The Night Stalker

Richard Ramirez
Ramirez, nearly beaten to death by an angry crowd on the streets of Los Angeles during his arrest masked his anxiety by pretending to enjoy his notoriety. Photo courtesy of the L.A. Times.

I. Who Made Who?
The glorification of serial killers in movies and television is an appallingly bad horror show. The popularity of unrepentant and unjustified smirking killers reflects a remarkable lack of understanding regarding exactly what a serial killer is and what this type of person really does.

To demonstrate this point, take the case of Richard Munoz Ramirez aka the "The Walk-In Killer" and later known as the Night Stalker.

Ramirez announced: "I am beyond good and evil. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells in us all." in a Southern California courtroom during his sentencing proceedings in 1988. This one infamous remark demonstrates the depths of the deluded fantasy world that he carefully constructed around him in order to prevent him from seeing the obvious truth of his unprovoked, disgusting and cowardly acts against women, children, the elderly and random strangers.

During his crimes Ramirez, according to his surviving victims and witnesses, was a deranged looking Hispanic man with long dark hair and rotting, wide spaced teeth. He was not a super-human. Ramirez was sub-human.

Sentenced to die for his crimes, Ramirez was never "avenged". In fact, he died in an incredibly horrible way. After spending 25 years on California's Death Row at San Quentin at age 53 the Night Stalker succame to liver failure as a result of Hepatitis C. This disease could have been caused by intravenous drug use in prison or infected tattoo equipment even possibly from the pentagram Ramirez carved into his left hand in his original murder trial nearly 30 years ago.

In any case it was a slow, deliberate and gruesome death that Ramirez received - not vengeance. Let us re-visit Ramirez's bizarre concept of vengeance in the next section.

II. "Ritchie"
Richard RamirezRichard Ramirez or "Richie" as he was known as a kid to his friends and family in his native El Paso, Texas was the youngest of five children of Julian and Mercedes Ramirez. His father was a former policeman who was very physically abusive. As a child, Ramirez sustained two serious head injuries, at least one of which required 30 stitches. These injuries were explained as "accidents" to local doctors and nurses but were in fact attacks by his own father.

His injuries caused epileptic seizures that Ramirez experienced as as "gran mal" or Tonic-clonic seizures. These were very severe episodes that some who have endured them describe them as near death or almost religious experiences. The seizures eventually stopped when he was in his early teens.

When he was twelve, Ramirez became strongly influenced by his older cousin Miguel "Mike" Ramirez, a decorated Green Beret combat veteran who boasted of his gruesome exploits during the Vietnam War by showing him Polaroid pictures of his victims. These included pictures of Mike raping Vietnamese women. Some of the photos showed Mike posing with the severed head of a woman he had raped and murdered. Ramirez, who had smoked marijuana with his older cousin Mike since the age of ten, bonded with him over these atrocities - photos of women being raped and gory war stories.

"I am beyond good and evil. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells in us all."
— Richard Ramirez
November 9th 1988

During this time Ramirez must have felt a sense of empowerment through the violence, rape and dismemberment his cousin exposed him to. It's possible at this period in his life that Ramirez believed that he had found a way to project his rage against the many beatings, some that required hospitalization, from his own father to strike back at his mother (and society) who refused to protect him.

At 13 years old Richie witnessed his cousin nonchalantly murder his wife, Jessie Ramirez, when Mike shot her in the face with a .38 caliber revolver during a domestic argument on May 4th 1973. After the murder, his friends and family watched his behavior change dramatically. Ritchie, after his surrogate father Mike went to spend his life at a mental institution for his crime, dropped out of high school in the 9th grade, at age 15, a few years later.

The factors that can create a cold-hearted serial killer now fully come into play. One: an abusive authoritarian father. Two, the apparent legitimacy of extreme violent abuse of women, up to and including murder as justified by his surrogate father Mike, a war criminal. Three, the neglect of his mother that created a need for "vengeance" or the need to extract revenge.

These three factors, coupled with a debilitating illness that had formerly made "Richie" a cripple near death, created a psychotic rage. This rage would explode shortly after Richard Ramirez settled in Southern California at the age of twenty-two.

III. The Walk-In Killer's Dead
Mei LeungDayle OkazakiMei Leung
Mei Leung age 9, and Dayle Okazaki, 32, and Joyce Nelson, 61, were murdered by Richard Ramirez.

While the media attention for his crimes, and not the crimes themselves, was what most of America saw from 1984 to 1988, there were many innocent victims ranging in age from 9 years old to 83 years old. Nearly all of them were women slaughtered in a place that they believe to be safe - in their own homes.

On April 10th 1984, 9-year old Mei Leung was found dead in a hotel basement where Ramirez was living at the time. This, his first known murder, was not initially identified as being connected to the crime spree. In 2009, Ramirez's DNA was matched to DNA obtained at the crime scene.

On June 28th 1984, 79-year-old Jennie Vincow was found brutally murdered in her apartment in Glassell Park. She had been stabbed repeatedly while asleep in her bed, and her throat was slashed so deeply that she was nearly decapitated.

On February 21th 1985, sisters Christina and Mary Caldwell, aged 58 and 71, were found dead in their home. They each were stabbed dozens of times.

On St. Patrick's Day, March 17th 1985, Ramirez attacked 22-year-old Maria Hernandez outside her home. He shot her before entering her house. Inside was Dayle Okazaki, age 34, whom Ramirez immediately shot and killed. Hernandez survived. The bullet had ricocheted off the keys she held in her hands, as she lifted them to protect herself. Within an hour of killing Okazaki, Ramirez struck again in Monterey Park.

At this crime scene, police found an AC/DC ball cap that would later prove vital in understanding Ramirez's mentality especially the AC/DC track "The Night Prowler". This song was interpreted at the time to have lyrics with cultist overtones. The lyrics include "What's the noise outside your window? What's the shadow on the blind? As you lay there naked like a body in a tomb, suspended animation as I slip into your room."

This went a long way to explain, like the Helter Skelter trials of Charles Manson and his followers, that the killer had adopted an ethos from popular culture that was meant as entertainment not as an literal instruction manual to life.

The same day he attacked 30-year-old Tsai-Lian "Veronica" Yu and pulled her out of her car onto the road. He shot her several times and fled. A police officer found her still breathing, but she died before the ambulance arrived. The two attacks occurring on the same day bolstered media attention, and in turn caused panic and fear among the public. The news media dubbed the attacker, who was described as having long curly hair, bulging eyes and wide-spaced rotting teeth, "The Walk-in Killer" and "The Valley Intruder".

On March 27th 1985, Ramirez shot Vincent Zazzara, age 64, and his wife Maxine, age 44. Mrs. Zazzara's body was mutilated with several stab wounds and a T-carving on her left breast, and her eyes were gouged out. The autopsy determined that the mutilations were post-mortem. Ramirez left footprints in the flower beds, which the police photographed and cast. This was virtually the only evidence that the police had at the time. Bullets found at the scene were matched to those found at previous attacks, and the police realized a serial killer was at large. Vincent and Maxine's bodies were discovered in their Whittier home by their son, Peter.

By now, a multi-county police investigation was in operation. The law enforcement agencies worked through the month of April with no additional attacks by Ramirez. Two months after killing the Zazzara couple, Ramirez attacked a married couple: Harold Wu, age 66, who was shot in the head; and his wife, Jean Wu, age 63, who was punched, bound, and then violently raped. For unknown reasons on this occasion, Ramirez did not kill his victim. He left behind more clues to his identity, and was named "The Night Stalker" by the media. Survivors of his attacks provided the police with a description of a tall Hispanic man with long dark hair.

On May 30th 1985, Ramirez attacked Malvial Keller, 83, and her disabled sister, Blanche Wolfe, 80, beating each with a hammer. Ramirez attempted to rape Keller, but failed. Using lipstick, he drew pentagrams on Keller's thigh and on the wall in the bedroom. Wolfe survived the attack. The next day, Ruth Wilson, 41, was bound, raped, and sodomized by Ramirez, while her 12-year-old son was locked in a closet. Ramirez slashed Wilson once, and then bound her and her son together, and left.

Note that Ramirez did not attack Wilson's son. To attack him would have been attacking the abused 10 year old version of himself and violating the sanctity of the need for vengeance that fueled Ramirez's rampage.

On June 2th 1985, Edward Wildgans, 29, was shot and killed by Ramirez. His girlfriend was raped several times by Ramirez but survived. From early June through early July, three more women were killed. Two had their throats slit, one was beaten to death, and all three had their homes invaded. On July 5th, sixteen-year-old Whitney Bennett survived after being beaten with a tire iron by Ramirez.

On July 7th 1985 Linda Fortuna, 63, was attacked and Ramirez tried to rape her, but failed.

On July 20th 1985 he again struck twice. In Sun Valley he shot and killed a 32-year-old man, Chitat Assawahem. His wife Sakima, 29, was beaten and forced to perform oral intercourse. Ramirez then collected valuables and proceeded to leave. Later in the same day a Glendale couple, Maxson Kneiding, 66, and his wife Lela, also 66, were shot and their corpses mutilated.

On August 6th 1985 Ramirez shot both Christopher Petersen, 38, and his wife, Virginia, 27, in the head. Virginia Petersen was shot on the side of her nose and the bullet passed through her head near her eye. Christopher Petersen was shot in the temple but the bullet coursed downward and lodged in his neck.

Miraculously, they both survived.

On August 8th 1985 Ramirez attacked a Diamond Bar couple, fatally shooting Ahmed Zia, 35, before raping, sodomizing, and forcing Zia's wife, Suu Kyi, 28, to perform fellatio on him. The description of their attacker fit the previous ones given for "The Walk-in Killer".

Ramirez then left Los Angeles, and on August 17th 1985 he shot to death a 66-year-old man in San Francisco, also shooting and beating his wife. The wife survived her wounds and was able to identify her attacker as "The Walk-in Killer" from police sketches. Since "The Walk-in Killer" no longer fit the modus operandi of the attacker, the news media re-dubbed him the "Night Stalker".

On August 24th 1985 Ramirez got on a bus after an attack of severe paranoia and traveled 50 miles south of Los Angeles to Mission Viejo. There he broke into the Mediterranean Village apartment of Bill Carns, 29, and his fiancée, Inez Erickson, 27. Ramirez shot Carns in the head and raped Erickson. He demanded she swear her love for Satan and afterwards, forced her to perform oral intercourse on him. He then tied her and left. Erickson struggled to the window and saw the car Ramirez was driving. She was able to give a description of both Ramirez and his orange Toyota station wagon.

LAPD secure the crime scene where Richard Ramirez was captured on August 31st 1985.
Crime scene on Hubbard Street in East L.A. where Richard Ramirez was captured after he tried stealing a car, August 31st 1985.

A teenager later identified the car from news reports and wrote down half it's license plate number. The stolen car was found on August 28th 1985 and police were able to obtain one fingerprint that was on the mirror of the vehicle. The prints belonged to Richard Muñoz Ramirez, who was described as a 25-year-old drifter from Texas with a long rap sheet that included many arrests for traffic and illegal drug violations.

Two days later, his mugshots were broadcast on national television and printed on the cover of every major newspaper in California. The next day Ramirez was identified, chased, surrounded, and severely beaten by an angry mob in East Los Angeles as he was trying to steal a car. Police had to break up the mob to prevent them from killing Ramirez.

During a prison interview Ramirez admitted to reporters that he believed to the "protection of Satan" and free to kill in Orange County. He said his "one mistake" was in leaving Los Angeles to murder more innocent people.

IV. Trial, Incarceration and Death
Jury selection for the case started on July 22th 1988 and on September 20th 1989, he was found guilty of 13 counts of murder, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries. During the penalty phase of the trial on November 7, 1989, he was sentenced to Death in California's gas chamber. The trial of Richard Ramirez was one of the most difficult and longest criminal trials in American history, taking over four years to finalize.

In 1996, Ramirez married an deranged self-described "41 year old virgin", Doreen Lioy, in a prison ceremony. This woman has insisted that she would commit suicide on the day Ramirez was executed by the State of California. On June 7th 2013 Ramirez died of natural causes in Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California.

References:
Wikipedia, Richard Ramirez
Wikipedia, Tonic-Clomic Seizures
LA Times, The Night Stalker Case
Murderpedia,Ramirez, Richard
TruTV, Richard Ramirez The Night Stalker
Amazon, The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes Of Richard Ramirez By Philip Carlo

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