Los Angeles is the serial murder capital of the world. It takes a special “twist” to capture headlines in a city where, by autumn 1983, five random slayers were reportedly at large and acting independently of one another. In the summer months of 1985, reporters found their twist and filled front pages with reports of the sinister “Night Stalker,” a sadistic home-invader with a preference for unlocked windows and a taste for savage mutilation.
As the story broke, the Stalker had three weeks of freedom left, but he was bent on making every moment count, and he would claim a minimum of 16 lives before the bitter end.
Unrecognized, the terror had begun a full year earlier, with the murder of a 79-year-old woman at her home in suburban Glassell Park, in June 1984. Police lifted fingerprints from a window screen at the site, but without a suspect the clue led them nowhere.
By February 1985, police had two more murders on their hands, but they were keeping details to themselves. They saw no link, at first, with the abduction of a six-year-old Montebello girl, snatched from a bus stop near her school and carried away in a laundry bag, sexually abused before she was dropped off in Silver Lake on February 25. Two weeks later, on March 11, a nine-year-old girl was kidnapped from her bedroom in Monterey Park, raped by her abductor, and dumped in Elysian Park.
The Stalker reverted from child molestation to murder on March 17, shooting 34-year-old Ts Lian Yu, ambushed near her home in Monterey Park, dragged from her car and shot several times by the attacker. She was pronounced dead the following day, and her killer celebrated his new score by abducting an Eagle Rock girl form her home on the night of March 20, sexually abusing her before he let her go.
The action moved to Whittier on March 27, with 64-year-old Vincent Zazzara beaten to death in his home. Zazzara’s wife, 44-year-old Maxine, was fatally stabbed in the same attack, her eyes carved out and carried from the house by her assailant. The Zazzaras had been dead two days before their bodies were discovered, on March 29, and homicide detectives launched a futile search for clues.
On May 14, 65-year-old William Doi was shot in the head by a man who invaded his home, in Monterey Park. Dying, he staggered to the telephone and dialed an emergency number before he collapsed, thus saving his wife from a lethal assault by the Stalker. Two weeks later, on May 29, 84-year-old Mabel Bell and her sister, 81-year-old Florence Lang, were savagely beaten in their Monrovia home. The Stalker paused to ink Satanic pentagrams on Bell’s body, drawing more on the walls before he departed. Found by a gardener on June 2, Lang would survive her injuries, but Mable Bell was pronounced dead on July 15.
In the meantime, the Night Stalker seemed intent on running up his score. On June 27, 23-year-old Patty Higgins was killed in her home at Arcadia, her throat slashed, and 77-year-old Mary Cannon was slain in identical style, less than two miles away, on July 2. Five days later, 61-year-old Joyce Nelson was beaten to death at her home, in Monterey Park. The killer struck twice on July 20, first invading a Sun Valley home where he killed 32-year-old Chainarong Khovanath, beating and raping the dead man’s wife, battering their eight-year-old son before escaping with $30,000 worth of cash and jewelry. A short time later, Max Kneiding, 69, and his wife Lela, 66, were shot to death in their home in Glendale.
Police were still maintaining silence on the subject of their latest maniac-at-large, but they began to feel the heat on August 6, after 38-year-old Christopher Petersen and his wife Virginia, 27, were critically wounded by gunshots in their Northridge home. Descriptions matched the Stalker, and he struck again on August 8, shooting 35-year-old Elyas Abowath dead in his Diamond Bar home, brutally beating the victim’s wife. That night, authorities announced their manhunt for a killer linked with half a dozen recent homicides, a toll that nearly tripled in the next three weeks, with fresh assaults and new evaluation of outstanding cases.
On August 17, the Stalker deserted his normal hunting ground, gunning down 66-year-old Peter Pan at his home in San Francisco. Pan’s wife was shot and beaten, but she managed to survive her wounds, identifying suspect sketches of the homicidal prowler. By August 22, police had credited the Stalker with a total of 14 murders in California. Three weeks later, in Mission Viejo, he wounded 29-year-old Bill Carns with a shot to the head, then raped his fiancée before escaping in a stolen car. The vehicle was recovered on August 28, complete with a clear set of fingerprints belonging to Richard Ramirez, a 25-year-old drifter from Texas whose L.A. rap sheet included numerous arrests for traffic and drug violations. Acquaintances described Ramirez as an ardent Satanist and long-time drug abuser, obsessed with the mock-Satanic rock band AC/DC. According to reports, Ramirez had adopted one of the group’s songs – “Night Prowler” – as his person anthem, playing it repeatedly, sometimes for hours on end.
An all-points bulletin was issued for Ramirez on August 30, his mug shot broadcast on TV, and he was captured by civilians in East Los Angeles the following day, mobbed and beaten as he tried to steal a car. Police arrived in time to save his life, and by September 29, Ramirez was facing a total of 68 felony charges, including 14 counts of murder and 22 counts of sexual assault. (One of the murder counts was dropped prior to trial, but eight new felonies – including two more rapes and one attempted murder – were added to the list in December 1985).
A sister of Ramirez told the press he wanted to plead guilty, a desire frustrated by his attorneys, but he suspect made no public display of repentance. Sporting a pentagram on the palm of one hand, Ramirez waved to photographers and shouted “Hail Satan!” during a preliminary court appearance. Back in jail, he told a fellow inmate, “I’ve killed twenty people, man. I love all that blood.”
The Night Stalker’s trial was another Los Angeles marathon. Jury selections began on July 22, 1988, but it was September 20, 1989, before jurors convicted him on 13 murder counts and 30 related felonies. Two weeks later, on October 4, the panel recommended execution for Ramirez, and he was formally sentenced to death on November 7, 1989. “You maggots make me sick,” he told the court. “You don’t understand me. I am beyond good and evil. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells in us all.” Outside the courtroom, he told reporters, “Big deal. Death always went with the territory. I’ll see you at Disneyland.”
Subsequently shipped to San Francisco fro trial in the Peter Pan slaying, Ramirez was besieged by female groupies lining up to visit him in jail. The competition for his time, including brawls among his young admirers, so disrupted jailhouse routines that Ramirez was moved to San Quentin in September 1993, awaiting his trial on death row. Upon admission to “Q,” Ramirez was found to have a metal canister hidden in his rectum containing a key and a needle and syringe. In June 1995, the San Francisco prosecution was postponed indefinitely, pending an appellate ruling on his prior conviction, expected sometime in the next millennium.
Richard Ramirez is still sitting on San Quentin’s Death Row. He is still to be tried for the San Francisco murders, pending the appeals of his previous convictions.
“YOU MAGGOTS MAKE ME SICK.
I WILL BE AVENGED
LUCIFER DWELLS WITHIN ALL OF US!”
RICHARD “NIGHT STALKER” RAMIREZ