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True Crime Docuseries Review: The Ripper

 The Ripper is a British made four part Netflix docuseries about the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe.  Between 1975 and 1980, Sutcliffe murdered thirteen women, with a few attempted murders as well.  The story went nationwide, and the police devoted massive resources to catching the killer.  The Ripper takes a compelling look at the people involved in the case, from police and reporters to relatives of victims.

Before watching this 2020 docuseries, I knew nothing about the Yorkshire Ripper.  What I saw was horrifying, as this detestable man preyed on women and created an environment of both fear and frustration.  Directors Jesse Ville and Ellena Wood tell a tightly produced tale of the impact of this killer, elevating the material by highlighting what this all meant in the wave of feminism at the time.

The greatest aspect of this series is the lack of energy put into sensationalizing the material.  Yes, they used ominous music and other techniques to create uneasiness, but it never tried to elevate the crimes.  There were absolutely no re-enactments (if there were, I didn't notice them once), which is the holy grail for me when it comes to docuseries.  The intent was never to use the subject as the selling point, but more so the misery and climate that it created.

I never felt dirty watching The Ripper, as I usually feel at least a few times even in docuseries that I like.  A lot of care has been spent in keeping Sutcliffe from being portrayed as a perverse form of celebrity.  In the fourth episode, when the identity of the killer is revealed, the only images of Sutcliffe that are shown are extremely low quality pictures from decades old newspapers.  Not one clear image of this man is shown in the entire series, an intentional choice that speaks volumes on how much this series wants to focus on the impact of his crimes, and not the man himself.

Another great quality of this series is that it only use the interview subjects to talk about their own experience.  A lot of times it feels like docuseries will try and have the people talk about aspects that have nothing to do with them, possibly so they don't spend the money getting someone and only using them for one small moment.  The Ripper never falls into that trap.  If an interviewee can only give input on one specific element, then that's all they are used for.  We may only ever see certain people once, and that shows care being taken to make sure the story is told properly.

A big focus of The Ripper is highlighting policing, and the mistakes that were made during the investigation.  Law enforcement generally doesn't like to admit to mistakes in docuseries.  In this instance, the information shows that there clearly were issues clouding the pursuit of the killer.  A hoax audio tape was mailed to the main investigator who was convinced it was authentic, leading to the higher ups ignoring any suspects that didn't have an accent like the one on the tape.

Another failing was the belief that the murderer was targeting only prostitutes.  Some of the victims were indeed in the sex industry, while others were 'believed' to be hookers (based on little evidence) to fit their investigation.  Because of the refusal to change their theories, the police ignored earlier attacks by Sutcliffe on women who were clearly not prostitutes and missed out on vital evidence because of this.

The most fascinating aspect of the docuseries is the illustration of how the male police force viewed the victims.  They viewed the early victims as woman of lower social status, almost as a way to suggest that their morals meant they were less valuable than other people.  

When Sutcliffe kills a young woman who was undeniably not a sex worker, the police refer to her as the first 'innocent victim.'  To the police, woman who went to bars to drink by themselves or had a black boyfriend meant they were of the lower parts of society, and not innocent victims.  As this happened during the feminist movement in the UK, a lot of frustration grew over how the male dominated police force viewed the victims, the killer, and women in general.  

Overall, this is easily one of the best true crime docuseries that Netflix has put on its platform.  A lot of what we see illustrates issues in policing that allowed a serial killer to remain undetected for so long.  The sad part is that the mistakes allowed more woman to be murdered.  Thankfully, as lessons are learned the hard way over time, police have gotten much better at finding serial killers.  Unfortunately, as displayed through The Ripper, those lessons came at the tragic expense of human lives.

Rating - 3.5 out of 4 stars