Netflix’s true-crime documentary series is a moving piece on human incompetence and mass murder
The singular most dangerous serial killer known to the British public, Peter Sutcliffe contracted coronavirus and died in November 2020. Since then, his death, rather than providing a sense of closure to individuals affected by his crimes, renewed interest in the gruesome carnage he left in his wake when he was in his prime.
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Netflix’s true-crime documentary series The Ripper takes us back in time to 1981, when the “Yorkshire Ripper” Sutcliffe was arrested for killing 13 women and attempting to butcher seven others in a killing frenzy which he began in the mid-’70s.
The Yorkshire Ripper, named after the Victorian era serial killer, displayed uncharacteristic brutality while outsmarting the Yorkshire Police for half a decade. His reign of terror is relived by stitching together, old archival footage while testimonies from survivors and the Police play along.
A gripping score by Roger Goula, and the brisk pacing of the show spanning four hours help in keeping the suspense alive as the viewers go on a ride to discover the identity of one of the deadliest serial murders of all time.
The incompetence of the police
The story begins with the brutal death of Wilma McCann, whose body was found in a ditch in Leed’s “red-light” district. Back then, the Yorkshire Police assumed that McCann, a single mother of four, was a sex worker because of where and when her body was found. Subsequently, they chose to ignore her case until the bodies started piling up at a steady rate for years.
This was primarily due to the fact that the Yorkshire Ripper waylaid young women and heartlessly butchered and mutilated their bodies, dumping them in the streets of Leeds and Manchester among other places.
To uncover the hysteria that Sutcliff caused, Director’s Jesse Vile and Ellena Wood delve into the social context which shaped the unfortunate affair. What they find is equally shocking. It is revealed that the Yorkshire Police is deeply misogynistic. Their approach to the case is reflective of certain archaic values, common in any repressive social order.
Their wrath for women, who they felt were violating conventional social norms, clouded their judgement and led them to the conclusion that the killer “hated prostitutes”. This led to them making a proper mess of the investigation, allowing more time for the Ripper to continue his killing escapades.
Fight for equal rights
The show uses crisp editing and personal testimony to recount the struggles of the British women who stood up for their rights while being accosted by a cold-blooded killer, jeopardising their sense of security within their community,
They are seen asking for protection not only against the killer, but also against the systemic sexism thrown at them, with authorities resorting to victim-blaming. Their ire for authorities further intensifies when Sutcliffe is finally arrested, albeit for frivolous reasons. People start realising that the serial killer was right in front of the authorities all along, while they did little about it. Infuriated, they start losing faith in the police, resulting in the harsh repercussions for many of the law enforcement big wigs.
In a nutshell, The Ripper is a moving piece on human incompetence and mass murder and can also rope in people interested in the societal changes which shaped Britain post the Second World War.
The incidents recounted by it are as relatable now than they ever were, raising questions on whether the society has regressed since the Yorkshire Ripper first showed up. A thorough reflection on the same may yield answers which are not likely to be comforting.
The Ripper is currently streaming on Netflix