Yorkshire Ripper's abusive dad beat his wife black and blue and whipped his sons – so did he drive Sutcliffe to kill?
17th November 2020

THREE years ago, Peter Sutcliffe wrote to me – and it was the closest he ever got to apologising for his evil actions.

I was part of an investigations unit at ITV Yorkshire’s news programme, Calendar.

Together with its front woman, Christine Talbot, we penned a letter in June 2017 asking if he had attacked taxi driver John Tomey in 1967 and killed Bingley bookie Fred Craven, a family friend, the year before.

The Yorkshire Ripper, who was serving life for murdering 13 women across Yorkshire and the north west and died on Friday aged 74, replied almost immediately.

His prison buddy/carer at Durham jail – a multiple rapist called Steve – had written it for him. Why and how the letter got past security remains a mystery.

Sutcliffe’s answers were detailed.

His answer to whether he killed Mr Craven is breathtaking: “I can tell you with 100% honesty,” said the serial killer, “that I did not murder Mr Craven.

"And never have I attacked a male……. I'm in jail till my dying day so I'm telling you 100% it was nothing to do with me.”

We explained Mr Craven’s daughter, Irene Vidler, wanted closure before she died, Sutcliffe replied: “I understand she would want closure and yes I did some bad things.”

It was shocking how he dismissed his prolific murder spree.

It was the closest Sutcliffe ever came to apologising for his evil actions.

Mrs Vidler never got her answers before she died.

Striking resemblance to killer son

It wasn’t the only connection I had with Sutcliffe. I met and interviewed his brother, Carl.

I also visited his dad, John William Sutcliffe in his pin-neat council flat in Bingley, West Yorks.

As the door slowly opened, I gasped out loud. Staring straight at me were the same dark brown eyes, black brows and swarthy looks he shared with his oldest son, Peter.

I stood transfixed as John Sutcliffe growled: "You’d better come in."

The retired factory worker invited me in and as we stood chatting, he asked if I wanted a tour of his one-bedroom home. I did not particularly but politely said yes.

He went into his bedroom and walked around the far side of his double bed. I stood, nervously, in the doorway and never moved further in.

“Look at this, it was taken by celebrity photographer Terry O’Neill,” he said.

I asked why film star Faye Dunaway’s ex-husband took the picture and he said he didn’t know but thought it was because he was father to the Yorkshire Ripper.

The framed colour photo of Sutcliffe in a white tuxedo, frilled evening shirt and a red dickie bow took pride of place on the wall.

He was a handsome man and looked like an older version of the Hollywood film star, Clark Gable.

But his gruff demeanour and rugged looks hid his violent, abusive personality and a blind inability to face up to the truth of what part he played, I believe, in shaping his murderer son’s attitude to women.

Violent abuser who bedded numerous neighbours

John Sutcliffe was lonely and in no rush for me to leave as he supplied me with cups of tea throughout the day.

Even in his late 70s and rasping for breath as he suffered with the lung condition, COPD, he was a formidable man – over 6ft tall, stockily built.

How frightening must he have looked, sounded and been as he rained blows down on his quiet, homely Catholic wife Kathleen, or during the beatings and attacks he doled out to his children with his fists and at times, a leather whip.

Sutcliffe ruled the family with a rod of iron and as the oldest child, Peter would have felt his wrath more than his siblings.

“The atmosphere in our house would change as soon as he walked in,” recalled Peter’s youngest brother Carl to me.

“His life revolved around playing football, cricket, singing in a choir, beer – and womanising.”

He bedded many women on the council estate they lived in, including a brass-faced friend of Kathleen’s whose garden backed on to theirs.

Carl recalled how happy they were when he moved in with her.

“The atmosphere in the house changed, we were all so happy – yet my mother had to watch his lover peg out my father’s shirts on her washing line," he said.

"Pete, our brother Mick and I tried to shoot them down with an air rifle!”

Ripper's lies over family gun

That air rifle was involved in an incident which showed how Sutcliffe could outwit and lie to the police years before the Ripper became known to the public.

When Carl was eight and Peter was about 20, the youngster was shooting the air gun in the back garden and accidentally broke a neighbour’s window.

The woman came to the Sutcliffe's house and told them she was calling the police. Peter took the gun from his brother, removed its internal workings and put the gun back together.

When the police came round, they asked if the gun had ever been fired, Peter laughed and said, "Don't be daft, it doesn't even work. The lad was just pretending with it."

The police examined the gun and were happy that it was not in working order and left. Even then, Peter was one step ahead of them.

Later, when Sutcliffe’s sisters and brothers’ girlfriends were worried about going out at night during his reign of fear, Peter reassured them: “Don't worry about that, he only kills prostitutes. You'll be alright.”

Two black eyes for friendship with cop

When kindly Kathleen began a friendship with a local police officer, John Sutcliffe’s ego could not take it and he responded by giving Kathleen two black eyes.

“Pete hated him for doing that and I wanted to kill him. My mother was a lovely woman,” said Carl.

Another time, John saw Kathleen talking to two men in a pub, made her go home and then he slapped her across the face.

No woman was safe from John Sutcliffe’s wandering hands.

“He would grope any female within his reach,” said Carl. “He even tried it on with Pete’s mother-in-law, Maria Szurma, and tried to kiss her in the hallway.

"She told him to get off and she never came round to our house again.”

Hated by kids he beat

Of course, Sutcliffe told me none of this that day but it was obvious that his children had little to do with him.

Throughout his home, there were just two photos of his family but three of himself.

Then aged 77, he revealed he just finished with his latest lady friend but was looking to start another relationship. It made me feel sick.

Despite having three daughters and two sons in the UK, he had spent the previous Christmas Day alone and was estranged from his children.

Interestingly, John told me he hated his own mother, Ivy. “She was a bitch and the least said about her, the better,” was all he would say.

He dismissed slightly-built Peter as “a wimp, always hanging from his mother’s apron, a mummy’s boy.”

John and Kathleen were proud of “our Pete” after he wed Sonia and moved into a detached house in an upmarket Bradford suburb.

“Our Pete is the best of the lot,” he told me that day. I was incredulous.

“But he is a murderer,” I spluttered. He just grimaced then turned on the Ripper’s wife, Sonia Szurma, and spoke of her with bitterness.

“She bosses him about somet terrible. Even when I visited him in prison with her, I couldn’t get a word in edgeways," he said.

"She’d pull out a list of things she had to discuss with him. He’d just roll his eyes at me.

“But even when we visited them at their home, she was weird. The house was always freezing. Kathleen sat in her coat and when I switched the fire on, Sonia would turn it off.

“Our Pete was doing well for himself. He’s like me, has a great memory and is artistic."

Not once did John use the word “murder” or “killing.” He never said the women walking the streets deserved their fate, but you could sense he had little sympathy for them.

Growing up in that brutal, macho household, Peter was devoted to his mother and would, once working, give her extra money as his father kept her short.

What rage must he have felt when his father humiliated her? Unable to physically take on his alpha male father, did the Ripper take his anger and frustration out on his victims?

When I asked John who did Peter take after, Sutcliffe became defensive: “Why does he have to take after anyone?”

He was adamant he had done nothing in his life to turn Peter into a serial killer.

Of the six children he spawned, imprisoned Peter was the only one who bothered with their father – what does that tell you about him as a parent?

After numerous cups of tea and day turned into night, I was about to bid farewell when John revealed. “Our Pete might be ringing soon, he calls me every other Tuesday. He’s the only one who calls regularly.”

I was two months pregnant with my twin sons when ten minutes later, nearing 6pm, his phone rang. I held my breath, my mind raced – what do I do if it is him?

Do I speak to him and ask him to apologise for his heinous crimes yet do I want to talk to a serial murderer while I am carrying my children.

My journalist instincts clashed with my maternal ones. I watched Sutcliffe go to his phone and pick it up. I breathed a sigh of relief that it was not “our Pete.”

I was relieved as I drove away from John Sutcliffe and his warped view of women.

I believe he saw females as good or bad – a Madonna (like his wife who should have known her place and stayed at home) or a whore, as he viewed the poor women forced to sell sex on the streets.

You have to wonder if the sins of the father created the monster that turned a quiet, shy mummy’s boy into one of the most prolific killers of the last century.

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