Despite being something of a true crime aficionado, until now I’ve restricted most of my reading to crimes committed far from my shores – for some reason, while the crimes of our transatlantic cousins are never not disturbing, reading about British killers makes it all a bit more real and grim for me. However, having had my interest piqued by a number of true crime podcasts, I decided it was high time I looked at those closer to home and so chose to start with Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son – an excellent book that looks at the life and crimes of Peter Sutcliffe, AKA The Yorkshire Ripper.
Having achieved notoriety in the UK for his brutal slayings of women – predominantly prostitutes, although that distinction mattered less to him as time went on as he widened his net to include any woman that caught his eye – Sutcliffe’s modus operandi included attacking from behind with a hammer (yeesh) and then a horrific amount of stabbing. Eventually convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder 7 more, Sutcliffe is serving a life sentence in prison (and thankfully, in this instance life definitely means life, with the High Court confirming in 2010 following an appeal that he will never be released from custody).
Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son looks at Sutcliffe’s whole life, based on extensive interviews with his family and friends (except for his strange wife, Sonia, who continues to keep her silence). With lots of the anecdotes and conversations reported in the local vernacular, this really enhanced the narrative, making it feel more like a particularly grim fiction, and the cast of ‘colourful’ characters (the men in particular) that made up Sutcliffe’s large family seemed straight out of an even more depressing than usual Ken Loach film. When the only barely decent man in your family is also the one who has spent a large portion of his life living in the fucking woods, you know your family is all kinds of screwed up.
Also looking at the police investigation in to the crimes of The Ripper, which found itself waylaid by believing hoax letters and tapes sent to them and the press, and not bothering to investigate the many tips they received from people in his life believing Sutcliffe was the Ripper, Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son also makes clear how easily he could have got away with it all (as is often the case, it was a traffic related crime that eventually got him caught). Reading all of this true crime, while fascinating, has definitely shaken my confidence in the ability of investigators to catch the perpetrators, and I’ve quickly come to the conclusion that if I ever got murdered, my mum would crack the case faster than the police.
If you’re at all interested in true crime, this really is an excellent entry in the genre – just be prepared to look askance at every bearded lorry-driver you come across afterwards. The same author has also written a book on Rose & Fred West, an even more notorious couple of British killers – on the strength of this book, I’ll be hunting that one down soon as I continue my grim odyssey across Britain.