The history of California is never complete without the story of Richard Ramirez. For in criminal history, there once existed a malevolent figure, a predator whose very name sent shivers down the spine of the California populace.
Ricardo “Richard” Leyva Muñoz Ramirez, a man of many chilling nicknames—known as the Night Stalker, the Walk-In Killer, and the Valley Intruder—came to embody the darkest of nightmares. His sinister reign of terror unfolded in the sprawling expanse of the San Gabriel Valley, casting an ominous pall over the sun-drenched streets of carefree California.
An upbringing marred by relentless abuse at the hands of his father left scars that festered deep within his psyche. A dark mentor in the form of an older cousin introduced him to the macabre, initiating him into the twisted realm of military tactics that would soon become the tools of his trade.
Yet, there was more to Ramirez’s descent into darkness; he delved deep into the abyss of Satanism and the occult, embracing their sinister doctrines with an unwavering zeal.
At 22, Ramirez departed his Texas home, seeking refuge in the enigmatic allure of California’s palm-lined boulevards. Cocaine became his companion, a sinister confidant that fueled his insatiable hunger for chaos. Burglaries became his means to an end, a sordid quest to sustain his addiction, but these criminal forays often descended into blood-soaked nightmares.
In the eerie wake of his crimes lay a trail of murders, attempted murders, rapes, attempted rapes, and savage assaults.
The Night Stalker’s nefarious odyssey reached its zenith as he infiltrated the homes of unsuspecting victims, leaving a swath of terror in his wake. Greater Los Angeles recoiled in fear, and soon, the malevolence spread, seeping into the very heart of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Over a harrowing fourteen-month span, Ramirez’s reign of terror seemed unrelenting, with each new attack more chilling than the last. Yet, his reign of terror had its roots in a crime as early as April 1984, a prelude hidden from public knowledge until 2009.
Ramirez was a master of malevolence, wielding an array of weapons that included handguns, knives of every description, a merciless machete, a tire iron, and a grotesque claw hammer. His victims suffered unspeakable horrors, enduring beatings, strangulation, and even torture by live electrical currents.
But Ramirez reveled not only in the brutality of his acts but also in the degradation of his victims, forcing them to proclaim allegiance to Satan or to swear upon the devil’s name.
But he was finally caught. Thirteen counts of murder, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults, and fourteen burglaries were a testament to his depravity. The presiding judge, faced with the enormity of Ramirez’s crimes, could only describe them as “cruelty, callousness, and viciousness beyond any human understanding.”
As the world watched and waited, Ramirez died on June 7, 2013. Complications from B-cell lymphoma claimed his life, but justice remained elusive, for he departed this world while awaiting the reckoning that the state of California had deemed just —capital punishment.
The Beginning of Richard Ramirez
Warning: The following images and descriptions are not for the faint of heart. Reader and viewer discretion is advised.
Richard Ramirez was born in the Texan city of El Paso on the rarest of days, February 29, 1960. He emerged as the youngest of five siblings, born to the union of Julián and Mercedes Ramirez. Julián, a Mexican national, had a turbulent past, having once served as a Ciudad Juárez policeman before transitioning into the ranks of laborers on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway.
However, behind his facade lurked a dark side—an affliction of alcoholism that fueled his volatile temper, unleashing it upon his family in waves of abusive violence.
In the crucible of his tumultuous household, it was Julián’s shadow that young Ricardo found himself ensnared. The poisoned chalice of alcohol and the seductive lure of marijuana cast their wicked spell upon him at the age of 10 as he embarked on a harrowing journey into the abyss of addiction.
Ramirez’s older cousin was a Green Beret who served in the American Army. Miguel “Mike” Ramirez was not a positive role model. He frequently discussed his service in the Vietnam War with Ramirez. Mike boasted about his numerous war crimes in addition to telling combat anecdotes. He even went so far as to present him with Polaroid pictures of the Vietnamese women he had raped, killed, and either decapitated or mutilated. The idea captivated Ramirez.
He learned some of Mike’s military techniques from him, such as how to blend into the background and be unobtrusive, especially at night. He used those abilities to flee his abusive family and start sleeping in a nearby graveyard.
Ramirez and his wife, Jessie, quarreled on May 4, 1973, while he was visiting his cousin. Like many others, the disagreement descended into violence, and Mike shot Jessie in the face to stop it. As a witness, you may have anticipated Ramirez to be appalled and disturbed, but that wasn’t the case.
Instead, he was mesmerized. In actuality, his increased withdrawal was the only noticeable alteration.
Due to his insanity, Mike was judged not guilty of shooting Jessie, and the shooting was blamed on his PTSD from his time in Vietnam. He was checked in at the Texas State Mental Hospital, as he was considered a threat to himself and society.
Richard soon moved in with Ruth, his older sister, and Roberto, her husband. Ramirez had no trouble accompanying Roberto, an obsessive “peeping tom,” as he searched for ladies to spy on. In 1977, Mike was allowed to leave the mental hospital, and he joined the other two men in their antics.
Ramirez started using LSD frequently when he was 14 and became interested in Satanism and the occult. He started having violent, rape-related, forced bondage/BDSM, and murder-related sexual fantasies.
Things started to get heated when he accepted a job at a nearby Holiday Hotel. He had access to unwitting victims there. He robbed guests using his passkey. He abused two children in a lift at least once, but the awful event was unreported, and as a result, no charges were ever brought against him.
One night, he broke into a woman’s room to rape her, but the woman’s husband stopped him. He was detained and lost his job. However, the couple’s refusal to travel back to Texas to testify resulted in the withdrawal of the charges.
Richard Ramirez decided to leave school in the ninth grade rather than complete high school.
He moved to California in 1982, when he was 22 years old, where he first learned about cocaine. He turned to stealing and burglary because he led a nomadic lifestyle between San Francisco and Los Angeles and needed to support a new addiction. But those crimes could only please him to a certain extent.
The Night Stalker, was beginning to form.
The Crimes of Richard Ramirez
Ramirez committed his first known homicide in April 1984 while residing in an apartment complex in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.
Mei Leung, a Chinese-American child, age 9, and her brother, age 8, were found by Ramirez. When he approached the young girl, he instructed her to join him in the basement to search for a misplaced $1 bill. He battered, strangled, and raped the victim there before killing her with a switchblade.
Then, the depraved man used her blouse to suspend her partially naked body from a pipe.
Mei Leung was associated with Richard Ramirez in 2009 when DNA from the crime scene finally matched him to one of his victims after first not being thought of as one. A second DNA sample was found at the scene of her death, although authorities have not yet identified the perpetrator.
Jennie Vincow, 79, was discovered brutally killed in her flat in Glassell Park, Los Angeles, on June 28, 1984. The victim, who was resting on her bed, had repeatedly been stabbed in the head, neck, and chest. Her throat had been cut so deeply that she was almost headless.
A fingerprint discovered on a mesh screen removed to enter through an open window was among the evidence discovered at the scene.
Uncovering the third victim happened on March 17, 1985. Maria Hernandez, 22, had been attacked in Rosemead, California, outside her house. Once Maria pulled into her garage, a 22-caliber handgun shot her in the face. Amazingly, she made it through.
As he discharged the rifle, she raised her hands to defend herself. She was holding keys as the bullet whizzed by them.
Maria pretended to be dead till he departed. Dayle Yoshie Okazaki, Maria’s flatmate inside the house, hid behind a counter when she saw Ramirez enter the kitchen. She protruded to see what was happening and was shot in the forehead. She died right away.
Yet, he wasn’t done. Ramirez found Tsai-Lian “Veronica” Yu in her car in Monterey Park within an hour. He took her out of the car, used the 22 handgun to shoot her twice, and left. When she got to the hospital, she was already dead.
Richard Ramirez made headline news for the two murders and attempted murder. He had “curly hair, bulging eyes, and wide-spaced, decaying teeth,” according to the description. He was known as “The Valley Intruder” and “The Walk-in Killer.”
His varied victimology made fear even worse. There were both young and old people. A few guys and a few women. He didn’t seem to select his victims based on their race. Also, he didn’t always employ the same tool.
Ten days later, on March 27, at around 2 a.m., he broke into a house in Whittier, California. He was already reasonably familiar with this house because he had burglarized it approximately a year before. He came across Vincent Charles Zazzara, 64, inside. Ramirez used a 22-caliber handgun to shoot the victim in the head as he dozed off.
Maxine Levenia Zazzara, Vincent’s wife, was the next to be awakened by the gunshot. He demanded to know where her possessions were while beating and binding her. Maxine could escape her restraints and swiftly obtained a shotgun from beneath the bed while he investigated the room.
Sadly, the shotgun was not loaded.
Ramirez shot her three times in a fit of rage before going to get a big carving knife from the kitchen. He stabbed her multiple times and chose to further dismember her by taking out her eyes, which he later put in a jewelry box before fleeing. During his arrest, the police discovered the box containing the eyes, which had been stored as a memento.
Peter, the couple’s son, found Vincent and Maxine’s bodies. Investigators in the flower beds discovered footprints from a pair of Via trainers; they were captured on camera and cast. No evidence other than bullets were found at the location consistent with Ramirez’s earlier attacks.
The authorities in California were dealing with a serial killer at this point.
Ramirez broke into the house of 66-year-old Bill Doi and his 56-year-old disabled wife, Lillian, on May 14, 1985. He shot the older guy as he reached for his gun, using a 22 semi-automatic pistol, surprising Bill in his bedroom. Ramirez entered and beat him till he was knocked out but still alive before turning to Lillian.
Ramirez discovered Lillian in her chamber, shackled her with thumbcuffs, and then raped her. Before leaving, he searched the house for valuables. Bill Doi later passed away in the hospital from his wounds.
He stole a car on May 29, 1985, and traveled to Monrovia before stopping at the home of 83-year-old Mabel “Ma” Bell and her 81-year-old crippled sister, Florence “Nettie” Lang. Ramirez used the hammer he had discovered in the kitchen to beat Nettie in her bedroom before tying her up.
He gagged Ma and beat her, then shocked her with an electrical cord.
The Satanic pentagram sign was then painted on Nettie’s thigh and the walls of both bedrooms after he raped her.
He did not murder the women; they were discovered unconscious and seriously hurt two days later. Ma ultimately succumbed to her wounds in the hospital.
The following day, Ramirez discovered himself in Burbank, where he broke into the residence of Carol Kyle, 42. He handcuffed her and her son, who was then 11 years old, before searching the home for valuables.
Unhappy with what he discovered, he let Carol lead the way to the jewels before repeatedly raping her.
Ramirez told Carol not to look at him. He threatened to “rip her eyes out,” according to her. He handcuffed Carole to her son and then departed the scene.
The home of Mary Louise Cannon, who was 75 years old, was chosen at random by Ramirez to be the target of his subsequent attack on July 2, 1985, after he had driven a stolen automobile to Arcadia. She was sound asleep in her bedroom when he silently entered her house.
He used a lamp to knock her out, then a 10-inch butcher knife from her kitchen to stab her to death.
He stabbed her repeatedly even though he knew she was already dead.
He broke into a residence in Sierra Madre three days later, on July 5, and beat 16-year-old Whitney Bennett while she slept in her room using a tire iron. He looked around the kitchen for a knife, but when he couldn’t find one, he returned and tried to choke her with a phone chord.
Ramirez fled, thinking that Jesus Christ had saved her, when sparks started to come from the cable, and Whiteny started to breathe. Whitney survived the brutal attack, but her scalp wounds required 478 stitches to heal.
On July 7, two days later, Ramirez discovered himself at the Monterey Park house of Joyce Lucille Nelson, 60. He discovered Joyce dozing off on the couch in her living room and started repeatedly stomping on her face to beat her to death.
The investigators discovered an Avia trainer’s shoe print on her face.
But he wasn’t finished for the evening; he continued and drove through two more communities before heading back to Monterey Park, where he picked Sophie Dickman’s house, a 63-year-old woman, as his next target.
At gunpoint, Sophie was attacked and restrained by Richard Ramirez. He stole her valuables and tried to rape her. He instructed her to “swear on Satan” when she vowed that he had taken everything of value from her.
The following day, police discovered a stolen Toyota they thought the murderer had been using. No fingerprints were found inside the automobile, but they did discover a business card for a nearby Chinatown dentist. They learned their suspect had been there just five days earlier when they visited the dentist’s office.
Their suspect used the pseudonym “Richard Mena” and a false address. In an effort to assist, the dentist supplied the police with Ramirez’s x-rays, which revealed an impacted tooth. It was nearly certain that their suspect would show up again.
Two of the investigators’ own detectives were stationed in the waiting area to observe the dental office, hoping to apprehend their murderer when he returned. Their department quickly removed the detectives after realizing it was a waste of money, but not before setting off an alarm in the office in case he returned.
Ramirez returned the day after the detectives were expelled from the workplace. Their suspect eluded them because the alarm wasn’t working properly.
On July 20, 1985, he bought a machete and drove a stolen Toyota to Glendale, California. There, he discovered the residence of Lela Kneiding, 66, and Maxon Kneiding, 68. He broke into their house, entered their bedroom while sleeping, and attacked them with a machete.
He used the 22 caliber handgun to kill the couple by shooting them in the head.
He took the time to further mutilate their bodies with the machete before robbing them and running to Sun Valley, satisfying his passion for the macabre.
He entered the family Khovananth’s home at 4:15 in the morning. He initially came across a sleeping Chainarong Khovananth, killing him instantaneously with a headshot from a.25 calibre revolver.
Then, after tying up the couple’s 8-year-old son and dragging Somkid Khovananth throughout the house to expose any valuables, he encountered Somkid Khovananth, whom he brutally raped. He insisted that she “swear to Satan” that she was not trying to hide any money from him during the assault.
He traveled to Northridge on August 6, 1985, and broke into Chris and Virginia Peterson’s house. He discovered 27-year-old Virginia in the bedroom, startled her, and then shot her with a 25-calibre semi-automatic weapon.
He ran into Chris, shot him in the neck, and tried to escape. Chris, though, wasn’t going down without a fight. When Ramirez was eventually able to flee, he was shot twice more and fought back to avoid being hit. The pair made it.
Ramirez had lost his composure. Two days later, he used a stolen car to travel to Diamond Bar, California, and this time targeted the residence of Sakina Abowath, 27, and her husband, Elyas Abowath, 31. He went directly to the master bedroom after entering the house sometime after 2:30 in the morning. He fired a 25 caliber revolver shot to the head, instantly killing Elyas.
He then handcuffed Sakina and thrashed her until she confessed where the family’s valuables were hidden. Then he sexually assaulted her. He commanded her to “swear on Satan” once more that she wouldn’t scream while he was attacking her. Ramirez tied up the couple’s 3-year-old son after he entered the bedroom and resumed raping Sakina.
He did not kill her or her son. Sakina released her kid after he left and told him to go ask for assistance from the neighbors.
On August 18, he discovered his subsequent victims near San Francisco. He went inside the house of Barbara, 62, and Peter Pan, 66, his wife. He didn’t spend any time killing Peter in the bedroom by shooting him once in the temple with a.25 caliber revolver.
Before shooting Barbara in the head and leaving her for dead, he sexually raped her. Before leaving, he wrote “Jack the Knife” and a pentagram on the bedroom wall with lipstick.
A shoe print from an Avia trainer was discovered by investigators on the spot. When they contacted the Avia shoe manufacturer, they learned that the particular pair of shoes was unusual at the time.
Furthermore, tracking based on the scale of the show revealed that there were only six pairs in the country, five of which had been transported to sites in Arizona and the sixth to a shoe store in Los Angeles.
They investigated more since there was only one pair of that particular shoe and size in the entire state of California. The San Francisco police found that the shoe print evidence they had was consistent with the crimes in Los Angeles.
Then-mayor of San Francisco, Dianne Feinstein, held a broadcast press conference in an effort to inform the public. She let the public know all they knew, even the type and size of shoes and the gun’s caliber. She had no idea that the murderer would be glued to the news.
Ramirez seized the chance to remove any evidence connecting him to the crime. He spent just a few more days there before leaving for Los Angeles, leaving his size 11.5 Avia trainers hanging over the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. He hadn’t yet finished.
He snatched an orange Toyota on August 24 and drove 76 miles from Los Angeles to Mission Viejo. He arrived at James Romero Jr.’s house that evening. The Romero family had recently returned from a trip to Mexico when James’s 13-year-old son walked outside to get a pillow from their truck that night when everyone was asleep.
He stepped outside after hearing a rustling sound and believing it was an animal. He dismissed it and headed into the garage in search of something else.
Then he heard footsteps and peered out his bedroom window to see someone. He went right away to wake up his folks. Ramirez ran away, but not before James noted the car’s color, manufacture, style, and partial number plate number. Because he believed he had just come across a thief, he called the police.
Ramirez was not deterred by the close call with capture and ended up at the residence of Bill Carns, 30, and Inez Erickson, 29, who are engaged. He entered the couple’s bedroom through the rear door. Ramirez’s cocking sound of his. 25-caliber revolver roused Bill up. He had little time to react before being shot three times in the head.
He turned on Inez, calling himself the “Night Stalker,” making her vow she loved Satan, beating her, and tying her up with knots he pulled out of the closet. Before starting to rape Inez, he collected all the jewels he could locate. She was then required to “swear on Satan” that there was no more before he demanded more money and jewels.
“Inform them the Night Stalker was here,” Ramirez instructed her before he left the house.
Inez struggled to free herself as soon as he left before rushing to a neighbor’s house for assistance. Doctors could remove two of the three bullets lodged in Bill’s head when he was taken urgently to the hospital.
He got by.
Inez was in a position to provide authorities with a thorough description of her attacker.
Police discovered a footprint at the Romero residence, but did not match the Avia shoe from earlier crime scenes. The stolen Toyota was discovered in Koreatown in Los Angeles four days later.
The Error of Richard Ramirez
Despite Ramirez’s best efforts, he missed a location when wiping down the automobile, and police discovered a single fingerprint on the rear-view mirror. Richard Ramirez, who had been detained multiple times for traffic and illegal drug infractions, was recognized from that fingerprint.
Because the system they used to identify Ramirez had only recently been created and only had the fingerprints of convicts born after January 1, 1960, investigators deemed Ramirez’s identification from his print a “near miracle.” Ramirez, as previously mentioned, was born in February 1960.
On August 29, police made Ramirez’s 1984 arrest mugshot public. They declared, “We know who you are now, and soon everyone else will,” at a news conference. “You won’t be able to hide anywhere.”
Ramirez traveled to Tucson, Arizona, by bus on August 30 to see his brother. He was unaware that his image had been featured prominently in every major newspaper and television news program in California because he had not watched the news. The police guarded the bus terminal when he arrived back in Los Angeles the following morning, but he went straight past them.
Ramirez nonchalantly strolled by a gathering of elderly Spanish women who were frightenedly referring to him as “el matador” or “the killer.” However, he was still unaware that he had been identified.
Then, he saw a newspaper with his face on it, panicked, and ran.
He tried to take an unlocked Ford Mustang, but an indignant local, Faustino Pinon, pulled him out. He took off running again, this time across the street, where he attempted to steal Angelina De La Torre’s car keys but failed when her husband Manuel saw the move and whacked him in the head with a fence post.
The hunt started after calling the authorities. He was followed around the city by a helicopter and seven police cars. More than ten locals pursued him down Boyle Heights’ Hubbard Street. They knocked him out and forced him to the ground. When the cops showed up there, they arrested him.
The Trial of the Night Stalker
The trial’s jury selection process started on July 22, 1988. When Ramirez appeared in court for the first time, he lifted his hand and drew a pentagram. “Hail Satan!” he cried. That was only the start of what would turn out to be a challenging trial.
The prosecutor would be shot using a gun that Ramirez planned to smuggle into the courtroom, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times on August 3, 1988. A metal detector was placed outside as a safety measure, and everyone who entered was checked.
One of the jurors was absent on August 14. She was later discovered in her flat, shot to death. The jurors were so terrified that they started worrying about their safety. They wondered if Ramirez had managed to kill her from within the jail. Yet an inquiry revealed that Ramirez had nothing to do with her death. In actuality, her lover took the blame and later killed himself in a motel.
Richard Ramirez was found guilty of thirteen counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, eleven counts of sexual assault, and fourteen counts of burglary on September 20, 1989, just over a year later.
Patty Elaine Higgins, 32, was murdered at her Arcadia home, and he was initially accused of her homicide. She was murdered on June 27, 1985, but it wasn’t until July 2, when she failed to show up for work, that her death was found.
Her throat had been cut in addition to being sodomised. The charges in this case were dismissed because there was no concrete evidence connecting him to the crime.
Also, he admitted to killing Christina and Mary Caldwell twice after they were discovered stabbed to death on February 20, 1985. He boasted to his fellow prisoners that he had slain “more than 20 individuals.”
On November 7, 1989, Richard Ramirez received a death sentence in a gas chamber in California. He seemed unconcerned. In reality, he told reporters after the sentence: “Big deal. Death was always a part of life. We’ll meet up at Disneyland.”
Ramirez was a “manufactured” psychopath rather than a “born” psychopath, according to psychiatrist Michael H. Stone, supporting the “nature vs. nurture” debate. He claimed that Ramirez’s schizoid personality disorder was a factor in his failure to receive treatment and his indifference to the pain of his victims.
Stone claimed that the violence from his father had caused him to be knocked unconscious and come close to death numerous times before he turned six. As a result, hypersexuality, aggression, and temporal lobe epilepsy were formed.
Richard Ramirez attracted a female fan base, however. Several people visited him in prison in addition to writing him letters. Ramirez got engaged to Doreen Lioy in 1988 after she regularly began to correspond with him. On October 3, 1996, the pair married inside San Quentin State Prison.
After DNA evidence showed that Lioy had raped and killed 9-year-old Mei Leung in 2009, she divorced him. Others, though, continued to vie for his attention. By the time of his passing in 2013, he was once more engaged, this time to a writer who was 23 years old.
His death sentence was postponed due to the appeals process, and he passed away on June 7, 2013, at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California, due to problems related to B-cell lymphoma, many years before he would have been put to death. Also, according to medical sources, he suffered from “chronic substance misuse and chronic hepatitis C virus infection.”
RIP Victims. Burn in hell, Ramirez.
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