The Night Stalker otherwise known as Richard Ramirez is one of the notorious serial killers in American history. Ramirez terrorised the Greater Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay area from June 1984 until August 1985 committing approximately thirteen counts of murder, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults, and fourteen burglaries in that time. This documentary looks at both the criminal investigation attempting to identify and apprehend Ramirez and the impact on his victims and their families.
What makes Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer stand out from a lot of other serial killer true crime documentaries that I have watched is where it places its focus. So often the focus of this kind of documentary is on the killer and their crimes. They’ll look at the circumstances of the killer’s life growing up and the lascivious details of the murders with very little concern for the victims or the gruelling police work going on behind the scenes. Hunt for a Serial Killer is much more interested in the actual hunt and the lives that Ramirez destroyed.
The focus of the documentary is chief investigators, the seasoned Frank Salerno and his rookie partner, Gill Carillo. We see the the complexity of attempting to connect the crimes of a suspect with no apparent modus operandi and the exasperation of following up multiple leads that fizzle out before they come to fruition. We also see the tenuous relationship the investigators have with the press and government officials and how information leaks hamper their efforts. Further to this is the toll that the all consuming investigation has on Salerno, and particularly, Carrillo’s, relationships and families.
The other element is the survivors of Ramirez’s attacks and the families left behind by those who did not survive. There is a huge amount of trauma left in the wake of Ramirez’s brutal crime wave and for once the victims are not just a faceless body count but real people with lives, loves and dreams. It’s a heartbreaking account that is intensified with horrifying crime scene photos.
As true crime documentaries go this is one of the better ones I have seen. If you’re a true crime fan and want to see a somewhat different take on serial crime, I would highly recommend it. It is a hard watch though and not something I was able to binge because it often made me feel a bit sick so be warned.