True story behind The Ripper as Netflix documentary explores the devastating murders of Peter Sutcliffe

From 1975 to 1980, Peter Sutcliffe murdered 13 women.

Peter Sutcliffe The Ripper

From 1975 to 1980, the Yorkshire Ripper murders put a dark shadow over the lives of women in the North of England.

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Thirteen women had been brutally murdered, and the police seemed unable to find the killer.

Every man was a suspect, that is until, the largest police manhunt in British history led to the conviction of Peter Sutcliffe.

In new documentary, The Ripper, Netflix will take a look at the devastating crimes of Sutcliffe.

The four-part docuseries will examine how “the context of England in the late 1970s: a time of radical change, de-industrialisation, poverty, masculinity and misogyny” contributed to the Ripper evading capture for so long.

Here’s everything you need to know on the true story behind The Ripper.

When will The Ripper be released on Netflix?

The Ripper will land on Netflix on December 16th. All four episodes will then be available to stream.

What is the true story behind The Ripper?

For five years between 1975 to 1980, 13 women were killed in the North of England. The Police struggled to find the killer and it became a time of national hysteria, with every man a suspect at the time.

The devastating crimes led to the largest and most expensive police man hunt in British history.

The Police were initially criticised for their failure to catch Sutcliffe. This was made worse by the fact they had interviewed him nine times over the five-year investigation.

The criticism resulted in major changes to investigative procedures which were adopted across UK police forces.

Later, The Guardian described the investigation and capturing of Sutcliffe  as “stunningly mishandled”.

Who is Peter Sutcliffe?

Also known as Peter William Coonan, Peter William Sutcliffe, was an English serial killer.

He was given the name, Yorkshire Ripper, by the press, as it was an allusion to Jack the Ripper – an unidentified serial killer who operated in London in the 80s.

In May 1981, Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven others between 1975 and 1980.

He was sentenced to 20 consecutive sentences of life imprisonment, which was then changed to a whole life order in 2010.

While most of Sutcliffe’s murders took place in West Yorkshire, two occurred in Manchester.

Initially Sutcliffe operated in residential areas attacking women and young girls, however, he appeared to move to red-light districts as he was said to be attracted by the vulnerability of prostitutes.

The Ripper
The Ripper
Netflix

Sutcliffe was eventually arrested in 1981 when he was stopped by South Yorkshire Police in Sheffield for driving with false number plates.

At the time, he was transferred to West Yorkshire Police, who decided to question him about the killings as he fit the description of the Yorkshire Ripper.

Sutcliffe confessed to the crimes and said he had been led on a mission to kill prostitutes by the voice of God.

At his trial, pleaded not guilty to murder on grounds of diminished responsibility, however, he was convicted of murder following a majority verdict.

Sutcliffe began using his mother’s maiden name of Coonan after his guilty verdcict.

Timeline of Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes

    • September 1969 Sutcliffe attacks anonymous woman with a stone-filled sock to the head. She survives the attack and charges are not pressed.
    • July 5th, 1975 – Sutcliffe attacks 36-year-old Anna Rogulskyj by striking her with a hammer and slashing across the abdomen. She survives.
    • August 15th, 1975 –  Sutcliffe attacks 46-year-old Olive Smelt by hitting her with a hammer. She survives.
    • August 27th, 1975 – Sutcliffe attacks 14-year-old Tracy Browne  with a hammer. She survives.
    • October 30th, 1975 – Sutcliffe murders 28-year-old Wilma McCann by striking her with a hammer and stabbing her.
    • January 20th, 1976 – Sutcliffe kills 42-year-old Emily Jackson. He strikes her twice with a hammer and stabs her a total of 52 times with a screwdriver.
    • May 9th, 1976 – Sutcliffe attacks 20-year-old Marcella Claxton with a hammer. She survives.
    • February 5th, 1977 – Sutcliffe attacks Irene Richardson with a hammer and stabs her in several places. She dies.
    • April 23rd, 1977 – Sutcliffe murders 32-year-old Patricia Atkinson by striking her with a hammer and fatally stabbing her.
    • June 26th, 1977 – Sutcliffe kills 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald by striking her with a hammer and stabbing her 20 times.
    • July 10th, 1977 – Sutcliffe attacks 42-year-old Maureen Long with a hammer. She survives.
    • October 1st, 1977 – Sutcliffe murders 20-year-old Jean Jordan by striking her 11 times with a hammer and stabbing her 18 times.
    • November 12th, 1977 – Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group organises a number of ‘Reclaim the Night’ marches. The group criticises the police for victim-blaming, following a suggestion women should remain indoors at night.
    • December 14th, 1977 – Sutcliffe attacks 25-year-old Marilyn Moore. She survives.
    • January 21st, 1978 – Sutcliffe beats 21-year-old Yvonne Pearson to death.
    • January 31st, 1978 – Sutcliffe forces 18-year-old Helen Rytka to have sex with him and murders her.
    • May 16th, 1978: – Sutcliffe murders 40-year-old Vera Millward by beating her to death and stabbing her.
    • April 4th, 1979: Sutcliffe murders 19-year-old Josephine Whitaker with a hammer.
    • September 2nd, 1979 – Sutcliffe murders 20-year-old Barbara Leach by striking her with a hammer and stabbing her with a screwdriver.
    • August 20th, 1980 –  Sutcliffe kills Marguerite Walls by striking her with a hammer and fatally strangling her.
    • January 2nd, 1981 – Sutcliffe is stopped by the police as they believe he is soliciting sex when spotted in a car with a woman. He is then arrested once the police realise his plates are fake.
    • January 4th, 1981 – Sutcliffe confesses he is the Yorkshire Ripper at Dewsbury police station.
    • May 22nd, 1981 – Sutcliffe is found guilty of thirteen counts of murder and the attempted murder of seven others.

What happened after Sutcliffe’s conviction?

The Ripper Peter Sutcliffe
Peter Sutcliffe
Getty Images

After being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Sutcliffe was transferred from prison to a high-security psychiatric hospital in March 1984.

The High Court dismissed an appeal by Sutcliffe in 2010, stating that he would serve a whole life order and never be released.

In August 2016, a judge ruled that Sutcliffe was mentally fit to be returned to prison. That month, he was transferred to HM Prison Frankland in Durham.

On 13 November 2020, Sutcliffe died at the age of 74.

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The Ripper is available to stream on Netflix from December 16th. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, visit our TV Guide, or find out about upcoming new TV shows 2020.