‘The Long Shadow’ Ending Explained: Why Did Peter Sutcliffe Kill The Girls?

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Directed by Lewis Arnold, The Long Shadow isn’t just a suspense thriller about a sociopath; it is a documentation of sorts about how the law enforcement authorities failed the citizens. It showed why it is important for people sitting in such key positions to have a perspective that is not marred by stereotypes. Based on Michael Bilton’s book, the series chronicles one of the biggest manhunts in British history. So, let’s find out what happened in the Yorkshire Ripper case and why it took the law enforcement authorities so long to find the killer at the end of The Long Shadow.

Spoiler Alert


What happened in Yorkshire? 

Wilma McCann’s body was found by the Yorkshire Police in 1975, and at that time, DCS Dennis Hoban was in charge of the case. The woman was brutally killed, and at first, it seemed like an act of passion. The law enforcement authorities felt that probably the accused had some long-standing enmity with the victim, which was why he had killed her so mercilessly. Before the police could find any evidence, another murder took place, and the modus operandi made the authorities realize that the two murders were linked. A serial killer was on the loose, and the police came to the conclusion that he was targeting female escorts specifically. DCS Dennis started interrogating the escorts, and he came to know that the owner of a green Land Rover was probably the one who was killing the girls. The police found the owner of that car and they got to know that he was not involved in any such thing, and he had a strong alibi. A lot of suspects were interrogated after that.

After watching the entire season of The Long Shadow, it became apparent that the police interrogated the real culprit, too, during that time. The criminal was in front of them, but the police weren’t able to connect the dots. Dennis got obsessed with the case, but he wasn’t able to give any results, which was why he was removed from his position and the case was handed over to Jim Hobson. There were tire marks that were found near the crime scene, and Jim Hobson convinced CC Ronald Gregory at that time to let him follow that lead. Jim believed that he could single out the car owner, but even after trying for months, he wasn’t able to make any sort of progress. Dennis got really attached to the case, and he felt really bad when he was removed from his position. He knew that even though he failed to make a breakthrough, he had done everything that any prudent police officer would have in his position.

The families were traumatized, and the worst part was that for several months, the police didn’t make a single formal arrest, and they didn’t have any evidence to prove that they were treading in the right direction. There came a point in The Long Shadow when the credibility of the entire Yorkshire department was put into question, and the people believed that the Scotland Yard should be handed over the case. During the course of the investigation, the teams changed and people were removed from their positions, but still, there were no results. In 1975, Ronald Gregory made George Oldfield the charge of the Yorkshire Ripper case, as a lot was at stake, and the former knew that even his career would come in jeopardy if they didn’t catch the perpetrator. George was very sure about the fact that he would be able to find the killer no matter what. He brought a new outlook to the entire scheme of things, but I believe that the main problem was that he was not ready to take any other perspective into consideration other than his own. In a case like that, one needed to not leave any stone unturned, but George was just not ready to consider ideas that did not align with his own theories. The Yorkshire ripper kept on killing innocent women, and there came a time when the police had no remedy but to tell the women to stay indoors and look out for their own safety. Statements like these put a huge blot on the reputation of the police department, and society realized that they were probably inept at safeguarding the people.


Why didn’t the police believe Marcella Claxton? 

Obviously, the women suffered, but the irony was that those who were lucky enough to survive also had to go through a lot of humiliation and hardship because of the way the police treated the entire case. The first theory that George Oldfield and even his predecessors made was that the Yorkshire Ripper only went after female escorts. That theory was totally wrong, as one of the victims, Marcella Claxton, stated that she just wanted to take a lift back home when she was assaulted by the killer. The police questioned her credibility and her character, and they tarnished her reputation in society. Imagine a victim who had already gone through so much and had to face such humiliation. Claxton applied for compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, but her request was put down, and she was told that since she was involved in illegal trade, she couldn’t ask the state for any help. Also, Claxton’s case proved that the killer went after any and every girl he found on the way and that he didn’t mind breaking the pattern. Moreover, a lot of times, the girls didn’t want to come up and give their testimony because the police had established that any person who was assaulted by the ripper was involved in soliciting. They felt that it was better to stay quiet rather than do something that would tarnish their image in society and put a blot on their character, which they wouldn’t be able to remove for their entire lifetime. 

Maureen Long and Marcella Claxton were two of those girls who had survived, and the latter also sat with the sketch artist and got the sketch of the perpetrator made. At the end of Long Shadow, we see that had the police just looked for the man in the sketch, they would have caught the actual killer. But they paid no attention to whatever Claxton told them, as according to them, her case did not fit the pattern. There was nobody who could understand their perspective. They had been assaulted, and now the onus to prove everything was put on them. They didn’t get any support from the system, and they became victims of the narrow-minded male figures who were just too influenced by their own preconceived notions and who did not consider any other point of view. 


What did George Oldfield find out? 

The biggest blunder that George Oldfield made during the investigation was that he came to the conclusion that the killer had a Geordie accent. Now somebody had sent a tape to the police department where a man pretending to be a killer challenged George to catch him. The entire police department thought that it was the real killer as he spoke about signs that, generally, a commoner who didn’t know anything about what actually happened would say. But George was flattered there, as later it came to be known that he said nothing that was not already out in the media. Now, the real killer didn’t have a Geordie accent, and even after a police officer had suspicions about him, he was not taken into custody. A man named Terrance became the prime suspect during this time just because he had a white car. The police didn’t take into consideration that the killer might be stealing a vehicle to carry out the crime.

Terrance, the prime suspect, was so mentally disturbed by the entire development that he felt the urge to confess to the crimes he had not committed. But sense prevailed in him, and he didn’t confess, and the police realized that all the evidence they had against him was merely circumstantial. Also, be it George or his assistant, Dick Holland, everybody was too stubborn in their approach. They knew all the victims were not prostitutes, but still, they were not ready to accept that fact, as it somehow proved that they had made a wrong judgment in the past. The worst possible thing that Ronald Gregory could do was hire an advertising agency and put hoardings and banners all around the city, asking people to be more aware and to come up and speak if they came to know about anything. So basically, an advertising campaign was launched that showed that the police were incapable of finding the killer and that they wanted the help of the citizens. It tarnished the image of the police department, and the criticism had a huge impact on George and everybody else who was involved in the case. 


Why did Peter Sutcliffe kill the girls? 

During The Long Shadow‘s ending, the patrolling unit randomly caught a man named Peter Sutcliffe, who was sitting in a car with a female escort. Even after Sutcliffe was taken into custody and the investigating officer found an uncanny resemblance between him and the sketch that had been made, Dick Holland told him to discharge him merely on the basis of his accent. But the officer in charge didn’t leave him, and later, after the weapons used in the various murders were found in his safekeeping, it all became crystal clear. George, Dick, and others had to finally accept that their entire theory about the Geordie accent was wrong. Sutcliffe never sent those letters and recordings, and it was some other notorious person who was just playing with the police department. Sutcliffe was caught in 1980, five years after the first case happened, and it was enough to prove the incompetence of the police department. The West Yorkshire police had interrogated the man nine times before, and still, they weren’t able to find that he was the predator who was killing the woman. George was transferred to the operational support unit, though it was said that he was not being punished and that it was just a decision taken due to his bad health. But George knew that he had made some wrong choices, and because of his stubborn and narrow-minded approach, the killer wasn’t caught even when he was in front of everybody. Doreen Hill, the mother of a victim named Jaqueline Hill, sued Ronald Gregory, and she blamed the entire police department for the death of her daughter. 

The West Yorkshire Police tried to hide behind excuses, and certain people were made scapegoats, but the fact remained that the entire system had failed. The problem was not that they were not able to catch the killer, but the fact that they let their judgment be affected by stereotypes, a misogynistic outlook, and their own haughtiness did all the damage. The women suffered not just when the crime was committed against them, but they had to deal with that trauma for their entire lives. 


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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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