Like every normal person, I am fascinated by serial killers. Repulsed by their crimes, angered by their audacity, and yes, fascinated by the psychology of these outwardly normal beings who set off on random violent streaks with no care, reason or remorse. I have always enjoyed watching the crime network on cable, it was one of the first adult things I started to watch just as I weaned myself off of cartoons and childish telly. My first real introduction to serial killers was through a book in my father’s library- I don’t remember the title but it was about the most famous serial killers in the world, from Jack the Ripper to the acid bath murderer to Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. I remember discovering the book on a Sunday, and taking it to church with me, reading it all through Sunday school. My fascination was born.
Netflix has a pretty good selection of true crime documentaries/series and of course I make sure to watch them all. However, I am familiar with a lot of serial killers, so when I come across a new show on them, I’m reluctant to watch them as I feel as though they will just rehash things I already know. This was how I felt about the Netflix documentaries on Richard Ramirez “night stalker: the hunt for a serial killer“; David Berkowitz “The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness“; and Peter Sutcliffe “The Ripper.” Eventually I succumbed to the temptation and watched them, as I knew I would, and realised there is so much I did not know about these cases.
As much as I like crime shows, it can get depressing with the constant attacks on women.
The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness: I know of the serial killer known as the Son of Sam (real name David Berkowitz). He was a serial killer in 1970s New York who shot at lovers hanging out in cars, and claimed to do so on the orders of a demon called “Sam”, who spoke to him through his neighbour’s dog. Yup.
That is as far as I knew of the case. The Netflix documentary goes much further, and follows the work of an investigative reporter Maury Terry, who developed an obsession with the case in his quest to prove that the murders were not all at the hand of David Berkowitz, but are linked to a satanic cult.
Prior to Berkowitz’s capture, the “Son of Sam” sent letters to the police, taunting them and providing clues. By the end of the documentary, I knew the following: David Berkowitz did not commit all the murders by himself, and in some cases he did not pull the trigger. The murders were in fact linked to a satanic cult, of which Berkowitz was a member. David Berkowitz was not the son of Sam- the dog which he claimed to pass the messages to him was owned by his neighbours- two of whom were in the same cult, and their father was named Sam. There was talk of one of the murders being filmed as a snuff film, and suspected members of the cult all turned up dead in mysterious circumstances. This show is wild, and I’m not sure how much of it is actually true, given that Berkowitz was reticent at times, and really could have been messing with Maury Terry. David Berkowitz is surprisingly still alive, and I wish he would just come out with the truth once and for all.
The Ripper: Again I knew all about Peter Sutcliffe aka The Yorkshire Ripper, named after Jack the Ripper as an ode to their shared penchant for murdering prostitutes. The Netflix documentary does a great job of showing the pungent fear that was in the air at the time, and the misogynistic attitudes that persists to this day. Prostitutes are very vulnerable, and are not highly regarded in society, and this makes them easy targets for serial killers. It was numbing to hear the police essentially say okay this man was previously killing prostitutes, but now he has moved on to innocent women and that is not acceptable. Part of the reason he managed to get away with his crimes was because the women were (thought to be) prostitutes which to the police and the general public meant that their lives are disposable. The documentary even disproves the notion that his early victims were all prostitutes. Even if they were their lives should have been given respect, but the fact that the women may not even have been prostitutes is just annoying. These poor women were instantly dismissed and looked down upon due to their class.
There was even a suggestion of a curfew for women, which was especially infuriating; “there’s a man killing women so you women have to all stay at home and be careful.” Essentially, women were being victimised twice- a man is out there murdering women and it’s up to women to sacrifice their freedom. Why not ask the men to stay home until the killer is caught? It would make more sense to give the men a curfew so women can go out freely, and then if a man is seen out in violation of this curfew he would have to explain why. There is so much victim blaming, it makes me sick. The Ripper shows footage of Reclaim the Night marches, and I was proud to see women go out and protest the foolish suggestion of a curfew.
The investigation was so frustrating oh God. Peter Sutcliffe was questioned multiple times by the police who just couldn’t seem to get it together. There was even a hoaxer who pretended to be the Ripper and he sent letters and a taped message to the police who were so sure they were talking to the right person that they shifted their entire investigation to fit the profile of the caller, which of course completely derailed everything. This was also frustrating as one of his survivors told the police clearly that the accent of the man on the tape was not the accent of the man who attacked her, but the police ignored her, what does the silly girl know eh?
I had watched a separate documentary (on YouTube) about this hoaxer and I wish The Ripper showed us more about this as it is so pivotal to the story. It was unsatisfying how this line ended. In real life, the hoaxer was identified via DNA 25 years later, and he was jailed for obstruction of justice or summing. He should have been whipped publicly because he helped Sutcliffe evade capture and continue killing women, while the police went off on a wild goose chase.
One thing that stood out to me what how little we saw of Peter Sutcliffe. On one hand it is good that he was not celebrated in any form; on the other hand it was a bit of a letdown. The whole show had been building up to his capture, and it was indeed a slow tedious process spanning five years, and then he was caught and that’s it. I would have liked to see more, maybe even hear him speak. But I understand that this not about him.
Just like the Son of Sam, I thought I knew this case but this documentary showed a whole lot more.
night stalker: the hunt for a serial killer: This documentary is about the serial killer Richard Ramirez who terrorized Los Angeles for a year from 1984. I wasn’t going to do a recap of this partly because it’s been so long since I saw it. I just remember being so goddamed disgusted and angry throughout. The nerve of someone to enter a person’s home and hurt them. It makes me so mad. Just like all of the other serial killers, Richard Ramirez was a coward. He was eventually caught-not by the police, but by people on the street who made sure to beat him up before handing him over to the police. Ramirez had the nerve to call the people cowards, saying they wouldn’t have been so brave if he had had his gun with him. Bitch you are a coward for needing a gun! You wouldn’t have been so brave as to enter people’s homes if you didn’t have a gun. There was one occasion when he entered a couple’s home and shot the man in the head. The man arose like the undertaker and managed to chase Ramirez out of his house with a bullet in his brain. Ramirez was a bloody coward. My irritation was intensified when I saw that he had fans-silly, unwashed, unintelligent women who took a liking to his “bad boy satanic” nature. They were sending him nude pictures, showing up to support him in court. It was unbearable. I hope those women are alive and well today, along with their children, to see what a fool they made of themselves.
That’s the thing with the serial killer shows, as fascinating as I find them, they do take something away from me. They are so exhausting. Going through all of the attacks, all the murders, all the rapes, all the victims; it is exhausting. Of course Ramirez had a terrible childhood, like all serial killers do, and some people sympathise with him over this. I just can’t and it’s hard to after going through all of the cases, seeing the pain caused and the lack of remorse from the killer. The man murdered a child! I do understand the effect an abusive childhood can have on a person and I understand that different people process things differently. Some people survive abusive backgrounds and become productive members of society while others create a world of hurt.
Another annoying thing is how the media inadvertently glamorises these hoodlums by giving them superhero names. Once a serial killer is on the loose, the media starts thinking up a cool nickname for them; The Nightstalker, the 44 caliber killer, the Yorkshire Ripper. On some level this has to make the killers feel good. Richard Ramirez was first dubbed the valley intruder by some newspapers until another newspaper gave him The Nightstalker and that stuck.
That’s all folks. I have managed to sufficiently rile myself up. Still, I would like to see a Netflix documentary on Dennis Rader and Ed Kemper.
To be honest, I have watched so many crime shows that my fascination with serial killers has diminished somewhat. I am no longer wondering why they do what they do, I just wish they didn’t.