Is 'Dexter' Based on Reality? The Dark Origins of TV's Favorite Vigilante

Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. And the true story that inspired ‘Dexter’ is even more harrowing than the series.

Jamie Lerner - Author

Jun. 20 2024, Published 4:00 a.m. ET

Michael C. Hall as Dexter in 'Dexter'
Source: Showtime

Since its debut, Dexter has captivated audiences with its dark, thrilling story of a forensic analyst by day and a vigilante serial killer by night. As fans eagerly anticipate the upcoming prequel, many are left wondering if Dexter was based on a true story.

The answer is both fascinating and complex.

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The character of Dexter Morgan, played by Michael C. Hall, is a unique creation. While the series is a work of fiction, it draws inspiration from real-life criminals, particularly a notorious Brazilian serial killer, Pedro Rodrigues Filho. The real story that influenced one of television's most intriguing characters is even more grotesque than the fiction.

Michael C. Hall as Dexter in 'Dexter'
Source: Showtime
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‘Dexter’ isn’t based on a true story, but Brazilian serial killer Pedro Rodrigues Filho inspired the character of Dexter.

Pedro Rodrigues Filho, also known as "Pedrinho Matador" and the “South American Punisher,” is often cited as the inspiration behind Dexter Morgan. Born in 1954 in Brazil, Filho began his criminal career began at a young age. Unlike Dexter, who targets other killers, Filho's early crimes were motivated by revenge against those who wronged him and his family.

Filho's notorious acts included the murder of his father, who had killed his mother. Over the years, Filho claimed to have killed over 100 people, many of whom were criminals themselves, and he later killed over 40 fellow convicts while imprisoned. His story bears striking similarities to Dexter's code of only killing those who "deserve" it, though Filho's actions were far more chaotic and personal.

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While Dexter only killed murderers with an “eye for an eye” mentality thanks to his “Code of Harry,” Filho killed anyone guilty of any crime, including rape, theft, drug dealing, and association with those culprits. But his murders were television-worthy, like Dexter’s.

Filho silently killed a fellow convict en route to prison in the back of a police van without the police even noticing. He also killed his own father by stabbing him 22 times, cutting out his heart, and then chewing on his father’s still-beating heart.

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Pedro Rodrigues Filho and Dexter Morgan have very different endings to their stories.

While Dexter’s job as a blood splatter analyst with the police department helped him get away with his many murders, Filho’s life turned out a bit differently. Filho was sentenced to over 400 years behind bars, but because of Brazil’s limit on prison sentences, he was released in 2007 after 34 years in jail and over 140 murders.

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He was arrested again in 2011 for promising threats, weapon possession, and taking part in riots, but in 2018, he was free again and ready to enter the modern-day world with a podcast and viral YouTube account. Filho spoke openly about his crimes, encouraging others not to make the same mistakes he did. He racked up over 400,000 TikTok followers and almost 200,000 YouTube subscribers.

But in March 2023, he was killed in a drive-by shooting. Reports revealed that a black car approached him while he was on his home’s porch and a gunman shot him four times. And just to double-check that he really died, one of the killers got out of the car and slit his throat. The killers also told Filho’s family member and her daughter to go “inside” because it had nothing to do with her.

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Michael C. Hall at a 'Dexter' event
Source: Getty Images

Considering he killed potentially hundreds of people, including several gang members, it’s not too surprising that Filho’s life came to an end the way it did. At 68 years old, Filho did everything from murder to becoming a viral sensation. On his podcast, he revealed, “I would only kill again if someone came to take my life or the lives of people I love, who are my family … Nobody said it would be easy, I assume my mistakes, I paid my penalty, so I don't need to be judged or defended by anyone anymore."

Dexter, on the other hand, became a lumberjack. His story in the series is different enough from Filho’s, and we expect that in Dexter: Original Sin, his backstory will also differ from Filho's. But the one thing that will always tie them together is the fact that they’ve murdered in an attempt to play God, killing those they feel deserve it without seeing the greater moral repercussions of their actions.

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