Letters to the Yorkshire Ripper is a Documentary programme.


Letters to the Yorkshire Ripper

Twenty years ago this month, Peter Sutcliffe was jailed for life for murdering 13 women and attacking seven more. But not everyone regarded him as a symbol of terror and evil. Since his conviction, Sutcliffe has conducted intense relationships with dozens of women who write to the man they know to be the Yorkshire Ripper.

This programme explores the phenomenon of why some women feel compelled to correspond with serieal killers such as Sutcliffe and to become intimately involved with them. It features three women who have written thousands of letters to Sutcliffe since he was sent to Broadmoor Special Hospital in Berkshire. His voice is heard for the first time - from a tape sent to one of his female correspondents - and many of his letters and artwork are included in the programme.

Diane Simpson from Cheshire has exchanged more than 500 letters with Sutcliffe and spent 400 hours visiting him in Broadmoor over 10 years. Diane analyses handwriting and was involved in the original hunt for the Ripper. She says that Sutcliffe kept hinting to her that he would confess to other crimes - a ploy to encourage her keep up her involvement.

Former therapist-turned-artist Sandra Lester wanted to believe that she'd found lasting love with Sutcliffe. Her hopes were brutally crushed and she's now rebuilding her life with her new husband. Sandra first got in touch with Sutcliffe at a low point in her life, when she was coming to terms with sexual abuse she suffered as a child. After reading an article about him, she decided to reach out a "Christian hand of friendship".

Sandra developed an intense written correspondence with Sutcliffe, culminating in suggestions from him of a possible future marriage. But when Sandra attempted to join his visiting list, she was devastated when she was refused. A letter from Broadmoor informed her that Sutcliffe didn't want an exclusive relationship with one woman but that he wished to have a number of female friends.

On Tyneside, Olive Curry exchanged more than 500 letters with Sutcliffe over more than 10 years and visited him many times in Broadmoor. Olive's relationship with Sutcliffe began more than 20 years earlier when she became convinced that he had come to her workplace with another man, a Geordie. For years she tried to get Sutcliffe to admit to this but he always denied it. Her interest became an obsession which dominated her life.

Former chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, Keith Hellawell, has spent many hours visiting Sutcliffe while investigating other crimes he may have committed. He says that Sutcliffe enjoyed the attention of these women and, in one of their conversations, Sutcliffe told him that it was "just a game".

American author Sheila Isenberg has studied the phenomenon of women who have relationships with notorious killers. She claims that, from her reesearch, the only common thread she found was that there was a history of abuse. Sheila believes that these relationships are like romantic novels or soap operas: "A woman is living out this passionate, fantastic existence that has no basis in reality really, because if the man were not in prison they would have no relationship."£

The women often deny that the men are responsible for the crimes they have committed - that there are mitigating circumstances, such as mental disordes, drug abuse or family problems. "Ultimately, they don't really see the killer as a bad person," says Sheila.

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 60 minutes (approx)