Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Peter Sutcliffe

A Killer's Mask

The task force responsible for the investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper murders was not aware of Trevor Birdsall's letter or his report. They had long been buried under the mountain of information that had been accumulated over the past five years. Since Jacqueline Hill's attack, George Oldfield was no longer in charge of the investigation; Jim Hobson had replaced him.

Hobson delivered a full-page message to the force in the December issue of the West Yorkshire police newspaper. In this message he asked that all police officers work toward the arrest of the Yorkshire Ripper, committing them to a plan of daily action towards such an outcome. His statement that, although the Yorkshire Ripper probably had a Geordie accent, police should not eliminate a possible suspect on those grounds was to prove a vital influence on the arrest of Peter Sutcliffe in January 1981.

Also in mid-December, Peter Sutcliffe made a trip to Sheffield, an area he had not before visited during his work as a long distance lorry driver. He had gone to the remote depot on the moor north of Sheffield to make a delivery. It should have been a short visit, but the Christmas rush had caused a backlog and Peter had spent most of the day there. The depot manager remembered him well because, unlike most of the lorry drivers he knew, Peter had been softly spoken and well mannered. He did not swear or cuss when told of the delays, he merely passed the time chatting to some of the workers in the busy factory. It would be remembered later that he had asked about an area of vacant land close to Sheffield, which could be clearly seen from the heights of the depot. Peter noted how quiet it was in Sheffield.

Peter had been so impressed by Sheffield that he returned there again two weeks later on Friday 2 January 1981, but this time he was not driving his lorry and the delivery he intended to make was with his hammer on some woman's head. He left home for the last time at 4:00 pm that afternoon.

Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Reivers had left her two children, Louise 5 and Deroy 3 at home at six o'clock to meet up with her girlfriend Denise Hall, 19, to earn some money from passing "punters" in Sheffield's red light district. It was 9:00 pm, only moments after the two young women had started patrolling along Wharncliffe Road, when Denise met her first potential client. He was driving a brown Rover 3500 and had pulled up to the kerb, but there had been something about his eyes that had disturbed her. Despite his good looks, with a neatly trimmed beard and dark wavy hair, he had frightened her so she declined his offer of 10.

An hour later the same Rover pulled up to the kerb again. When Olivia looked into Peter's eyes she did not see what her friend Denise saw. Taking him up on his offer of 10, Olivia climbed into the car. They drove a short distance to Melbourne Avenue and parked in the driveway of the British Iron and Steel Producers Association Headquarters. Olivia had often brought her customers up here where it was quiet and isolated, perfect for "business."

Peter Sutcliffe had been unable to become aroused, despite Olivia's many attempts, so they had sat and talked for a while, mostly about Peter. In his pocket were his ball-pein hammer, a piece of rope and a knife. He was just waiting for an opportunity to get the woman outside. While he waited, Sgt. Robert Ring and Constable Robert Hydes were driving along Melbourne Road as part of their general patrol. When they saw the dark Rover parked in the driveway, they had a pretty good idea why.

They pulled in behind the Rover and questioned the couple sitting in the car. He said his name was Peter Williams. The dusky woman said she was his girlfriend. Luckily for Olivia, Ring remembered her face, certain that she was a convicted prostitute with a suspended sentence. He told her to get into the police car. Peter Williams told them he needed to go to the toilet, and walked further along the dark driveway. Near the entrance to the building, there was an oil storage tank. It was behind this tank, well out of view of the policemen, that Peter placed his hammer and knife; he hoped they hadn't heard the sound they had made as he placed them on the ground near the wall.

As Peter made his way back to his car, Ring and Hydes had called into the station for a check on Peter's car registration number. Within seconds the operator at the end of the line had got the information they were looking for through a direct link to the Police National Computer at Hendon. The registration number on the brown Rover parked in front of them belonged to a Skoda. Both officers got out of the car and checked the plates on Peter's car, which were held on with black tape. When they checked, they learned the licence number was FHY 400K. Peter confirmed this and admitted that his real name was Peter William Sutcliffe and lived at Garden Lane, Heaton, Bradford. He had lied because he didn't want his wife to find out that he had been with a prostitute.

Back at the police station in Hammerton Road, Olivia and Peter were placed in separate interview rooms. Peter told them that he had stolen the plates from a car in a scrap yard in Cooper Bridge, which meant that Peter would have to be transferred to another jurisdiction, just as soon as they found out where Cooper Bridge was. After many calls, they found that Cooper Bridge fell under the jurisdiction of Dewsbury police headquarters. They were told an officer would be there in the morning after 6:00 am when Ring and Hydes finished their shift.

Sonia was called and told that her husband wouldn't be home that night and Peter was placed in a cell to sleep the night. Before retiring, Peter asked permission to go to the toilet. While he was there he placed a second knife in the cistern.

As the three officers from West Yorkshire drove toward Sheffield, an officer from the Dewsbury station rang the Incident Room in Milgarth, the base for the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry. It was a routine call made because of a recent directive from Hobson to all West Yorkshire police that any man found with prostitutes in suspicious circumstances was to be reported to the task force.

At 8.55, Peter Sutcliffe arrived at Dewsbury police station with the West Yorkshire police where he was transferred into the station's interview room. Just after 9:00 am Sonia called and was told that her husband was being interviewed in relation to the theft of car number plates. In the interview room, Peter Sutcliffe chatted with officers about his work as a lorry driver and his love of cars. They noted that he had dark frizzy hair, a beard and a gap between his teeth.

The officers were familiar with the five points of reference for the elimination of suspects in the Yorkshire Ripper case but were not fazed by the lack of Geordie accent. Peter Sutcliffe lived in Bradford in the heart of Ripper country and had told them that he had driven to Sunderland many times in his work as a lorry driver. The list of possible cars did not include the brown Rover that Peter was driving at the time of his arrest, but Peter had told them about his white Corsair with the black roof.

While being questioned by a detective, it was learned that police had questioned Peter Sutcliffe on a number of other occasions in relation to the Yorkshire Ripper case. He wore a size 8 shoe, maybe even a 7. Det. Sgt. Des O'Boyle, an officer of the task force and well versed with the Yorkshire Ripper case, had left for Dewsbury at lunchtime on Saturday 6 November to question Sutcliffe himself. During the afternoon a blood test revealed that Peter Sutcliffe was of the rare B group. By 6:00 pm that night, while not totally convinced that Peter Sutcliffe was the Yorkshire Ripper, O'Boyle called into the Milgarth incident room and told his senior officer, Det. Insp. John Boyle, that he would not be clocking off but would stay with the case. At 10:00 pm Sutcliffe was locked in his cell and had gone to bed.

When Sgt. Ring returned to Hammerton Road police station to begin his 10:00 pm- 6:00 am shift, he was told that Sutcliffe was still being held at Dewsbury station and being questioned by Yorkshire Ripper squad officers. Ring would then make a decision which would have a momentous impact on the Yorkshire Ripper investigation. Sutcliffe had left his car to go to the toilet, maybe he had left something at the scene, he recalled hearing a clinking noise. Ring returned to the driveway on Melbourne Avenue to have a look around. When he shone his torch on the ground by the wall behind the oil storage tank, Ring found the ball-pein hammer and knife that Peter had cautiously left there the night before.

A Det. Supt. at Sheffield made a call to Det. Supt. Dick Holland at his home in Elland, near Huddersfield. Holland quickly suppressed the initial excitement he had felt when he was told that it looked like they may have finally caught the infamous Ripper. If it was their man, he wanted to be sure that they did everything right. Holland issued John Boyle with a number of instructions on how to proceed with the investigation and requested that he be briefed at 9:00 am the following morning at Bradford police headquarters.

At 9:30 on Sunday 4 January, Dick Holland, Sgt. O'Boyle, Det. Chief Inspector George Smith and Det. Constable Jenny Crawford-Brown arrived at number 6, Garden Lane where Sonia Sutcliffe told them that they could search the house. At 10:00 am they left, taking with them a number of tools, which included ball-pein hammers, and Sonia Sutcliffe, and returned to Bradford Police Headquarters where police questioned Sonia extensively for thirteen hours.

Dick Holland had sent Det. Sgt. Peter Smith of the Regional Crime Squad, who had been involved in the Ripper case longer than almost anyone else, to question Sutcliffe in Dewsbury. Throughout the morning, the investigating officers, without overtly mentioning the Ripper attacks, gleaned as many details of Sutcliffe's movements at the times of the attacks as possible. At the same time officers behind the scenes were working to gain as much information about Peter Sutcliffe's movements over the past five years as they could, including visits to past employers and making other enquiries in the Bradford area.

By early Sunday afternoon, Peter was beginning to lose the incredible calmness that he had shown throughout the 48-hour ordeal. The police were now sure that they had the right man. When questioned about his movements on the night of Theresa Sykes' attack on 5 November 1980, Sutcliffe told them that he was positive that he had arrived home by 8:00 pm. Sonia's recollection was different. She distinctly remembered Peter arriving home at 10:00 pm. Although no longer officially in charge of the investigation, George Oldfield was called and told of the news. He quickly made his way to Dewsbury where he was joined shortly afterwards by other senior officers from the task force.

Task Force: Hobson (seated), (standing left to right) Gerty, Harvey, Emmant, Kind, Sloan
Task Force: Hobson (seated), (standing left
to right) Gerty, Harvey, Emmant, Kind, < br> Sloan

At 2:40 pm, Peter Sutcliffe was told about the discovery of the hammer and knife as they continued to question him about the attack on Theresa Sykes. It was then that Peter Sutcliffe sat back in his chair and calmly admitted that he was the Yorkshire Ripper. The killers mask had finally been removed and the most "known unknown man" was revealed. Over the next twenty-six hours, Peter Sutcliffe, calmly and with little display of emotion, told police officers the gruesome details of the last five years of death and mutilation. The only emotion he showed was when discussing the murder of 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald and when police questioned him regarding the murder of Joan Harrison, which he strongly denied.

After his confession, Peter Sutcliffe had one request of George Oldfield. He wanted to be the one to tell his wife Sonia. She was immediately driven from Bradford Police Headquarters to the Dewsbury station where George Oldfield met her before being taken to the interview room to see her husband. Sutcliffe sat at a small table across from Sonia as he calmly told her the shocking story. When Sonia emerged from the interview room, she appeared to be calm, not revealing what emotions she may have had hidden below the surface. Police would continue to question her about her husbands movements during the past five years, since the attack on Anna Rogulskyj in 1975.

After Sutcliffes official statement had been recorded, a press conference was called. Eighty journalists packed the small room in which Ronald Gregory, George Oldfield and Jim Hobson sat smiling at the cameras while making the announcement that they believed they had finally caught the Yorkshire Ripper. The elation the police felt was reflected by the abandonment of established procedure in dealing with the press in such a situation. Although Sutcliffe's name was not actually stated, many details not normally revealed, usually omitted to protect a suspects defence, were revealed to the public.

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