Richard Ramirez was a California-based serial killer who operated from 1984 to 1985. He was born in El Paso, Texas, but eventually moved out to California. He was known as the “Night Stalker” because he would break into homes at night, raping and killing his victims. Ramirez got his start early, as he (unsurprisingly) had a rough childhood. His father was known to abuse him, and he spent some time in juvenile detention for petty crimes. He also sustained two major head injuries as a child, having a dresser fall on him and being knocked out by a swing at a park.
However, he was heavily influenced by his cousin Mike, who was a Green Beret who had returned from the war in Vietnam. Mike told Richard graphic stories about the women he raped, tortured, and mutilated, and even showed him photos of him posing with the severed head of one of his victims. Richard was at 12 years old at this time. The two would also smoke marijuana and discuss Satanism together. His Catholic parents did not approve, and Richard grew more and more rebellious. He grew very close to Mike, and was there when Mike shot his wife in the face, killing her. Richard was only 13 when Mike killed his wife.
This troubled upbringing led Ramirez to a life of crime. In 1977, he was placed in juvenile detention for several petty crimes. Later, he got a job at a Holiday Inn where he would rob patrons, but was caught attempting to rape a man’s wife. He was placed on probation in 1982 for possessing marijuana, and was eventually jailed in 1983 for car theft. When he got out a year later, he became a different class of criminal.
On June 28, 1984, Richard Ramirez raped and murdered 79-year-old Jennie Vincow in her own home, which he was burglarizing. Nine months later, he attacked Maria Hernandez, killed her roommate Dayle Okazaki, and killed Tsai Lian Yu. Ten days later, he murdered Vincent Zazzara and Maxine Zazzara. He shot the husband first, then assaulted and stabbed the wife to death, which would become the pattern for his murders. Next, he killed William and Lillie Doi in the same manner. He continued murdering, killing about twelve more in the following two months, and a joint task force was established specifically to find and stop Ramirez.
Since Los Angeles was on the hunt for Ramirez at the time, he moved to San Francisco, where he killed Peter and Barbara Pan (yes, Ramirez murdered Peter Pan). His original nickname was the “Valley Intruder,” but it was changed to the “Night Stalker” after this attack. He returned to Los Angeles after only a few days, where he attacked Bill Carns and Inez Erickson. He shot Carns (nonfatally) and raped Erickson, and a thirteen-year-old boy noticed him and his car, and wrote down as much of the plate as he could. Erickson gave a detailed report to police, and the car he was using was found soon after. Police lifted a fingerprint, and were able to put out his name and mugshot.
Ramirez was caught in East Los Angeles when he was recognized by citizens. His face was plastered everywhere, and people noticed. He was chased down, and attempted to steal several cars, but the group subdued him and gave him a well-deserved beating while they waited for the police to arrive.
Richard Ramirez was sentenced to death in 1989 (he actually received nineteen death sentences) after being charged with thirteen counts of murder, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults, and fourteen burglaries. He was placed in San Quentin Prison, where he remained until his death in 2013. He attempted to appeal for a rehearing in 2006, but the California Supreme Court denied them, upholding his death sentence. He was not executed, however. He died from B-cell lymphoma while at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California.
Richard Ramirez was a prolific, violent, disturbed serial killer. He used guns, knives, fists, whatever he could get his hands on, to violently torture and slaughter his victims. Thankfully, the criminal justice system prevailed eventually, bringing Ramirez to justice and making him pay for his crimes.