Richard Ramirez

The Night Stalker

Richard Ramirez was an American serial killer who killed at least 14 people and tortured dozens more before being captured in 1985.

“We’ve all got the power in our hands to kill, but most people are afraid to use it. The ones who aren’t afraid, control life itself.” – Ramirez

Jennie Vincow (79)
Dayle Okazaki (34)
Tsai “Veronica” Lan Yu (30)
Vincent Zazzara (64) and his wife Maxine (44)
William “Bill” Doi (66)
Mable ‘Ma Bell’ Keller (83)
Mary Louise Cannon (75)
Joyce Lucille Nelson (61)
Max (68) and Lela Kneiding (66)
Chainarong Khovananth (32)
Elysa Abowath (35)

Let’s quickly learn about Ramirez before he became the infamous Night Stalker…

Ramirez was born on February 29th, 1960. His father, Julian Tapia Ramirez, was born in Camargo, Mexico and he met Richard’s mother, Colorado-born Mercedes Muñoz, there when they were both fourteen years old. When her family went to Juarez, Julian followed and married her in 1948, when they were just nineteen.

At the age of two, he almost died when a dresser fell on him and he suffered a concussion. Growing up, he was a quiet loner. When he was in fifth grade, it was discovered that he had epilepsy, though doctors said he would grow out of it, but it resulted in him being removed from his position as a quarterback on the school’s football team.

When he was in seventh grade, his grades began slipping and he started sniffing glue. (As you do) At the age of ten, he started spending nights at cemeteries and also began smoking marijuana. When he was twelve years old, his cousin Miguel returned from his second tour in Vietnam and they began spending time together. He would show Ramirez photos of Vietnamese women he had raped, tortured, and killed, and also taught him how to keep hidden and kill with stealth.

When Ramirez was thirteen, he witnessed Miguel shoot and kill his wife and was affected by it for the rest of his life. Shortly before that, he had begun burglarising people’s homes, committing petty theft, skipping school, and becoming addicted to cannabis.

Dropping out of school in the ninth grade, Ramirez was arrested for the first time in 1977, for marijuana possession. He soon moved to California, progressing to cocaine addiction and burglary, and cultivating an interest in Satanism. He was arrested twice in the Los Angeles area for auto theft, in 1981 and again in 1984, and noticeably began to neglect his personal hygiene.

The beginnings of The Night Stalker

Theft turned to violence with Ramirez’s (then) first known murder on June 28th, 1984; the victim was 79-year-old Jennie Vincow, who was sexually assaulted, stabbed and killed during a burglary in her own home. What followed was a spree of brutal murders, rapes and robberies, leaving dozens of victims in its wake.

Ramirez next struck nearly nine months later. On March 17th, 1985. He attacked Maria Hernandez, who managed to escape, and then killed her roommate, Dayle Okazaki. Not satisfied with these assaults, he also shot and killed Tsai-Lian Yu the same evening, spurring a media frenzy that saw Ramirez dubbed the “Valley Intruder” by the press.

Just 10 days later, on March 27th, Ramirez murdered 64-year-old Vincent Zazzara and Zazzara’s 44-year-old wife, Maxine, using an attack style that would become a pattern for the killer: The husband was shot first, then the wife was brutally assaulted and stabbed to death. In this case, Ramirez also gouged out Maxine Zazzara’s eyes.

A full-scale police operation found no concrete results, and Ramirez repeated his attack pattern on pensioners William and Lillie Doi in May 1985. Over the next few months, his murder rate escalated, claiming another dozen victims in a frenzy of burglary, assault and brutal violence, complete with Satanic rituals. The Los Angeles Police Department responded by putting together a dedicated task force, with the FBI stepping also in to assist.

Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Phelton on patrol at night in Temple City, where attacks by the Night Stalker 
have caused rising fear in the community. Behind him, homes are visible, with their porch 
lights turned on for safety. Photograph by Michael Haering.

The relentless media and police pressure, aided with descriptions from his surviving victims, forced Ramirez to leave the L.A. area that August. He journeyed north to San Francisco, where he took two more victims, Peter and Barbara Pan, on August 17th. His unmistakable M.O., complete with Satanic symbolism, meant that the “Valley Intruder” moniker was no longer applicable; the press quickly coined a new name, the “Night Stalker,” as most of his assaults took place at night in his victims’ homes.

The Night Stalkers Reign of Terror Ends

Ramirez’s actions on his final night of terror, on August 24th, 1985, soon led to his capture. First, he was spotted outside a home in Mission Viejo, where he unwittingly left a footprint, before the witness took note of his car and license plate. Later, after Ramirez raped another woman at her home (and shot her fiancé), the victim provided a detailed description of her assailant, who had forced her to swear her love for Satan.

Richard Ramirez is led into court before Judge James Nelson on February 25, 1986, where it was
ruled that his hearing should remain open.

Ramirez’s abandoned car was found a few days later, complete with enough of a fingerprint to make a match, and his criminal record enabled the police to finally put a name to the “Night Stalker.” National TV and print media coverage featuring his prison photo, along with a series of clues from witnesses and survivors, led to Ramirez’s capture on August 31st, after he was badly beaten by East L.A. residents while attempting two carjackings.

Modus Operandi

LAPD Detective Leroy Orozco. The detective thought that the Satanism angle might help crack the case, so he assigned investigators to talk to witches, and had one 
officer research the heavy metal band AC/DC.

Ramirez typically struck at night and entered his victims’ homes through home invasions. According to several witness reports, he would dress in black (presumably as camouflage.) His victims varied in age and race and were often shot with a .22 revolver but were also killed or attacked in a variety of ways, including stabbing, slashing with a machete, and bludgeoning with a hammer or a tire iron. Ramirez sometimes raped his female victims and left Satanic pentagrams as a signature. His generally preferred style of killing was to burglarise the home, kill the husbands, and then rape the wives.

Trial, Conviction and Sentencing

Ramirez waited in jail as his trial was continuously pushed off; the delay marked by a series of motions and bickering between the prosecutors and defence attorney. Because the geographical spread of the crimes also complicated the scope of the trial with jurisdictional issues, some of the charges against Ramirez were dropped in order to expedite what was becoming a long journey to justice.

Crowds gather around a poice car at LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station, in an attempt to catch a glimpse 
of the Night Stalker. Photo by Mike Sergieff.

The jury selection process finally moved forward on July 22nd, 1988, and the trial itself commenced the following January. During this time, Ramirez attracted a cult-like following of supporters, many of whom were black-clad Satan worshipers. Ramirez himself often dressed in black, along with dark shades, for his courtroom appearances.

Yet another delay occurred when one juror was found murdered on August 14th, 1989, but rumours that Ramirez had orchestrated her death proved unfounded. On September 20th, 1989, the jury finally returned a unanimous guilty verdict on 43 charges, including 13 counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, 11 sexual assault charges and 14 burglary charges.

Two weeks later, the same jury recommended the death sentence on 19 counts. Leaving the courtroom, Ramirez responded,

“Hey, big deal, death always comes with the territory. I’ll see you in Disneyland.”

The convicted murderer was formally sentenced to death in the gas chamber on November 7, 1989, and was sent to San Quentin Prison in California to spend the remainder of his days.

Night Stalker defendant Richard Ramirez in court on July 13th, 1989, clad in black 
and wearing trademark sunglasses.
Richard Ramirez is escorted from a meeting in Judge Tynan’s chamber 
with defence attorneys on May 9th, 1989.

While incarcerated, Ramirez married one of his supporters, 41-year-old Doreen Lioy, in 1996. His long-awaited appeal finally made it to the California State Supreme Court in 2006, before being rejected.

Ramirez eventually was linked to more vicious crimes. In 2009, a DNA sample connected him with the April 10, 1984, rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl in San Francisco.

After nearly 24 years on death row, Richard Ramirez died on June 7, 2013, at the age of 53, from complications related to B-cell lymphoma. According to San Quentin corrections officers, Ramirez’s death came shortly after he was taken to Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California.


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