Richard Ramirez, or as he was better known, The Night Stalker, left Los Angeles paralyzed by fear in the mid 1980s. Before his reign of terror was brought to an end, he had killed at least 14 people, and tortured several others. The life and terror of Richard Ramirez will be done in two parts. This week, we will talk about his childhood and the majority of his crimes. Next week, we will go into the investigation, trail, death, and more.
Ramirez was born on February 29, 1960, in El Paso, Texas. He was the fifth, and youngest, child of Mexican immigrants Mercedes and Julian Ramirez. His four siblings were Robert, Ruth, Joseph, and Ruben. Richard had a rather troubled childhood in Texas. Ramirez sustained several head injuries during his early years. At the age of five, he was knocked unconscious by a swing. After that, he started to experience epileptic seizures. Julian, Richard’s father, worked for the railway and had been a policeman in Mexico. He was also prone to fits of anger that resulted in physical abuse.
In his early teen years, Ramirez was strongly influenced by his older cousin, Miguel. Miguel had recently returned from the Vietnam War, and was a decorated Green Beret. He was most likely the one who introduced Richard to drugs, as the two would smoke marijuana together as Miguel would tell Richard about the torture and mutilation he had inflicted on Vietnamese women. He would back up these stories with photos. In some of the photos, Miguel posed with the severed head of a women he had abused. He would even teach Richard some of his military skills, such as killing with stealth. It was around this time that Richard started to sleep in a local cemetery in order to avoid his father’s violent temper.
On May 4, 1973, Richard was present when his cousin Miguel fatally shot his wife, Jessie, in the face with a .38 caliber revolver during a domestic argument. After this, Richard became withdrawn and sullen from his family and peers. Later that same year, Richard moved in with his sister Ruth, and her husband, Roberto. Roberto was an obsessive “peeping tom” who often took Richard along on his nightly escapades. This was also the time when Richard began using LSD. Miguel would eventually be found not guilty of Jessie’s murder by reason of insanity and was released in 1977 after before incarcerated at the Texas State Mental Hospital. He continued to influence Richard.
The adolescent Ramirez started to meld his new found sexual fantasies with violence, including forced bondage and rape. While he was in school, he took a job a Holiday Inn, where he would use is passkey to rob people. He was fired after he tried to rape a woman in her hotel room before her husband returned to find them. The husband ended up beating Ramirez senseless, but they dropped the charges against them because they did not want to return to testify against him.
Richard never graduated high school, dropping out in ninth grade. Richard was arrest for the first time in 1977 for possession of marijuana. Then at the age of 22, he moved to California. In California, his addiction to cocaine grew, as did his burglaries. He also started to cultivate an interest in Satanism. While in Los Angeles, he was arrest for auto theft twice, once in 1981 and then again in 1984. Around this time, he had also started to neglect his personal hygiene.
Not much else is known about Richard’s childhood, but it is believed that his experiences are what caused him to become a sociopath. Richard had the ability to feel emotions. In fact, that’s what drove his crimes. People often refer a sociopath as a hot-head. They tend to act without thinking about what it could do to others. We all have a tendency to do that, but sociopaths take it too fall. Psychopaths, on the other hand, have no connection to emotions. They are cold-hearted and calculating. Psychopaths need control and will plan out their crimes, much like John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. Richard didn’t do that. Richard acted on impulse. He attacked at random. While his crimes did start taking on a similar process, he didn’t plan out who he was going to kill or how everything was going to happen.
His first crime, which was not connected to him until 2009 after DNA matched him to the crime, took place on April 10, 1984. Ramirez murdered 9-year-old Chinese-American Mei Leung in the basement of the hotel where he was living. He beat and raped the girl before stabbing her to death, and handing her body from a pipe. In 2016, officials announced that there was evidence of a second suspect, identified through DNA sample retrieved from the scene, who is believed to have been present when Leung was murdered. Authorities have not publicly identified the suspect, and said that the person had been a juvenile at the time.
It was the murder of Jennie Vincow on June 28, 1984, that had long been believed to be his first murder. Jennie was found brutally murdered in her apartment in Glassell Park, Los Angeles. He had stabbed her repeatedly as she slept in her bed, and her throat was slashed so deeply that she was nearly decapitated. They found Ramirez’s fingerprint on the mesh screen he moved to gain access through an open window.
It would be a long time before Ramirez attached again. It seemed as though he was able to keep his urges under control for nearly year. But he eventually couldn’t control those urges anymore, and lost control. His murder spree officially started on March 17, 1985.
22-year-old Maria Hernandez was attacked outside of her home in Rosemead, California. She was shot in the face with a .22 caliber handgun after she pulled into her garage. Luckily, the bullet ricocheted off of her keys that she had in her hand as she raised her arms to protect herself. While she was able to survive, her roommate was not so lucky.
Dayle Yoshie Okazaki, age 34, heard the gunshot from outside the house and ducked behind a counter when she saw Ramirez walk into the kitchen. When Dayle finally raised her head to see if Ramirez was there, he shot her once in the forehead, killing her.
Ramirez wasn’t finished for the night, though. Within just an hour of the Rosemead home invasion, Ramirez pulled 30-year-old Tsai-Lian “Veronica” Yu out of her car in Monterey Park. He then shot her twice with a .22 caliber handgun, and fled the scene. She was pronounce dead upon arrival at the hospital. Two murders and an attempted murder all in one day attracted quite a bit of news coverage. Thanks to Maria, they also had a description of the attacker. The media said he had curly-hair, bulging eyes, and wide-spaced, rotting teeth. They dubbed him “The Valley Intruder” and “The Walk-in Killer.”
After only ten days, on March 27th, Ramirez struck again. He entered a home that he had burglarized a year earlier just outside of Whittier at around 2 in the morning and killed the sleeping Vincent Charles Zazzara, age 64. He was shot in the head with a .22. Maxine, Vincent’s wife, aged 44, was awakened by the gunshot. Ramirez beat her and bound her hands as he demanded to know where her valuables were. While he ransacked the room, Maxine was able to get out of her bonds and got a shotgun from under the bed, but it wasn’t loaded. This made Richard angry and he shot her three times with the .22. He then got a large carving knife and mutilated her body by stabbing her several times, gouged out her eyes, and placed them in a jewelry box, and then left with the jewelry box. The autopsy found that the mutilations had happened after she had been killed. The couple’s son, Peter, found their bodies. Ramirez left behind footprints from his Avia sneakers in their flower bed, which turned out to be one of the best leads the police had. The bullets found at the scene were matched to those found at the other attacks.
A little over a month later, on May 14th, Ramirez returned to Monterey park and entered the home of Bill Doi, 66, and Lillian, 56. Ramirez surprised Doi in his bedroom and shot him in the face with his .22 semi-automatic pistol as Doi reached for his own gun. After beating the mortally wounded man unconscious, Ramirez entered Lillian’s room. He bound her with thumbcuffs, and then raped her after he ransacked the house looking for valuable. Bill died later at the hospital from his wounds.
On May 29th, Richard drove a stolen car to Monrovia, and stopped at 83-year-old Mabel Bell’s house that she shared with her sister, Florence Lang, 81. He found a hammer in the kitchen. He bound Lang in her bedroom and bludgeoned her with the hammer. He then did the same to Bell. He then took an electrical cord and shocked Bell. After he raped Lang, he used Bell’s lipstick to draw a pentagram symbol on her thigh and on the walls of the bedrooms. They were found two days later, alive but comatose. Bell would later die from her injuries.
The next day, Ramirez drove to Burbank in the same car, and snuck into the home of Carol Kyle, 42. At gunpoint, he bound Kyle and her 11-year-old son with handcuffs, then he ransacked the house. He release Kyle momentarily so that she could show him where their valuables were, and then he raped her repeatedly. Ramirez repeatedly told her not to look at him, saying that he would “cut her eyes out.” He left after he took the child out of the closet and bound the two together.
After just over a month, on July 2nd, he took a stolen car to Arcadia, and randomly chose the house of Mary Louis Cannon, 75. After he entered her home, he found her asleep. He bludgeoned her into unconsciousness using a lamp, and then stabbed her with a 10-inch butcher knife.
On July 5th, Ramirez broke into a house in Sierra Madres and bludgeoned 16-year-old Whitney Bennett using a tire iron as she slept. He looked for a knife, but after he couldn’t find one, he tried to strangle her with a telephone cord. He later said that he was surprised to see electrical sparks come from the cord, and then when she started to breathe, he left thinking that Jesus had intervened. Bennett did survive, but required 478 stitches to close the lacerations on her scalp.
On July 7th, Ramirez broke into the house of Joyce Lucille Nelson, 60, in Monterey Park. She was asleep on the couch. Ramirez beat her to death using his fists and kicking her in the head. They found his Avia shoe print on her face. He cruised two other neighborhoods, but returned to Monterey Park and broke into the house 63-year-old Sophie Dickman. Ramirez handcuffed and assaulted Dickman at gunpoint, tried to rape her, and stole her jewelry. When she swore that he had taken everything of value, he told her to “swear to Satan.”
On July 20th, Ramirez bought a machete before he drove his stolen Toyota to Glendale. There he broke into the house of Lela Kneiding, 66, and her husband Maxon, 68. He hacked the couple with the machete, and then killed them with shots to the head from a .22 caliber handgun. He mutilated their bodies even more with the machete before he robbed them. He fenced the stolen items, and then drove to Sun Valley.
At around 4:15 in the morning, he broke into the Khovananth’s home. He shot Chainarong, who was sleeping, killing him instantly. He then beat and raped Somkid. He bound the couple’s terrified 8-year-old son before he dragged Somkid around the house to show him where their valuables were. He again told her to “swear to Satan” that she wasn’t hiding anything from him.
On August 6th, he drove to Northridge and broke into the home of Chris and Virginia Peterson. When he eased into the bedroom, he startled Virginia, 27, and then shot her in the face with a .25 caliber semi-automatic handgun. He then shot Chris in the next, and tried to flee. However, Chris was able to fight back while avoiding getting hit by tow more shots during their struggle before Ramirez escaped. Both survived their injuries.
On August 8th, Ramirez headed to Diamond Bar, California and broke into the house of Sakina and Elyas Abowath. Sometime after 2:30, he entered the master bedroom. He killed the sleeping Elyas with a shot to the head. He handcuffed and beat Sakina and then forced her to reveal where the family’s jewelry was, and then he brutally raped her. He told her several times to “swear to Satan” that she wouldn’t scream during the assault. When the three-year-old entered the bedroom, Ramirez tied the child up and continued to rape Sakina. After Ramirez left, Sakina untied her son and sent him over to the neighbors to get help.
Ramirez was keeping track of the media coverage of his crimes, and headed to San Francisco. On August 18th, he broke into the home of Peter and Barbara Pan. He shot Peter, and then beat and rapes Barbara, before he shot her in the head and leaving her for dead. Before he left, Ramirez used lipstick to draw a pentagram and the phrase “Jack the Knife” on the bedroom wall. He left behind a shoe print at the scene.
Ramirez then headed back to Los Angeles on August 24th. That night, he went to the home of James Romero Jr, who had just gotten back from a family vacation. Romero’s son, 13-year-old James III, happened to be awake and heard Ramirez walking round outside. Believeing that there was a prowler, James went to wake his parents. Ramirez fled. James ran outside and saw the color, make, and style of the car, and partial plat number. Romero contacted the police.
After this, Ramirez broke into the house of Bill Carns and his fiancés Inez Erickson. He entered their bedroom and when he cocked his gun he awakened Carns. He shot him three times in the head before turning his attention to Erickson. Ramirez told her he was the “Night Stalker” and made her swear that she loved Satan as he beat her and bound her with neckties. After he stole whatever he could find, Ramirez dragged Erickson to a different room before he raped her. He demanded more cash and jewelry, and told her to “swear to Satan” that there was no more. Before he left, Ramirez told her, “Tell them the Night Stalker was here.” She untied herself and went to the neighbors to get help. Carns survived his injuries.
That brings us to the end of Ramirez’s known killings. While he was only really active between April and August of 1985, he left his mark on Los Angeles.