Mr Sutcliffe, who also used the Coonan surname, served much of his sentence in a mental hospital and was transferred to Frankland Prison in north-east England in 2016, reported the Associated Press.
“It is difficult to find adequate words in my opinion to describe the brutality and gravity of these offenses,” said Judge Leslie Boreham on the day of his conviction. “I express the hope that when I say life imprisonment it will mean precisely that.”