TV Show Review: Night Stalker

Michelle Jin, Graphics Editor

3.5/5

Netflix’s new true crime documentary is a limited series focusing on Richard Ramirez, otherwise known as the “Night Stalker,” who terrorized Los Angeles and San Francisco residents in the 1980s. The Night Stalker is said to be one of the most terrifying serial killers in American history. Typically, serial killers follow a certain pattern that can make them predictable, but Ramirez didn’t have any specific targets. He murdered, kidnapped and assaulted young people, old people, men, women, and children and was ultimately convicted of 13 murders, 5 attempted murders, 11 counts of sexual assault and 14 counts of burglary, although it’s suspected that there are more incidents of these than he was charged with or convicted of. 

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer focuses on the people who were most impacted by his crimes: victims, reporters, and the cops involved. The investigation follows Los Angeles county Sheriff’s Detectives Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno. The show goes into Ramirez’s crimes, sharing detailed testimonials from survivors and photos from actual crime scenes. I felt that it was unnecessary for the show to include the slow motion blood splatter shots presented in dramatic slow motion and most of the victim crime scene photos. Of course, it’s important not to soften the horror of Ramirez’s crimes, but the series relies too much on the cliché true crime footage that has shiny knives or ominous shots with the music build-up. 

The victims’ and families’ perspectives seem to be presented more for shock value. The docu-series misses many opportunities to discuss how systemic problems throughout the police force allowed the murders to go on longer than they should have. After some research I found that Ramirez had made numerous mistakes, and the police’s own multiple missteps helped him evade capture for months. A car that Ramirez used was left out in the hot sun and was fingerprinted so late that they lost crucial evidence and time. And because of budget constraints, the LAPD decided to remove officers staking out a dentist’s office, one of the only leads they had, where Ramirez showed up soon after. None of these missteps are shown or mentioned in the series. This should be taken into account as a lesson in the future for police officers as well as others working on the case. 

Night Stalker humanizes the detectives, Carrillo and Salerno, who focused all of their intellect and energy on this case, to the point where Carrillo’s family had to go into hiding for their own safety. Although there were faults in the investigation, how they dissected the patterns and evidence to ultimately find the killer kept me interested from start to finish. 

The survivors tell horrifying stories and the reporters speak about chasing the case. But at the end, it’s Carrillo and Salerno who successfully pushes through the weakness of the production and makes an impact.