The Netflix series 'Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer' gives viewers a front-row seat to Richard Ramirez' terrifying 1980s killing spree

By KC Baker
Updated January 13, 2021 01:11 PM
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Richard Ramirez
| Credit: Courtesy California Dept. of Corrections

In the summer of 1985, as the city of Los Angeles slept, a real-life monster slithered through open windows and doors to rape, rob, shoot and slash unsuspecting victims.

Even today, signs of the reign of terror inflicted on the slumbering Southern Californian metropolis by Richard Ramirez, better known as the Night Stalker, remain.

“Everybody kept their windows open and he was crawling in windows,” director Tiller Russell tells PEOPLE. “So to this day in L.A., when you drive around, that's why there are bars on the windows.”

Russell is the force behind Netflix’s new docuseries, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, which premieres today (watch the exclusive trailer below).

Set against the hazy backdrop of 1980s Los Angeles, the four-part series tells the story of one of the most notorious serial killers in U.S. history from the perspective of the two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detectives who hunted him down -- as well as some of the victims who managed to escape his wrath.

Starting in 1984 and reaching a crescendo in the summer of 1985, Ramirez’s spree reached across the state of California.

Credit: Netflix

“Victims ranged in age from 6 to 82,” says Russell. “Men, women and children. The murder weapons were wildly different. There were guns, knives, hammers and tire irons.

“There was this sort of feeling that whoever you were, that anybody could be a victim and anybody could be next,” he says.

While this isn’t the first time the story of Ramirez -- who died in 2013, on death row -- has been featured onscreen, Russell says his series is the most comprehensive.

Russell’s producing partner, Tim Walsh, came to him with the idea for the project after meeting one of the detectives who worked the case. “He said, ‘Weirdly, the definitive telling of this iconic Los Angeles story has never been told,’” says Russell.

Russell met with former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Gil Carrillo, who was one of the two lead investigators on the Night Stalker case, along with legendary homicide detective Sgt. Frank Salerno.

Gil Carrillo
| Credit: Netflix

“He was this riveting character who was telling me this iconic story about an iconic killer in an iconic city,” he says. “It struck me as an amazing opportunity to do a portrait of L.A. along with this very gripping and intense story of this notorious serial killer.”

Frank Salerno
| Credit: Netflix

Russell made a point of telling the story of Ramirez' killing spree as it happened, putting viewers right there.

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“We wanted to make it as present tense as possible so that it's unfolding in a way where you're able to ... evoke the moment-to-moment horrors and chills that people were experiencing," he says.

21st Century L.A. Noir

Swathed in darkness, with its panoramic night shots and constant talk of the macabre, the series gives viewers a distinct feeling of film noir.

“There is this amazing L.A. noir tradition that goes all the way back to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, all the way through to contemporary stories, like the Tarantino movie Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood,” Tiller says.

“We were very cognizant of how this is part of a lineage and tradition and we want this to be a contribution to the canon.”

One of his biggest takeaways of Ramirez' story?

“The resilience of people,” he says. “No matter what people went through, they refuse to be defined by the Night Stalker; 'I want my life to go on.' So there was this great empowering aspect to it too, where you saw the strength of these people owning and authoring their own story and not being limited by it.”

Netflix’s new docuseries, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, premieres today.