THE RIPPER. (2020) NETFLIX. DIRECTED BY JESSE VILE AND ELLENA WOOD.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This four-part true crime documentary mini-series was released in December 2020, and it tells the story of the serial killer known as ‘the Yorkshire Ripper.’
He was named for his Victorian counterpart, ‘Jack the Ripper,’ who became infamous for killing and horribly mutilating five (maybe more, but definitely five) prostitutes in the overcrowded and notoriously poor and crime-ridden area of Whitechapel, London in the ‘Autumn of Terror,’ otherwise known as the autumn of 1888.
The press christened both serial murderers with their ‘catchy’ nicknames, each of which sold newspapers. The true identity of Jack the Ripper was never discovered, although there was a list of suspects as long as your arm. For a long time in the mid-to-late ‘Seventies, the people of England despaired of the Yorkshire Ripper ever being brought to justice either.
The Yorkshire Ripper, who turned out to be Bradford lorry driver Peter Sutcliffe, murdered thirteen women in the West Yorkshire and Manchester areas between 1975 and his eventual capture, quite by accident, really, in early 1981.
He also attacked another ten women (at least) who survived his cowardly hammer-and-knife assaults, and, who knows, there may have been more we never knew about. Quite the charming customer, eh?
The mini-series focuses on the police investigation to catch the man dubbed ‘the Yorkshire Ripper.’ It was an investigation which spanned several years and generated so many files jam-packed with bits of paper that concrete pillars were needed to prop up the room in the police station that contained them. Nowadays, of course, it’d all be done on computers, but computers were very much in their infancy back then.
The investigation engendered more cock-ups than the police generally like to admit to, and the public were privy to most of them. Because the odious little killer’s first few victims were prostitutes, the police assumed that the murderer must be a prostitute-hater and also that the only women in danger from him were prostitutes.
This theory was sorely tested when schoolgirl Jayne MacDonald was murdered in 1977. So, the Ripper was killing ‘innocent’ women now, was he, and not just prostitutes? The police actually used the term ‘innocent women’ to describe the non-sex-worker victims, something they’ve had to quite rightly apologise for in recent years.
The public were no less derogatory themselves, though, and were quite voluble on the subject of Jayne MacDonald’s being on a whole different level to the prostitutes who were killed: ‘She weren’t in their category at all,’ said one housewife who was interviewed.
No offence is meant here to poor Jayne MacDonald and her heartbroken family. A victim is a victim is a victim. But prostitutes, and not just prostitutes, but any ‘good-time’ girl or woman who went out late at night drinking and dancing without the ‘protection’ of a man, was seen to be ‘asking for it.’ No wonder women everywhere were up in arms.
Bruce Jones, who played much-loved cabbie Les Battersby in Manchester soap opera CORONATION STREET in the Noughties, was interviewed in this Netflix documentary because he actually found one of the victims himself, something I hadn’t known until I watched this programme. Jean Jordan was found on waste ground, with one of the most important clues of the whole investigation in her handbag… a brand-new five-pound-note, given to her by her killer as the price of a quickie…
The police had only a few clues to go on: tyre marks, a boot print, this five-pound-note. Peter Sutcliffe was actually interviewed three times about the five-pound-note and a whopping nine times overall, but he managed to give the investigating officers satisfactory alibis each time.
Except, that is, for the time he was seen by Andrew Laptew, one of the officers on the case. Laptew had a ‘hinky’ feeling about Sutcliffe after visiting his Heaton home, but when he brought up Sutcliffe’s similarity to the many Ripper ‘photo-fits’ to a superior officer, he was unceremoniously shut down.
Letters and a cassette tape purporting to be from the Yorkshire Ripper proved to be no more than nails in the coffin for George Oldfield and Ronald Gregory, then Assistant Chief Constable and Chief Constable for West Yorkshire respectively.
They both put their complete trust in these items, particularly the tape in which the ‘Ripper’ talks with a Geordie, or Newcastle, accent. This led them up the blind alley of only suspecting men who spoke with a Geordie accent, leaving the real killer, Sutcliffe, free to kill three more women and attack a further two.
A million pounds was spent on an advertising campaign to catch the Ripper on the authority of Ronald Gregory. The prize exhibits were the letters (the killer’s handwriting?) and the tape (the killer’s voice?). This campaign was probably the biggest and most shocking waste of time and money in police history.
And then one night in January 1981, a couple of humble coppers on the beat spot a bloke and a prostitute up an alley together in a car which turns out to have dodgy number plates, and decide to wander over to have a shufty. The rest, of course, is history. In the heel of the hunt, it was good honest coppering ‘what done for’ the Ripper.
This is a pretty good documentary that should bring the crimes of this evil but highly ordinary little man to a new generation of crime buffs. The investigation was rough on the police, and rougher still on the women of England and the victims and their families.
Women were told by the police to stay off the streets at night. Women wanted a curfew imposed on men. The killer was a man, wasn’t he, not a woman? The police didn’t take seriously some of the women who came forward to report that they’d been attacked by a man in a similar manner to the Ripper victims. Shambles, much?
The police, Oldfield and Gregory and Co., moulded the facts to fit the theory instead of the other way around. It mightn’t have mattered so much, if women’s actual lives hadn’t been so much at stake the whole way through.
And meanwhile, everyone was so busy looking for a monster with horns and a tail that the real killer, a painfully ordinary little runt with a Jason King moustache and a job driving a lorry, was able to wreak havoc in the red light districts of Leeds and Bradford, among other places, and escape detection for nearly six years. Lessons were learned, but, sadly, too late for some…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: