Netflix released a limited series, Night Stalker: The Search for a Killer, based on the true crimes of Richard Ramirez told through the eyes of victims and authorities involved in the case. The docu-series shines the spotlight on his crimes while keeping his full identity concealed until the end, honoring the survivors and their stories.
The Devil in The City of Los Angeles
Night Stalker dives into the murders and crimes committed by the notorious serial killer, Richard Ramirez, during the ’80s in the Los Angeles, CA area. Viewers are immersed into a montage of sunny Los Angeles — where crime has dropped to its lowest and celebrities become the poster children of the state, only to quickly be shown the true dark side of the City of Angels.
The 4 part docu-series focuses on the victims and investigation of the Night Stalker murders. Viewers are ushered through the investigation process by the case’s lead detectives, Gil Carillo and Frank Salerno of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department — as well as survivor recounts (some of which are not for the faint of heart.)
Ramirez was well known for creeping in through the windows of his victims. Beginning his reign of terror in 1984, he would murder and sexually assault his victims and often times ransacked their apartments and steal cars.
After a few cases suspected to have involvement of the Night Stalker, an Avia aerobics shoe — a common shoe print (men’s size 11.5) that was found at the crime scenes — connected several cases, finally giving Carillo suspicion that there is a serial killer afoot.
Anyone Could be Next
By this point in the docu-series, we are already introduced to Laurel Erikson, reporter of KNBC News, whose media involvement almost jeopardized the investigation; Carillo feared the media would leak key information they knew about Ramirez to the public. The City of Los Angeles is terrorized — locks and other forms of security are selling more than ever. Director Tiller Russel tells People, that “to this day in L.A., when you drive around, that’s why there are bars on the windows.”
“It’s on every news channel, all day…not being able to escape it,” recalls the family of Joyce Nelson, who was part of Ramirez’s string of murders.
What puzzled the media was the lack of parallels in Ramirez’s killings. “A killer who walked into the home. No apparent reason,” says news KNBC producer, Paul Skolnick, who has closely been following the investigation with reporter Erikson. He looks back at all the gruesome things Ramirez has done but he never followed a pattern of who he did them to. “No particular race, of victim, type of victim,” Skolnick said. For the first time, Los Angeles was met with a serial killer who targets everyone and anyone.
After the media revealed that pentagram symbols were left behind at the crime scenes, it scared the public more now that satanism was involved. Reporter Tony Valdez, of Fox KTTV News, and Journalist Zoe Turr recall the fear instilled in people, having them believe that anywhere they saw these symbols, the Night Stalker had grazed.
Catching a Serial Killer
Carillo’s fear of the media ultimately aided in catching Ramirez. Following Ramirez’s San Fransico murder in 1985, inspector Frank Falzon was able to get a first and last name from an acquaintance of Ramirez’s. After the LASD and San Fransisco’s chief of police agreed to release to the press the identity of the Night Stalker, numerous tips flooded the LASD department, ultimately leading to his arrest.
When news broke out, Ramirez’s face was printed on the front page of newspapers. While running away from authorities, residents of the East Los Angeles area were able to spot who he was and took matters into their own hands, beating Ramirez until police arrived. This erupted into a mob of equal parts angry, relieved, and happy of his arrest, similar to the mob who partied and cheered outside of the Florida State Prison as Ted Bundy (another notorious serial killer) was being put to death. Ramirez was donned a “student” by detective Salerno; Ramirez looked up to previous LA murders, The Hillside Murders, and studied other famed serial killers like Bundy.
In 1989, his trial finally began. That same year, Ramirez was sentenced to death in a gas chamber for his murders. However, Ramirez never got executed and died in 2013 of cancer.
Things the Docu-Series Fails to Address…
The documentary was never meant to give us background information on Ramirez. This explains why his name isn’t mentioned until the end of the third episode; he is referred to as Night Stalker throughout the limited series. With that in mind, they didn’t really touch upon Ramirez’s childhood. Psychologists who have studied serial killers often link Ramirez’s childhood to having a major effect on him and creating a serial killer. During an interview A&E held with Dr. Scott Bonn, author of Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers, he believes Ramirez became a sociopath due to his early life experience. As a child, Ramirez was exposed to gore and extreme violence.
Ramirez is able to identify the evil inside himself. During his trial, he asked the courtroom if there is “such a thing as a bad seed when a baby is born?” and if “a serial killer [is] already made, or is he created?”
Romanticizing a Killer
The series gives a refreshing take, shining a light on the victims and the authorities involved rather than the killer himself. That’s exactly what the director was going for. “I didn’t want to glamorize him in any way. That was incredibly important to us not to fall prey to his false and corrupting and dangerous myth,” he told Variety.
Towards the end of the docu-series, there are talks of women who became fans after Ramirez’s trial was sensationalized by the media. The docu-series sheds no light on Ramirez’s marriage to one of his groupies, Doreen Lioy, who he married while in prison, and his other girlfriend, Christine Lee.
The glamorizing of serial killers continues to this day and the documentary didn’t want to contribute to that.
“We also wanted to remind the audience of the victims and their surviving family members to really show them the extreme horror and terror and brutality of these attacks. We needed to honor their stories and what they went through,” said Russel.
Night Stalker: The Search for a Killer is available to stream on Netflix.