You have to give Netflix credit—they have become the undisputed champions of true crime television, and seem to have no interest in relinquishing their crown anytime soon. As they move down the serial killer checklist, they have pretty much exhausted anything relating to Ted Bundy, and have just released a series focusing on one of the lesser known monsters from years past: Richard Ramirez.
I’ve spoken about Richard Ramirez before (if you’d like to read that post, click here), but to summarize: he scared the bejesus out of me. I was 12 and living in Southern California in 1986, near the end of his reign of terror. I’ve been somewhat obsessed with him ever since—not to mention the novel I have that puts a bit of a supernatural twist on Ramirez, and the exhaustive research I’ve been doing for that, so obviously watching this four-part documentary was a no brainer.
What the promotional materials (see above ad) don’t really tell you, is that this is not so much a series about Ramirez as a person—how he grew up, why he may have done the things he did, etc.—it’s more a procedural about the detectives assigned to the case and a rundown of the crimes committed and the clues they got as time went on. (I will say if you are interested in reading about Ramirez’s upbringing and what shaped him into the monster he was, it’s a pretty fascinating read. It seems like there was almost no other possible outcome for him).
We learn about freshly-promoted detective Gil Carillo and his partner, well known badass Frank Salerno, who rose to infamy on the case of The Hillside Strangler. They speak, along with various other detectives and reporters, about the cases as they happened, witnesses, evidence and the like. One of the reasons I’ve always found Richard Ramirez so fascinating is because of how utterly random his crimes were. He struck all over the greater Los Angeles area, rather than staying in any particular neighborhood; his victims were seemingly chosen at random, as they were all ages and ethnicities; his method of killing was always different, from strangulation to blunt force trauma to gunshot. All of this randomness completely confounded the detectives, but they were still able to piece things together via good old-fashioned police work.
One thing that struck me about the way the detectives had to try and solve these crimes was just how much work it was in the pre-digital age. When they believed the killer wore black size 11 1/2 Avia aerobic shoes, they were able to determine that only one pair matching those exact specifications had been sold in the LA area, but that was the end of the line as there were no records of where the shoes were sold. It would’ve been so much easier today!
The show has received a fair amount of criticism online from people claiming the show features too much gratuitous violence and glorifies both Ramirez and his crimes. While I think that’s a valid criticism for the promotional material (and the logo, which looks like something a metal band might be proud of), when it comes to the show itself…I just don’t see it. Maybe I’m too desensitized to true crime. True, we don’t need a slow motion shot of a bloody hammer in the opening credits, but the crime scene photos are pretty average, assuming you’ve seen crime scene photos before. Also the show speaks to several of Ramirez’s victims and their families, and you can see just how many lives were affected by his heinous crimes.
While Richard Ramirez will always be the scariest of all the serial killers for me, The Night Stalker is only slightly above average when compared to the barrage of other true crime and serial killer shows out there. I don’t really know what I expected from the show, but I was a little let down. However, for anyone who isn’t already familiar with Ramirez or his crimes, I would definitely recommend it, and for all the research I’ve done and how much I already knew about Ramirez they still managed to provide info that I didn’t already know, so I have to give them credit for that.
As for Netflix, I’ve grown tired of the incessant true crime stories they churn out, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still curious about their next serial killer project. There are a few I’d be pretty interested in watching, but we’ll just have to wait and see what the reigning champs have in store for us.