" I cannot judge him for what he did in his sick moments..." Those are the words spoken to Barbara Jones, author of "Voices from an Evil God", by Mrs.Szurma, mother -in - law of Peter Sutcliffe, also known as The Yorkshire Ripper. And, having read numerous books on this man, I can understand her words. For this was a man who did many evil and unthinkable deeds, yet, at the same time, a man who was obviously severely mentally ill. Hence the title of this opinion, for, as far as Peter Sutcliffe is concerned, I find myself well and truly between a rock and a hard place.While I have every sympathy for his victims and their families, I can also comprehend what drove him to kill. I'm not defending him - or excusing him - just saying that mental illness is often more 'responsible' for murders than the murderer him/herself. I could never defend his actions - they are as abhorrent to me as they are to any sane individual. And,yet, I could also not defend the actions of the authoress of this book in telling the comprehensive story of Sutcliffe and his wife Sonia. It is well documented that Sonia herself had suffered from mental illness for many years and had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, although her condition was sufficiently controlled by medication to enable her to live a relatively normal life. That normal life included a husband whom she loved dearly - a husband who later turned out to be one of Britain's most notorious killers,responsible for 13 murders and numerous attempted murders. So, scenting a scoop, Barbara descends on the Sutcliffe's and pretends to be their friend. She admits early on in the book that, since Sutcliffe had never been interviewed by a journalist, she was going to get to talk to him, however lomg it took. There followed several years of deception, of visiting Sutcliffe in Broadmoor hospital using a false name to get around the fact that jouralists are not permitted to
meet with inmates. She admits to disliking both Peter and Sonia intensely - yet, in spite of this, she contiunes to gain access to them by fair means and foul, even to the extent of going on holiday with Sonia. And, throughout the whole book permeates a feeling of "Aren't I clever? Aren't I brave?" Well, sorry, Mrs Jones,but the words sneaky and underhand spring more to my mind! I cannot criticise the book itself. It is well written and is definitely a new 'take' on the shocking story of The Yorkshire Ripper. Many previous books see Sutcliffe as purely 'evil' and this is one of the few which I have read which concedes that he has a serious mental illness, which is undoubtedly responsible for the voices he claimed to hear which instructed him to 'clean the streets'.The author has also included some unique photographs in her book, many of which show Sutcliffe inside Broadmoor, others of which are reproductions of the art work he has done since his incarceration. Yet, my sympathies lie with Sonia, his wife, who, the author admits, obviously knew nothing about his crimes and remains devoted to him. Jones portrays her as an irrational woman who shows no sympathy towards her husband's victims - perhaps she is, but did Mrs Jones really have to pretend be her friend to find out? How much privacy is the undoubtedly innocent Sonia entitled to - and is this book not a gross invasion of it, preying as it does on the insecurities of a sick woman, who has lost everything through no fault of her own? "Voices fron an Evil God" is undoubtedly an interesting book, covering every aspect of Sutcliffe's murders without unecessarily gory details.In that respect, the authoress handles the shocking subject deftly, with the proper amount of concern and compassion for those who suffered at the hands of this man. It also touches on the peripheral characters in his criminal career, particularly Sonia, but a
lso Sonia's parents, sister and Sutcliffe's friends. Yet it seems intrusive and dishonest, the author's research into the subject seeming " a cross which she has personally chosen to bear, for the ultimate good of mankind". Mrs Jones - you needn't have bothered on my account. I prefer my true crime to be less salacious and more sympathetically handled. I'm not defending Sutcliffe, nor trying to excuse his terrible crimes - but the taunting and tormenting of a sick woman - that is a different story. "Voices from an Evil God" - Barbara Jones - Blake - ISBN 1 85782 0118 NB Price quoted refers to the hardback edition.
"It was the eyes they noticed first. The seven survivors of his frenzied attacks had all told police of his 'crazy stare', which had been reproduced in thousands of photo-fit posters during the six-year hunt for the killer they called the Yorkshire Ripper. Now, in Court Number One at the Old Bailey, the full force of that evil stare can be felt by the jury, the lawyers, the court clerks, and the judge himself." And so starts the first chapter of this disturbing book. This is the very paragraph that caught my attention in that cold unfeeling bookshop, being nudged as people tried to pass in the too-narrow isles. I couldn't say why I picked it up, but it was morbid curiosity that made me read the first few lines. And it was that same morbid curiosity that made me take the book home. It stayed on my bookshelf for over two years, untouched. I'd bought it, yet I wasn't sure I wanted to read it. I knew about the murders. I even knew some of the victims names, though I should have been too young to remember. I knew what to expect I suppose, and it was the expectation that was the problem. Did I really want to find out how, when, and more importantly why? Was there really going to be any explanation that would make me feel any better about what happened? The simple answer to that is no. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that yes, I did read it in the end. Do I regret it? No, not one bit. And that's what surprises me about it all. I was disgusted with the contents of this book. Actually no, that's not it. I was disgusted at the words of the monster which are contained within this book, yet I don't regret reading it. Maybe it's because now, I feel even more justified in my loathing toward this person. Barbara Jones is the author. She was determined to meet him and talk, especially as he'd never spoken to a journalist before. Peter Sutcliffe wanted his life
story written down for all to see, so that the world could see that he wasn't an evil monster. Apparently, he thought he deserved sympathy and understanding. Strike you as odd? Well, of course it does. But think about it. This is a mentally ill man who simply believed he was carrying out the orders of God, having no control over his actions. Barbara Jones then embarked on her journey of discovery. She'd already known his wife, Sonia, and between herself and Sutcliffe, they came up with an alias for Barbara to visit him in Broadmoor. What follows is nearly 400 pages of feeling disgust, sickness, sadness, anger, contempt, hatred... I suppose you could say as I felt all of this, something in this book must have worked. And I'd have to agree with you. You see, it's not that I hated this book, on the contrary, I was fascinated. I could hardly put it down. It's the disbelief with the constant cries from Sutcliffe that he wasn't to blame. It's the apparent lack of conscience from both Sutcliffe and his wife. It's everything. This book follows the relationship between Barbara and Sonia, even at one point going on holiday together. The author wrote in her diary on this vacation, detailing some of the things which served as a vivid reminder of how maddening Sonia could be, and of how well she came to know her. You see this isn't a book about Peter Sutcliffe alone. This tells of Sonias nature too. Her unending love for her husband, who can do no wrong in her eyes. There are times you feel that she believes his victims deserved everything that happened to them. Sonia apparently showed not even a hint of compassion. She believed the families of the victims, and the survivors themselves to be of lower intelligence than herself. So much lower, in fact, that her belief was that they couldn't be capable of any real understanding or emotion. She sees the claims for compensation
from the victims and their families as being "blind consuming vengeance". She could be right, but is this not a right of these people whose lives have been destroyed? You would think so, but she simply sees them as "would-be money grabbers". She believes that her husband is serving his sentence for the crimes he committed, and that should be enough for anyone. Whether she believes he should be there or not, I'll leave it up to you to decide. Sonia, it seemed, even planned to help her husband escape. Though thankfully, it never happened. The details of the plan are laid out here too, as well as some background information into her life. It may not surprise you to find that Sonia herself had in the past been treated for mental illness too. It didn't surprise me, though it did serve as a kind of explanation as to her devotion to this man. One of the early chapters skims over Sutcliffes life as a youngster. He had friends at school, truanted at times the same as most children. He was a talented artist even at an early age, without tutoring. From all accounts he was an ordinary child. It seems the voices started whilst working his job in a cemetary, taken in the year his Grandmother died so he could tend her grave. Co-workers told of his strange sinister behaviour and his ghoulish sense of humour. Some of the pranks he played, some of his actions during his time there, in hindsight, could be seen to be the start of his illness. The details of the murders and attacks on these women are given throughout the book. In a lot of cases, told in the matter of fact way that Sutcliffe did during the trial. Maybe it's this that makes it that bit more horrific. Because there's no feeling there. No remorse. No accountability. He is blameless in his own eyes. Because of this, it seemed to make me feel even more disgusted than I would have had I been told the details by other means, a newspaper r
eport for example. The text contains information about the police hunt for him, including his arrest in 1981, the events leading up to the arrest, even comparisons of the hoax letters and tapes with letters from Jack the Ripper. The book also contains photos of Sutcliffe and his many victims, as well as Sonia. It shows us some of his artwork, including his interpretation of the Mona Lisa and a passport photo of the author. Sutcliffe gives them both intense, watchful eyes, not apparent in the originals. Even the photos of himself have those same intense eyes. I'd seen the photos once and knew I didn't need to see them again. There are a couple of pictures of Sutcliffe talking to one of the patients in the womens wing of Broadmoor. He has a "special smile" for her, being one of his favourite girlfriends. Despite what he's done, it seems Sutcliffe is a favourite with the ladies. Women were known to travel miles to visit him, staying at boarding houses close to the hospital so they could spend the whole day, or more, with him. It's such details as this which constantly disgusted me as I read, not just the details of his horrendous crimes. It's human nature that kept me reading to the end. Not believing that a woman could love her husband so much that she could see no wrong in him. Being amazed that women outside in the real world could be attracted to such a cold killer. The never ending claims to the author that he wasn't to blame. This is a book that will make you feel sick to your core, yet one that to me at least was 'unputdownable'. It should be said that it does contain details of the murders, and they're in no way embellished for effect. They don't need to be. Barbara Jones will take you inside the mind of a killer and his wife without trying to sensationalise anything. Neither are places you will want to stay for long, but chances are you
won't be able to help yourself. It's that morbid fascination which follows us again. It seems that no matter how horrendous someone's actions, we want to know what lies beneath... what made them do it? The answer is in the title, yet the whole book holds the key. I would tell you to read this book, but I believe this is something very difficult to judge for someone else. This is true crime at its most compelling. I felt all the emotions we're expected to feel when we're told these sorts of details and given this frank an insight into the world of a murderer. I'm sure you will too, should you decide this is something you need to know about. ---------------- Blake Publishing ISBN 1-85782-065-7
The true story of the Yorkshire Ripper and the woman who loved him.