Even if you aren’t a true crime fan, you’ve probably heard of Jack the Ripper, the infamous serial killer of the 18th century whose identity is still unknown to this day. But Netflix’s new true crime documentary focuses on another “ripper” that few people outside of the U.K. know about: the infamous Yorkshire Ripper that terrorized the women of Yorkshire and Manchester in the 1970s.
The Ripper chronicles the Yorkshire Ripper’s many crimes, the manhunt that ensued to catch him, and the criticism surrounding the inept police force that allowed him to roam free for so many years.
But what happened to the Yorkshire Ripper? Was he finally caught? Did he ever serve time for the horrendous crimes he committed or did he, like his namesake from 100 years earlier, also evade capture?
What happened to the real Yorkshire Ripper?
In 1981, a man named Peter Sutcliffe, better known in the press as the Yorkshire Ripper, was convicted of killing 13 women. Sutcliffe was given 20 life sentences for his crimes that took place over the course of the five years during which he targeted sex workers and young women.
Sutcliffe's brutal reign of terror began in October 1975, when he murdered his first victim, a sex worker named Wilma McCann. He later said, “After that first time, I developed and played up a hatred for prostitutes in order to justify within myself a reason why I had attacked and killed Wilma McCann.”
An investigation was mounted, but Sutcliffe continued to attack women in the Yorkshire and Manchester areas. He went on to kill 13 women before he was finally caught, by chance, in 1981.
He was arrested after a police officer noticed he was driving a car with stolen plates and had a sex worker in the car with him. A subsequent search revealed he also had a hammer and knife.
The West Yorkshire police received a lot of criticism for their ineffective investigation and sexist attitudes towards the victims, especially the sex workers. In fact, their inefficiency led to several “Reclaim the Night” marches led by women in the area to make the point that women should be able to walk anywhere without being blamed for men's violence.
At his trial, Sutcliffe pled not guilty to the 13 charges of murder, but guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished capacity. He claimed, as he also had in his police interviews, that he had been instructed by the voice of God to kill the women.
At his trial, however, the jury rejected the testimony of four psychiatrists that Sutcliffe had paranoid schizophrenia and the judge recommended a term of 30 years to be served before he would be eligible for parole.
In 2010, the High Court issued him a whole life tariff, which meant he would never be released.
Sutcliffe was moved to a psychiatric hospital in 1984, where he remained for 30 years before he was deemed stable enough to return back into the prison system in 2016. He served another four years in prison before contracting COVID-19 earlier this year.
Sutcliffe died in November 2020 at the age of 74.
The Ripper is now available to stream on Netflix.