Even with the best detectives on the job, catching a serial killer often hinges on a lucky break—a fact proven by the case of Richard Ramirez, the young man known as the Night Stalker who spent most of 1985 terrifying Los Angeles. Over the better part of a year, Ramirez committed a stunning number of brutal crimes, and compounding matters, he did so in a pattern-less manner that made ending his reign of terror that much more difficult. Documentarian Tiller Russell’s Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer revisits that infamously bloody period in L.A. history, and though it leans unnecessarily hard on melodramatic flourishes that distend rather than enlighten, it serves as a potent reminder that there’s nothing more dangerous, or elusive, than a monster without a clear M.O.
Premiering Jan. 13 on Netflix, Night Stalker tells its four-episode tale through the prism of L.A. County detectives Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno, the former a rising star who was honored to be partnered with the latter, who by 1985 was famous throughout the city for having brought to justice another notorious serial killer: the Hillside Strangler. In extended new interviews, Carrillo and Salerno serve as de facto narrators for this story of the Night Stalker, who became known to authorities on March 17, 1985, when 34-year-old Dayle Okazaki was shot dead, in point-blank style, and her roommate Maria Hernandez narrowly escaped the same fate when a bullet ricocheted off the keys in her raised-to-her-face hands. When news broke of a second homicide (of 30-year-old Tsai-Lian Yu) committed on the same night, and with the same .22 caliber gun, and then another double-murder (of Maxine and Vincent Zazzara) took place ten days later, Carrillo began to suspect that a serial fiend was on the loose.
Not just any murderer, however, since Carrillo quickly became convinced that the individual they sought was actually the same person carrying out a string of assaults in which children were kidnapped, raped, and then set free. Given that no such criminal figure had ever been detected before, Carrillo was roundly mocked by his colleagues. Yet as the bodies and rape victims piled up, many linked by Avia athletic shoe prints, Carrillo’s theory came to look sound—which, alas, did little to help forward his and Salerno’s investigation, since those prints were the only physical evidence left behind by the madman, who confounded police by adhering to no discernible template, killing, raping and abusing men and women, young and old, with guns, knives, ropes, blunt-force instruments, and his own bare hands.
Netflix Explores the Satan-Worshipping Serial Killer and Rapist Who Terrorized Los Angeles The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Daily Beast.