Like his Victorian namesake, the nation’s most notorious mass murderer of the 20th century used knives or screwdrivers to mutilate victims. Between 1975 and 1980, Peter Sutcliffe killed 13 women and tried to murder many more, leaving a legacy of fear and trauma. Yesterday, one survivor told how she still suffers from the effects – 44 years after she was attacked in Leeds. Marcella Claxton was 20. She said: “I have to live with my injuries, 54 stitches in my head, back and front, plus I lost a baby, I was four months pregnant. I still get headaches, dizzy spells and black outs.” Sutcliffe attacked women from all walks of life. Some were prostitutes but many, including Ms Claxton, were not.
And police appeared powerless to catch him. Women were warned not to venture out at night unless accompanied.
“When he was on his reign of terror, his activities caused fear throughout the region,” recalled former police officer Brian Booth yesterday.
After five years of intensive investigation, the monster was unmasked – caught by chance when driving with a young woman in Sheffield in January 1981.
Sutcliffe was born to working class parents in Bingley, West Yorkshire, in 1946. Brought up a Catholic, he was a loner at school and left, aged 15, to take up a string of menial jobs.
They included two stints as a grave digger. The occupation left him with a macabre sense of humour, according to those who knew him.
The Yorkshire Ripper prompted the biggest manhunt in British criminal history
For two years in the early 1970s, he worked on the packaging line of a television factory but left when bosses tried to promote him to the post of salesman.
Sutcliffe moved to an engineering firm in Bingley, working night shifts before he was made redundant.
Handed a £400 pay-off, he used half the money to train as a HGV driver. The would-be serial killer was sacked from his first job with a haulage firm for stealing and selling tyres.
After months on the dole, he landed another job as an HGV driver in Bradford, the town where he was living when he was arrested.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Sutcliffe developed an obsession with prostitutes. In Leeds, Bradford and elsewhere, he used them for sex. But he also spied on the women with their clients. Experts say he was also drawn to street sex workers because they were so vulnerable, working on their own at night.
Sutcliffe used to tour red-light districts with friend Trevor Birdsall.
Spotting a woman, Sutcliffe jumped out of Mr Birdsall’s van and disappeared. He returned afterwards “out of breath” and said he had struck the woman over the head.
Mr Birdsall recalled: “He pulled a sock from his pocket and there was
a small brick or stone in it.” Mr Birdsall said he did not know “whether to believe him or not”. The attack, in 1969, was one of the first by the Yorkshire Ripper.
Sutcliffe later admitted he assaulted the woman while searching for a prostitute who had cheated him out of a paltry sum of money.
His second known attack came in Keighley in 1975. He repeatedly struck a woman over the head and left her for dead after slashing her stomach with a knife.
Sutcliffe was handed 20 life sentences – one for each murder and attempted murder
The attack on the woman, who only just survived, set a gruesome pattern.
The Ripper’s first murder victim was mother-of-four Wilma McCann, 28, in Leeds in October 1975. His last was 20-year-old Leeds University student Jacqueline Hill in 1980. At the Old Bailey, Sutcliffe admitted the manslaughter of 13 women but denied murder on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He also pleaded guilty to the attempted murders of seven other women.
The case was considered so important, the prosecution was led by the Attorney General Sir Michael Havers.
Drawing gasps from the court, Sir Michael held up a screwdriver – one of the killer’s “fiendish” weapons.
Women were warned not to venture out at night after police appeared powerless to catch the Ripper
He posed the jury the vital question – is the defendant a madman or an evil, cold-blooded mass killer? Sutcliffe was found guilty and handed 20 life sentences – one for each murder and attempted murder.
Awaiting trial, he was overheard telling wife Sonia he hoped to trick the jury into thinking he was crazy and get off with “10 years in the loony bin”.
But Mr Justice Boreham ordered him to spend at least 30 years behind bars before he could be considered for parole. In 2010, his sentence was raised to a whole life tariff.
As news emerged of Sutcliffe’s death yesterday, relatives of his victims and those who survived his reign of terror had one message – rot in hell.