We’re suckers for true crime over here at Voyage of the Mind. Just watched: Netflix’s 2020 four episode miniseries on the Night Stalker, AKA Richard Ramirez, a serial killer who terrorized the Los Angeles area during 1985. Without further ado, here’s our Night Stalker series review. (Hardly trying to rhyme, it just happens sometimes!)
Before we dig into the guts of the matter, I’d like to touch on a couple things regarding this series.
First off, the content. Some viewers have found the series a little nausea-inducing or heavy-handed, courtesy to some blood and gore and crime scene photographs including victims’ bodies (faces and genitalia always obscured). So I’d like to warn the reader, first off, that this post will contain discussion of blood, gore, and violence. No images here, though. One viewer said that you have to have a pretty thick skin for true crime to sit through this series. If that’s the case, I guess I have that aforementioned thick skin. In my opinion, the depictions lean a bit more graphic than the ones in many other true crime docuseries I’ve watched, but they aren’t too graphic.
Other viewers complained about the retro-theme and shot style of this series. I’ll say it took a little getting used to, but after an episode I didn’t mind it. Yet other viewers have picked bones about the lack of “serial killer psychoanalysis,” but I actually don’t have too many complaints here, nor in the department of “serial killer glorification.” All serial killer documentaries can be viewed as serial killer glorification from a certain frame of reference. I also enjoyed this one’s focus on the police detectives involved. We really get to know Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno, the pair of detectives tasked with heading the case. Night Stalker provides an interesting viewpoint into the mind of a police detective and how high-profile cases like this one affect their psyches and family life.
Although the discussion of the Night Stalker’s background is brief, it does provide (in my opinion) an adequate portal into the early life of Richard Ramirez and how his childhood experiences may have shaped his mind moving forward. A little digging on the web tells a lot more — start here, on Wikipedia. Long story short, psychologists hypothesize that Ramirez was a “made” psychopath rather than a “born” one. The product of a bad barrel, not born a bad apple, if you like the old analogy. Of course, we’ll never know for sure.
At the end of the day, Richard Ramirez was found guilty of 13 counts of murder, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault, and 14 counts of burglary. These charges don’t cover the entirety of his 1985 spree, since (for example) all child sexual assault charges were dropped against him before his trial. (This decision was made so that his child victims wouldn’t have to participate in the court proceedings.) For the counts against him, he was sentenced to death. He died of cancer in 2013 while on California’s death row.
Time to dig a little deeper.
Night Stalker Series Review: An Unusual Serial Killer
I’m hoping that you’ll watch the series yourself, so I won’t be discussing every single detail. Suffice to say that Richard Ramirez wasn’t your average serial killer. This is one of the reasons why, despite the enormous number of cases and gathering body of evidence against him, it took police months to track him down. Notably, Ramirez murdered people of all ages. Ditto to sexual assault. He didn’t sexually assault all of his victims, only some. And some of his victims he killed, while others he left alive. In fact, he seemed to strike at random. This made it extremely difficult for police to track him, predict his next attack, or connect the dots on open cases. His lack of a signature flew in the face of traditional serial killer logic.
Throughout his killing spree, Ramirez repeatedly implicated Satanism, drawing pentagrams on walls. Once this fact leaked to the news media, Los Angeles flew into a panic. Keep in mind that this occurred near the height of Satanic panic in 1980s America. Ramirez also admitted later in life that he had sought to emulate serial killers such as the Hillside Strangler (in reality two cousins who had terrorized the same area not long before) and Ted Bundy.
I’ll note that the police had some rotten luck during their search for Ramirez. In one instance, Ramirez was pulled over for a traffic violation shortly after releasing a child he’d kidnapped, but managed to flee on foot. In another instance, police had learned what dentist’s shop Ramirez used, and set up a pair of officers to wait for him. The day after the officers were removed due to jurisdictional concerns, Ramirez showed up. The dentist had been provided with an alarm to alert the police about their target’s presence, but the alarm malfunctioned. Had it not, Ramirez would likely have been caught months earlier.
At the end of the day, a crowd chased Ramirez down and held him at bay while he attempted to flee from the police on foot. Journalists easily turned this into poetic justice. Five years after his crime spree, he was convicted of all charges and sentenced to death.
Why Did the Night Stalker Kill?
Since the series provides little in the way of psychoanalysis, I’ll chance some supposition of my own. Don’t take any of this as fact — I’m not a psychologist!
Some facts — Richard Ramirez’s childhood life was tough. His father seems to have been abusive toward him. He was also influenced by his cousin Mike, who showed him photographs of women he had raped and murdered while in Vietnam — and who eventually shot his wife in the face, with Ramirez present. Ramirez later became interested in Satanism and developed violent sexual fantasies.
In my opinion, this seems like a case in which violent tendencies developed out of childhood trauma. The tendencies might have been underlying to start, or perhaps not, but they may have emerged in part due to Ramirez’s experiences with his father and cousin and his later drug use. Like the stories of many serial killers, Ramirez’s is tragic in many ways — because of the lives he claimed, and also because of the trajectory of his own.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Night Stalker series review. Watch the series on Netflix if you’re intrigued, and let me know if there are other true crime documentaries or series you’d like Voyage of the Mind to review. Check out Series at the Stern for more series guides in the meantime!