Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son: The Story of the Yorkshire Ripper

by Gordon Burn

Burn, G. (1984). Somebody’s husband, somebody’s son: The story of the Yorkshire Ripper. New York: Viking.

Burn does a fantastic job tackling a difficult subject. Peter Sutcliffe AKA The Yorkshire Ripper terrorized the citizens of Yorkshire, especially the West Riding area, for years. He killed 13 of the 20 women he brutally attacked. Women were terrified of going out at night for fear that they would be his next victim. Burn does a wonderful balancing act of giving a fair view of the background, childhood and life of The Ripper without bringing insult to his victims and without portraying only the killer side of Sutcliffe. Burn was able to do this through the generosity of Peter’s father and siblings and the brave generosity of some of Peter’s victims. All agreed to speak with Burn and did not attach any strings to their contribution. In return, we get a wonderful, as unbiased as possible look at someone who was loved, feared, and hated.

Peter was by many accounts the nicest and most generous of the Sutcliffe boys. He was always polite and dressed well. He was willing to help out, drive people around, drive himself around to visit elderly relatives during holidays, etc. When he worked as a lorry driver, he was always willing to take whatever load was needed. When waiting for the vehicle to be loaded, rather than complain like other workers, he would spend the time washing and polishing his cab. However, he was also very odd. He would make frequent trips to a wax museum where he spent his time staring at the morbid representations of male and female body parts at various stages of disease (usually STD). He would drive through red light districts and look for women alone. Those who were soliciting, he would pretend to be interested and then when they got out to “do the deed” Peter would come up behind them and hit them in the head with a hammer. Then he would stab them multiple times with a knife or screwdriver. Later he also strangled one or two. He claimed later he was hearing voices to clean up the streets and get rid of prostitutes, but not all of his victims were prostitutes. Some were simply women walking alone at night. He admitted that he killed some who were not prostitutes and he knew they weren’t at the time.

The Yorkshire Ripper was active in the 1970s but Peter Sutcliffe  is now being considered for release. He is currently in Broadmoor  mental hospital which is where many of Britain’s notorious criminals have ended up. First Sutcliffe must prove he is sane and then that he is no longer a threat to society. Originally he was sentenced to a minimum of 35 years. He is now 63 years old and needs considerable care—it has been decades since he has done simple things like handle money. Sutcliffe’s  claim is that he killed his victims because of his paranoid schizophrenia. Now, treatment has been positive for him and thus the claim that he is no longer a threat. It will definitely be interesting to see what the British justice system and psychiatric review board do with this case.