Ex-wife of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe was at their marital home which she never sold – where the couple lived at the height of his killing spree – on the night before he died
The former wife of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe was at their marital home – where the couple lived at the height of his killing spree – on the night before he died, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Sonia Sutcliffe, now 70, stood by him even after he confessed to his sickening crimes, and didn’t file for divorce until 13 years after he was sentenced in 1981.
And she has stubbornly clung to the gloomy, pebble-dashed property in her hometown of Bradford despite its link to the killings. ‘It’s my home,’ she told a friend. ‘Nothing bad has ever happened to me here.’
DEVOTED: Sonia poses for a photo with Peter Sutcliffe in late 1980. She first met Sutcliffe at a pub disco in the Royal Standard in Bradford’s red light district in 1966. A year later they were engaged. They married on August 10, 1974
Land Registry records show that the detached house in the city’s Heaton area remains jointly in both their names.
After apparently beginning a new life by marrying hairdresser Michael Woodward in 1997, Sonia moved into his first-floor flat in nearby Shipley.
But, according to neighbours, she frequently returned to the house she shared with the serial killer to tend the garden. Now she is thought to divide her time between the two.
Neighbours in Garden Lane say Sonia is regularly at the house. One said: ‘I saw her there on Thursday night.’
Another said: ‘I’ve often seen her but have never spoken to her. I saw her a few weeks back picking brambles from the patch of wasteland between her house and the cricket ground.’
Sonia Sutcliffe, now 70, stood by him even after he confessed to his sickening crimes, and didn’t file for divorce until 13 years after he was sentenced. Pictured: Sonia visiting him in Broadmoor in 2008
Former lorry driver Sutcliffe, who was serving a whole-life term for murdering 13 women across Yorkshire and north-west England, died in hospital where he is said to have refused treatment for Covid-19. He also had other health problems.
He and Sonia moved into the house, which cost them £16,000, in September 1977. Five days later, he committed his sixth murder.
Every time he killed, Sutcliffe crept back home in the early hours to wash his blood-soaked clothes in the kitchen where Sonia prepared their meals.
In the wooden-framed single garage, he kept his grisly arsenal of hammers, knives and screwdrivers. In the garden, he burned incriminating evidence.
Four decades on, the kitchen, garage and garden remain largely unaltered. Dull, greying net curtains remain permanently closed at the windows.
Neighbours see Sonia regularly at the house, though she never exchanges even the smallest pleasantries.
One man, who moved into the area two years ago, said: ‘She just keeps herself to herself. If it hadn’t been for all the coverage in the news recently, I would have never known who she was.’
All of her original neighbours have long since moved on in the four decades since the Ripper murders.
When she and Sutcliffe moved in, the area was an overwhelmingly white and solidly working-class area. Multiculturalism has changed that demographic with Sonia one of the few white residents.
ON GUARD: A police officer outside the Ripper’s house in January 1981. Neighbours in Garden Lane say Sonia is regularly at the house. One said: ‘I saw her there on Thursday night.’
It may be in part due to the house’s elevated position and in part due to the house’s acquired notoriety, but locals and visitors swear there is a noticeable chill in the immediate vicinity of the property.
For reasons that are perhaps understandable, Mr Woodward has never chosen to move in.
One local said yesterday: ‘I can’t understand why she would want to carry on living there knowing what he did to all those women. The memories that house must hold for her can’t be all that pleasant.’
West Yorkshire Police officers investigating the Ripper murders visited the house on several occasions to question Sutcliffe, but Sonia maintained she had no idea she was living with a psychopath.
When Sutcliffe was finally unmasked, Sonia chose to stand by him. Confronting him at Dewsbury Police Station after his arrest in 1981, she asked what was going on.
‘It’s me, love,’ he replied. ‘I’m the Yorkshire Ripper. I killed all those women.’
Later that year as he was handed 20 concurrent life sentences, Sonia quietly slipped back to the home they shared together and lived as a virtual recluse. Sutcliffe would remain obsessed with his ex-wife until his dying day, even naming her as his next of kin.
Remarkably, despite finally divorcing him in 1994, Sonia is expected to be the one to arrange the funeral. She is also expected to inherit her depraved former husband’s possessions.
Her former brother-in-law Carl Sutcliffe said his older brother remained totally obsessed and ‘in love’ with Sonia, even after she remarried.
The daughter of Ukrainian and Polish refugees, Sonia Szurma first met Sutcliffe at a pub disco in the Royal Standard in Bradford’s red light district in 1966. A year later they were engaged. They married on August 10, 1974.
Less than a year after that, lorry driver Sutcliffe picked up a hammer and began attacking women, two in Keighley and one in Halifax. A year later he murdered the first of his 13 victims – Wilma McCann, a 28-year-old mother of four.
ON THE OUTSIDE: Sutcliffe is taken from prison in 2015 to go to a hospital appointment.
Three months later he killed 42-year-old sex worker Emily Jackson, knifing her 52 times. Over the next five years he attacked women with terrifying regularity, murdering at night, in towns and cities across West Yorkshire and across the Pennines in Manchester.
The police investigation was beset with blunders, and Sutcliffe was detained and questioned nine times in connection with the inquiry, but each time was freed to kill again.
He was finally convicted in May 1981, having also been found guilty of the attempted murder of seven women. He spent three decades at Broadmoor Hospital before being moved to HMP Frankland in County Durham in 2016.
Ms McCann’s son Richard said yesterday: ‘The attention he’s had over the years, the continuous news stories that we’ve suffered over the years, there is some form of conclusion to that.
‘I am sure a lot of the families, surviving children of the victims, may well be glad he has gone and they have a right to feel like that.’
But he explained that in about 2010 he had decided to let go of his anger and ‘forgive’ Sutcliffe.
‘I am sorry to hear he has passed away. It’s not something I could have said in the past when I was consumed with anger,’ he said.
For now, Sonia continues to lead her odd existence, unable – or perhaps unwilling – to let go of the past.
It remains to be seen whether she will sell up and move at last – or if she will stay on in the house so closely associated with one of the bloodiest and most gruesome chapters in British criminal history.
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