MODERN DAY SERIAL KILLERS & JACK THE RIPPER
By Siobhan Patricia Mulcahy
MODERN DAY SERIAL KILLERS Peter Sutcliffe, Robert Hansen, Gary Ridgway, Robert Pickton and Steven Wright are known to be responsible for the murders of more than 100 women – mainly prostitutes, but also runaways and vulnerable women walking home alone at night. Between them, they claim to have killed more than 150 women, though even this figure may be higher.
To their friends and families, they were just "ordinary guys" going about their daily lives. Nobody suspected they could be serial killers.
When each killer's profile is examined, there are many similarities across family background, academic ability, employment record, criminal record (prior to the murders), motive, modus operandi and character traits as perceived by family members and other associates.
But that's not all – in four of the five cases examined here, the investigation was deemed to be “mishandled” by the media, the public and even the police themselves. This examination of the similarities across all five modern cases will help to to create a retrospective profile of the most famous prostitute killer of them all – JACK THE RIPPER.
PETER SUTCLIFFE (b.1946) is an English serial killer who became known as “The Yorkshire Ripper” in the British media. In 1981 he was convicted of murdering 13 women – mainly prostitutes - and attacking seven others. Police described his murders as “sadistic”. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. He was aged in his early 30s when he committed his crimes.
Growing up in Bradford, Yorkshire, Peter Sutcliffe had been devoted to his mother. He had a more distant relationship with his father who was a heavy drinker. He hated school - where he was bullied and became a regular truant - and did not try to integrate with other children. He was described as “a loner” by his classmates and left school aged 15 with no qualifications. He began to frequent prostitutes during his adolescence and changed jobs regularly - working in a mill, a factory, and then as a gravedigger. He was sacked from his job in the cemetery after three years for always being late.
Sutcliffe married his teenage sweetheart after they had been together seven years. She was unable to have children. Though they are now legally separated, she continues to visit him at the high-security, psychiatric hospital where he's being held.
He was working as a HGV truck driver at the time of the murders.
Criminal record prior to murders:
He was arrested in the red light district of Bradford in possession of a large hammer in 1969 (six years before his first murder). He was charged with “intention to commit a burglary” but the case never reached the courts.
Sutcliffe raped his victims before bludgeoning them with a ball-pein or claw hammer. He used a knife and sometimes screw drivers to mutilate their bodies. The murders were spread across different locations, in or around, Yorkshire: Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester.
He claimed he had “heard voices” while working as a gravedigger. The voices originated from the headstone of a deceased Polish man who ordered him to kill prostitutes. He also told police that his first attack (not murder) on a prostitute occurred when he discovered she had swindled him out of a ten pound note.
During his trial, four psychiatrists diagnosed Sutcliffe with paranoid schizophrenia but the trial judge refused to allow this as a reason for diminished responsibility. After his conviction and incarceration, he was again diagnosed with schizophrenia and transferred from Parkhurst Prison to Broadmoor's high-security mental hospital in Berkshire, southern England.
Police mishandling of the case?:
Police records (released in 2004) reveal that Sutcliffe was interviewed 12 times about the murders but each time they let him go. They found a five pound note, issued from Sutcliffe's work place, in the handbag of one of the dead victims, but failed to make the connection between the two. One of his associates wrote an anonymous letter to police saying he believed Sutcliffe was the killer. In it, he gave details of what Sutcliffe had told him about the murders. The letter remained in a filing cabinet at police HQ for a least a month before he was arrested.
Sutcliffe made a full confession to the police when he was arrested. He pleaded guilty to 13 murders and seven attempted murders. The judge, who said he was “beyond redemption”, refused to allow a plea of insanity or diminished responsibility from his defense counsel. In 1981, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Sources for this section: Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, by Michael Bilton, 2004 and Wikipedia.
ROBERT HANSEN (b. 1939) is an American serial killer. Between 1980 and 1983, he murdered between 17 and 21 women – mostly prostitutes - near Anchorage, Alaska. In 1984, he was sentenced to 461 years in a federal prison. He was aged in his early 40s when he committed the murders.
Throughout his childhood and adolescence in Iowa, Hansen was described as being “quiet” and “a loner”. He had a dysfunctional relationship with his domineering father who worked as a baker. Though he was naturally left-handed, his parents forced him to use his right hand. He was bullied at school because he had acne and a severe stutter. His school grades were below average though he managed to graduate from Highschool. In 1957, he enlisted in the US Army Reserve and served for one year before being discharged. He then worked as an assistant drill instructor at a police academy in Pocahontas, Iowa. From 1963, he bounced from one low-paid job to another. Then in 1967, he moved from Iowa to Anchorage, Alaska where he became renowned as a local hunting and fishing champion. In the early 1980s he opened a bakery and this was his employment at the time of the murders.
Hansen married twice and divorced twice. Both women left him. He fathered two children.
Criminal record prior to murders:
In 1960, he was convicted of arson after he set fire to the local school bus station in Pocahontas, Iowa. He claimed it was an act of revenge on the townspeople. He served 20 months of a three year sentence. His first wife divorced him while he was incarcerated. After his release, he was arrested several times for petty theft. In 1977 he was sentenced to five years imprisonment for the theft of a chainsaw but he was released after serving only one year. In the early 1980s he filed a false insurance claim for a burglary at his home which netted him $13,000. He used the proceeds of the fraud to open a bakery and to buy a small aircraft.
Hansen claimed that when he threatened the women, he imitated what he had seen and heard on television to make sure they were “scared enough” to handle. After paying a woman for her services, he would kidnap, torture, and rape her. He would then bind her and fly her out to his cabin in the Knik River Valley, Alaska in his small aircraft. Once he had found a suitably desolate location, he would release his victim (sometimes blindfolded) on a river sandbar, stalk her and then kill her with a hunting knife or a rifle as she fled through the woods. He buried the corpses. Police discovered jewelry and ID cards belonging to his victims, newspaper clippings about the murders and a large array of firearms and other weapons when they searched his cabin.
He hunted his victims like animals after he had raped and released them and said that the hunt was like “going after a trophy sheep or a grizzly bear”.
When Hansen was imprisoned for the theft of a chainsaw in 1977, psychiatrists diagnosed him with bipolar disorder and prescribed lithium to control his severe mood swings. He was never officially ordered to take the medication.
Police mishandling of the case?:
In June 1983, seventeen-year-old, Cindy Paulson went to the police after escaping from the cockpit of Hansen's small aircraft - a set of handcuffs still dangling from one wrist. She told police she had been offered money to pose for pictures before being abducted, raped and sexually assaulted with the handle of a hammer. Hansen denied the accusations, stating that she was just trying to “cause trouble” because he wouldn't pay her for sex. Due to Hansen's “meek demeanor” and his occupation as a baker, police let him go. He was not arrested for the serial murders until four months later.
Prior to October1983, Hansen was charged with assault, kidnapping, multiple weapons offenses, theft and insurance fraud. He was released on bail but the police kept him under surveillance. When ballistics tests gave a match between bullets found at the crime scenes and Hansen's rifle, he entered into a plea bargain (so he could serve his sentence in a federal prison). He showed investigators 17 grave sites in the Knik River Valley area - 12 of which had been unknown to the police. He was sentenced to a total of 461 years in prison.
Sources for this section: Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, by John Douglas, 1996 and Wikipedia.
GARY RIDGWAY (b. 1949) is an American serial killer who became known as the “Green River Killer” in the US media. He confessed to 71 murders but the figure is believed to be as high as 90. Ridgway was convicted of murdering 48 women (mostly prostitutes and runaways) in Washington State during the 1980s and 1990s. He received 48 life sentences with an extra 480 years added for tampering with evidence. Ridgway was aged in his 30s and 40s when he committed his crimes.
Born in Utah, but raised in Seattle, as a child, he had a habit of bed wetting. His mother would embarrass and ridicule him in front of the family. At school, he was tested with an IQ of 82, signifying low intelligence. His classmates described him as “friendly” but “strange”. His teenage years were troubled. He was obliged to repeat a year in Highschool, twice, because his grades were so poor. After Highschool, he joined the US Navy and served time in Vietnam. When he returned from the war, he got a job as a truck spray painter, a job he kept for 30 years. Ridgway's first and second marriages were to women who formerly worked as prostitutes. Both marriages ended in divorce. His second wife claimed he had tried to strangle her after an argument. He fathered one son. He married for a third time in 1987. During this marriage, the number of women he killed diminished. His wife told newspaper reporters: “I feel I have saved lives by being his wife and making him happy”. They are now divorced.
Criminal record prior to murders:
He first came to the attention of police aged 16, when he stabbed a six-year-old boy, who survived the attack. According to the victim, Ridgway walked away laughing and said: “I always wondered what it would be like to kill someone”. He was arrested on charges relating to prostitution in both 1982 and 2001.
His first five victims were found in the Green River in Washington State. Most of the women were prostitutes or runaways from the Seattle and Tacoma areas. He strangled his victims from behind, mostly with his arm, but he would also use ligatures. He sometimes transported the bodies across State lines to confuse police. He also left gum, written materials and cigarettes belonging to other people to avoid detection. The bodies were often found in clusters. Most of his victims were raped and killed in his home, his truck or in a secluded area. Ridgway confessed to necrophilia. He began to bury his victims' bodies so he would no longer be tempted by them.
In his confession, he acknowledged that he targeted prostitutes because they were “easy to pick up and that he hated most of them”. He also stated that killing prostitutes was “his career”.
Confessed to necrophilia.
Police mishandling of the case?:
Ridgway became a suspect in the Green River killings as early as 1983. The following year, he took and passed a polygraph test. Police did not take hair and saliva samples from him until 1987. He was not convicted until almost 20 years after he first became a suspect.
Ridgway was arrested as he was leaving the Kenworth Truck factory, (November 2001) because of DNA evidence linking him to four of the victims. As part of a plea bargain, he agreed to disclose the whereabouts of still “missing” women and was spared the death penalty. In December 2003, King County Superior Court sentenced him to 48 life sentences with no possibility of parole. The judge added an extra 480 years as Ridgway had tampered with the evidence of each of his victims. He is incarcerated in Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, Washington.
Sources for this section: Seattle Post, (various dates), November & December 2003 and Wikipedia.
ROBERT PICKTON (b.1949) is a Canadian serial killer, convicted of the second-degree murders of six women who were prostitutes and drug users from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He was also charged with the deaths of 20 other women, but prosecutors did not pursue these murders as his overall sentence would not be increased. In December 2007, he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment with no possibility of parole. He was aged in his 40s and 50s when he committed the murders.
Brought up in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, Pickton was shunned by his peers both inside and outside school. His mother would only allow him to take baths and he developed a fear of taking showers. One day, he came home from school to find his pet calf had been slaughtered by his parents. His brother ran over someone in his truck and their mother rolled the body into a ditch. (No body was ever found and it assumed the victim survived). Pickton left Highschool to attend a special education center where his IQ was measured at 86, signifying low intelligence. He followed his parents into pig farming and this remained his employment up to and including the time of the murders.
Pickton became engaged to a “pen pal” during his 20s but the marriage fell through.
Criminal record prior to murders:
He had come to the attention of police on several occasions for drug offenses. He was arrested for the sexual assault and stabbing of a prostitute in 1997 but the case was dropped by the prosecution. He was arrested for illegal weapons' possession in 2002.
His victims were lured to his farm with the promise of drugs. He bound each woman with wire and handcuffs, raped them and then released them so he could stalk and then kill them. He used night vision goggles so he could work in the dark and attached a dildo to a 22 caliber gun to act as a silencer. He pulverized the bodies in a machine and then fed them to his pigs. He skinned the flesh from the bodies beforehand and used it for soil fertilization. Personal items belonging to the victims were found in his home.
He told police he was put on earth to rid people of their “evil ways”.
He abused crack-cocaine from adolescence onward. His addiction may have induced extreme paranoia and violent behavior.
Police mishandling of the case?:
In 1997, Pickton was charged with stabbing a sex worker. At a preliminary court hearing, the victim said Pickton drove her to his farm and after they had sex, he slapped a handcuff on her left wrist, then stabbed her in the abdomen. She managed to get hold of the knife and stabbed him back. Both she and Pickton were treated at the same hospital, where staff used a key found in his pocket to remove the handcuffs from her wrist. Prosecutors decided to drop the charges against him because the woman had “drug addiction issues” and they thought she was “too unstable” to testify. Police took the clothes and rubber boots Pickton had been wearing that evening and left them in a storage locker where they remained, unexamined, for more than seven years. Not until 2004 did lab testing show that the DNA from at least two of the murdered women had been on the items seized. The deputy chief of police apologized to victims' families after his conviction, saying “I wish from the bottom of my heart that we could have caught him sooner”.
By May 2005, excavations of his farm had brought the number of first-degree murder charges against him to 27. During his 2007 trial, he confessed to 49 murders to an undercover police officer posing as a cellmate. He said he wanted to kill another woman to make it an even 50, and that he was caught because he was “sloppy”. Prosecutors did not pursue all the charges as convictions would not have increased his sentence. In the end, Pickton was convicted of second-degree murder on six counts and was sentenced to life imprisonment (25 years) with no possibility of parole – the longest available under Canadian law.
Sources for this section: Department of Psychology, Radford University Report, 2008 and Wikipedia.
STEVEN WRIGHT (b. 1958) is an English serial killer who became known as the “Suffolk Strangler” and the “Ipswich Ripper” in the British media. He is serving life imprisonment for the murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich, Suffolk in 2006. He was aged 48 when he committed his crimes.
Wright's father served in the British military police and the family lived in both Malta and Singapore before returning to England. Wright's mother walked out on the family when he was 8 years old and he did not see her again for 25 years. He and his siblings lived with their father, who remarried and had a son and daughter with his second wife. Wright left school aged 16 with poor academic results and joined the Merchant Navy where he became a chef. He began to frequent prostitutes while in the navy and continued to do so throughout his adult life. His employment record was varied. When he left the navy, Wright worked as a lorry driver, a steward on the QE2 and as a bar manager in various locations. At one point, he lived in Thailand for a few months. At the time of the murders, he was working as bar man in Ipswich's red light district and as a forklift truck driver in the Ipswich Docklands.
Wright was married and divorced twice and fathered two children. His second marriage lasted only a year. He may have had a third wife in Thailand.
Criminal record prior to murders:
He was convicted of theft in 2001 and ordered to do 100 hours' Community Service. He had stolen the money to feed his gambling addiction and to pay off debts.
His five victim's were asphyxiated but not strangled. Forensic evidence suggested they were attacked from behind and that he put his arm across their throats to render them unconscious. The first two bodies were found fully or partially clothed in a nearby river in Ipswich. The last three victims were left naked in woodland near the same area. No attempt had been made to hide or bury the bodies. Each one was arranged in the form of a crucifix with the hair extended outwards in the form of a halo. Jewelry and other trinkets were taken from the victims but have never been recovered.
Wright continues to maintain his innocence. It has been speculated in the British media that he married a prostitute in Thailand who fleeced him of all his money. Wright has denied any marriage or “swindle” ever took place though he did admit to frequenting prostitutes while living there.
Wright was addicted to gambling and lost at least one job because of his “heavy drinking”. He attempted suicide twice: first by carbon monoxide poisoning (in his car) during the mid 1990s and again in 2000, by taking an overdose of pills.
Police matched a DNA sample taken from Wright in 2001 (when he was convicted of theft) to samples taken from the dead women. Throughout his trial, he stated that he had used prostitutes on many occasions, including three of the victims, but claimed he was innocent of the murders. A fiber from the carpet of his car, which was found in the hair of one of the dead women, seems to have convinced the jurors. He was found guilty of all five murders on February 21, 2008. The judge recommended that he should never be released. Unlike the other cases examined here, there was no obvious mishandling of the investigation.
Sources for this section: BBC News reports and Guardian newspaper articles (various dates) February, 2008 and Wikipedia.
- SIMILARITIES & FINDINGS ACROSS ALL FIVE CASES
- All five men had unhappy or dysfunctional childhoods.
- All five men were loners or poor communicators.
- All five men left school having achieved poor academic results and worked in non-professional, low-skilled employment throughout their lives.
- Four of the five men had been married. Pickton was the exception. Three of the five men had divorced twice.
- The age of the men at the time of their murderous campaigns ranged from early 30s to mid 50s.
- All five men had either mental disorders or suffered from serious addictions.
- Three of the five men had served in either the army (one) or navy (two).
- Three of the five men had taken “trophies” from their victims.
- Two of the men said they hated prostitutes; two others may have been swindled out of money while frequenting them.
- All five men had already come to the attention of police for crimes unrelated to murder.
- Four of the five police investigations were deemed to be “mishandled” according to the media, the public and even the police themselves. Wright's investigation was the exception.
- USING THE ABOVE FINDINGS TO ACHIEVE A PROFILE OF JACK THE RIPPER
There are so many similarities across the five profiles examined that it is possible to speculate that serial killers of prostitutes have certain inherent characteristics. If these characteristics are used to create a retrospective profile of Jack the Ripper, it can be assumed that:
- He was a white male who was raised in a dysfunctional family and suffered from low self-esteem.
- He was poorly educated and worked in a non-professional or low-skilled job at the time he committed the murders. Note: Given that we know JtR had “good knife skills”, he was more likely to have been a butcher, an abattoir worker, or even a gravedigger dealing in the sale of body parts than a doctor or surgeon.
- He was a loner, yet had married at least once. The marriage had ended in separation or divorce.
- His age at the time of the murders was anywhere between early 30s to mid 50s.
- He suffered from a mental disorder or addiction.
- He may have spent time in military service.
- He may have taken “trophies” such as jewelry, trinkets or pieces of clothing from his victims.
- He may have hated prostitutes or been swindled out of money while frequenting them.
- He had already come to the attention of the police for crimes unrelated to murder.
- He was either interviewed or arrested in connection with the Whitechapel murders but released during a mishandled police investigation.
Conclusion: If the above profile of Jack the Ripper is accurate, then many of the well established suspects in the JtR case would have to be eliminated – especially, the well-educated and those who worked in the professions.