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Peter Sutcliffe and the killers who terrorised Yorkshire

A composite photo graphic of Yorkshire skylines with overlaid text reading ‘Yorkshire's most notorious killers’

It may be ‘God’s Own Country’, but Yorkshire has witnessed its fair share of terrible crimes over the past decades. Here are five serial and spree killers whose exploits horrified this great historic county.

1. Peter Sutcliffe

The killer who is most synonymous with this part of England is, of course, Peter Sutcliffe – the Yorkshire Ripper. Throughout the late 1970s, Sutcliffe murdered 13 women and girls and attacked many more. The killings led to an unprecedented climate of fear in Yorkshire and neighbouring Greater Manchester.

One victim, Moe Lea, who survived an encounter with Sutcliffe, later recalled that “Leeds was really in a state of almost lockdown and women were afraid to go out”.

The mammoth police investigation into the killings has since become almost as notorious as the crimes themselves. Detectives interviewed Sutcliffe and let him go on numerous occasions.

Casually misogynistic attitudes were rife, with police openly drawing distinctions between sex worker victims and ‘innocent girls’. Even the attorney general of the time said of the victims, “Some were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not.”

Captured in early 1981, Sutcliffe was eventually handed a whole life prison sentence and died in 2020 after contracting Covid-19.

2. Stephen Griffiths

Between 2009 and 2010, three women in Bradford had the extreme misfortune to cross paths with Stephen Griffiths – a psychopathic killer whose exploits drew many comparisons to the Yorkshire Ripper. But unlike Sutcliffe, who did his best to stay under the radar, Griffiths took a more brazen approach to killing.

He was caught after a caretaker at his block of flats looked through some CCTV footage and saw Griffiths chase down a victim and fire a crossbow into her head at point-blank range. He then stuck his middle finger up at the camera, apparently proud of what he’d done.

Taken to court for the murders of three sex workers, Griffiths stunned onlookers when he identified himself as the 'Crossbow Cannibal'. It was a bizarre denouement for a man who’d long been fascinated by true crime and had in fact been studying for a Ph.D. on “lethal violence in Bradford” when he’d embarked upon his string of killings. As he openly stated in a social media post, he was a “pseudo-human being at best. A demon at worst.”

3. Peter Tredget / Bruce Lee

Once regarded as one of the country’s most prolific serial killers, the true scale of Peter Tredget’s crimes has since been debated, with several convictions thrown out on appeal. However, there’s no doubt that the seemingly innocuous man, who was previously dubbed ‘Daft Peter’ and adopted the name ‘Bruce Lee’, was behind a series of lethal arson attacks in Hull.

The most infamous act definitively tied to Tredget was a house fire that caused the deaths of three young brothers in 1979. It was while being questioned in connection to this arson attack that he startled detectives by confessing to being behind other fires that had taken place in the 1970s. These included a blaze in a care home that killed 11 elderly men.

Tredget ultimately admitted to 11 arson charges and 26 killings in 1981. However, the charges relating to the care home fire were overturned in 1983, and Tredget’s lawyers have since claimed that his original confessions were all “unreliable” and due to “psychological vulnerability”.

Although a number of other convictions were quashed in 2022, Court of Appeal judges ruled that the majority were indeed safe, and Yorkshire’s most infamous arsonist is unlikely ever to walk free from jail.

4. Anthony Arkwright

It was over the course of 56 hours in August 1988 that a young man named Anthony Arkwright carved his grim place among English murderers. He’d had a troubled childhood, spending time in care homes and a young offender’s institution, but the true horrors commenced after he was laid off from his job at a scrapyard.

Returning to his hometown of Wath-upon-Dearne, Arkwright went to see his grandfather on his allotment and stabbed and bludgeoned the elderly man to death. Arkwright is then thought to have killed his grandfather’s housekeeper while robbing his home, though this was never proven in court.

Perhaps his most nightmarish crime came hours later when he broke into the home of a neighbour while entirely naked and wearing a devil mask. He stabbed his neighbour hundreds of times before disembowelling him and draping his internal organs around the room.

Arkwright finally turned his attention to another neighbour, whom he stabbed repeatedly before gouging their eyes out and placing cigarettes in the bloody sockets. Apprehended soon after, Arkwright’s grisly rampage led to comparisons with Jack the Ripper, and he was handed a whole life sentence.

5. Arthur Hutchinson

It was during one ordinary day in October 1983 that, while on the run from the police, habitual criminal Arthur Hutchinson spotted a party taking place in the garden of a large house in the Yorkshire village of Dore.

It was a wedding reception being thrown by wealthy local couple, Basil and Avril Laitner, for their daughter. After the guests, including the newlyweds, had left, Hutchinson snuck into the house and stabbed Basil and Avril to death. He also murdered their adult son, Richard, before raping their teenage daughter Nicola, the sister of the bride, at knifepoint. After nonchalantly helping himself to some leftover buffet food and wine, Hutchinson fled the scene.

Following a nationwide manhunt, he was caught and taken to prison. Despite multiple appeals against his whole life sentence, the perpetrator of this wedding day massacre remains behind bars.