I’M shivering in my steamy-windowed car outside 6, Garden Avenue, Heaton, Bradford.
It’s a bitterly cold, spookily silent and windless Monday mid-morning. It is January 5, 1981.
I’ve knocked on a dozen doors and asked the same questions.
Did you know Peter or Sonia Sutcliffe? What were they like?
Did you suspect anything?
Most people didn’t answer. Not even the door. The truth was that their stories had been ‘bought’ and their lips sealed by regional and national newspapers, who were on the case over the weekend.
My small newspaper didn’t have the resources or the pull to get an exclusive on the Yorkshire Ripper, a serial killer who murdered 13 women and seriously injured seven more.
My notebook was almost empty. “They kept themselves to themselves,” was a predictable quote.
“Sonia came round a couple of times. She talked about her teaching, about her parents – ordinary stuff. We never saw Peter.”
The year had started well for West Yorkshire Police. Three days earlier, on January 2, two patrol officers stopped a Rover with false number plates in a side street in Sheffield.
Inside were prostitute Olive Reivers, Peter Sutcliffe, a hammer, knives, screwdrivers and a rope.
The officers arrested Sutcliffe and probably saved Olive’s life.
Within hours, Sutcliffe confessed to 12 of the 13 murders of which he was accused. Seven other horrific but non-fatal attacks were attributed to him.
A five-year hunt was over.
Now, 30 years after that momentous arrest, we are still mystified as to his motivations.
A new film, Peter: Portrait Of A Serial Killer by High Fliers Films, tries its best to address these issues.
It’s about to go on general release, starting with the Odeon, Bradford, on October 20, and going straight to DVD four days later.
Any attempt at plumbing the depths of a serial killer’s mind will inevitably attract accusations of bad taste.
The film does its best to avoid such accusations: but they exist solely by choice of subject matter.
‘Portrait’ starts with the Ripper’s formative years in Shipley, near Bradford, re-lives one of the largest police manhunts in history and then recreates the ongoing programme of psychological treatment Sutcliffe is currently receiving in Broadmoor.
It exposes his warped views of women, examines his relationship with a psychiatrist in Broadmoor and looks at the bonds he formed in his adult life, particularly with his wife Sonia.
The film, thankfully, is no gore-fest. It is very well done, well acted – particularly by Walt Kissack, who unenviably takes the title role.
It’s very sensitive, very responsible, and neatly splices archive footage with acting. Great, almost obsessive efforts have been made to get the period detail and the facts correct.
But ultimately, this is a dead-end journey.
You’re just left with a sense of the sordid and bleak, and the feeling that any journey into Sutcliffe’s mind and motivation, no matter how cleverly done, will remain fumbling and unlit.
What persists is the sense of frustration at being unable to get to the facts – and above all, the sense of bitter cold – that I felt that January day in 1981.