He was one of the world's most bloodthirsty serial killers who had viciously bludgeoned to death scores of women.

In a killing spree across northern England he slaughtered 13 victims, with some suggesting he may have murdered more; up to 25 people.

But despite being right under the noses of police, he evaded arrest for six years.

When police finally caught up with him it was nothing to do with his heinous crimes, but because of suspicion over his car's number plates.

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Thirty-six years ago this week, Peter Sutcliffe was arrested in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield. With him was a women who, in all likelihood, would have been his 14th victim if police hadn't finally caught up with him.

But even as he was taken into custody, he was still leading police astray.

And officers would get a shock - a sickening revelation that would go unreported for three decades - when they finally realised he could well by the notorious Yorkshire Ripper.

"As with other notorious cases when the subject of the Yorkshire Ripper is mentioned it brings dreadful memories flooding back for those most intimately involved," wrote Michael Bilton in his 2003 book on the crimes, Wicked Beyond Belief.

Three of the young women murdered by Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper. Left to right; Vera Millward, Jayne MacDonald and Josephine Whittaker. Photo / Getty Images
Three of the young women murdered by Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper. Left to right; Vera Millward, Jayne MacDonald and Josephine Whittaker. Photo / Getty Images

"The family of Sutcliffe's victims deserved to know what really happened during that awful period when a beast called Peter Sutcliffe roamed the North of England creating outright terror."

Bilton goes on to say Sutcliffe was a "monstrous and disturbed individual" who was "a sick and perverted killer who got powerful sexual thrills from having women at his mercy as he slaughtered them".

Sutcliffe's blood lust lasted from 1975 to 1981 and was particularly focused on sex workers, women who were easily forgotten by society and the police. Although, any women who crossed his path was at risk.

Left to right; Jean Royle, Helga Rytka and Barbara Leach. Photo / Getty Images
Left to right; Jean Royle, Helga Rytka and Barbara Leach. Photo / Getty Images

Born in Bingley, a Yorkshire market town close to the major cities of Bradford and Leeds, Sutcliffe - who worked at times as both a truck driver and grave digger - commonly used the services of sex workers.

But in 1969, this relationship took a violent turn when he attacked a woman he wrongly suspected of being a sex worker who had swindled him out of cash.

He stuffed a stone into a sock and then hiding out of sight pounced on the woman.

"I was out of my mind with the obsession of finding this prostitute," he is reported to have said in a statement to police. "I got out of the car, went across the road and hit her. The force of the impact tore the toe off the sock".

The woman, and several others in the following years, survived similar attacks.

Wilma McCann was not so lucky and in October 1975 became Sutcliffe's first victim.

Wilma McCann was Sutcliffe's first victim. Source: News Corp Australia
Wilma McCann was Sutcliffe's first victim. Source: News Corp Australia

The 28-year-old mum of four was heading home from a night out when, by chance, Sutcliffe drove past her in the early hours.

After giving her a lift, he hit her over the head several times with a hammer while in a park near her home.

As she lay on the ground, her arms still twitching, he fetched a knife from his car and stabbed her repeatedly. Her dead body, with her blouse pulled up exposing her breasts, was discovered later that morning by a passing milkman.

Over the next six years, Sutcliffe would butcher another 12 women. Some with hammers, others through strangulation. On some occasion traces of Sutcliffe's semen were discovered at the scene.

As police began to suspect a truck driver could be the culprit, Sutcliffe came into the investigation's radar. He was interviewed no less than nine times, but in a bungled investigation overwhelmed with multiple leads, neither Sutcliffe's vehicle nor his house were searched.

Amid mounting panic as to which women would be the Ripper's next victim, at one point then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher reportedly said she would head to Leeds and take charge of the investigation herself if a breakthrough wasn't found.

On the evening of Friday 2 January 1981, years after his murderous career in killing began, Sutcliffe was driving through the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield. In his car was prostitute Olivia Reivers.

Police stopped Sutcliffe as the pair left the car. But it was not because they suspected him of being the Ripper, rather they thought the car might have been stolen.

Sutcliffe calmly said he was "bursting for a pee" and was allowed to step away from the questioning officers. While he was relieving himself, police discovered the car's number plate was stolen and took him in for questioning.

It was only when officers realised he matched the description of the Yorkshire Ripper that they began questioning him about that case.

The next day, police returned to the spot where the car had been pulled over. Where Sutcliffe had gone to the loo they found a discarded knife, hammer and rope. Back at the police station, a knife was found in a cistern of the toilet Sutcliffe had used when he came in for questioning.

A shocked Reivers was later to say, "If those cops hadn't arrived, I feel I'd be dead."

By now a prime suspect for the 13 killings, police made Sutcliffe strip.

What they found beneath his outside clothing shocked them. It amounted to a killing suit.

The Yorkshireman was wearing an inverted V-neck sweater but the sleeves had been pulled up over his legs with the V-neck exposing his crotch and genitalia.

The elbows were padded, it seemed so he could kneel over his victim's bodies and conduct one final sexual act.

This bizarre clothing was kept secret and only revealed in 2003 in Mr Bilton's book.

Two days later, Sutcliffe said he was indeed the Yorkshire Ripper and described, in detail, all 13 murders.

Mr Bilton claims Sutcliffe could have killed as many as a dozen more people, including two men, both of whom were attacked with a hammer - a trademark Ripper move.

At this trial, in May 1981, he said that he could not be found guilty of murder, only manslaughter, as he was merely a tool of God's will and a voice told him to commit the crimes.

His defence didn't wash and he was sentenced to 20 concurrent life sentences.

Broadmoor psychiatric hospital outside London where Sutcliffe spent much of his sentence. Photo / Getty Images
Broadmoor psychiatric hospital outside London where Sutcliffe spent much of his sentence. Photo / Getty Images

Initially, there were questions regarding his mental health and he was kept at Britain's famous Broadmoor high security hospital west of London, but Sutcliffe was eventually judged sane and moved to prison.

The Yorkshire Ripper is now in his 70s. A man who might never have been caught but for a stroke of luck from two police officers on a chilly winter's night, now languishes behind bars unlikely ever to be released.