A police traffic check was conducted in a street in Broomhill, Sheffield, on 2nd January 1981, and one vehicle caught in the dragnet proved to have false number plates, leading to the arrest of the driver, Peter Sutcliffe.
West Yorkshire Police became increasingly interested in this event as Sutcliffe’s appearance matched descriptions of the man who was on the very top of their most wanted list at the time – the serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper. After intensive questioning lasting some two days, Sutcliffe abruptly admitted to being the Ripper and made a full confession to police. Despite the successful arrest that followed, police were criticised for their investigation, as Sutcliffe had already been interviewed nine times previously in relation to the Ripper’s crimes.
Sutcliffe was born in 1946 and showed no real criminal tendencies during his formative years, although he did develop voyeuristic tendencies – in particular spying on local prostitutes and their clients. He also became a regular client himself during his twenties and appeared to develop a hatred for prostitutes – and women in general – around this time.
Sutcliffe then embarked upon an extended, random murder spree against females beginning in 1975, with several of the victims being prostitutes but others merely ordinary women going about their everyday affairs. A typical Sutcliffe attack involved an initial assault with a hammer followed by stabbing with a knife or screwdriver.
His rampage lasted some five years, during which time thirteen women were killed and seven more injured, resulting in terror on the streets of Leeds and Bradford from 1975 to 1980. The unknown murderer was dubbed “The Yorkshire Ripper” by the national media.
During his trial Sutcliffe was diagnosed as being a paranoid schizophrenic but was nevertheless sentenced to life imprisonment with the addition of a whole of life order, meaning he can never receive parole.
During his incarceration Sutcliffe, who later took on his mother’s maiden name “Coonan”, was seriously assaulted by other prisoners on several occasions, losing the sight of his left eye in one such attack.