Secret prison tapes & letters expose Yorkshire Ripper's monstrous path to becoming UK's most notorious serial killer

ON a warm summer evening in August, 1969, Peter Sutcliffe smashed a gravel-filled sock over the head of a woman he had been following in Bradford’s red light district.

The former gravedigger with dark, piercing eyes and a violent hatred of sex workers had started on a monstrous path to becoming one of the most notorious serial murderers in British history.

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The woman in Bradford escaped with her life. Thirteen others would not.

A few years later swathes of northern England were gripped by fear as the Yorkshire Ripper struck again and again.

National fury erupted at a police force seemingly unable to stop him.

Four decades on, Sutcliffe is finally, thankfully, dead at 74. Today in this Sun supplement we tell the whole story – including words from the killer himself.

Sun reporter Robin Perrie has been given access to nearly 200 letters from Sutcliffe and transcripts of almost 400 phone conversations.

They give a unique insight into the UK’s most notorious serial killer and his hideous crimes.


WILMA McCANN weaved her way home clutching her chips and curry sauce after another good night in the pubs and clubs of Leeds.

She normally tried to get a babysitter but tonight she had left her four kids home alone.

It would not take long to stagger home to the freezing cold, run-down semi just off Scott Hall Road to the north of the city.

But it would be even quicker if she could get a lift.

She stuck out her thumb as a Ford Capri passed and was delighted when it pulled over.

She might even earn a fiver on the way home, she thought, as she climbed in and said hello to the man with dark eyes, black beard and thick black hair.

By October 1975, Peter Sutcliffe had left Bingley Cemetery for a job as delivery driver for a tyre company.

He said: “I didn’t like it because you used to load the tyres on to the trailer by hand and they were full of water and you’d get all the filthy water sloshing over you.

“Big lorry tyres as well, most of them. Kept you fit but you were always soaking wet and it wasn’t even clean water, it was the filthy rainwater.”

The job improved his knowledge of the road networks across Leeds and Bradford, especially the red light districts and city centres where he could find lone women late at night.

Wilma was one of 11 children brought up by a strict mum and dad in Inverness, in the far north of Scotland.

‘Seething with rage’

She left home shortly after school and became a single mum in her teens. She then met an Irish joiner and decided to follow a number of her brothers who had moved south to Yorkshire in the hope of a better life.

The couple settled in Leeds and had three children, but the marriage was a violent, unhappy union that did not last.

By the mid-1970s Wilma, 28, was bringing up four kids on her own in a house with no carpets or heating.

Her escape was regular nights out drinking in city centre pubs in the company of various men, some of whom paid her for a good time.

Soon after accepting a lift from the bearded man in the Capri they agreed the price of a fiver for sex and he parked up next to a field not far from her house.

But they were soon arguing and Sutcliffe said later: “I was expecting to be a bit romantic, I couldn’t have intercourse in a split second, I had to be aroused.

“She said, ‘I am going. It’s going to take you all f***ing day. You’re f***ing useless’. I felt myself seething with rage. I got out of the car wanting to hit her to pay her back for the insult.”

Sutcliffe took a hammer from a tool box in his boot and went after her. He said: “I hit her with the hammer on the top of the head. I hit her once or twice and she started making a moaning noise.”

He then stabbed her 14 times in the chest and stomach and once in the neck. It was October 30, 1975, and his first murder.

A few hours later, when her children woke and realised she was not back, the eldest two, Sonia, seven, and Richard, five, went looking for her at 5.30am.

They scoured nearby streets and waited at a bus stop, praying their mum would arrive soon, but there was no sign of her and they returned home.

Shortly after, a milkman found her lying on her back with her upper clothing disturbed and her breasts exposed.

Wilma’s murder came after Sutcliffe had made three failed attempts to kill in the preceding few months. Anna Rogulskyj, a 34-year-old Irish woman of Polish descent, had moved to Yorkshire a few years earlier.

After returning home in July 1975 from a night out in Bradford, she went to see her boyfriend in the early hours — as Sutcliffe was prowling the nearby streets.

He attacked her from behind as she walked along an alley, hitting her over the head three times with a hammer before slashing at her abdomen with a knife. Surgeons saved her life in a 12-hour op.

The following month Sutcliffe was again on the hunt — just five days after his first wedding anniversary.

Olive Smelt, a 46-year-old cleaner and mother of three, had been on a night out with a friend in Halifax. As she was walked home alone, Sutcliffe passed her and said: “Weather’s letting us down, isn’t it?” then attacked, again from behind with a hammer. She suffered two depressed skull fractures but her life was saved.

The similarity of their wounds was noted by doctors, but their attacks would not be included in the Ripper series for three years.

Almost a fortnight later Sutcliffe was in Silsden, a village around seven miles north of Bingley, when he spotted Tracy Browne, 14.

After engaging her in a brief conversation as they walked along a quiet country lane, Sutcliffe hung back then attacked her from behind, raining blows down on her head with a heavy stick.

He stopped when a car approached, but in his mind it was the voices that called him off.

He said: “I thought she was a prostitute at first, walking slowly and that and looking round, when I hit her on the head and it just . . . it didn’t knock her out, it was only a stick. And I threw her over a wall because I realised she wasn’t a prostitute, she was a . . . she seemed fairly young. I heard the voice saying, ‘No, no, it’s a mistake. Stop stop’. So I just said, ‘Oh, you’ll be all right, I’m going now’.”

The attack was not filed as a Ripper assault for years and it was only after his trial that Sutcliffe admitted it.

‘I believed in miracles’

There had been a six-year gap between this series of attacks and his first bungled assault with a pebble-filled sock on the woman in Bradford in 1969.

Some experts believe he committed other attacks during that time, although he was never charged for any.

Sutcliffe claimed he spent the intervening years wrestling with the voices in his head and trying to resist their murderous demands.

He said: “At first I was arguing with God, telling him that I didn’t want to do it, asking him why me, that he should pick someone else more worthy, like a priest.

“You see, I was already a religious person, I believed in the Bible and miracles, so it was easy to believe what was happening to me was real, where in fact, when I was arguing with God, I was really arguing with myself.

“I even tried to avoid doing The Mission, I applied to do night-time work to make it more difficult for me to attack anyone.

“I knew it was building up to me killing after the sock attack. The voice was now telling me to find a more effective way to deal with them, to find a better weapon.”

That better weapon was a ball-pein hammer, coupled with a knife and later a sharpened screwdriver. Following the brutal murder of Wilma, his spree continued.

Nicknamed Smiler, Emily Jackson was a friendly woman who worked at a mill before marrying roofer Sid and having three children.

After moving to a new semi in a Leeds suburb, the family struggled to make ends meet. So they entered into an unusual arrangement.

The couple began making regular trips to Chapeltown, the red light area of Leeds.

Emily would head into the Gaiety pub — a renowned hangout for sex workers — to meet men and have sex for money, while Sid would nurse a pint before taking her home.

On January 20, 1976, 42-year-old Emily chose Sutcliffe as a punter.

At a nearby derelict industrial estate, Sutcliffe, armed with a screwdriver, pretended his car had engine trouble. The pair got out to look under the bonnet.

He said: “She was holding her lighter. I took a couple of steps back and I hit her over the head with the hammer.

“I think I hit her twice, she fell down on to the road. I took hold of her hands or wrists and pulled her into a yard which had rubbish in.

“I then made sure she was dead by taking a screwdriver and stabbing her repeatedly. I pulled her dress up and her bra before I stabbed her to make it easier.

“Another car pulled up but turned their lights off quick, that’s what people done when they had prostitutes with them.

“If they had them on longer, they could have seen my car and registration number, then that could have been it, stopped at that very beginning.”

He checked his clothes as he drove away and found that, despite frenziedly stabbing her 52 times, he had no blood on him. He said: “I’d hit them on the head then everything was done on the ground so I never had any blood on me.”

Her body was found the next morning and her murder was immediately linked to Wilma’s.

With no social media or rolling news channels, police cars toured the area using loudspeaker messages to appeal for information.

Appeals were also made at football and rugby matches and in bingo halls and cinemas.

The man leading both murder inquiries, Det Ch Supt Dennis Hoban, said: “We are quite certain the man we are looking for hates prostitutes. He is a sadistic killer.”

And with chilling accuracy he added: “I believe the man we are looking for is the type who could kill again.”

A year later, in February 1977, his prediction came true.

Intestines spilled out

An early-morning jogger found a woman’s body on the edge of sports fields at Roundhay Park, just yards from the posh Leeds apartment block where then television star Jimmy Savile lived.

Irene Richardson, 28, worked as a cleaner and chambermaid. But she had fallen on hard times and began going with men for money.

Her killer had smashed her over the head with a hammer and torn at her abdomen until her intestines spilled out.

Her boots had been placed along the length of her thighs, suggesting a ritualistic nature to the killing.

But Sutcliffe said: “It was nothing to do with religion or to shock people that found the body. I was surprised how illuminated her legs were from the light of the moon. I couldn’t leave her laying there like that as I needed to get away.

“I placed her coat on top of her legs and her boots to hide her legs.”

Terrified girls working in Leeds’ red light district heeded warnings from the police and abandoned the streets, at least for a short time.

But Tina Atkinson, 32, a mother of three, was not concerned because she had a flat in Bradford where she took punters, so she thought she was safe.

On the night of Saturday, April 23, 1977, she enjoyed a particularly heavy night out in her regular drinking haunts in Bradford.

The following day her body was found in her flat, face down on her bed, covered by her duvet.

She had suffered two blows to the head and stab wounds to her abdomen. Her bra had been pulled up to expose her breasts. This would be the only murder Sutcliffe committed inside a building.

He said: “Do you know what? If she hadn’t closed the curtains I wouldn’t have killed her. I had to think of saving the mission at all times, so if she hadn’t done that, I’d have later found someone else and killed them . . . it’s a strange thing, fate.”

There had now been four brutal killings and four other non-fatal assaults — but there was no hint of a breakthrough in the police hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.


IT took the brutal killing of a sweet 16-year-old to change everything.

Up until the summer of 1977, the Yorkshire Ripper’s murder victims had all been sex workers, or “good time girls” as the police called some of them.

That affected the response to appeals for information and also meant many women wrongly believed they were not at risk.

But Jayne MacDonald was a happy-go-lucky teenager who worked in the shoe department of a local supermarket when she was murdered in June 1977.

Sutcliffe attacked her next to a children’s playground as she made her way home from a night dancing in a bar in Leeds city centre.

He had convinced himself that any woman walking alone at night was a sex worker and said: “At this time the urge to kill prostitutes was very strong and I had gone out of my mind. I saw this lass walking along quite slowly. I took my hammer out of the car. I also had a knife.”

Police, who were becoming overwhelmed by the scale of the investigation, made urgent appeals, stressing even “innocent” women could fall victim to the Ripper.

There was a huge — and very angry — public response.

While posters featuring Jayne were placed in hundreds of shop windows, a petition was launched by neighbours demanding the death penalty be reinstated, and “Hang the Ripper” graffiti appeared.

Going door to door to collect petition signatures, one volunteer said: “We are going to go round every house in Leeds if necessary.”

The appeals did not produce a breakthrough — and two weeks later the Ripper struck again. This time his victim survived.

Obsessive drive

But the police manhunt was still getting nowhere. At one point there were so many documents at the incident room that the building was in danger of collapse. It also made it hard for cops to find if questioned suspects had cropped up in the inquiry before.

Anger at the police’s inability to catch the Ripper was boiling over as furious women held “Reclaim the Night” protest marches. It even reached the highest political levels.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was incensed at the West Yorkshire force’s failings and she told colleagues she was thinking of going to Leeds to “take personal charge of the investigation”.

The first four murders had been investigated by different senior officers, but after teenager Jayne MacDonald became the fifth victim in June 1977, George Oldfield, West Yorkshire’s Assistant Chief Constable (Crime), took overall charge.

However from March 1978 the police investigation was further hampered by the hoaxer who was to become known as Wearside Jack.

Two letters and a tape recording had been sent to Oldfield, taunting him for failing to catch his man and pledging to carry on killing.

In the tape recording — released in a frenzy of publicity in June 1979 — Wearside Jack told Oldfield: “George . . . Lord, you are no nearer catching me now than four years ago when I started.”

A hard-working, old-fashioned copper with a fearsome temper, Oldfield had an obsessive drive to solve every crime he investigated.

He drove his men hard in the Ripper inquiry but his own work ethic and obsessive drive to solve the case made it feel like a personal battle between him and the killer. Yet that battle was not going to be won while Oldfield thought the Ripper was from Wearside.

But he was convinced the hoax letters and tape were genuine and the inquiry’s entire focus switched to Castletown, a former mining village on the outskirts of Sunderland where voice experts said whoever made the tape was from.

A £1million publicity campaign was launched and the tape was played at factories, bingo halls, pubs, clubs and sports events. But Sutcliffe would go on to murder three more women while cops were focusing their attention on Sunderland. He was even interviewed four more times but discounted on each occasion as he had the wrong accent.

Sutcliffe claimed his seventh victim in January 1978, when he murdered Yvonne Pearson, a 22-year-old mum of two who considered herself a high-class sex worker.

With a fashionable Purdy-style haircut and expensive clothes, she had no shortage of clients as she travelled the country and focused on the conference trade in London.

But her short life came to a brutal end on a patch of desolate wasteland in Bradford. Her body was hidden under a discarded sofa, where she lay for two months.

Before she was found he struck again. Helen Rytka was only 18 but had suffered a wretched life. With her twin sister Rita she had been in and out of care most of her life and had once written a heart-breaking letter to a local paper begging for a foster family to take them in. She wrote: “If my twin sister and I got fostered out together it would be like winning £1,000 on the Football Pools. But money is not involved. LOVE is.”

Helen’s passion was singing and dancing and she dreamed of becoming a pop star. But by the start of 1978 she was unemployed and scraping a living by selling her body on the streets of Huddersfield.

She and Rita, also a sex worker, knew there was a maniac on the loose. So if one picked up a punter, the other took his car registration.

If they did not return to a designated spot in 20 minutes, the other sister would raise the alarm.

It worked well until a snowy evening at the end of January when Helen climbed into a red Ford Corsair and was driven the short distance to a timber yard beneath some railways arches.

After having sex with her — the only one of his victims with whom he did — Sutcliffe struck her over the head with a hammer. He hit her five more times, ripped off her clothes and slashed at her body.

‘Fantasy nickname’

At one stage he repeatedly thrust the knife into the same two stab wounds at least 13 times, an aspect of the attack which lawyers at his trial would say was very significant.

He dragged her near-naked body to a woodpile, where he hid it under a sheet of corrugated asbestos.

She was found three days later by a police dog after Rita had reported her missing.

Sutcliffe struck again in May that year, travelling over the Pennines for a second time. Mum of seven Vera Millward, 41, died from three hammer blows. Sutcliffe also slashed her so viciously across her stomach that her intestines spilled out.

It was these injuries, also suffered by Irene Richardson and Jean Jordan, that had given rise to the name the Yorkshire Ripper, which Sutcliffe despised.

He said: “I hated that name from the start. I hated it then and I hate it now. I haven’t ripped anybody, it’s a misnomer. Making people think I was linked to the similar things that that 1888 Jack (The Ripper) did. I never done that sort of thing, I haven’t ripped anybody.

“I hate that title because it didn’t apply, it was just a fantasy nickname that, to get the imaginations going.”

In November 1978, Sutcliffe’s mother Kathleen died, aged 59. She had been ill for a while but Sutcliffe was devastated. Yet despite having deprived many children of their mothers in the most brutal way, he talked about the importance of a mother to a family.

He said: “You’ve got to do everything you can for your mum, bless her. When they’ve gone, you’ve lost them then, haven’t you?

“You often wish, I wish I’d said this or done that, too late once they’ve gone because, I mean, they bring you up and everything, don’t they? Feed you, clothe you, get you to school and everything.

“And then some people don’t care about the parents’ condition or whatever, they just ignore them altogether. It’s not right, is it? That’s why it’s important to do as much as you can. You only get one set of parents, don’t you?”

As for the police manhunt, Sutcliffe was in no doubt why he remained at large — God’s will. He said: “You can’t argue with God. I firmly believed 100 per cent that it was God giving me the instructions to do those things, and I believed it was the right thing.

“I believed he was distracting the police and . . .  Oh, I believed it all the time he was protecting the mission, and he kept saying to me, look after the mission, don’t tell anybody or anything, don’t even tell Sonia or your mother, between you and your creator, so I told nobody.

“God was in charge, he was conducting everything and I knew everything would be all right. He misled the police several times and I just knew it was a miracle happening every time.

“That’s why I was so . . .  be able to be so calm when the police were questioning me.”

In April 1979, a month before Margaret Thatcher swept to power, the Ripper struck for the tenth time, killing 19-year-old building society clerk Josephine Whitaker in Halifax.

Then in September that year he killed Bradford University student Barbara Leach, 20.

But by then detectives were convinced the Yorkshire Ripper was not even from Yorkshire.

The hoax letters and taunting tape that Wearside Jack had sent to officers meant that anyone interviewed who did not have a North East accent was discounted. In the meantime, Sutcliffe was free to kill two more women.

In August 1980, nearly a year since his last attack, Sutcliffe killed Marguerite Walls, a 47-year-old civil servant in Leeds.

Her murder was not included in the series at the time because, for the first time, the Ripper had killed by strangulation with a rope.

‘It’s the eyes’

He had used this new method in the hope of stopping the Press and public from using that hated name of the Yorkshire Ripper.

On Bonfire Night that year Sutcliffe was nearly caught red-handed when he attacked Theresa Sykes, 16, in Huddersfield.

She had popped out of the house she shared with her boyfriend Jimmy and their six-month-old baby to go to an off-licence for cigarettes.

On her return she realised someone was behind her and headed for the safety of the closest house. Before she reached it Sutcliffe hit her with a hammer.

Jimmy had been looking out of the window for her return and saw what he thought was a fight between two boys. He went to investigate only to discover it was Theresa, who by now had been hit twice more with the hammer.

He shouted out and Sutcliffe ran, with Jimmy in hot pursuit.

Sutcliffe remembered: “He saw me attack her. Shouted something out but it was dark, you see.

“So I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll scarper’, and I went down this snicket and he went down the snicket and went across the road and knocked on the door. He must have thought I’d gone into a house there but I didn’t.

“I couldn’t let him identify me.”

Theresa survived but the attack ruined her life. She and Jimmy split up and she took to sleeping with a bread knife under the pillow and a wardrobe against the door.

After Sutcliffe’s arrest she identified him as her attacker when an officer showed her his picture.

She said: “I looked at it and thought, ‘Yes, that’s him’. He looks evil. It’s the eyes, they’re so cold. There’s nothing behind them at all.”

From May 1976 to September 1980 he also attacked five women who survived. Marcella Claxton, 20, was hit with a hammer close to where Jimmy Savile lived in Leeds.

Maureen Long, 42, was pounced on in Bradford and Marilyn Moore, 25, Ann Rooney, 22, and Upadhya Bandara, 34, in Leeds.

On November 17, 1980, the Ripper killed for the 13th and final time, murdering student Jacqueline Hill, 20, close to her digs in Leeds.

Less than two months later the police would finally catch him before he could claim victim No14. The Ripper’s killing spree was finally over.

Timeline of terror

June 1946: Peter Sutcliffe is born in Bingley, West Yorks

August 1974: Sutcliffe marries Sonia Szurma

October 1975: Sutcliffe kills Wilma McCann in Leeds – his first murder.

January 1981: Sutcliffe is arrested by police in Sheffield. He confesses to being The Ripper.

May 1981: He is given 20 life sentences at The Old Bailey over 13 murders and seven attempted murders. He starts sentence at HMP Parkhurst, Isle of Wight.

March 1984: Sent to Broadmoor High-security Hospital after being declared paranoid schizophrenic

August 2016: Sutcliffe moved from Broadmoor to Category A Frankland Prison, County Durham

November 13, 2020 – Sutcliffe dies.

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