How is a killer made? Are they just born rotten or does life, and all its myriad of disappointments, and pains, create them in some way? The city of Los Angeles, California has seen its share of serial killers over the years.
But in the late 20th century, a killer arrived on the scene that was inexplicably brutal and uncommonly canny. It took all the know how of the police and the FBI to eventually track him down…
A Spree in LA
It was the beginning of a crime spree that no one could have predicted. Older citizens were being found dead in their beds, having been brutally killed in the middle of the night. After the first few killings, people just believed it was the trail of an amoral burglar whose plans had gone awry. Pretty soon though, it was clear that this was no series of simple robberies.
Like the Zodiac Killer many years before, there seemed to be no leads in the case and no obvious connections between the victims. The LA Police Department had begun to put together a dedicated task force and had even brought in the FBI to assist them, but little did they know that the real story behind these heinous crimes began many years earlier…
The fifth child of Mexican Immigrants, Richard was born in El Paso, Texas. A boyhood accident involving a swing gave him a concussion and left him with epileptic fits from a very young age. In order to cope with disability, young Richie eventually turned to drugs in order to keep the seizures at bay.
History of Violence
Even as an adolescent, Richie was somewhat obsessed with the idea of death, It was an interest born of exposure to his cousin Miguel, who had only just returned from fighting in the Vietnam War. Miguel’s stories, though grim and gruesome, always came with a healthy helping of marijuana…
As the two smoked themselves silly, Miguel would regail his younger, more impressionable cousin with stories of torture and mutilation. Apparently, one of his favorite pastimes during the war was to humiliate, abuse, torture, and murder Vietnamese women: and take pictures of his handiwork afterwards.
Witness to Killing
Things got taken to the next level when at age 13, Richy witnessed his cousin murder his wife. After that, after seeing what a person could do if they were capable and willing, Richie Ramirez’ life changed for the worse. He understood that no matter what you wanted in life, you had to take it. Soon he would move to LA and his lifetime of violence would begin in earnest…
Unexpectedly, Richie soon realized that school was not the place for him and he dropped out before he hit the tenth grade. He was arrested several times for possession and eventually once he moved to California, began a somewhat lucrative career stealing cars. Unfortunately for Richie, his newfound cocaine addiction would soon replace the rush he got from robbery.
In Richie’s drug-addled mind, it was time to graduate from theft to murder. On June 28th, 1984, he broke into the home of 79-year-old Jennie Vincow. He sexually assaulted her then proceeded to stab and kill her, before burglarizing the home. It was only the first in what would be dozens of brutal murders…
Nine Months Later
It would be nine months before Ramirez struck again. In March of 1985, he attacked a woman named Maria Hernandez, but unfortunately for him, she escaped. He murdered her roommate, Dayle Okazaki, instead but was unsatisfied with the kill. In order to slake his murderous hunger, he went out and shot, Tsian-Lian Yu the same evening, killing him.
10 days later, 64-year-old Vincent Zazzara and his 44-year-old wife, Maxine, were slain in their home. It was the first time Ramirez had used what would become his tell-tale pattern for a kill. Vincent was shot first, then the wife was brutally assaulted and stabbed to death. Things would only get worse from there…
Forced to Leave
By now, the media had caught wind of the many victims of this so-called “Valley Intruder.” The police were at their wits end. Some of the surviving victims even had a pretty solid description of the killer. Eventually, Richie Ramirez realized that the only way he could be caught was if he stayed in LA. He journeyed north to San Francisco, where he found and killed two more victims, Peter and Barbara Pan.
Ramirez’ other unmistakable signature was a good deal of Satanic symbolism at many of the crime scenes. You see, he had found Satanism early in his youth and the doctrines of much of that religion really hit home with his idea of self determination. Soon, the murders in San Francisco earned him the name the “Night Stalker” and would propel him from common criminal, to legend…
It was August 24, 1985, a night that would eventually become the last night of terror for the Night Stalker. Richie Ramirez had been careful for most of his crimes, but his confidence and the violent escalation of his crimes had made him sloppy. He and his car, including its license plate, were spotted outside a home in Mission Viejo.
Beginning of the End
To make matters worse, Ramirez had also left a footprint at the crime scene. A bit later that night, he sexually assaulted a woman in her home but only shot her fiance. When she was interviewed later on by police, she provided a detailed description of her assailant and his love for Satan. It was only a matter of time…
Connected to the Nightstalker
A few days later, police found Ramirez’s abandoned car, along with enough of a fingerprint inside to match those they had collected at the various crime scenes. His youthful criminal enterprises had obviously left him in the system. The police finally knew that the infamous Night Stalker was none other than career criminal Richard Ramirez.
His infamous prison photo, pictures of the clues, witnesses, and survivors, were on everyone’s TV in the coming months and it was because of these things that police eventually caught up with him. On August 31, 1985, Ramirez was finally arrested after being badly beaten by East L.A. residents while attempting two carjackings…
Obviously the arrest led to a media frenzy and because of this, Ramirez began to attract a cult-like following of supporters. Ramirez himself often dressed in black with dark sunglasses, even in court, so many of those same followers ended up being black-clad Satan worshipers like himself.
Though Ramirez’ trial was pushed off many times, the jury eventually found him guilty and recommended the death sentence on 19 counts of murder. As he left the courtroom, Ramirez responded: “Hey, big deal, death always comes with the territory. I’ll see you in Disneyland.” He would wait in San Quentin for many years until death finally came for him…
Linked to Others
While incarcerated, Ramirez ended up marrying one of his many fans, 41-year-old Doreen Lioy. In 2006, his long-awaited appeal finally made it to the California State Supreme Court, but was rejected. Eventually, the Night Stalker was linked to several more crimes in San Francisco by DNA, including the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl.
Richie Ramirez spent the next 24 years on death row, but he would never end up seeing the gas chamber. He died on June 7, 2013, at the age of 53, from complications related to B-cell lymphoma. It was a somewhat inglorious end for a man who had crippled California with fear for so long.