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.


Nineteen Seventy Four

by David Peace

Peace, D. (1999). Nineteen seventy four. London: Serpent’s Tail.

Yorkshire is in northern England and includes the counties of South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, and the East Riding of Yorkshire. West Yorkshire is sometimes referred to as the West Riding. Leeds, Bradford, and Sheffield are some of the cities and towns and Bingley, Keighley, Castleford and Wakefield are smaller areas in West Yorkshire. The landscape is one of moors and hills that end in coastal cliffs.

This is the area that was home to the Yorkshire Ripper in the 1970s. Like Jack the Ripper, the Yorkshire Ripper (later identified as Peter Sutcliffe) targeted mainly prostitutes or women he thought were prostitutes. David Peace’s first novel, Nineteen Seventy Four, is a fictional work about the time and area of the Yorkshire Ripper. Peace is from Ossett, West Yorkshire and thus is quite intimate with the area and time period. In this book he recreates the era of the Yorkshire Ripper. We follow the narrator/ protagonist, Edward Dunford, as he takes a job as a North of England Crime Correspondent for a local paper. A young girl is missing and although a search is made, it is presumed she is dead. Then her horribly mutilated and tortured body is found. Edward tries to link her murder with the disappearance of other young girls but is thwarted by the local police, wealthy real estate owners/ contractors, and his own paper.

There is nothing pleasant about this book at all. It is crude and vulgar, using short, choppy sentences and half sentences along with dialog and copious amounts of cursing. This is the feel of the ugly side of Yorkshire in the 1970s. Peace does an excellent job of recreating the odd relationship the police had with the public. The police were notorious for doing things THEIR way regardless of law. Both possible suspects and general witnesses were intimidated by the police. Edward has numerous run-ins and is repeatedly beaten, threatened, and tortured by authority figures. All the while he tracks down the people behind the serial murders and opens the reader’s eyes to a brutal universe.

This is an excellent, if not pretty, read and is followed by Peace’s other works in this series, Nineteen Seventy Seven, Nineteen Eighty, and Nineteen Eighty Three.