I found now as good a time as any to write this specific blog, considering the “Night Stalker” documentary on Netflix is such a hit. I binged all 4 episodes (each about 50 minutes long) in one afternoon, and afterwards, it was all I wanted to talk about. #TrueCrimeJunkie
In the mid 1980’s, Richard Ramirez murdered (at least) 14 people, thus becoming the forever infamous “Night Stalker.” His murderous spree that terrorized California lasted from 1984 to 1985- and changed the way that many residents lived, worked- and played. There was no rhyme or reason to much of his assaults and murders, and worse yet, no one knew if they would be the next unfortunate target. This is the case of Richard Ramirez, also known as “The Night Stalker”; “The Walk-in Killer”; and “The Valley Intruder.”
On August 31st, 1985, serial killer Richard Ramirez walked into a convenience store in Los Angeles, and at first, seemed to be like any ordinary shopper. But when he came across some newspapers and magazines, he noticed his face on the front pages- and ran for his life. By that point, Richard Ramirez was already considered the main suspect in the brutal “Night Stalker” murders that terrorized California for over a year. Authorities had only just released his name and picture to the public. Richard Ramirez was traveling back to Los Angeles from visiting family that lived out of town. Now, this time period of when his face was plastered on every newspaper and magazine cover gave residents time to memorize his physical features- and to point him out to authorities as he dashed out of the store. It also gave Richard very little chance to get away, but of course, he still escaped.
The ensuing chase involved seven police cars and a helicopter that tracked Richard throughout the city. But to Richard’s surprise (as well as the authorities) an angry mob of bystanders caught up to him. Enraged by his heinous crimes, the angry mob began to beat him relentlessly, and at least one man used a metal pipe. By the time the police (finally) arrived, Richard was practically thanking them for arresting him. Richard Ramirez, who had been dubbed “The Night Stalker” by the media, had started his brutal killing spree a little over a year before his arrest. In that time, he murdered 14 people, and committed countless other violent acts. But, his life of crime started long, long before that.
Richard Ramirez was born on February 29th, 1960 in El Paso, Texas. He was born the youngest of five children to Julian and Mercedes Ramirez. His father Julian, a Mexican national and former Ciudad Juárez policeman who later became a laborer on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, was prone to fits of anger that often resulted in physical abuse. Richard claimed that one injury that he sustained from his father’s abuse was so severe that it reportedly caused him to have epileptic seizures. As a 12-year-old, Richard—or “Richie”, as he was known to his family—was strongly influenced by his older cousin, Miguel (“Mike”) Ramirez, a decorated Green Beret combat veteran who often boasted of his gruesome exploits and abuses during the Vietnam War. He shared Polaroid photos of his victims, including Vietnamese women he had raped. In some of the photos, Mike posed with the severed head of a woman he had abused. Ramirez, who had begun smoking marijuana at the age of 10, bonded with Mike over joints and gory war stories. Mike taught his young cousin some of his military skills, such as killing with stealth. Around this time, Ramirez began to seek escape from his father’s violent temper by sleeping in a local cemetery.
Ramirez, now 13, was present on May 4th, 1973, when his cousin Mike fatally shot his wife, Jessie, in the face with a .38 caliber revolver during a domestic argument. After the shooting, Ramirez became sullen and withdrawn from his family and peers. Later that year, he moved in with his older sister, Ruth, and her husband, Roberto, an obsessive “peeping Tom” who took Richie along on his nocturnal exploits. Ramirez also began using LSD and cultivated an interest in Satanism. Ramirez’s life had now taken a dark turn, a turn in which there was no coming back from. Even worse, Richard was still under his cousin’s influence, since Miguel had been found not guilty of Jessie’s murder by reason of insanity. (Miguel ultimately spent just four years in a mental hospital until he was released.) The adolescent Ramirez began to meld his burgeoning sexual fantasies with violence, including forced bondage and rape. While still in school, he took a job at a local Holiday Inn, where he used his passkey to rob sleeping patrons. His employment ended abruptly after Ramirez attempted to rape a woman in her hotel room, before her husband returned to find them. Although the husband beat Ramirez senseless at the scene, criminal charges were dropped when the couple, who lived out of state, declined to return to testify against him. Ramirez eventually dropped out of Jefferson High School in the ninth grade. By the time he turned 22, he moved to California, where he settled permanently.
Richard’s first murder took place on April 10th, 1984- when he murdered 9-year-old Chinese-American Mei Leung in the basement of the hotel where he was living, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. He raped and beat the girl before stabbing her to death, and hung her body from a pipe. (Mei Leung’s murder was not identified as being connected to the subsequent crime spree until 2009, when Ramirez’s DNA was matched to a sample obtained at this crime scene. In 2016, officials disclosed evidence of a second suspect, identified through a DNA sample retrieved from the scene, who is believed to have been present at Leung’s murder. Authorities have not publicly identified the suspect, described as being a juvenile at the time, and have not brought charges due to the lack of evidence.)
So although he’s already murdered once, authorities believed that Richard’s first murder (but technically his second) took place on June 28th, 1984. It was then that he killed 79-year-old Jennie Vincow. Jennie was found brutally murdered in her Glassell Park apartment. She had been stabbed repeatedly while asleep in her bed, and her throat slashed so deeply that she was nearly decapitated. Ramirez’s fingerprint was found on a mesh screen he removed to gain access through an open window.
After the Vincow murder, it would be several months before Richard Ramirez would strike again. But when he did, he pursued his depraved impulses with horrific dedication.
In February of 1985, Richard Ramirez carefully, and sneakily opened a window that woke 6-year-old Anastasia Hronas. In her sleepy state, Anastasia said that Ramirez reminded her of “a family member,” so she went with him voluntarily when he ushered her out the window and then carried her away to his car. By the time Anastasia realized something was wrong, it was too late. In the car, Ramirez made her open the glove compartment and told her, “Just so you know, that’s there.” (It was a gun.) Ramirez made Anastasia look at him and touch him as he drove her to a place “with a chain-link fence.” He made Anastasia get into a duffle bag, which he used to carry her into a house which she described as “dark and kinda dingy… and, I don’t know, slimy.” Ramirez then proceeded to sexually assault the 6-year-old as a Madonna album played in the background. After what seemed like hours of torture, Ramirez put Anastasia in the duffle bag once again and left the house with her. He drove her to a gas station and told her to go inside and call 911 so her family could come get her. More of her interview as she recounted her abduction by Richard is in the new Netflix documentary, and I highly suggest you tune in, if you haven’t already done so.
On March 17th, 1985, Ramirez’s murder spree began in earnest with an assult on Maria Hernandez. Ramirez attacked 22-year-old Maria Hernandez outside her home in Rosemead, California. Maria had just returned home, and was preparing to walk inside her condo when she heard a purposeful sound- a sound of someone banging their fists on the car. She quickly turned around to face the intruder, and that’s when she saw Richard Ramirez. Richard shot her in the face with a .22 caliber handgun. Maria survived when the bullet ricocheted off the keys she held in her hands as she lifted them to protect herself. Maria had fallen down to the ground, and Richard had pushed her body aside and entered the residence. During this point in time, Richard’s ACDC black baseball cap had fallen off of his head and landed inside the garage. Inside the house, Maria’s roommate, Dayle Yoshie Okazaki, age 34, heard the gunshot. She immediately grew concerned because the gunshot sounded like it was extremely close- and in fact, it was. Dayle ducked down behind a counter when she saw Ramirez enter the kitchen. When she put her hands on the countertop, and raised her head (because the room grew creepingly silent) he shot her once in the forehead, killing her. Richard saw Dayle crouch behind the counter, and waited for her to rise back up. It was clear very early on to investigators that whoever murdered Dayle, wanted to see her face in terror. Maria got up from the floor of the garage, and headed out back and into the alleyway when she heard Richard shoot Dayle. She grew concerned for her roommate, and made the decision to head to the front door to her condo, thinking that the intruder would go back out through the garage. But… Richard didn’t. Richard made the decision to go out through the front door. Richard sees Maria, Maria sees Richard, both startling the other. Maria threw both of her hands up, telling him that he’s already shot her, and what was the point of doing it again? Richard puts the gun down at his side, then simply walks off into the night.
Within an hour of the Rosemead home invasion, Ramirez pulled 30-year-old Tsai-Lian “Veronica” Yu out of her car in Monterey Park, shot her twice with a .22 caliber handgun, and fled. It’s reported that Tsai-Lian was shot in the chest, had fallen to the pavement, and that her last words were, “Help me. Help me.” She was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. The two murders, and attempted third, in a single day attracted extensive coverage from news media, who dubbed the attacker, described as curly-haired with bulging eyes and wide-spaced, rotting teeth, “The Walk-in Killer” and “The Valley Intruder.”
On March 27th, 1985, Ramirez entered a home that he had burglarized a year earlier just outside of Whittier, California, at approximately 2 a.m. and killed the sleeping Vincent Charles Zazzara, age 64, with a gunshot to his temple from a .22 caliber handgun. Zazzara’s wife, Maxine Levenia Zazzara, age 44, was awakened by the gunshot, and Ramirez beat her and bound her hands while demanding to know where her valuables were. While he ransacked the room, Maxine escaped her bonds and retrieved a shotgun from under the bed, which was not loaded. The infuriated Ramirez shot her three times with the .22, then fetched a large carving knife from the kitchen. He mutilated her body by stabbing her several times, then gouged out her eyes and placed them in a jewelry box, which he left with. The autopsy determined that the mutilations were post-mortem. Vincent and Maxine’s bodies were discovered by their son, Peter. Ramirez left footprints from a pair of Avia sneakers 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 determined that a serial killer was at large.
On May 14th, 1985, Ramirez returned to Monterey Park and entered the home of Bill Doi, age 66, and his disabled wife, Lillian, age 56. Surprising Doi in his bedroom, Ramirez shot him in the face with a .22 semi-automatic pistol as Doi went for his own handgun. After beating the mortally wounded man into unconsciousness, Ramirez entered Lillian’s bedroom, bound her with thumbcuffs, then raped her after he had ransacked the home for valuables. Bill Doi managed to call for police, unfortunately however, he died of his injuries while in the hospital. Lillian survived the attack.
On the night of May 29th, 1985, Ramirez drove a stolen car to Monrovia, and stopped at the house of Mabel “Ma” Bell, age 83, and her disabled sister, Florence “Nettie” Lang, age 81. Finding a hammer in the kitchen, he bludgeoned and bound Lang in her bedroom, then bound and bludgeoned Bell before using an electrical cord to shock the woman. After raping Lang, he used Bell’s lipstick to draw the Satanic pentagram symbol on her thigh as well as on the walls of both bedrooms. The women were found two days later, alive but comatose. Bell later died of her injuries.
The next night- on May 30th, 1985, Ramirez drove the same car to Burbank, and snuck into the home of Carol Kyle, age 42. At gunpoint, he bound Kyle and her 11-year-old son with handcuffs, then ransacked the house. He released Carol to direct him to where the family’s valuables were; he then raped her repeatedly. Ramirez also repeatedly ordered her not to look at him, telling her at one point that he would “cut her eyes out”. He fled the scene after retrieving Carol’s son from the closet and bound the two together again with the handcuffs before leaving into the night.
June 27th, 1985 marked the next attack. This time, it was Patty Elaine Higgins, aged 32 who was targeted. Patty lived alone with her pet cocker spaniel- and lived between a real estate office and a construction site on a dimly lit street near Santa Anita Park. She had no neighbors. Patty was found by one of her co-workers, who grew suspicious when Patty didn’t show up to work. Her partially clad body was found in the bathroom, and her throat was slashed.
On the night of July 2nd, 1985, Ramirez drove a stolen car to Arcadia, and randomly selected the house of Mary Louise Cannon, age 75- a widowed grandmother. After quietly entering Cannon’s home, he found her asleep in her bedroom. He bludgeoned her into unconsciousness with a lamp and then repeatedly stabbed her using a 10-inch butcher knife from her kitchen. She was found dead at the scene.
On July 5th, 1985, Ramirez broke into a home in Sierra Madre and bludgeoned 16-year-old Whitney Bennett with a tire iron as she slept in her bedroom. After searching in vain for a knife in the kitchen, Ramirez attempted to strangle the girl with a telephone cord. He stated that he was startled to see electrical sparks emanate from the cord, and when his victim began to breathe, he fled the house believing that Jesus Christ had intervened and saved her. Bennett survived the savage beating, although 478 stitches were required to close the lacerations to her scalp. Investigators later found a bloody shoe print left on a pink comforter- the same print that was found at the Zazzara crime scene.
On July 7th, 1985, Ramirez burglarized the home of Joyce Lucille Nelson, age 61, in Monterey Park. Finding her asleep on her living room couch, he beat her to death by using his fists and kicking her in the head. A shoe print from an Avia sneaker was left imprinted on her face. It was later determined that Joyce seemingly tried to fight back. Although she was successful in not letting him rape her, she was brutally murdered. She was discovered by her son.
That same night, after cruising two other neighborhoods, Richard returned to Monterey Park and chose the home of Sophie Dickman, age 63. Ramirez assaulted and handcuffed Dickman at gunpoint, attempted to rape her, and stole her jewelry; when she swore to him that he had taken everything of value, he told her to “swear on Satan”. Sophie survived her night stalker attack.
On July 20th, 1985, Ramirez purchased a machete before driving a stolen Toyota to Glendale, California. He chose the home of Lela Kneiding, age 66, and her husband Maxon, age 68. He burst into the sleeping couple’s bedroom and hacked them with the machete, then killed them with shots to the head from a .22 caliber handgun. He further mutilated their bodies with the machete before robbing the house of valuables. After quickly fencing the stolen items from the Kneiding residence, Ramirez drove to Sun Valley.
At approximately 4:15 am, just a couple hours after he murdered the Kneiding’s, he broke into the home of the Khovananth family. He shot the sleeping Chainarong Khovananth in the head with a .25 caliber handgun, killing him instantly. Richard then repeatedly raped and beat Somkid Khovananth. He bound the couple’s terrified 8-year-old son and raped him before dragging Somkid around the house to reveal the location of any valuable items, which he stole. During his assault he demanded that she “swear to Satan” that she was not hiding any money from him. Somkid and her 8-year-old son survived the attack.
On August 6th, 1985, Ramirez drove to Northridge and broke into the home of Chris and Virginia Peterson. He crept into the bedroom, startled Virginia, age 27, and shot her in the face with a .25 caliber semi-automatic handgun. He then shot Chris in the neck and attempted to flee; Chris fought back while avoiding being hit by two more shots during the struggle before Ramirez managed to escape. Although both were shot, the couple miraculously survived their injuries.
On August 8th, 1985, Ramirez drove a stolen car to Diamond Bar, California, and chose the home of Sakina Abowath, age 27, and her husband Elyas Abowath, age 31. Sometime after 2:30 am he entered the house and went into the master bedroom. He instantly killed the sleeping Elyas with a shot to the head from a .25 caliber handgun. He handcuffed and beat Sakina while forcing her to reveal the locations of the family’s jewelry, and then brutally raped her. He repeatedly demanded that she “swear on Satan” that she would not scream during his assaults. When the couple’s 3-year-old son entered the bedroom, Ramirez tied the child up and then continued to rape Sakina. It’s important to note that Richard spent quite some time at the Abowath residence. He felt so in control of the situation, that he took time to eat a melon, that investigators later found. After Ramirez left the home, Sakina untied her son and sent him to the neighbors for help. Sakina and her 3-year-old son survived the attack.
Ramirez, who had been following the media coverage of his crimes, left Los Angeles and headed to San Francisco. On August 18th, 1985, he entered the home of Peter and Barbara Pan. He shot the sleeping Peter, age 66, in the temple with a .25 caliber handgun. He then beat and sexually assaulted Barbara, age 62, before shooting her in the head and leaving her for dead. At the crime scene, Ramirez used lipstick to scrawl a pentagram and the phrase “Jack the Knife” on the bedroom wall. When it was discovered that the ballistics and shoe print evidence from the Los Angeles crime scenes matched the Pan crime scene, San Francisco’s then-mayor Dianne Feinstein divulged the information in a televised press conference. This leak infuriated the detectives in the case, as they knew the killer would be following media coverage, which gave him the opportunity to destroy crucial forensic evidence. Ramirez, who had indeed been watching the press, dropped his size 11 1/2 Avia sneakers over the side of the Golden Gate Bridge that night. He remained in the area for a few more days before heading back to the Los Angeles area.
On August 24th, 1985, Ramirez traveled 76 miles south of Los Angeles, in a stolen orange Toyota, to Mission Viejo. That night, he arrived at the home of James Romero, Jr., who had just returned from a family vacation to Rosarito Beach in Mexico. Romero’s son, 13-year-old James Romero III, happened to be awake and heard Ramirez’s footsteps outside the house. Thinking there was a prowler, James went to wake his parents, and Ramirez fled the scene. James raced outside and noted the color, make, and style of the car, as well as a partial license plate number. Romero contacted the police with this information, believing James had chased away a thief.
After the almost encounter at the Romero residence, Ramirez broke into the house of Bill Carns, age 30, and his fiancée, Inez Erickson, age 29, through a back door. Ramirez entered the sleeping couple’s bedroom and awakened Carns when he cocked his .25 caliber handgun. He shot Carns three times in the head before turning his attention to Erickson. Ramirez told the terrified woman that he was the “Night Stalker” and forced her to swear she loved Satan as he beat her with his fists and bound her with neckties from the closet. After stealing what he could find, Ramirez dragged Erickson to another room before raping her. He then demanded cash and more jewelry, and made her “swear on Satan” that there was no more. Before leaving the home, Ramirez told Erickson, “Tell them the Night Stalker was here.” Erickson untied herself and went to a neighbor’s house to get help for her severely injured fiancé. Surgeons removed two of the bullets from his head, and he survived his injuries… amazingly. Erickson gave a detailed description of the assailant to investigators, and police obtained a cast of Ramirez’s footprint from the Romero house.
The stolen car was found abandoned on August 28th in Wilshire Center, Los Angeles, and police obtained a single fingerprint from the rear-view mirror despite Ramirez’s careful efforts to wipe the car clean of his prints. The print was positively identified as belonging to 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. Law enforcement officials decided to release a mugshot of Ramirez from a December 12th, 1984, arrest for auto theft to the media, and the “Night Stalker” finally had a face. At the police press conference it was announced: “We know who you are now, and soon everyone else will. There will be no place you can hide.”
On August 30th, 1985, Ramirez took a bus to Tucson, Arizona, to visit his brother, unaware that he had become the lead story in virtually every major newspaper and television news program across California. After failing to meet his brother, he returned to Los Angeles early on the morning of August 31st. He walked past police officers, who were staking out the bus terminal in hopes of catching the killer should he attempt to flee on an outbound bus, and into a convenience store in East Los Angeles… which is where I started this blog.
Jury selection for the trial began on July 22nd, 1988. At his first court appearance, Ramirez raised a hand with a pentagram drawn on it and yelled, “Hail Satan!”
On August 3rd, 1988, the Los Angeles Times reported that some jail employees overheard Ramirez planning to shoot the prosecutor with a gun, which Ramirez intended to have smuggled into the courtroom. Consequently, a metal detector was installed outside, and intensive searches were conducted on people entering.
On August 14th, 1988, the trial was interrupted because one of the jurors, Phyllis Singletary, did not arrive at the courtroom. Later that day, she was found shot to death in her apartment. The jury was terrified, wondering if Ramirez had somehow directed this event from inside his prison cell, and whether or not he could reach other jurors. However, it was ultimately determined that Ramirez was not responsible for Singletary’s death, as she was shot and killed by her boyfriend, who later committed suicide with the same weapon in a hotel. The alternate juror who replaced Singletary was too frightened to return to her home.
On September 20th, 1989, Ramirez was convicted of all charges: thirteen counts of murder, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults, and fourteen burglaries. During the penalty phase of the trial on November 7th, 1989, he was sentenced to die in California’s gas chamber. He stated to reporters after the death sentences, “Big deal. Death always went with the territory. See you in Disneyland.” The trial cost $1.8 million ($3.71 million in 2019 dollars), which at the time made it the most expensive in the history of California until surpassed by the O. J. Simpson murder case in 1994.
On August 7th, 2006, Ramirez’s first round of state appeals ended unsuccessfully when the California Supreme Court upheld his convictions and death sentence. On September 7th, 2006, the California Supreme Court denied his request for a rehearing. Ramirez had appeals pending until the time of his death.
By the time of the trial, Ramirez had fans who were writing him letters and paying him visits. Beginning in 1985, Doreen Lioy wrote him nearly 75 letters during his incarceration. In 1988, Ramirez proposed to Lioy, and on October 3rd, 1996, they were married in California’s San Quentin State Prison. For many years before Ramirez’s death, Lioy stated that she would commit suicide when Ramirez was executed. However, Lioy eventually left Ramirez in 2009 after DNA confirmed he had raped and murdered 9-year-old Mei Leung. By the time of his death in 2013, Ramirez was engaged to Christine Lee, a 23-year-old writer.
Ramirez died of complications secondary to B-cell lymphoma at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California, on June 7th, 2013. He had also been affected by “chronic substance abuse and chronic hepatitis C viral infection”. At 53 years old, he had been on death row for more than 23 years. By some estimates, he would have been in his early 70s before his execution was carried out, due to California’s lengthy appeals process.
Question- what causes a person to do what they do? Psychiatrist Michael H. Stone describes Ramirez as a ‘made’ psychopath as opposed to a ‘born’ psychopath. He says that Ramirez’s schizoid personality disorder contributed to his indifference to the suffering of his victims and his untreatability. Stone also stated that Ramirez was knocked unconscious and almost died on multiple occasions before he was six years old and as a result “later developed temporal lobe epilepsy, aggressivity, and hypersexuality.”
So.. I guess an answer could be that a person is affected by childhood traumas and experiences, and if left untreated, can develop aggressive behaviors. We’ve seen this in a wide variety of other true crime cases. One of the most terrifying things about Richard Ramirez was that he was willing to kill just about anyone who crossed his path. Unlike some other serial killers who have a “type”, Richard murdered both men and women, and preyed on victims both young and old.