The case we’re looking into, is a rather “big” and “famous” one, the spree of the “The Night Stalker” terrorised the people of California and San Francisco for 14 months during 1984 and 1985. The trial of Richard Ramirez cost $1.8 million and was the most expensive in Californian history until it was surpassed by the O.J. Simpson trial in 1994.
Ramirez’s full name was Ricardo Leyva Munoz Ramirez, he was born in El Paso, Texas on 29th February 1960 and he was the youngest of five. His father Julian Ramirez a former policeman from his native Mexico and became a labourer on the Santa Fe railroad, he was prone to fits of anger and outbursts of physical abuse that would often be aimed at the family. As a small child Ramirez suffered two rather serious knocks to the head, one happened at age 2 when a dresser fell on top of him causing a laceration on his forehead resulting in 30 stitches, the next was slightly more serious when he was knocked unconscious by a swing in a park, after this he experienced frequent epileptic seizures through to his early teens.
Ramirez got involved with drugs at a young age and started smoking marijuana by age 10, because of this he bonded with an older cousin Miguel, who was a decorated US Army Green Beret combat veteran who would tell stories of his gruesome exploits in the Vietnam war to young Ramirez, he would share images of the people he had killed in the war and he would show photos of Vietnamese women he had raped, even posing with the severed head of one woman he’d assaulted. Ramirez and Miguel bonded over the drugs and violence, so much so that Miguel taught Ramirez some of his military skills, like killing with stealth and skill. This relationship was being built around the time Ramirez was seeking some escape from his father’s violence by sleeping in a cemetery rather than going home.
The relationship with Miguel took a dark turn on 4th May 1973 when Miguel fatally shot his wife Jesse in the face with a .38 calibre revolver during an argument, he was found guilty of Jesse’s murder by reason of insanity (the court took into account his military background and used it was a mitigating factor) he was incarcerated at the Texas State Mental Hospital. Ramirez was present at the time of the shooting and it’s said that after he became sullen and withdrew from his family and peers, although a year later he moved in with his older Sister Ruth and her husband Roberto. Roberto was an obsessive voyeur or “peeping tom” and he would take 13 year old Ramirez with him on “night time exploits”, Ramirez descended deeper into drugs as he started using LSD regularly and showed an interest in Satanism. Miguel was released in 1977 after four years and he continued to influence Ramirez.
With the influences of two sexually violent and disturbed men as an adolescent Ramirez began to have sexual fantasies involving violence, including forced bondage and rape. He took a job while in high school at a local Holiday Inn, he would use his employee passkey to rob sleeping guests, Ramirez was fired rather quickly after a hotel guest reported that he had returned to his room to find Ramirez trying to rape his wife, the husband beat Ramirez “senseless” at the scene, but criminal charges against Ramirez were dropped when the couple would not return to testify against him. Ramirez later dropped out of Jefferson High School and at the age of 22 he settled in California permanently.
The brutal torture and murder of 9 year old Mei Leung on 10th April 1984 was linked to Ramirez, although not officially proven. Ramirez was living in the hotel where she was found in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco in 1984. Leung had been raped, beaten, stabbed to death, her body was then hanged from a pipe and displayed like Jesus on the cross. The case was looked at as a satanic ritual murder and is considered as Ramirez’s first known murder. Ramirez was linked to this murder in 2009 through DNA found at the scene. It was revealed in 2016, that police had found a “second suspect” in Leung’s murder through DNA on a handkerchief found at the scene, the suspect was described as a juvenile at the time of the murder and the DNA has since been matched to a convicted felon, but San Francisco authorities have refused to release his name or felony record to the public. I’ve looked a little deeper into this murder, because I felt it was odd for Ramirez to have targeted such a young victim since during his “Night stalker” crime spree he only had adult female and Male victims, this is a brutal sexual murder and there’s nothing in his other crimes that points to a sexual attraction to children, he did display signs of sexual sadism in his crimes, but not towards children so I thought it might be possible he didn’t do it or he at least was minimally involved, but with his interest in the occult Ramirez had, the ritualistic nature of this murder, and the fact this “other suspect” was a juvenile at the time I believe Ramirez did commit this murder with an “apprentice” similar to the unhealthy relationship Ramirez had with his cousin. Ramirez died of lymphoma before he could ever be formally charged for this murder and authorities have not pressed charges against the other suspect due to lack of evidence.
Later on 28th June 1984 marked the start of the “Night Stalker” crime spree that earned Ramirez his notoriety when 79 year old Jennie Vincow was found brutally murdered in her apartment in Glassell Park, Ramirez had stabbed her repeatedly while she slept, he slashed her throat so deep that she was nearly decapitated, he gained access to Vincow’s property through an open window and left a fingerprint on a mesh screen, linking him to Vincow’s murder.
Ramirez took his next victim on 17th March 1985, he attacked 22 year old Maria Hernandez outside her home in Rosemead, and he shot her in the face 8with a .22 calibre handgun after she pulled into her garage. Hernandez survived when the bullet ricocheted off the keys when she raised her hands to protect herself. Ramirez entered the kitchen of the property and he saw Hernandez’s roommate 34 year old Dayle Okazaki, she had heard the gunshots and ducked behind the counter, but he shot her in the forehead when she raised her head, killing her instantly.
Ramirez struck again, shockingly within an hour of the Rosemead murders. Tsai-Lian “Veronica” Yu was pulled out of her car in Monterey Park and shot twice with the same .22 calibre handgun by Ramirez before he fled, Yu was pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital. The two murders and one attempt in such a short space of time attracted extensive media coverage, they gave Ramirez his first nicknames dubbing him “The Walk-in Killer” and “The Valley Intruder” they also gave the description of a man with curly hair, bulging eyes and rotten teeth, showing Ramirez wasn’t worried about covering his face and being identified, he planned to kill everyone he encountered during the home invasions.
The next murder was committed in a house that Ramirez had burglarized a year before in Whittier. Ramirez killed 64 year old Vincent Zazzara with a gunshot to the head while he slept, he again used his .22 calibre handgun. Maxine Zazzara, Vincent’s wife aged 44 was woken by her husband’s murder and Ramirez beat her and bound her then demanded to know where the valuables were, he ransacked the room and Maxine managed to escape her bonds and get the shotgun they kept under the bed, the shotgun was not loaded, which infuriated Ramirez, he proceeded to shoot her three times, then he got a carving knife from the kitchen and mutilated her. Ramirez stabbed the body multiple times and gouged her eyes out, placing then in a jewellery box that he took with him, sadly Vincent and Maxine’s bodies were discovered by their son Peter. It was determined by autopsy that Maxine Zazzara had been mutilated post mortem. While examining the scene the police matched the bullets to the previous attacks and they realised that they had a serial killer at large, Ramirez also left a footprint from Aviva sneakers in the flower bed, the police made a cast of them and it was the only evidence they had to physically identify their serial killer.
Ramirez made his return to Monterey Park on 14th May 1985 and broke into the home of Bill Doi aged 66 which he shared with his disabled wife Lillian Doi 56. He surprised Doi in his bedroom and shot him in the face with the .22 calibre semi automatic pistol as Doi went for his own handgun, after shooting him Doi was then beaten unconscious. Ramirez then entered Lillian’s bedroom, he bound her with thumbcuffs, raped her and ransacked the house for valuables. Bill Doi later died in hospital of his injuries.
May 29th 1985 saw Ramirez drive in a stolen Mercedes to Monrovia and stopped at 83 year old Mabel “Ma” Bell’s house that she shared with her sister Florence “Nettie” Lang, 81. He found a hammer in the kitchen, he bludgeoned and bound Lang in her bedroom, he then bound and bludgeoned Bell before using an electric cord to electrocute her. Ramirez raped Lang and used Bell’s lipstick to draw a pentagram on her thigh and on the walls of both bedrooms, two days after the attack the women were found alive, but comatose. Mabel Bell died later of her injures.
The same stolen Mercedes was used again by Ramirez on May 30th 1985, when he drove it to Burbank and broke into the home of 42 year old Carol Kyle, he held Kyle at gunpoint, he bound both Kyle and her 11 year old son with handcuffs and ransacked the house. He released Kyle and ordered her to lead him to the valuables, when alone he then repeatedly sodomized Kyle telling her not to look at him and that he would “cut her eyes out”. He left the Kyle house after handcuffing Kyle and her son together again.
On 2nd July 1985 he drove another stolen vehicle, this time a Toyota and he drove it to Arcadia. He “randomly selected” a house and it was the house of a 75 year old widowed grandmother named Mary Louise Cannon. He entered the house quietly and found Cannon still asleep, he then bludgeoned her with a lamp until she lost consciousness then repeatedly stabbed her with a 10 inch butcher knife from the kitchen. Mary Cannon was found dead at the scene.
Just three days later on 5th July 1985 Ramirez broke in to 16 year old Whitney Bennett’s house and bludgeoned her with a tire iron as she slept. He searched the kitchen for a knife, but did not find one, he tried to strangle her with a telephone cord, but he was startled when he saw sparks emanate from the cord and Bennett began to breathe. He believed that Jesus had intervened and saved her. Bennett survived the beating requiring 478 stiches to close lacerations on her scalp.
Joyce Lucille Nelson aged 61 was Ramirez’s next victim on 7th July 1985, he burglarized her house in Monterey Park and beat her to death using his fists and kicking her in head, from the kicks to Nelson’s he left a shoe print from the Avia sneaker that matched a previous murder. He continued to cruise through two neighbourhoods that night, before returning to Monterey Park and “choosing” the house of 63 year old Sophie Dickman, Ramirez assaulted and handcuffed Dickman at gunpoint, he attempted to rape her then stole her jewellery. When Dickman pleaded and swore that he had already taken everything of value Ramirez told her to “swear on Satan”.
Ramirez purchased a machete on 20th July 1985, then drove the stolen Toyota to Glendale. He burst into the home of 66 year old Lela Kneiding and her husband Maxon 68 while they slept, he hacked the sleeping couple with the machete and shot them in the head with the .22 calibre handgun, he mutilated their bodies further before robbing the house of valuables. He continued his night of terror by driving to Sun Valley and at 4:15am he broke into the home of Khovananth family, he murdered Chainarong Khovananth first by shooting him in the head .22 calibre handgun, instantly killing him. He moved onto the Somkid Khovannth when he repeatedly raped, beat and sodomised her. The couple’s 8 year old son was bound while Somkid was dragged around the house giving him the valuables, while he did this he made Somekid “swear to satan” that she was not hiding any money.
Ramirez attacked again on 6th August 1985 in Northridge, he broke into the home of Chris and Virginia Peterson. He shot Virginia aged 27 in the face with .25 calibre semi-automatic handgun, when he crept into the bedroom and startled her. Ramirez attempted to flee the scene after shooting Chris Peterson in the temple, Chris fought back and managed to avoid being hit twice more during the struggle, Ramirez managed to escape the struggle and leave. The couple were found and recovered from the attack.
Sakina Abowath 27 and her husband Elvas Abowath 31 were the next young couple targeted by Ramirez on 8th August 1985. He entered the house at 2:30am and went into the master bedroom and killed a sleeping Elvas with a shot to the head from his .25 calibre handgun. Sanika was then handcuffed, beaten, brutally raped and sodomised her while he screamed at her to “swear on Satan” that she would not scream during the assault. The couple’s 3 year old son entered the bedroom during his mother’s attack so Ramirez tied him up and continued to assault Sakina. When Ramirez left the home he untied the child and sent him to a neighbour’s house to get help.
At this point in his spree Ramirez was religiously following the media coverage of his crimes and left the Los Angeles area and went to San Francisco. He took his first victims after the move on 18th August 1985 when he entered the home of Peter and Barbara Pan. 66 year old Peter was killed in his sleep with a single gunshot to his temple, 62 year old Barbara was sexually violated and beaten before being shot in the head, Ramirez again used lipstick from the house to draw a pentagram on the bedroom as well as adding the phrase “Jack the Knife”.
Ballistics and the Avia shoe print evidence from “The Night Stalker” crime scenes matched the evidence left at the Pan crime scene, this prompted the then mayor of San Francisco Dianne Feinstein to call a televised press conference and shared the information with the public. Knowing that the serial killer would be following the media this angered the detectives working the Pan case as this gave the killer time to destroy any further evidence or move again making his capture hard. This was the case, after the press conference that Ramirez had indeed been watching he took the size 11 ½ Avia sneakers and threw them off the Golden Gate bridge destroying the only link that authorities had to “The Night Stalker”, he remained in San Francisco for a few more days laying low before heading back to Los Angeles.
Ramirez failed to take another victim on his return to Los Angeles on August 14th 1985, Ramirez travelled 76 miles south of Los Angeles to Mission Viejo. James Romero Jr had just returned from a family vacation, Romero’s 13 year old son James Romero III was awake and heard footsteps, thinking there was a prowler at the property he woke his parents, hearing this Ramirez fled the scene. James Romero Jr ran outside and was able to note the colour, make and partial plate of the car Ramirez was driving, the police were contacted as Romero thought this information would help catch a thief.
That same night, Ramirez moved on to the home of Bill Carns aged 30 and his fiancée, Inez Erickson aged 29. He broke in through a back door and entered the bedroom immediately as the couple slept, he woke Carns up by cocking the .25 calibre handgun, he then shot him three times in head, before starting on Erickson. Ramirez told Erickson that he was “The Night Stalker” and made her swear that she “loved Satan” as he beat her with his bare hands and tied her up with neck ties from the closet. He stole what he could find around the bedroom then dragged Erickson to another room to rape and sodomise her, then he demanded cash and more jewellery as she was made to “swear on Satan” that there was no more. When Ramirez left he told Erickson “Tell them the Night Stalker was here”, Erickson untied herself and ran to a neighbour’s house to get help for Carns, and Bill Carns had emergency surgery and recovered from his injuries.
After the attack on Bill Carns and Inez Erickson, Erickson was able to give a detailed description of “The Night Stalker” to investigators, they also managed to match a cast of Ramirez’s footprint to a footprint left at the Romero house. These last two incidents were the end of Ramirez’s crime spree as the stolen Toyota was found in Wilshire Center, Los Angeles on August 28th and the police pulled a single print off the rear view mirror, despite Ramirez’s efforts to wipe the car clean. The fingerprint was matched to Richard Munoz Ramirez, bringing up the description of a 25 year old drifter from Texas with a long list of crimes including traffic and drug violations. Law enforcement officials released a photo to the media from his arrest on December 12th 1984 for car theft. They finally matched a face to a name and it was announced to Ramirez during a press conference: “We know who you are now, and soon everyone else will. There will be no place you can hide.”
Ramirez remained unaware that he had become the lead story in every newspaper and TV news program across California and took a bus to see his brother in Tucson, Arizona, he failed to meet his brother and returned to Los Angeles early on the morning of August 31st 1985, he walked past patrol officers that were watching for the killer taking an outbound bus, Ramirez noticed group of elderly Mexican women identifying him as “El Matador” (The Killer) he also saw his face on the covers of newspapers and fled in a panic to the Santa Ana Freeway, he attempted to run across and carjack a woman, but bystanders stepped in and pursued him, he fled jumping several fences and attempting two more car thefts before he was subdued by a group of residents, one of whom struck him with a metal bar during the pursuit, Ramirez was held down and beaten until police arrived and took him into custody.
Finally, on September 20th 1989, Ramirez was convicted of all charges including 13 count of murder, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries. He was sentenced to die in the gas chamber on November 7th 1989 and stated to reporters after the verdict “Big deal. Death always went with the territory, see you in Disneyland”. Ramirez died on June 7th 2013 aged 53 of B-cell lymphoma in the historical San Quentin prison.
It’s obvious to see that there were numerous factors in “making The Night Stalker” including toxic male influences, drug abuse, and head injuries. The serious head injuries he sustained as a child could have caused some brain damage as it was reported that after being knocked unconscious by a swing he suffered with seizures, it is possible in this instance that other brain damage was present, this coupled with his abuse of LSD could have caused him to be easily influenced by people or ideas like the occult. The male influences in Ramirez’s life were all toxic from his physically abusive father, his openly sexually violent cousin and his voyeur brother in law, Ramirez grew up surrounded by violence, the abuse from his father would have made him feel weak and powerless, being influenced by Miguel and his stories of sexual violence and murder in Vietnam would have reinforced the idea that violence would make him powerful in the way that his father had power of him. It was clear in all of his murders that he craved this power and dominance by the fact he would immediately kill the “threat” to his dominance, which would be the male in the house, this victim would be shot and often killed first, when it came to the women, he would show his dominance not only with rape and sodomy, but by binding and torturing them with things found in their own home, going through all the victim’s belongings, and making them “swear on Satan”. The combination of these things to me feels like more of a power thing than a sexual thing, all of these things are a violation on person and would make anyone feel vulnerable, which is what Ramirez wanted, complete submission.
Throughout his crimes he never wore a mask or disguise, many of his victims were able to identify features like his rotten teeth. He definitely intended to kill everyone he came into contact with during his spree with confidence, and the confidence clearly grew over time as he started torturing as he took more victims. The Satanic element of his crimes seemed like a big part of the case, but to me it felt like he had a very basic idea of the occult almost like the “movie idea” of Satanism that shows drawing Pentagrams and swearing on Satan, he didn’t seem to quote scripture or perform any sacrifices/rituals that are usually associated with Satanic murders. He was ritualistic in the way that serial killers usually are of course, except for with his victims he took no real preference he would kill men and women of all ages, races and backgrounds, I will mention how he seemed when it came to children as he seemed to just tie them up and make them watch without hurting them and even sending one to a neighbour’s house to get help, it’s interesting because it has been proven that he had something to do with Mei Leung’s murder, I do believe he helped or taught someone else kill her as I mentioned, I think his attitude during the murders where children were present showed he had some empathy towards the child, maybe not wanting to hurt them in the way his father had hurt him? However making them watch is sadistic and I believe that was to scare the child into not screaming and drawing attention, also because he grew up seeing imagery just like his crimes and being showing it to someone else even a child is just another way for him to be in control and assert his power even over a child.