Women feared for their lives until a routine police stop ended his reign of terror.
“In this truck is a man whose latent genius, if unleashed, would rock the nation, whose dynamic energy would overpower those around him. Better let him sleep?”
Sutcliffe’s handwritten sign placed on the windscreen of his lorry
On 2 June 1946, in Bingley, Yorkshire, John and Kathleen had their first child, Peter William Sutcliffe. Peter was later joined by another five siblings.
“Growing up with Peter…he was a really nice guy. He being so much older than me, he was more like a father figure as my dad was never around. He was either working or out at the pub or doing sports events. And Pete used to teach me things that a father should really, so he was a great big brother.”
Their father John was very jealous and constantly accused Kathleen of sleeping around. Hypocritically, it was in fact John who was having the affairs. John was a big, burly, sporty and sociable man. His eldest Peter was small, shy and introverted.
Peter stayed close to his mother.
Peter hated school. He found it hard to make friends and was often bullied. Once, unable to take anymore, he hid from school for a fortnight. When his parents and school realised the reason, they stopped the bullying.
As a teenager, Peter bulked up through bodybuilding. He dropped out of school aged just fifteen. Some of his first jobs were unusual.
“While not specifically conducive to their criminal pursuits, some jobs held by serial killers are consistent with their morbid psychologies. Peter Sutcliffe...for example, found employment in a mortuary.”
Harold Schechter The Serial Killer Files
Schechter adds Sutcliffe ‘enjoyed toying with the corpses-arranging them in grotesque poses and using them as ventriloquist dummies.’
Another job Peter did was grave digging. He liked to play ‘morbid pranks’ with the skeletons and was seen stealing the jewellery of the dead. In his spare time, Peter visited a waxwork museum. His favourite section displayed the ‘devastating symptoms of advanced venereal disease.’
Aged 20, Peter was still a virgin. In 1966 he met Sonia Szurma, the daughter of Czech immigrants. In August 1974, he married Sonia, the only woman he’d ever dated.
Due to his erratic employment, the newlyweds were financially forced to move in with Sonia’s parents. Unknown to them, Peter was spending his spare money on prostitutes.
Together with a friend, Trevor Birdsall, he’d cruise Yorkshire’s red-light areas.
In June 1975, he got his HGV licence. His lorry-driving job allowed him to come and go when he pleased.
WHAT TRIGGERED THE RIPPER?
One theory is that a bad experience with a prostitute led to Sutcliffe’s violent hatred of sex-workers.
Another is that in trying to reconcile the loving mother he had idealised with the sluttish adulteress his father had portrayed her as, Peter followed the same sexist stereotyping evidenced in many male dominated cultures:
Each woman was either a pure Virgin Mother worthy of a sacred love;
or they were a sinful whore.
And if they were the latter, they were less than a human and killing would be more the eradication of an infestation than of murder. As he later stated:
I were just cleaning the streets.
Over the next savage five years, Peter Sutcliffe would murder thirteen women and viciously attack seven others.
During this period, he was a devoted husband and seemingly ordinary guy.
“How can you do that and then come and have Sunday dinner with your mum, and smile and laugh and just act like nothing’s happened?”
Carl Sutcliffe, Peter’s brother
Another theory is that Sutcliffe was reacting to Sonia’s many miscarriages.
Peter desperately wanted to be a father.
Then in 1975, 29-year-old Peter was told that his Sonia would never have children.
It’s noteworthy that Peter often mutilated the stomach and torso area of his victims. Was he unconsciously acting out the belief that if his wife couldn’t have children, nor should others?
Soon after being told he would never be a father, Peter made his first attack.
Three quarters of a century after Jack the Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe took up his vengeful attacks on prostitutes.
He would go onto kill more than twice as many victims as his Victorian forerunner.