Richard Ramirez: The Night Stalker

Crime Files

A Bad Influence

Ricardo Leyva Ramirez was born on 28 February 1960 in El Paso, Texas, the youngest child of seven, to a Mexican-American railway worker. Known as Richard or Ricky, Ramirez had a troubled childhood, and was heavily influenced by an older cousin, a Green Beret named Mike, who told fascinating stories about the torture and mutilation that he had inflicted on Vietnamese women during his time in the Vietnam War. He corroborated these stories with horrific Polaroid pictures. They smoked marijuana together, and his teenage rebellion led to petty crime to fuel his drug habit, which further alienated him from his Catholic parents. He spent even more time with his cousin as a result. When Mike murdered his wife, whilst Ramirez was present, the final seeds were sown for the development of the modus operandi of the young killer who became known as the “Night Stalker”, who terrorised the State of California for almost a year, in the mid-1980s.

His criminal record began in 1977, when he was placed in juvenile detention for a string of petty crimes, and he also received a probationary sentence in 1982 for marijuana possession. He moved to San Francisco, and then LA, progressing to cocaine addiction and burglary, cultivating an interest in weapons and Satanism. A car theft charge in 1983 led to a jail sentence, from which he was released in April 1984, a conscienceless, Satanic criminal with poor hygiene, rotten teeth and no prospects.

Timeline

Born 28 February 1960The Victims 28 June 1984: Jennie Vincow - raped and murdered 17 March 1985: Maria Hernandez - attempted murder 17 March 1985: Dayle Okasaki - murdered 17 March 1985: Tsai Lian Yu- murdered 27 March 1985: Vincent Zazzara - murdered 27 March 1985: Maxine Zazzara - murdered 14 April 1985: William Doi - murdered 14 April 1985: Lillie Doi - attempted murder 30 May 1985: Carol Kyle - raped 27 June 1985: Patty Elaine Higgins - murdered 2 July 1985: Mary Louise Cannon - murdered 5 July 1985: Whitney Bennet - attempted murder 7 July 1985: Joyce Lucille Nelson - murdered 7 July 1985: Sophie Dickman - raped 20 July 1985: Max Kneiding - murdered 20 July 1985: Leila Kneiding - murdered 20 July 1985: Chainarong Khovananth - murdered 20 July 1985: Somkid Khovananth - raped 5 August 1985: Christopher Peterson - attempted murder 5 August 1985: Virginia Peterson - attempted murder 9 August 1985: Elyas Abowath - murdered 9 August 1985: Sakina Abowath - raped 17 August 1985: Barbara Pan - raped 17 August 1985: Peter Pan - murdered 24 August 1985: William Carns - attempted murder 24 August 1985: Inez Erickson - rapedArrested 29 August 1985Trial 22 July 1988Convicted 20 September 1989Died 7 June 2013 Ramirez died on death row at San Quentin Prison

The Aftermath

Life in Prison

Ramirez’s loyal band of female fans included freelance magazine editor Doreen Lioy, who had been in contact with him since his 1985 incarceration, pending his trial. She proved the most persistent of his ghoulish harem and in 1988, during the course of his trial, Ramirez proposed marriage to her.Despite his conviction, she remained convinced of his innocence and on 3 October 1996 they were married in the main visiting area of San Quentin State Prison, in the presence of Ramirez’s brother, sister and niece.Conjugal rights are not extended to death row prisoners, and the marriage remained unconsummated.Ramirez died of liver failure on death row at San Quentin State Prison on 7 June 2013, whilst awaiting execution.

The Trial

Ramirez later retracted his confession, claiming a case of mistaken identity, and he did everything possible to delay the onset of the trial, which saw him charged with 14 murders and 31 other felonies that related to his killing spree.He changed his legal counsel a number of times, and the geographical spread of his attacks also complicated the scope of the trial with jurisdictional issues, so that some charges were dropped in order to expedite what was becoming a long journey to justice. Almost three years after his apprehension, on 22 July 1988, the jury selection process began, and the case took a full year to hear, given the number of witnesses and sheer amount of evidence. During this time Ramirez attracted a large following of black-clad Satan worshippers who appeared daily at his trial, and his own nonchalant behaviour further unsettled the jury. Yet another delay occurred when one juror was found murdered on 14 August 1989, but rumours that Ramirez had orchestrated her death proved unfounded and, on 20 September 1989, the jury finally returned a unanimous guilty verdict on 13 counts of murder, 5 of attempted murder, 11 of sexual assault and 14 burglary charges. On 7 November 1989 Ramirez received 19 death sentences, to which he responded:"No big deal. Death always comes with the territory. I'll see you in Disneyland." Following sentencing Ramirez was transferred to Death Row at San Quentin State Prison.

The Arrest

Mob Justice

National television and print media coverage, featuring his prison photo, flushed Ramirez out from where he was hiding in East LA the very next day and, when he tried to escape the growing lynch mob, it was only the arrival of the police that saved him from violent death at the hands of the mob, when he confessed to being “The Night Stalker”.

The Crimes

The Horror begins

Ramirez' first known murder took place on 28 June 1984; his victim was 79-year-old Jennie Vincow, who was viciously sexually assaulted, stabbed and murdered during a burglary in her own home.His second known case occurred nearly 9 months later, on 17 March 1985, when he attacked Angela Barrios, who managed to escape him, and then killed her flatmate, Dayle Okazaki. Not satisfied with these assaults, he also shot and killed Tsai Lian Yu the same evening, which started a media frenzy that saw Ramirez dubbed the “Valley Intruder” by the press.27 March saw the murder of 64-year-old Vincent Zazzara, and his 44-year-old wife, Maxine, in an attack pattern that was to be repeated later by Ramirez: the husband was shot first, then the wife was brutally assaulted and was stabbed to death. In this case, he also gouged out Maxine Zazzara’s eyes.

A full-scale police operation yielded no concrete results, and he repeated his attack pattern on pensioners William and Lillie Doi in April. Over the next two months Ramirez’ attack pattern escalated rapidly, to claim another dozen victims in a frenzy of burglary, assault and brutal violence, complete with Satanic rituals, that drove LA into a panic. A dedicated task force was established, comprising of hundreds of officers, and the FBI stepped in to assist, as the press demanded that the police do more to catch the killer.This relentless media and police pressure, aided with photo-fit descriptions from his surviving victims, forced Ramirez to leave the Los Angeles area in August, and he moved to San Francisco, where he took his first victims, Peter and Barbara Pan, on 17 August. His unmistakeable MO, complete with Satanic symbolism, meant that his “Valley Intruder” moniker was no longer applicable, and the press quickly dubbed him “The Night Stalker”, and each new attack received exhaustive press coverage.Ramirez’ next attack, on 24 August 1985, led to the identification of his stolen car by the victim four days later. After a televised appeal, the car was found, complete with his fingerprints inside, and his criminal record enabled the police to finally put a name to “The Night Stalker”.