I chatted to Yorkshire Ripper every week for 20 years – when I got inside his mind, his warped obsession left me stunned
EVERY Tuesday night for nearly two decades, Alfie James’ phone would ring at the home he shares with his wife and two young children.
But it wasn’t a relative or an old friend calling for a catch up. It was a serial killer – the Yorkshire Ripper.
Alfie developed such a close relationship with Peter Sutcliffe that as well as the regular phone calls, they swapped hundreds of letters and met dozens of times in Broadmoor hospital and Frankland prison.
He has now turned his huge collection of conversations with Sutcliffe into the definitive biography of the killer, I’m The Yorkshire Ripper, written with Sun reporter Robin Perrie.
It tells the full life story of the man who murdered 13 women between 1975 and 1980.
Factory worker Alfie*, 46, here tells The Sun why he first contacted an evil monster, what Sutcliffe was like as a person, and why he believes he became a serial killer.
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In the visiting room of Broadmoor Hospital, Peter Sutcliffe stood up to greet me, beaming from ear to ear.
He was welcoming, friendly and clearly pleased to see me. But as he shook my hand, I couldn’t help but think about the appalling crimes he had committed with that hand.
This was the first time the Yorkshire Ripper and I had met in the flesh, and it would be far from the last.
Over 16 years, we struck up a correspondence – one that he might even have mistaken as a close friendship.
For my part, I was only determined to get inside the mind of one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers – a man of horrific cruelty, who was also obsessed with the idea that he was a ‘good person’.
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An envelope arrived through my letterbox – it was from Broadmoor
I started writing to Sutcliffe all those years ago because I always had an interest in criminology and true crime.
I had read countless books about serial killers, but found that we rarely ever heard from the criminal themselves.
At the time, in the early 2000s, Sutcliffe was a bit of a silent voice.
There weren’t many letters from him in circulation and there hadn’t been many documentaries about him. So one day I thought I would send him a letter and see what happened.
I had no idea if he would even reply, but within weeks a letter came through the letterbox.
The envelope showed that it had been sent from Broadmoor, so I quickly realised who it was from.
I admit I was a bit excited, but the letter itself was quite mundane and wasn’t very revealing.
Nonetheless, I replied quickly. He wrote back again and it proved to be the start of an astonishing relationship.
With each letter to Sutcliffe, I slipped in another question to get him used to the idea that I wanted answers.
After a while he began revealing interesting snippets about his life – like how he didn’t like his dad when he was growing up because he was violent and neglectful.
When he said something revealing it did give me a buzz, because I knew it would help build up the full picture of what he was really like.
After corresponding by letter for a while and then through regular phone calls, he came to trust me enough to add me to the list of people who were allowed to visit him at Broadmoor.
I was apprehensive about meeting him for the first time, but also intrigued about what he would be like.
Sitting down, we began talking casually. He answered everything I asked him freely and, I believe, truthfully.
The killer obsessed with being a ‘good man’
One of the questions that people often ask is – what was he like?
My answer is that Sutcliffe could be both fascinating and very dull – often at the same time.
He could be boring, especially if something had bothered him like the hospital had mucked up an appointment.
He could spend an entire 15 minute phone call going on about the same thing, moaning away and not letting you get a word in edgeways.
But he was also fascinating because of his obsession of being seen as a good person, despite what he had done.
Sutcliffe viewed his attacks as only one small part of his life, a part that he was not responsible for.
He blamed the attacks on his mental illness: paranoid schizophrenia. That meant, in his eyes, he wasn’t at fault.
He was always talking about how he was a good son, brother and worker before his arrest, and a model prisoner and patient after his trial.
His crimes were not the work of the Peter Sutcliffe he saw himself as, but of another, earlier version of himself. Almost as if it was another person.
That self-obsession passed over into how he felt about his victims.
It’s not as if he never expressed remorse and at times he did say how terrible the attacks were and how he wished they had never happened.
But it never felt like full, true remorse and he never expressed it to the families of his victims individually – instead apologising to them as a group.
It was as if he didn’t want to deal with them as individuals, which was probably so he didn’t have to think of them as mothers or wives.
Was Sutcliffe bad or mad?
Another common question which has been linked to his case right from the start was whether he was mad or bad.
It is so hard to know the answer.
I do think there was a mental illness, which I believe was caused by a head injury he suffered when he had a motorbike accident in 1965.
There is a lot of research which shows that head injuries can cause a change in personality.
But on the other hand, some of his actions seem to suggest he had the ability to override the voices in his head, which he says were part of his mental illness.
Perhaps he was simply evil and part of being evil was the ability to con people into thinking he was mad, whereas in reality he was bad.
In his younger years, everyone who knew him said they could not believe that the Peter Sutcliffe they knew turned into a serial killer.
There was no evidence of cruelty to animals or anti-social behaviour, so something changed.
If I am right and it was down to his head injury, it was another aspect that fascinated me.
Whether he was mad or bad, the things he did were obviously terrible and there were times our relationship didn’t sit easily with me.
He might be making some snide remark about a victim or make a daft joke about them as he did sometimes and I would keep quiet rather than challenge him over it.
That left a bad taste in the mouth.
But I had to remind myself that, even though I was not there in a professional capacity like a doctor or a police officer, I did have a role to play in exploring his motivations and the only way I could do that was to always be seen by him as someone who was on his side, which I wasn’t really.
I missed out on family life to talk with the Ripper
The effort I had to put in to acquire all of this information for the book meant that it did affect my life.
I missed out on certain things with my wife and children. I have a young family and want to do all the things any dad does with his kids.
But I had to spend time researching the case to know what questions to ask and logging all the material I got from him meant I did miss some family activities, although my family were supportive and understanding.
I don’t think being close to him took a toll on me as a person, however, because I always kept a little bit of distance.
He may have thought I was a close friend, perhaps his best friend out of all the people who wrote to him, but that wasn’t the case in my mind.
I might not have said it out loud to him because I always wanted him to think he could tell me anything, but I was often thinking things like: “How can you say that?” in response to something he said.
Through the time I knew him I wondered whether there were other murders he committed but got away with.
I think there were a couple more non-fatal attacks, he said that to me, but I don’t think there were any other murders.
I asked him numerous times in different ways and he never admitted to any.
I know that a lot of people reading this will think that it is strange to contact a serial killer and anyone who does that must be weird or odd.
But my only purpose was to try and understand why he did what he did. I never put him on a pedestal and I have never forgotten what he did to his victims.
I saw an opportunity of getting close to him to find out details of his life.
I knew that if I took things slowly with a long-term view of our relationship, he would eventually reveal every tiny detail about his life which helps explain what made him into a murderer.
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The goal was never to become his friend or share some sort of weird limelight that serial killers might have in some people’s eyes.
I only wanted to try and understand why he became a serial killer and I think I got as close to that as anyone ever has – including Sutcliffe himself.
* Name has been changed
‘I’m The Yorkshire Ripper’ is published by Mirror Books and is available in paperback and as an ebook. Buy it on Amazon now.
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