WHAT NOT TO DO
Simon Cowell’s True-Crime TV Attempt Is No ‘Making a Murderer’
‘The Investigator: A British Crime Story,’ now in its second season on Netflix, mistakes pulpy re-enactments and speculation for intrigue and stakes.
These days, there is a specter haunting streaming services: the demand for must-see, deliciously deranged true-crime shows.
The true-crime genre has positively saturated television, with a juicy new documentary or docuseries hitting streaming services seemingly every few weeks. Ranging from the uncomfortably chilling (see: Netflix’s excellent new I Am a Killer) to the disappointingly sluggish, it seems there’s a show to scratch every true-crime itch.
Enter The Investigator, a British true-crime series created and produced by Simon Cowell. Now in its second season on Netflix, the series bills itself as true crime for anglophiles—hell, the subtitle (“A British Crime Story”) says it all. With most true-crime documentaries focusing on the heinous misdeeds of American criminals, “renowned criminologist” Mark Williams-Thomas leads a team of plucky young British investigators who seem determined to prove that the U.K. is just as rife with unsolved murders as the U.S.
They waste no time breathlessly recounting the disappearance and suspected murder of 18-year-old Louise Kay in 1988. After a night out with her friends in her hometown of Eastbourne (in the south of England, not far from Brighton), Louise argued with a friend about spending the night at the seashore then drove off in her Ford Fiesta, never to be seen again. Her friends speculate that she decided to sleep in her car near Beachy Head (a towering chalk headland nearby), and was abducted sometime before morning; neither Louise nor her car were ever found.
After pondering how a young girl and her car could just vanish, Williams-Thomas gets down to brass tacks. Seizing on a detail a friend of Louise’s shared about a strange Scotsman who gave Louise money for gas the night she disappeared, Williams-Thomas connects her disappearance to serial killer Peter Tobin. Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Tobin split his time between his hometown and the south of England, and worked in a town a convenient distance from where Louise vanished. He’d assaulted two teenage girls by the time of Louise’s disappearance, and would go on to murder three more women before being sentenced to life in prison three separate times.
Williams-Thomas and crew present intriguing evidence that points to Tobin’s involvement with Louise’s disappearance. He exclusively preyed on solitary women, usually out alone at night or hitchhiking, and was known to hide the bodies of his victims so well that it took police 16 years to find the remains of two women he murdered, deep in the backyard of a former home of his. Williams-Thomas even pinpoints the exact address, not far from Beachy Head, where Tobin supposedly lived at the time of Louise’s disappearance.
Even without a police investigation of the yard, Williams-Thomas seems confident that the discovery of Louise Kay’s remains is imminent. But he’s stonewalled by the home’s tenants and management, who don’t want to be “disturbed” by a criminal investigation and block his access to the backyard. Local police, for their part, say they’ve followed all available leads in Louise’s investigation. A glum Williams-Thomas seems to have hit a dead end.
Until he abruptly changes tactics, abandoning the case of poor Louise and instead suggesting a link between Tobin and a series of grisly Glasgow murders. Three lone women were abducted, raped, and killed there in the late 1970s, and their bodies subsequently dumped in marshes or fields. The evidence here is thin, based mostly on the fact that Tobin is a) Scottish and b) a convicted murderer. Yet Williams-Thomas soldiers on, soon discarding his theory about Tobin altogether and instead setting his sights on known killer Angus Sinclair, also a Scotsman.
Confusingly, all mentions of Louise’s disappearance, which seemed to be the team’s primary focus until now, are suddenly replaced by a desire to implicate an already-incarcerated individual in a series of tragic murders. Sinclair, who raped and killed a seven-year-old girl when he was just 16, was convicted in 2014 of the “World’s End” murders, wherein two seventeen year-old girls were abducted, raped, and strangled after a night out at the World’s End pub in Edinburgh in 1977. Evidence and eyewitness testimonies implicating Sinclair border on the banal, with Williams-Thomas and crew spending an inordinate amount of time linking Sinclair’s distinctive white van to the scene of the murders. The series then peppers in cringe-making reenactments of the murders and of Sinclair’s later testimony.
It’s not a stretch to assume that Sinclair likely also committed the Glasgow murders. As Williams-Thomas so tirelessly explains, the circumstances of all five killings are similar. Each woman, alone after a night out, was ruthlessly assaulted and killed, with their limbs later bound with articles of their own clothing and their bodies dumped in public places.
Williams-Thomas concludes the second season of The Investigator with a rather obvious observation: Sinclair must have been a suspect in the 1977 Glasgow murders. He then pivots to a broader, equally hackneyed takeaway: the number of missing and murdered women in the U.K. is truly astounding—Louise’s case and the Glasgow murders are just the tip of the iceberg, justice must prevail at all costs, etc.
Williams-Thomas’s call for justice is all well and good, except that both Tobin and Sinclair are already serving life sentences for their crimes. Blocked early in his attempt to locate Louise’s remains, Williams-Thomas and crew expand their scope to unrelated, disturbing murder cases across the U.K. There is a macabre intrigue to those cases, but The Investigator’s proclivity to dwell too long on minute and grisly details alike proves less than compelling. And in the end, they come no closer to finding out who killed Louise Kay.
The Investigator takes an in-depth look at some of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, and it does elicit a few “he did what?!” moments. But it tells us nothing we don’t already know. Men will continue to stalk and kill women as long as they have the chance—you don’t need to watch a pulpy, overwrought television show to figure that out.