LONDON — Peter Sutcliffe, who was convicted of killing 13 women and attempting to murder seven others in a yearslong spree that led newspapers to call him the Yorkshire Ripper, died on Friday. He was 74.
Mr. Sutcliffe’s death was announced by Britain’s Prison Service, which said he had underlying health conditions and had tested positive for the coronavirus. A coroner will investigate the cause of death.
He was convicted in 1981 in the murders of 13 women over the course of five years in northern England and given a life sentence for each, the maximum permitted. The murders, which occurred between 1975 and 1980, gripped the public and the authorities, and the lengthy investigation was “a source of considerable embarrassment to the police,” The New York Times wrote at the time.
Mr. Sutcliffe was interviewed by the police several times during their investigations in the 1970s. His arrest came after he was found with fake license plates on his car; he confessed to the murders, many of which were carried out from behind with a hammer and knife. A jury of six men and six women convicted him.
“He ruined so many lives,” Richard McCann, the son of Mr. Sutcliffe’s first known victim, told Sky News. “He will go down as one of those figures from the 20th century in the same league I suppose as someone like Hitler.”
Mr. McCann’s mother, Wilma McCann, was killed on Oct. 30, 1975. Others would follow in a reign of terror as police focused on mistaken leads and a hoax recording they thought was from the killer.
A 1981 report into the police investigation’s failings was released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2006. Known as the Byford report, for the official who wrote it, it cited a “curious and unexplained lull” in Mr. Sutcliffe’s criminal activities between 1969 and 1975. The report concluded that it was “highly improbable that the crimes in respect of which Sutcliffe has been charged and convicted are the only ones attributable to him.”
Mr. Sutcliffe, who also used the surname Coonan, served much of his sentence at a psychiatric hospital and was moved to Frankland prison, in northeast England, in 2016, The Associated Press reported.
“It is difficult to find words that are adequate in my judgment to describe the brutality and gravity of these offenses,” the judge, Leslie Boreham, said on the day of his sentencing. “I express the hope that, when I have said life imprisonment, it will mean precisely that.”
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