Many people love a good horror story, and those based on real-life situations can be particularly unsettling. Our society's odd obsession with serial killers doesn’t look like it’s relenting anytime soon, and Hollywood is delivering by creating films, shows, and documentaries based on such true events. The latest big serial killer series is Netflix’s Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, which follows the story of Richard Ramirez, a serial killer and rapist in California in the 1980s, and the complicated process that went into catching him.
At the beginning of his spree, his acts of violence were treated as separate incidents by different attackers, but one detective on the case, Gil Carrillo, used knowledge he had previously learned to determine the attacks were connected. Carrillo was the youngest homicide detective in the Los Angeles County Police Department at the time of the murders committed by Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker before he was caught and identified. In an interview with Oxygen, Carrillo says he had come to suspect that what were then considered unconnected murders, rapes, and assaults were committed by one man.
Although seemingly random, the acts of violence had markings connecting each other that could only be pinpointed by someone who knew what to look for. Detective Carrillo had previously taken a sex crimes class with a professor named Robert Morneau, and Carrillo came to recognize the crimes as all having a similar sexual nature to them. Here's how he put it:
It all came from two semesters of [this class]. Dr. Morneau gave me the insight on sex crimes. . . . Some of the things that he talked about in sex crimes came out and were recognizable to me. The fear factor, looking to people's fear, he was getting off on that. There was a sexual deviancy to it.
Other than Detective Carrillo believing them to be sexually motivated, many of the details of the crimes almost couldn’t be more different. Ramirez's unlawful acts ranged from kidnapping and molestation to rape and murder. There were also different weapons involved, and victims were of different types and ages.
Since Gil Carrillo was young and still considered a rookie, his opinions on the crimes did not gain much ground, and his serial killer theory didn’t convince many others at the precinct. It wasn’t until a much more seasoned and trained detective began to believe Carrillo that the term serial killer was thrown around more seriously. Detective Frank Salerno had worked on a serial killer case before, and teamed up with Carrillo to investigate the crimes as the work of a serial killer, dubbed the Night Stalker. Here's why Carrillo thinks no one arrived at that judgment before he did.
I could see it, but unless you had the education or whatever that I had, it was a tough pill to swallow. Nobody in criminal history had been documented doing this stuff.
Detectives Carrillo and Salerno were indeed successful, and Richard Ramirez was arrested for 13 murders and a slew of other crimes in 1985. Who knows how much longer Ramirez would have been at large and how many more lives would have been lost and/or affected if Carrillo hadn’t remembered what he learned in that sex crime class?
There’s just something about the depravity of mankind that TV and movie audiences can’t get enough of – that is, as long as we can hear about the stories at a distance. There are those who can’t hear these stories second hand though, and we have to give our respects to those parties: the victims, the families of the victims, and those who work to solve the crimes inflicted by violent individuals. The awful stories we find so much interest definitely affect real people in major ways, and sometimes it’s hard to consider that when we see the story played out on the screen. Carrillo hopes that his story can help other detectives when investigating other acts of violence.
Detective Carrillo’s and Salerno’s story can be followed in Netflix’s Night Stalker: The Hunt for A Serial Killer. If their story is a little too real for you, everyone’s favorite FICTIONAL serial serial-killer killer will be coming back to Showtime soon enough.