Night Stalker may be Netflix’s best true crime doc yet. Paired with I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, we have a match made in hell.
Night Stalker takes us back to the mid-1980s, when serial killer Richard Ramirez (AKA The Night Stalker) preyed on victims in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas. He didn’t seem to have “a type”, since his victims varied from children to senior citizens. He often murdered or attempted to murder couples, but sometimes chose a single woman. Sometimes he sexually assaulted his victims (including children), sometimes he did not.
His surviving victims described him as tall and thin with dark, intense eyes, very bad teeth and a foul body odor. Altogether, he was a scary guy, and he managed to literally get away with murder for a little over a year.
Night Stalker tells the story of Ramirez’s murderous rampage, the search for him by law enforcement, and eventually his jaw-dropping capture and trial. Ultimately, he was convicted on 13 counts of murder, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault and 14 counts of burglary.
The documentary is narrated mostly by the two detectives who were most involved in the case, but we also see interviews with family members of victims, and with some of the survivors (including a woman who was 9 years old when she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by Ramirez). Crime scene photos with strategically placed black bars in place are also presented.
While Ramirez’s crimes were grim and horrifying, his eventual capture is perhaps the most satisfying true crime story of them all. Law Enforcement had finally identified him, and his face was on the front of every newspaper in California, so it was only a matter of time until he would be found. Passengers on a bus recognized Ramirez, he panicked and ran away on foot, but a virtual army of citizens cornered him. He was hit with an iron bar, beaten and subdued by people on the street until the police arrived to take him away.
It was a moment of poetic justice when the very people who had been terrified of the killer ended up capturing him. At a scant four episodes, the capture and trial are all included in the final chapter, and the docuseries never drags or slows down. And even though I have divulged a lot of the information contained within Night Stalker, trust me: I haven’t even told half of the incredible details that you will find upon watching it for yourself.
If the term Night Stalker sounds familiar to you, you might also be familiar with another notorious serial killer, Joseph DeAngelo, who was apprehended in 2018, almost 40 years after his last known sexual assault. He is responsible for at least 13 murders and 50 sexual assaults, and during his six-year reign of terror in California he was known as The Visalia Ransacker, The East Area Rapist and The Night Stalker.
When Ramirez began his crime spree, that title changed to The Original Night Stalker. It was many years later that DeAngelo became known as The Golden State Killer, mainly due to crime writer Michelle McNamara in 2013. Her book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark brought heightened awareness to the decades old crimes, and is ultimately believed to be responsible for his eventual capture.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is an excellent (and chilling) book, and the HBO Max docu-series of the same title is equally excellent. It alternates between telling the stories of DeAngelo’s crimes, and focusing on McNamara’s obsessive pursuit of the then-unknown murderer.
Sadly, by the time DeAngelo was captured, Michelle herself had died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. In the I’ll Be Gone in the Dark documentary, her story is told through interviews with actor Patton Oswalt (her husband) and the people she worked with, such as former cold case investigator Paul Holes.
True crime isn’t a subject everyone can handle. There really isn’t anything more terrifying than the atrocities human beings often commit on others, but there is a bright spot in the stories of both Richard Ramirez and Joseph DeAngelo: they were captured and imprisoned for their crimes.
Do you follow true crime books and documentaries? Tell us which ones are the most chilling and interesting in the comments section.