Son of Yorkshire Ripper's first victim reveals he forgave the killer

Son of Yorkshire Ripper’s first victim reveals he phoned the serial killer’s family to offer his ‘condolences’ when he died

  • Richard McCann was just five when his mother Wilma, 28, was slain in Leeds
  • After years of planning revenge, he reveals how he forgave killer Peter Sutcliffe

A man whose mother was the Yorkshire Ripper’s first victim has revealed how he phoned the serial killer’s family to offer his ‘condolences’ when he died – having forgiven him after hearing a lecture from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

Richard McCann, 53, was just a child when his mother Wilma, 28, was slain by Peter Sutcliffe in 1975.

In a podcast interview, Mr McCann said: ‘I just felt the urge to call Peter Sutcliffe’s brother to offer my condolences.

‘I have to say, I did want revenge. My sister Sonia and I once planned to kill Sutcliffe.

‘But that hatred left me in 2010 when I met Tutu, who gave a lecture on forgiveness.’ 

Richard McCann was just a child when his mother Wilma, 28, was slain by Peter Sutcliffe in 1975. He phoned Sutcliffe’s brother to offer his condolences upon the killer’s death in 2020

Peter Sutcliffe (1946-2020) was a serial killer dubbed ‘the Yorkshire Ripper’ who claimed the lives of 13 women in west Yorkshire from 1975 to 1980

Mr McCann says he moved on from his anger in 2010 after listening to a lecture on forgiveness by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (pictured), Nobel Prize Peace laureate


Mr McCann revealed that the plan was for his sister to write to Sutcliffe under an assumed name, and gain his trust as a pen pal.

Eventually, the plan was for Sonia to visit their mother’s killer in prison, where she would attack and kill him. 

But Mr McCann says he was able to move on from his hatred in 2010, after hearing a talk from peace activist Tutu, who chaired South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Afterwards, he said he told Tutu that he’d helped him to forgive the man who murdered his mother. 

Mr McCann added: ‘I didn’t become Peter Sutcliffe’s friend, but what I learned by listening to [Tutu’s] words, was that forgiveness is for you.

‘Letting go of that anger and resentment and need for revenge – wanting to kill him – that’s not good for me and for those around me.

‘So that was something that I knew I needed to do.’

Wilma McCann the first of Peter Sutcliffe’s victims – she was a 28-year-old mother-of-four from Scott Hall in the Chapelstown area of Leeds.

She was separated from her husband when she left home on the evening of October 30, 1975, leaving her eldest child in charge while she visited several pubs.

After accepting a lift from Sutcliffe, she was attacked and brutally murdered just 100 yards away from her house.

Sutcliffe hit her with a hammer and stabbed her 15 times in the chest, neck and abdomen.

Wilma’s son Richard praised ITV for dropping ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ from its drama series The Long Shadow.

He said the name only served to ‘traumatize’ families of victims because it signified the methods used by Sutcliffe to kill and injure them. 

Wilma McCann was attacked and brutally murdered just 100 yards away from her house on October 30 1975

Detective Chief Superintendent Dennis Hoban, played by Toby Jones in ITV’s new drama on the killings, The Long Shadow, was among the first to realise the killings were linked – and initially led the investigation before being replaced

Sutcliffe is taken to Frimley Park Hospital from Broadmoor Hospital for eye blindness treatment in September 2015


Wilma, who is portrayed by Gemma Laurie in the ITV drama, lovingly kissed her children goodnight before heading out for the evening.

The drama shows her spreading a sheet over her children and putting her overcoat over them so they could keep warm; an affectionate stroke of daughter Sonia’s nose before she left the house. They wake up to find she hasn’t returned home.

That last evening, Wilma McCann went to at least four pubs, including the Regent and White Swan, and later continued consuming alcohol at a drinking club.

She was a sometime sex worker, but her son Richard has criticised the way police described his mother and some of Sutcliffe’s other victims.

Speaking in 2020, he said: ‘My mum was more than just a “good time girl” or a “woman of loose morals”, as she was described by the police.

‘I hate the things that they said about some of the women, including my mum. It’s like they seem to forget the person behind that black and white mugshot that I hated for years.’

The drama makes a point of showing Hoban telling his officers how, regardless of her possible lifestyle, ‘nobody, whoever they are, deserves to die like Wilma died last night’ and later says ‘prostitute don’t come into it’.

His efforts proved not to be successful and the sexism of investigating officers and their attitude towards sex workers has long been cited as one of the reasons catching Sutcliffe took so many years.

Wilma left the club after 1am, tried to find a lift and was spotted by Sutcliffe, who stopped his car and picked her up.

Toby Jones stars as Detective Chief Superintendent Dennis Hoban in The Long Shadow

Say again? With fans taking to Twitter to complain about the show’s poor sound and lighting, with come claiming they were forced to watch it with subtitles


Her body was found in Prince Philip Playing fields, just 100 yards from her home on October 30, 1975. Sutcliffe had hit her with a hammer and stabbed her 15 times in the chest, neck and abdomen.

Detective Chief Superintendent Dennis Hoban set up an incident room at the former Leeds City Police Headquarters in Brotherton House and initially the McCann case was treated as a separate incident from the non-fatal attacks on other women carried out by Sutcliffe, among them Olive Smelt and Anna Rogulskyj.

The next murder victim was Emily Jackson, 42. Sensitively depicted by Katherine Kelly, she was stabbed 52 times with a screwdriver on January 20, 1976.

The drama shows how she and her husband Sydney were driven to desperation by poverty and she had taken up sex work to get through the Christmas period for their children. Sutcliffe picked her up outside the Gaiety pub on Roundhay Road. He drove her to a derelict patch of land where he launched his deadly attack.

Hoban was given this case too, setting up a new incident room at Millgarth Police Station.

Judge Barrington Black believes police processes themselves held the detectives back.

Writing in his memoir Both Sides of the Bench, he said: ‘Various police forces did not know what other police forces were up to or doing… so there was duplication and mistakes.

‘We have to bear in mind that the organisation of the police, of police forces throughout the country round about that time, was not of the best. Many of the larger investigations were conducted by card file index systems, bits of paper, notebooks, a type of filing which we wouldn’t recognise today.

‘Absolutely nothing to assist by way of electronic data or documentation and therefore it was a pretty backward situation.’

The police struggled to manage such a huge case, vast amounts of paperwork gathered and there were repeated failures to connect related piece of information.

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