Olivia Reivers Has Reason to Wonder: Was She the Yorkshire Ripper's Last Date?
It is a grim destiny, but it could have been worse. One Friday night early this month Reivers, 24, tucked her two small children into bed and set out in the blustery cold wearing the frayed $300 fur coat that she says she uses "only for work." Soon she joined a client in a brown Rover sedan, then directed him to a secluded street that afforded them privacy. Watching from a nearby patrol car, two policemen prepared to make a routine prostitution arrest. Then a radio check revealed that the plates on the brown car were stolen, and the officers turned their attention from Reivers to her bearded client, Peter Sutcliffe, 35. Within 48 hours, Sutcliffe was named a suspect in one of the grisly Yorkshire Ripper murders that had terrified England for more than five years.
So far Sutcliffe has been charged with only that one of the 13 brutal killings ascribed to the Ripper, and British restrictions on pretrial publicity have kept officials from discussing their case. Still, police are confident that their suspect and the Ripper are one. Ironically, Sutcliffe, a married truck driver from the West Yorkshire city of Bradford, had been questioned before in connection with one of the Ripper murders, and bore a striking resemblance to a widely circulated sketch of the killer. Yet neighbors and co-workers, as well as his family, seemed stunned by the dramatic arrest.
So, too, was Olivia Reivers, who believes she would have been the Ripper's next victim. "If those cops hadn't arrived," she says, "I feel I'd be dead." Indeed, her survival may be a matter of luck. She admits that Sutcliffe said nothing to indicate he was the killer ("He didn't talk a lot"), and says she became suspicious of him only a minute or two before police arrived. In fact, the officers probably wouldn't have been there at all except for rumors there was to be "trouble"—perhaps a street fight—in the area where Sutcliffe and Reivers were parked. Olivia's friend and fellow prostitute Denise Hall, 19, points out that streetwalkers rarely carry anything to defend themselves with because they don't want to be charged with possessing a weapon. The women usually work in pairs, she says, so that when one drives off with a client, the other can jot down the license number "just in case she doesn't come back." When Reivers drove off with Sutcliffe, though, no one was there to take that precaution, and since the plates were false it would have done little good.
The daughter of a factory laborer who moved his family from Jamaica to Birmingham when Olivia was 13, Reivers left school at 15 and worked sporadically as a salesgirl before the birth of her first child five years ago. "When the baby came along," she murmurs simply, "that squashed it all." Turning to prostitution to support her then infant daughter—the children's father lives in London and infrequently provides money, Reivers says—she talks now of leaving the streets and trying to get by on welfare payments. Her main concern, she says, is her children: "I try to give them security and everything a mother would want for a child."
While Reivers and her professional sisters may have breathed a sigh of relief after Sutcliffe's arrest, they are reluctant to celebrate prematurely. Though 13 women have been butchered in the ritual style identified with the Ripper, questions have lately arisen as to whether perhaps one of the murders is the work of another man. Even if Sutcliffe is tried and found guilty, the prostitutes' sense of security will be decidedly relative. "Suppose," says Denise Hall apprehensively, "there is another lunatic lurking out there."