Is Harrison Johnson A Real Person? 'The Night Stalker' Isn't All Fact
In the Lifetime movie The Night Stalker, Longmire star Lou Diamond Phillips plays Richard Ramirez, a real serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles and San Francisco in the '80s. Scandal star Bellamy Young is Kit, a young lawyer who seeks to clear up what she deems a set of false accusations. In the movie, murders that Kit believes were committed by Ramirez are being pinned on a Death Row inmate named Harrison Johnson (played by Hawthorne James). Ramirez most certainly existed in the real world, but was another man really almost executed because of his crimes? Is Harrison Johnson from The Night Stalker a real person?
Here's where the movie takes its creative liberties, because the murders and other crimes committed by Ramirez were never attributed to a man named Harrison Johnson. In the Lifetime synopsis of the film, "the days count down to the innocent Texas man's execution," adding even more urgency to Kit's mission. In addition to confirming that Kit is a fictional character, The Night Stalker director Megan Griffiths told Parallax Views, "I know that her story and the case she’s working are fiction because I created them but there was a prevailing idea that Ramirez was responsible for additional crimes that he wasn’t prosecuted for." So while Griffiths made up Johnson and his case based on this concept, no one else was ever convicted and sentenced for Ramirez's crimes.
And those crimes were unspeakably brutal ones. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Ramirez was eventually convicted of 13 murders and another 30 felonies and was sentenced to death, though he died in a hospital in 2013 after serving 24 years on Death Row. Most of his murders occurred at night in the homes of his targets; he would often sexually assault and mutilate his victims and vandalize the walls of their homes with Satanic symbols before disappearing into the night.
The media had called Ramirez the "Valley Intruder" when he was operating in Los Angeles, according to Biography, and when he expanded his territory, he became known as "The Night Stalker." Though Lifetime's movie is named after this moniker and details some of Ramirez's real crimes and upbringing, through characters like Kit and Johnson, it creates a fictional plot with a terrifyingly true context.
Images: Michael Clifford/Lifetime; Los Angeles Police Department/Wikimedia Commons