Richard Ramirez committed a string of brutal crimes that terrorized the citizens of Los Angeles, and earned him the nickname “The Night Stalker”.
Ricardo Ramirez was born in El Paso, Texas, on February 28, 1960. Born to Julian and Mercedes, he had six siblings. Ricardo – who later Americanized the name to Richard – was the youngest.
He was a troubled youth, who did poorly in school, and took to breaking into homes at an early age. He was preoccupied with heavy metal, weed, and the occult. As a child, when he was sent by his Catholic mother to Sunday school, he would ignore the lessons taught about Jesus and the apostles, and stay behind to do extra reading on Satan and the fallen angels.
After being arrested twice for possession of marijuana, and once for reckless driving, he was handed a 3 year probation sentence. As soon as his probation was over, at the age of 20, he moved away from his native Texas, and headed to Los Angeles.
His first murder was on June 28, 1984. His first victim was 79-year-old Jennie Vincow. He broke into her apartment, beat her, raped her, and left her nearly decapitated. She was found the next day by her son.
On March 17, 1985, Maria Hernandez opened the door of her her upscale condominium, to find Ramerez there, who shot her. However, Maria, who surely must qualify as one of the luckiest people alive, got off with only a wound to her hand, because the bullet deflected off the keys she was holding in her hand. Ramirez left the scene thinking she was dead.
Her roommate on the other hand, did not fare quite as well. When he heard the shots, he hid behind a counter. However, Ramirez noticed a pot of water moving, and checked out who was behind there. 33 year old Dayle Okazaki caught the bullet at close range, to the head.
That same night, Ramirez chose his next victim. He ran Tsai-Lian Yu off the road, forced his way into her car, dragged her out onto the pavement, and blew her away.
On March the 27, Ramirez broke into the house of the Zazzara couple. Vincent Zazzara died quickly, a single shot to the head as he lay sleeping on the couch. His wife Maxine however, was raped, tortured, and after she was killed, mutilated. He had gouged her eyes out of her sockets, plunged a knife into her breast, and made cuts around her neck, face, abdomen, and crotch.
On May 14, he broke into the house of Harold and Jean Wu. He shot Harold in the head, raped Jean, and rummaged through the furniture for anything of any value, and then left off into the night.
At this point, the only thing the police knew about the Night Stalker was the description from the survivors of his attacks, saying he was tall, gaunt, dark, and Hispanic. He had also made one mistake. He bought himself a brand-spanking new pair of shoes. However, the product line was new, and at this point only 1300 had ever been made. His was the only pair in his size which was sold in the city of L.A. This was one of the few things that tied the killings together. Otherwise they might have just been treated as a string of unrelated murders, at least for quite a while longer.
His next victim was 41-year-old Ruth Wilson. He awoke her in the middle of the night, demanding cash. Thinking that he would leave her and her 12 year old son alone, she told him where a diamond necklace was hidden. He locked her son in the closet, tied her up with her own pantyhose, and sodomized her before leaving.
On June 1, retired schoolteacher Malvia Keller and invalid sister Blanche Wolfe, 83- and 79-years old respectively, were viciously beaten in their small home. Both had been beaten across the head with a hammer. Wolfe was close to dying, and had been raped. Keller had been crushed underneath a table which Ramirez had overturned on her. Police also found their first clues that Ramirez believed he was gaining protection from Satan at the scene, a pentagram drawn on Keller’s thighs and on the wall near where they found Wolfe.
On June 27 he slashed the throat of 32 year old Patty Higgins in her home. On July 2, 75 year old Mary Louise Cannon was found in her home, beaten with her throat slashed. On the 5th, 16 year old Diedre Palmer survived being beaten at home with a tire iron. Two days later 61 year old Joyce Nelson was found beaten, her corpse mutilated. That same day he tried to rape 63 year old Linda Fortuna, but he couldn’t get it up. He robbed her and left.
He was leaving behind more and more signs of his devil worshipping. In addition, some of the survivors were forced to repeat phrases such as “I love Satan.” However, they weren’t any closer to cracking the case. They still had no clue who the Night Stalker was.
On July 20th he killed Maxson and Lela Kneiding as they slept in their bed, and mutilated their corpses, almost decapitating Maxson’s head. Later that night he shot 32 year old Chitat Assawahem, raping his 29 year old wife Sakima, and forcing her to fellate him. He then slapped around their 8 year old son, and left with some cash.
On August 5th he shot Christopher and Virginia Petersen in the head. Somehow both of them survived.
He killed Ahmed Zia with a shot to the temple, handcuffed and raped his wife Suu Kya, who survived.
On August 25, he broke into the house of William Carns and his fiancée Renata Gunther. He shot Carns in the forehead, raped Gunther, forcing her to fellate him and to praise Satan.
Meanwhile, the police were getting a few leads. They were contacted by a woman who had rented out a room once in a while to a man who looked like the picture made by a police sketch artist. They also retrieved some of the property that had been stolen from one of the victims, which had been sold by Ramirez to a friend of the landlord.
They had also found the car he had used in many of his earlier crimes, an orange Toyota station wagon. They were able to lift some prints from the car. The result came back as a small time thief from Texas by the name of Ricardo Ramirez.
On the last day of August, police were able to release his name and photo to the public. It appeared on the front page of most LA newspapers the next day.
That day, he was heading into town on a bus. The LAPD were waiting at the bus station. However, the bus stopped at a different stop than it was supposed to, and instead of getting off the bus at the depot, he walked into it. The confused police blew their cover, and he got away.
Later that afternoon, Ramirez was buying a bottle of whiskey when the clerk of the convenience store recognized him from the paper. He ran out of the store with people chasing after him. With a mob chasing after him, he made a wrong turn into a dead end, and was caught by the citizens. They didn’t beat him up too much. The cops finally took him into custody on September 1st, 1985.
The trial was plagued by delays, with his defence team changing many times, and with Ramirez himself causing distractions, attempting to stare down victims who came to testify against him, drawing pentagrams on his hand and flashing it at reporters, and laughing at photographs of the crime scenes. However, the prosecution had pretty much an air tight case, and in September of 1989, Ramirez was sentenced to death.
Meanwhile, Ramirez was finding “true love.” Doreen Lioy had first become attracted to Ramirez when she saw pictures of him upon his arrest. She wrote over 75 letters to him, and was allowed to see him 9 months later. They were engaged in 1988, and were finally allowed to marry in October of 1996. Mrs. Ramirez, ignoring the piles of physical evidence, witness’ testimony, and her husband’s bizarre behaviour at his trial, still stands by him, claiming that it was all just a case of mistaken identity. Unfortunately for the both of them, Death Row inmates are not allowed conjugal visits, thereby making the consummation of their love an impossibility.
Ramirez is awaiting execution at San Quentin Prison.
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