LIFE WITH SONIA SUTCLIFFE
Somebody’s husband, somebody’s son.
The story of Peter Sutcliffe.
This is the title of a book published in 1984 by Heinemann, London. It was researched for two years, mainly with Peter Sutcliffe’s family, friends and acquaintances by Sunday Times journalist, Gordon Burn. Nobody knew more about the life and habits of Sutcliffe than Sonia Szurma who was married to him in August 1974, after a courtship of six years. Sutcliffe’s first assault on an ordinary woman was committed the following July, after less than 12 months of living with Sonia Szurma. Then, in August 1975, he committed 2 further unprovoked assaults, one on a housewife walking home from a pub in Halifax, and the other on a 14 year old schoolgirl in
Keighley. Sutcliffe vented his hatred for Sonia on these females. There was little known about Sonia until Gordon Burn’s book was published. She had always attempted to portray the image of an innocent housewife totally ignorant of a devious husband’s evil nature.
Here are some extracts which reveal the woman who was the cause of Sutcliffe’s unprovoked attacks on women. Authors Comments in purple
When Peter first brought her home to visit his family. As the expected breakthrough with Sonia failed to happen, Peter’s father, in common with the rest of the family, started to find his patience running out. ‘How the devil is that girl going to make a school teacher? How is she going to do it? he’d wonder in exasperation at the end of another day in which Sonia would have done nothing but sit and twiddle her thumbs. ‘She just doesn’t have any conversation.’
She didn’t seem to want to talk, and when she did it was in a whisper, so that, half the time, you couldn’t hear what she was saying. What they had been prepared to overlook as shyness, after several months started to look like arrogance; the popular interpretation of the sullen reserve which Sonia so effortlessly maintained was that she was sitting in judgement on them.
Peter’s sister, Maureen, had a baby, Rachel. Unlike Peter, who bombarded her with baby-talk and wetnursed Rachel ‘like a woman’, Sonia made her lack of interest plain. Persuaded to hold the baby on one occasion, she simply opened her arms and dropped it when it started to cry, letting it fall heavily into a pram. Peter’s brother, Mick, said of her, “Putting it crudely, he thought she ‘looked like a fuckin horse”. Mick took an instant dislike to Sonia who was exactly three weeks older than himself and the feeling , it soon became clear, was entirely mutual. An incident that took place on one of her earliest visits helped set the seal on what was always to be an uneasy relationship, no matter how badly Peter wanted them to get on. ‘She said to me mother one day and she’d only been in house on three or four visits then,’ she says: ‘Will you make me a cup of tea, without any sugar, please?’ We all looked round, like. Is she talking to me? I thought, “Bloody hell, what a pillock”. Any other lass’d probably say ‘D’you mind if I put the kettle on, I’m a bit dry?’ But this was: “Will you get up and make me a cup of tea?” Sort of, Now! She was really highly strung.
At the heart of the problem – and it was a feeling that Mick shared to a greater or lesser extent with all the rest of his family – was that Sonia seemed to radiate disapproval. People tended to feel inhibited by her presence in a room. “But she certainly thought she was well above everybody else.” Sonia never really opened up. ‘I am not a gushing person’, she would later say in the sort of tart understatement for which she had become renowned.
The Bisbys, Peter’s neighbours, who used to be visited by Peter and Sonia, said “He was particularly fond of the children, with whom he seemed on the same wavelength although, as far as Sonia was concerned, they might as well not have been there. She was difficult and reserved.” Sonia, previously mute on her visits to Cornwall Road, started to make her presence felt, albeit indirectly. ‘Come here a moment’, she’d say to Peter, ordering him out of the living-room and into the kitchen, where she could be heard ‘quietly upbraiding’ him for something that he had said or done which didn’t meet with her approval.
Sometimes, though, she’d just slap him down without bothering to extricate him from the family which left his father open-mouthed in disbelief. “But she’d just look at him when he was getting over-excited and say “Peter!” and he’d immediately calm down. She could bring him down just like that . Just by the way she’d look at him. Just like a schoolteacher telling a naughty boy in the class to behave by saying his name out loud in front of everybody. She could do that with him, quite effectively.”
While in London, studying to become a teacher Although still detached and uncommunicative in class, in private she had become prone to unprovoked outbursts of rage and agitation that would eventually be identified as symptoms of her schizophrenia. Peter, on occasion, was forced to contain her physically by pinning her arms to her sides, but as well as being unpredictable and violent, she also seemed to be wasting away.
Convinced that ‘all the machinery was stopping and the world was coming to an end,’ Sonia had wandered out into the street at night in her pyjamas where she had been apprehended and later admitted to a Bexley hospital. The next time Peter saw her was after her transfer to the Linfield Mount psychiatric hospital in Bradford, and he was dismayed.
He thought she looked grey and ‘terrible’. She thought he was an aeroplane Among her other delusions was that she was the ‘second Christ’ – she could ‘see’ the stigmata on her hands. She was also restless and shrill and insistent that she wanted a ‘bigger teddybear’. But a few months after coming out of hospital, Sonia suffered a relapse; this time, part of the pattern of her generally disturbed and frenetic behaviour included tearing her clothes off in public or at odd times at home, such as in the middle of a meal.
Left alone with Peter’s 15 year old sister Jean once,
“I were just sitting quiet, reading, when Sonia stood up an’ did a little twirl in front of the settee. “Guess who I am today?” she said. She were just wearing a little summer cotton frock, a shawl an’ these silver sandals. “Cinderella,” she said. I thought, “Oh, bloody hell”
Peter started dating Sonia in 1967 when she was 16. Sonia’s mental abnormality started in May 1972. She married Peter in August 1974.
There was difficulty getting a best man for the wedding. Peter’s brother Mick let it be known he would not do it “because of what he’s marrying”.
They lived with her parents in their back bedroom for the next three years in what were extremely difficult circumstances. After 11 months of this life with the Szurmas, Peter Sutcliffe cracked and took his hatred for Sonia out on Mrs Anna Rogulsky by a vicious attack with a stone-loaded sock. He clearly didn’t intend to murder her or the other two.
On her attitude to children, Sonia said to Peter’s sister, “No, they just keep you poor, do kids”.
The sexual side of the relationship can be judged by her putting a towel under her backside and telling him to get it over with, so as not to soil the sheets.
Peter had saved for 3 years to put a deposit on a house in Heaton for Sonia. The first Saturday night in his new home he went to Manchester and assaulted Jean Jordan, then hid her in a double hedge. On 9th October 1977, 8 days after he had assaulted Manchester prostitute, Jean Jordan, Peter and Sonia gave a house warming party to his family. The potatoes were so hard, his sister Jane knocked one off her plate as she tried to put a fork in it. Everyone laughed heartily for 2 hours, except Sonia.
That night after leaving his family home, Peter drove to Manchester and pulled the dead body of Jean Jordan from a hedge and attempted to cut it up. He placed a fresh £5 note in her handbag which led the Manchester police to him via his employers, on what was to be the first of 12 police interviews.. The Jordan murder was not regarded as a Ripper murder.
The next time Peter’s parents were invited to Sonia’s new home was Christmas week 1977. “The only trouble was that it was underheated. With the exception of Sonia and her mother, who were wearing layers of cardigans and jumpers and knitted ‘leggings’, everybody was freezing. Kathleen (Peter’s mother) was particularly susceptible to the cold because of the poor state of her health, and John was forced to bend down and switch on the electric fire in the living-room himself when neither Peter nor Sonia volunteered. Within quarter of an hour, though, Kathleen, who had drawn her chair close to the only source of heat, was shivering again, the fire was off and they could only assume the reason it refused to relight was because the power had been turned off at the mains. Kathleen spent what was left of the evening sitting huddled in her winter coat, and this time even Peter’s customary ‘daftness’ couldn’t rescue the situation. When she got home that night, his mother swore she would never set foot in Garden Lane again, and she never did. To see Peter and Sonia together in one of the local pubs at all after they were married was considered something of an event. It wasn’t unknown for her to sit outside in the car while he had a drink with one or other of his family, or for Sonia to come and get him if she felt she had been kept waiting too long. ‘A boring woman’ was her brother-in-law, Robin Holland’s conclusion.”
Peter’s younger brother, Carl, used to visit him on weekends. He said ‘it was a rare weekend he didn’t sense an atmosphere’. She resented Peter being with him. Those who only knew Sonia as the shy, softly spoken schoolteacher and they included Peter’s father, found it difficult to imagine her in this other, dominant role for a long time. Listening to his complaints about her nagging, John once found himself saying as much to Peter, only to be assured that, at home, she was ‘all mouth’.
Describing her mean nature. Carl said “He assumed that was the reason they sat on hard chairs in the kitchen most of the time, ignoring the bigger, more comfortable rooms in the rest of the house. ‘You’d go up, say in the morning, and you’d sit in there all through until 6.00. Then Peter might suggest having a look at what was on the telly but they would never put fire on an’ it were freezing. Really cold. An’ they’d have the telly on really quiet as well, You couldn’t even hear it. You had to strain your ears.’
When there was only the two of them at home, Sonia frequently took exception to Peter having the television on at all, and would snatch the plug from the wall. She would also ‘tease’ him by refusing to let him read a newspaper, swiping at his head and kicking him, and screaming at him so hard sometimes that he was sure the neighbours must be able to hear. But he would remain quite impassive, holding her arms at her side until she calmed down, but never hit her. He would leave the house rather than raise his voice.
There was always ‘hell to pay’ if Peter ever entered the house with his boots on or put any of his clothes in the washing machine: he had remained sensitive about the smell his socks made anyway, and was happy to wash all his own clothes by hand in the kitchen sink. Sonia’s obsession with cleanliness stretched to cleaning the carpets inch-by-inch with a brush and pan and working on the house at all hours of the day and night.
‘I’d have buried her in back garden by now, if it were me’, was a thought that Carl shared only with Mick. When Mick wanted to take Peter out for a drink Sonia would say “He’s not going anywhere. He’s doing this, and when he’s finished he’s doing that and that..”
“Like he might be out three nights wi’ wagon around country somewhere an’ he’d come back bloody jiggered about four in the afternoon after driving all of the night and most of the day as well. Obviously he wanted to go to bed, have a few hours sleep, like, but no, he had to come in an’ start on bloody decorating. She used to start first thing in the morning and go right through day practically non-stop and all through night till maybe five in the morning. Then she’d expect him to get straight on it, soon as he came in. She were cleaning fanatic. There were always summat.”
Regarding Sonia’s cooking ability “Wherever they were though, Mick noticed that his brother always tried to eat plenty of ‘proper’ food, before going home to whatever Sonia might have ready for him. She used to make him little bowls of spicy stuff an’ that weren’t fillin’ or owt I’ve known him to have his dinner there then shoot out an’ have fish and chips twice an’ guzzle ’em like, in motor. Sometimes he used to come to me mother’s in wagon starving.”
From September 1978, Peter’s assaults and 2 Copy-Cat murders were included in the Ripper frame by the police because of the Ripper’s letters. He had been interviewed by the Ripper squad several times before 1980 commenced.
“Peter seemed to spend most of the time when he was round at Carl’s place, which he tended to be increasingly, complaining about Sonia’s incessant nagging. ‘She’d been on at me again’, were often his first words after he’d sat down. And it seemed to get worse as 1980 wore on, until Carl got the impression that ‘he were fed up wi’ whole job, fed up wi’ whole affair completely’. He had packed his bags on two seperate occasions, intending to leave. On the evidence of his own experience Carl had started to feel that maybe Sonia was ‘cracking up’. Always pernickety, by the beginning of 1980, she had started taking her obsession with cleanliness to ‘weird’ extremes: “If she come to a chair. in a pub, the pictures, somebody’s house, any chair, she wouldn’t just sit down. She’d blow on it, an’ start brushing and dusting it with her cuff. She’d spend a good two minutes going like that before she’d plonk herself down.”
In November 1980, the month Peter committed his last 2 attacks, Sonia announced her home was not for sale. This coincided with a change in her appearance that left Barbara Bowman, a neighbour, feeling stunned : ‘Sonia come out of the house one day with the long, beautiful hair that she had always worn down her back, crudely hacked off.’ I said at the time. ‘That wasn’t done by any hairdresser. She’d obviously done it herself.”
While Peter was being held in custody, the police visited Sonia at her home. She was watching T.V. She lowered the sound but declined to give the police her undivided attention until Det. Chief Supt. Holland walked up to the set and turned it off. She would eventually report him to his superiors for ‘discourteous behaviour’.
They quickly embarked on a search of what one of them would later describe as one of the most meticulous as well as one of the ‘coldest’ houses he had ever seen : “There wasn’t a thread out of place. Everything from the facecloths in the bathroom to worn-out clothes down to shoe rags, were folded to a sharp crease. There were crochet-covers over the covers over the living-room suite.”
In Dewsbury police station, Peter Sutcliffe was waiting for an opportunity to confess. Inspector John Boyle was talking to him.
Boyle continued …” I believe you put the false number plates on to conceal the identity of the vehicle in the red-light district.”
Sutcliffe “That is not true. To be honest with you, I’ve been so depresed that I put them on because I was thinking of committing a crime with the car.” Boyle ” Why did you leave your car and go to the side of that house?”
Sutcliffe ” To urinate”.
Boyle “I think you went for another purpose. Do you understand what I am saying? I think you are in serious trouble.”
Sutcliffe ” I think you have been leading up to it”.
Boyle ” Leading up to what?”
Sutcliffe ” The Yorkshire Ripper”
Boyle “What about the Yorkshire Ripper?”
Sutcliffe ” Well, it’s me. I’m glad its all over”
He made only one request – that he be the one, to tell Sonia. When she was brought to him, he said “It’s me” She said “Is it? Is it really?” She didn’t cry or show emotion for an hour and a half when she was told of the huge press interest in the Ripper.
From there on Sonia concentrated on the financial prospects of being the wife of the Yorkshire Ripper which culminated in the High Court in London in May 1989 as she sought damages for an alleged libel against Private Eye, who merely reported the press activities to sign her up for her story.
Four months after his arrest and while still on remand. “Sonia was the only one still seeing her husband. The family’s verdict was that she had always wanted him to herself, and now, by ‘poisoning his mind’ against them, she had got him. No member of his family ever saw Peter while he was on remand in Armley without Sonia also being present. ‘I never got the chance to really talk to him in depth, because she kept this running commentary going all the time.”
‘”What ‘finally killed the pig’ for Peter’s father, though, was the morning he turned up outside Armley with Maureen and Maureen’s two children, and waited for an hour and a quarter in the rain, only to be told that Peter had left instructions that he only wanted to see his wife that day. As they turned to leave, Sonia brushed past them without speaking and rang the bell to be let in. ‘That was when I realised she controlled him’. It was the last time he was to see either Sonia or his son.”
Sonia was there when Mick got a word in to Peter on his first visit:
‘When you tell me, then I’ll start taking it in. So have you done it or what?’ An’ he says, ‘I haven’t done ’em all. I’ll tell you that now. But I’ve done six or seven of them, aye.” So I says, ‘Well, that’s it then,” an’ we sat down”
. What Carl knew was mainly what his brother had told him on his first visit to see him in Armley. “He said he hadn’t done them all”. He said to me, “They aren’t really as bad as they say”. “He hadn’t really ripped them to bits”, he said,”.
In July 1981 the Daily Star published a book entitled The Yorkshire Ripper. It was written by John Beattie. Quotes.
“Peter Sutcliffe wrote to his brother Mick. “Don’t take so much notice of any ignorant talk about me as the public in general know absolutely nothing about me or the type of person I am. It is all absolute rubbish that has been printed so far”.
In another letter to Carl he says. “Don’t feel too bad because soon you will know the whole truth of this matter”
. In every case the reaction was one of stunned disbelief. Sonia’s mother, Maria Szurma, told reporters: “We just can’t believe it. Peter is so loving, so generous, so thoughtful. He would do anything for anyone if he could. Nothing was too much trouble for him.”
“I just can’t believe Peter is the man who killed 13 women. It is not possible. I will not believe it. Even if it comes from his own mouth I will never accept that he is the Yorkshire Ripper. He was worried about the Ripper and used to drive me about when I had to go out at night so I would be safe.”
The foregoing is only a small sample of published accounts which give an insight into the quality of married life with Sonia in the back room of her strict parents home. The offer of a private room in a luxury mental home with T.V. and choice of menu as well as room service, albeit with limited freedom, was an option Peter Sutcliffe grasped when it presented itself later. He was going to prison for his own murders, so any deal he could do by “confessing” to murders he hadn’t done could only be to his advantage