Netflix’s murder mystery Who Killed Sara has become the platform’s latest surprise smash hit. Its story of a wrongfully convicted man out to avenge his murdered sister feels like it could be at home alongside many of the popular true crime shows on Netflix, but, in fact, Who Killed Sara is a wholly fictional story.
The closest tie the show has to real life is actually the name of the twisted family at the story’s center. The Lazcanos share a name with Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, an infamous Mexican drug lord who, as the leader of the powerful Los Zetas drug cartel, was one of the most wanted Mexican drug lords during his time in power.
Lazcano was a member of the Mexican Army special forces and received specialized training before deserting, according to CNN Mexico. After being hired as an enforcer for the Gulf Cartel, Lazcano and his allies formed their own paramilitary group, Los Zetas, and became a powerful and brutal organization of their own when they split off around 2010. Los Zetas and its leaders were notorious for their graphic and brutal methods of torture and murder; one possibly-true story about Lazcano was that he fed his victims to his pet tigers and lions. Upon Lazcano’s death at the hands of the Mexican Navy in 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that the cartel had branched out from just drug running to other violent crimes, including human trafficking.
This outrageous level of violence certainly lines up with some of the powerful and brutal Lazcanos in Who Killed Sara. In the final episode, we finally learn the depths of depravity that César, the Lazcano patriarch, has gone to. His past is littered with violence, rape, and murder. Not only did he rape and impregnate Sara, his son’s teenage girlfriend many years ago, but he also slept with his son’s current wife and got her pregnant too! And that’s not even the worst of it: he recruited prostitutes, stole their passports, blackmailed them into continuing to work in his illicit brothel, and murdered several of them — even filming the violence at one point. It’s safe to say that his brutality and cruelty would fit right in alongside the violent escapades of his namesake!
One other intriguing part of the show that ties in with real life? That would be one of its primary filming locations, Acapulco. On the one hand, its beautiful resorts and beaches have made it a favorite for the rich and famous, both native Mexicans and international tourists, which definitely suits the wealthy, scheming Lazcano family. On the other hand, it’s become a hotbed of violence; according to a 2019 Forbes report, “[what] was once a world-renown tourist hotspot . . . is now known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world due to violent crime.”
For the most part, the show takes its inspiration from a combination of telenovela-level soap opera twists and classic true-crime tropes: the secret affairs, the young woman who got in too deep, the conspiracies, the wrongful conviction, and more. Although it’s not officially based on a specific true story, it’s easy to imagine some of those twisted conspiracies happening among real power brokers looking to keep their dominance at any cost.