The Playing Card Killer: The terrifying true story behind the Netflix series

Daisy Phillipson
Posted for The Playing Card Killer on NetflixNetflix

The Playing Card Killer is a harrowing new documentary series on Netflix, examining one of Spain’s most notorious serial killers – here’s what you need to know about the terrifying true story.

Netflix has established itself as a leading authority in the true crime arena, a reputation which reached new heights with the success of Making a Murderer. More recently, we’ve seen the likes of Missing Dead or Alive and Victim/Suspect proving viewers’ appetites for exploring crime cases have not dwindled. 

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And now the streaming platform has a new offering in the form of The Playing Card Killer, which takes us to Spain to look at Alfredo Galán and the media frenzy surrounding his crimes. Evidence from the initial investigation is tied together with testimony from survivors, as well as interviews with journalists, lawyers, and the killer’s family and friends. 

With the series now available to watch on Netflix, here’s what you need to know about the case. Warning: some may find this content distressing.

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The true story of The Playing Card Killer

The Playing Card Killer tells the true story of “how Madrid’s last serial killer came to be.” The title of the docu-series refers to Alfredo Galán’s chilling nickname, which he earned from his modus operandi of leaving Spanish playing cards, all in the suit of cups, next to the bodies of his victims.

Check out the trailer below:

On January 24, 2003, Galán, who was in his mid-20s, began a killing spree in the Spanish capital by shooting 50-year-old Juan Francisco Ledesma in the head. Tragically, he committed the ruthless act in front of Ledesma’s two-year-old son. At the time, authorities believed it was a robbery gone wrong. 

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Less than two weeks later, on February 5, 28-year-old Juan Carols Martin Estacio was waiting for a bus after his shift as an airport cleaner when Galán struck again and shot him. This time, he left the Ace of Cups beside the victim’s body. 

What happened next is a crucial piece of the puzzle, and something that is explored in the docu-series: the police leaked this detail to the press, causing a media frenzy and spreading across Spain. It’s widely reported that Galán saw the headlines, giving him a sickening ego boost and securing the disturbing signature in his mind. 

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Prior to this, on the same day as he killed Estacio, Galán went into Rojas bar in Alcalá de Henares where he shot and killed 18-year old waiter Mikel Jiménez Sánchez and 57-year-old customer Juana Dolores Ucles López. Although the murderer also targeted bar owner Teresa Sánchez García, 38, thankfully she survived the attack. 

Still from The Playing Card KillerNetflix

In an episode of the Evidence Locker podcast, the host explained: “Investigators did not think that there was a link between the murder of Juan Carlos and the shooting at Rojas. The bar was a rampage killing, a seemingly unmotivated attack. Whereas the killing of Juan Carlos seemed to be personal. This conclusion was because of the playing card that was left at his feet. 

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“When the media heard about this detail in the case, they ran with it – headlines don’t get any better than that. Galán followed the news feverishly and suddenly felt alive again. Whether he left the card with Juan Carlos by accident or not is unclear, but he decided that he would leave playing cards with all his victims going forward.”

Just over a month later, Galán targeted Eduardo Salas and Anahid Castillo Ruperti, although he botched his attempt and both survived. That being said, Salas sustained horrific gunshot injuries from the attack. This time, Galán dropped a Two of Cups at the scene before running off. 

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On March 18, Galán committed his final murders: couple Gheorgi and Diona Magda, who had been on their way home from work at the time. Police scrambled to find the suspect, with the murders appearing to happen at random. “His killings seemed to happen only by chance and in different areas throughout Madrid,” added the podcast host. 

However, things took a turn on July 3 of that year when Galán walked into a police station and confessed to being “The Playing Card Killer”. It was later discovered that he had never intended for the playing cards to be a part of his crimes. He only continued the disturbing tradition after picking up on the headlines surrounding the case. 

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Following a trial, Galán was sentenced to 142 years in prison, where he remains to this day. He is currently 45 years old. One of the key pieces of evidence in the police investigation was that the assailant was a good marksman, a profile that matches Galán’s background in the military. 

Alfredo Galán being arrestedNetflix

The killer was a member of the Spanish Army, having served in Bosnia in humanitarian missions before being sent back to Spain to help deal with an oil spill in 2002. When Galán returned home, his family noticed he was more withdrawn than usual and he started drinking more, culminating in him acting violent and pointing a gun at his brother – a gun he had bought in Bosnia, and the one he’d use to carry out his horrific crimes. 

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Shortly after, he stole a car and his military superiors sent him to get a mental health assessment. Galán was diagnosed with anxiety and neurosis and given meds, but he continued to drink on them despite orders not to, and eventually his army contract was terminated. 

Tragically, it wasn’t long before Galán would go on his killing spree. The docu-series looks at the case 20 years on, with executive producer Marga Luis saying in a press release: “The Playing Card Killer is a very interesting documentary from many perspectives: from a social perspective, the perspective of the investigation, and the impact media pressure has on an event of this magnitude. 

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“We were interested in digging deeper into how so often the story we create around serial killers has nothing to do with reality. With the public’s attention consumed in building up a monster, all of the victims of this horrendous case were left by the wayside.”

The Playing Card Killer is available to stream on Netflix now. You can check out our other Netflix hubs below:

The Night Agent Season 2 | The Gentlemen | Will there be Firefly Lane Season 3? | Sex Education Season 4 | Beef Season 2 | Monster Season 2 | Will there be Ginny and Georgia Season 3? | Black Mirror Season 6 | All the Light We Cannot See | Stranger Things Season 5 | The Witcher Season 3 | Chicken Run 2 | Heartstopper Season 2 | FUBAR | Florida Man Season 2 | Obsession Season 2 | The Sandman Season 2

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About The Author

Daisy is a Senior TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's a lover of all things macabre, whether that be horror, crime, psychological thrillers or all of the above. After graduating with a Masters in Magazine Journalism, she's gone on to write for Digital Spy, LADbible and Little White Lies. You can contact her on daisy.phillipson@dexerto.com