Who Was the Yorkshire Ripper? Serial Killer Dies After Testing Positive for COVID-19 While Serving Life

Peter Sutcliffe, who was serving 20 concurrent life sentences for killing 13 women, and attempting to murder seven more, was 74 when he died Friday.

A serial killer known as the “Yorkshire Ripper,” who terrorized England in the 1970s, died Friday at a hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. Peter Sutcliffe was 74.

The former grave digger and Jehovah’s Witness had been suffering from underlying health conditions, including heart trouble, diabetes and obesity, and refused treatment for COVID-19, the Associated Press reported. His death will be further investigated by the coroner.

Sutcliffe had been serving 20 concurrent life sentences for killing 13 women, and attempting to murder seven more. His killing spree came to an end on Jan. 2, 1981, when he was arrested in Sheffield, and convicted in May of that year.

Sutcliffe had reportedly admitted to the killings upon arrest, but denied it at trial.

His attacks began more than five years before, in July 1975, when he beat a woman with a hammer then slashed her with a knife. He attacked his next victim in a similar manner a month later. Both victims survived.

His first killing came later that year, in October, when he stabbed sex worker Wilma McCann after beating her with a hammer.

In 1977, Sutcliffe killed Jayne MacDonald, who investigators characterized as his first “innocent” victim, as she was one of the few early victims who was not a sex worker. The term led to widespread anger.

Shortly after Sutcliffe’s death, Chief Constable John Robbins of the West Yorkshire Police apologized for “the language, tone and terminology used by senior officers at the time,” referencing the stigma authorities perpetuated around sex workers, as many of Sutcliffe’s victims had been sex workers.

However, this was only one of many instances authorities were criticized for their handling of the case. Many later even believed that a mishandled police investigation allowed Sutcliffe to evade arrest and continue killing for as long as he did. The manhunt ended up being the largest the country had ever known, and even Sutcliffe expressed surprise at his trial that he was able to continue his killing spree for so long.

Sutcliffe had reportedly been interviewed nine times in the investigation, and during one, officers showed him a picture of a boot print found near the body without noticing he was wearing the boots in the photo.

Police were also criticized by their mishandling of victim Marcella Claxton, who survived being hit in the head with a hammer. She had been able to produce an accurate picture of Sutcliffe, which was later discounted because authorities believed she was not a victim of Sutcliffe’s, because unlike many of his other victims, she was not a sex worker.

Hoax tapes, misplaced data and missed details on the killer’s appearance also plagued the case.  

Richard McCann, who was just 5 years old when his mom McCann became Sutcliffe's first victim, said the death finally brings him closure. "It's a very strange, unusual day," McCann told BBC News. "I'm not celebrating it but I am grateful."