The Little Things: Is Albert Sparma Based on a Real Serial Killer?

‘The Little Things’ brings a unique take on a serial killer story by focusing on the psychological toll of an intense investigation upon two dedicated LA detectives. After a string of killings target young women in LA, leaving behind grotesque corpses, Detective Jim Baxter finds himself partnering up with Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon, who worked a similar case during his LAPD days. However, as the duo untangles the threads surrounding the murders, the brutality of their demanding jobs catches up to them, rendering them desperate to find their killer.

Consequently, Albert Sparma, the prime suspect with little incriminating evidence against him, remains a figure that drives Deacon and Baxter to the ends of their limits with his goading, eerie presence. For the same reason, viewers may be compelled to wonder if Sparma and his potential connection to the serial killings across town have any basis in real life. SPOILERS AHEAD!

From The Night Stalker to The BTK Killer: The Real-Life Similarities Behind The Film’s Killer

As a crime-driven film that thrives on maintaining the secrecy around its central serial killer’s identity, ‘The Little Things’ reveals scant few details about the actual serial killer in the narrative. As such, Jared Leto’s Albert Sparma ends up retaining only alleged connections to the killer without the narrative ever cementing or denying his connection to the crime. Even so, the possibility of Sparma and his alleged murders’ basis in real-life crimes remains feeble, rendering the film’s serial killer storyline as a fictitious element.

John Lee Hancock, who started working on the script for this project more than a decade before its development and went on to direct the film, initially came up with the idea from a desire to subvert the conventional crime film genre. For Hancock, crime dramas often presented two engaging acts followed by a third act that often unfolded in predictable ways with misdirections, confrontations, and conventional endings.

“I always thought that [the third act] was less interesting than the first two acts,” said Hancock in a conversation with Entertainment Weekly. “I wanted to embrace the genre and the world while trying to subvert it and come up with an ending that was less formulaic but hopefully just as satisfying and interesting.” Consequently, the killer in Hancock’s film inherits the mysterious and inconclusive identity that distinguishes them from most on-screen killers.

Yet, the film’s identity as a neo-noir compels the narrative to hold on to real-life relevance. Therefore, even with the secrecy surrounding the film’s killer, the criminal ends up maintaining some resemblance to a few famed serial killers in history. For instance, if one subscribes to the theory that Sparma was indeed the killer, then his inclination to taunt and prod Baxter remains reminiscent of Dennis Rader.

Known as The BTK Killer, a self-coined nickname referencing his M.O. of binding, torturing, and killing his victims, Rader possessed a certain penchant for ridiculing the cops by consistently contacting them and claiming credit for his despicable crimes. On the other hand, if one believes Sparma’s innocence, assigning an unidentified label over the film’s killer, one can draw parallels between the film and the real-life case of the Zodiac Killer.

The Zodiac Killer, active during the late 1960s, wherein he reportedly killed five people, remains unidentified by the police into the present day. However, the case held one significant suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, whose possible involvement still remains a center of conversation despite the circumstantial nature of the evidence against the man. Consequently, the intrigue and unsettled conclusion of the film’s storyline regarding the killer’s identity retains a reflection of the Zodiac Killer Case.

Lastly, Richard Ramirez— The Night Stalker, a sex offender and serial killer who reportedly killed fourteen people, also holds some similarities to the film’s criminal depiction. The killer was active in the summer of 1985, a few years before Hancock first had the idea for the project.

In an interview with GQ, Hancock spoke about the same and said, “When I moved to LA, the Night Stalker stuff was happening. That was pervasive, and everybody was locking their windows and talking about it nonstop. It seemed like it was just a pall over the entire city of Los Angeles.” The filmmaker added, “I’m sure that that had some impact on me.”

Consequently, viewers may easily spot some similarities between the killer depicted in ‘The Little Things’ and a few infamous real-life serial killers. Nevertheless, the same only helps infuse the former with realistic attributes rather than rendering them a biographical or allegorical account. As such, the film’s killer remains a fictitious character created to serve the story’s narrative above all else.

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