Between July 1975 and January 1981, 22 women were murdered or maimed in Northern England by a killer who came to be known as the Yorkshire Ripper. The attacks were frenzied and horrendous. In every case the woman was bludgeoned with a hammer and if killed, was then repeatedly stabbed with either a knife or a screwdriver. At first, the victims were prostitutes walking the streets of the red-light districts of northern towns. Press and public alike seemed to accept these murders as almost one of the occupational hazards of street-walking, and the police response was routine.
The killings continued but on June 25, 1977, the Ripper killed someone that the press described as an “innocent” woman - a young girl who had only just started her first job in the shoe department of a local supermarket. The search was intensified. There were plenty of clues, for the Ripper was often interrupted in his grisly work. The police knew the killer’s blood type, his shoe size, that he had a gap between his front teeth, and had a pretty good idea of the make, model and colour of the car he drove. In the case of his 10th murder, the Ripper gave his victim a brand-new £5 note, subsequently identified as having recently been paid out in wages to Peter Sutcliffe - a man the police had already interviewed in connection with the murders. Indeed, early in the killings, Sutcliffe’s best friend strongly suspected he was the Ripper, but could not quite believe that soft-spoken Peter could be capable of such dreadful deeds.
The West Yorkshire Police investigation continued. However, it was handicapped by three problems: the mounting pressure on them to find the killer, especially once the Ripper switched to killing in middle-class areas; their insistent belief in the authenticity of a tape sent in by a character who was dubbed “Wearside Jack”, in truth a builder from Newcastle named John Humble who purported to be the Ripper; and the sheer volume of information they had to process 12,500 witness statements, 175,000 interviewed and five million car registrations. Police computers were in their infancy at the time, generating a great deal of information, but not yet refined enough to process it.
Eventually the Ripper selected one victim too many. early in January 1981, Sutcliffe picked up a woman and drove to a part of Sheffield frequented by prostitues and their clients. A police car drove up, making a routine check, and recognized the car registration number. Sutcliffe was taken into custody. The police had no idea he was the Ripper until he calmly confessed to them many hours later.
In 2010, Sutcliffe began the process of asking for release from prison. It is very unlikely he will ever be released.