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'I didn't want to talk to him at all': Why a new book about the Yorkshire Ripper isn't focusing on the killer

A new book has chosen to look at Peter Sutcliffe’s victims.

Peter Sutcliffe being escorted into court during his trial in 1981.
Peter Sutcliffe being escorted into court during his trial in 1981.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

“THINGS HAVE CHANGED in society now,” author Carol Ann Lee says.

“I hope we’re listening to victims more. The story should have been about the women in the story, but they got lost to a big extent.”

During the research for her book about Peter Sutcliffe, better known as the Yorkshire Ripper, Lee faced an important question: would she confront the man responsible for killing 13 women over six years?

Much has been written about Sutcliffe’s crimes in the almost four decades since he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the killings.

However, Lee found that none of his victims had ever been given much attention, and instead decided to ignore the infamous killer in favour of telling their stories and those of the women’s families.

“It was a difficult book to write, in terms of approaching people,” she tells TheJournal.ie.

“Not only did families have to cope with never-ending horror and trauma of losing a loved one, they also saw the reputations of those they loved trashed in the media.

“There was a huge amount of victim blaming for some women who, in a large number of cases, just went on a night out.”

Irish victim

The resulting work is Somebody’s Mother, Somebody’s Daughter: Victims and Survivors of The Yorkshire Ripper.

Each chapter of the book contains the story of Sutcliffe’s victims, the first of whom was Irish-born Anna Rogulskyj, who was born Anna Patricia Brosnan.

Originally from Tralee, Anna moved to Yorkshire – where Sutcliffe carried out his crimes – to live with her sister at the age of 15.

She got her married name in 1955 when she married Roman Rogulskyj, whom she divorced eighteen years later, before meeting a man called Geoffrey Hughes, with whom she struck up a dysfunctional and abusive relationship.

On the night of 4 July, 1975, Anna had a fight with Hughes, after telling him that she wanted to go out to spend the evening alone.

After socialising with friends, she returned home to find Hughes had moved out and walked to his house to confront him, during which an unknown man – who appeared to be Sutcliffe – propositioned her.

Anna dismissed him, and reached Hughes’ house to find he wasn’t at home. She broke his window with her shoe, and left to go home.

However, the attacker was waiting in an alley at the end of the road and attacked her, leaving her for dead.

It was only a short time later that Anna was found lying unconscious in a pool of blood, before she was rushed to hospital.

Although there was no evidence of sexual interference, Anna had been badly beaten: shards of bone had to be removed from her skull during a life-saving operation.

Despite surviving the attack, she was never the same after her attack, and died alone at the age of 75 in 2008.

Human nature

For Lee, her book is about showing that women like Anna had lives, before and sometimes after they were attacked.

This, she says, is not something that’s not always possible with documentaries, which often reduce women to what she calls “a checkerboard of faces”.

“Their faces always appear together as a composite, but I wanted to say that even though their deaths brought these women together, these women were living separate lives as different people,” she says.

Despite this, she doesn’t blame the media for reporting on stories about serial killers or the public for being interested in them.

Lee believes both go hand in hand, and that it’s simply human nature to look at various aspects of ourselves and the different sides of humanity, even the negative ones.

“I’ve also written a book about Myra Hindley,” she says. “I’ve learned that the notoriety gets recorded. People might hate themselves for looking, but they’ll still look.”

Ultimately though, she wants her book to do justice to Sutcliffe’s victims and their families, and change attitudes towards them.

She feels that the discussions about women still focus on their preferences, habits, and appearances as much as they did four decades ago.

“It’s just about making sure that people get a sense of each individual that was there,” she says. “I feel like it’s time that someone focused on the victims.”

Somebody’s Mother, Somebody’s Daughter: Victims and Survivors of The Yorkshire Ripper, published by O’Mara Books, is available now.

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