Is Netflix's 'Who Killed Sara?' Based on a True Story?

Though the surname Lazcano has historical ties, the Netflix hit is pure fiction.

gines garcia millan in who killed sara
(Image credit: Netflix)

The latest Netflix hit Who Killed Sara?, a.k.a. ¿Quién mató a Sara?, follows Alex Guzman, a wrongfully imprisoned ex-convict, as he investigates the death of his sister Sara 18 years earlier. The thrilling crime drama pits Alex against the powerful Lazcano family, including their intimidating patriarch, Cezar Lazcano, and it's no surprise that the show has risen quickly to the number one spot in Netflix's top 10. But unlike the true crime dramas and documentaries that have become one of the streamer's trademarks, Who Killed Sara? is an entirely fictional story.

The show was created and written by José Ignacio Valenzuela, a prolific Chilean screenwriter who's written over 20 telenovelas; it was produced by the Mexican production company Perro Azul. In an interview with El Imparcial de Oaxaca, Valenzuela explained that he has a long history with the detective genre, including a childhood love of the authors Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. But while the show is fiction, some history buffs may recognize that the Lazcano family shares its name with an infamous Mexican criminal. That, and the show's use of Acapulco as a setting, ties Who Killed Sara? to some of Mexico's history.

The fictional Cesar Lazcano is involved with some brutal business.

Trigger warning: Reference to sexual assault. The patriarch of the Lazcano family, Cesar, is a prominent businessman who let Alex take the fall for Sara's death years ago. He's set up as the outright antagonist of the series when he sends armed guards after Alex at the end of the first episode. By the final episode of season one, the full extent of Cesar's corruption is revealed to include adultery, sexual violence and murder. We learn that–spoiler for the end of Who Killed Sara? season one–he raped and impregnated Sara, his son Rodolfo's girlfriend, years ago, and also got Rodolfo's current wife pregnant. We also learn that he ran an illicit brothel, blackmailed prostitutes to continue working there, stole their passports and murdered several of them. He even filmed some of the violence.

The Lazcanos share a surname with an infamous drug lord.

Though Cesar is a fictional character, there was a real man by the name of Lazcano who also made a business out of debauchery. Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano was one of the most wanted Mexican drug lords during his time as leader of the Los Zetas cartel. According to the LA Times, Lazcano was a soldier in the Mexican army who left and was later recruited as part of a paramilitary force called Los Zetas working under the Gulf cartel. Lazcano was nicknamed The Executioner and was rumored to be especially brutal, with stories that he fed his victims to his pet lions and tigers. He was killed in a shootout with the Mexican navy in 2012.

One of the show's filming locations is infamous for cartel activity.

While most of the action takes place in Mexico City, part of Who Killed Sara? was filmed in the coastal city Acapulco. Though the historic resort town's crime rate has gone down over the past year, the city was named the second deadliest city in the world based off 2018 homicide rates. According to the Washington Postmost of the violence was caused by fights between feuding cartels. Despite the violence, Acapulco is still known as one of Mexico's party capitals—the type of place the fictional Lazcanos would go often.

Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.