Born in El Paso, Texas, on February 29, 1960, Richard Ramirez was an American serial killer who over a two-year rampage raped and tortured more than 25 victims and murdered more than a dozen—most of them in their own homes. Dubbed the "Night Stalker," Ramirez was turned on to Satanic worship at an early age by his cousin, a soldier who had recently returned from the war in Vietnam. Following a four-year trial, in 1989, Ramirez was convicted of 13 killings. He received the death penalty and was sent to San Quentin Prison in California. He died on June 7, 2013, at age 53.
Richard Ramirez was born Ricardo Leyva Muñoz Ramírez on February 29, 1960, in El Paso, Texas, the youngest of seven children born to Mercedes and Julian Ramírez, a Mexican American railway worker. Known as Richard or Ricky, Ramirez had a troubled childhood and was heavily influenced by his older cousin, a Green Beret named Mike who had recently returned from fighting in the Vietnam War. Mike told Ramirez fascinating stories about the torture and mutilation he had inflicted on several Vietnamese women, corroborating these stories with horrific Polaroid pictures.
The two also discussed Satanic worship and smoked marijuana together, and Ramirez's teenage rebellion led him to commit petty crimes to fuel his drug habit, which further alienated him from his Catholic parents. As a result, he spent even more time with his cousin. When Mike murdered his wife, Ramirez was present, sowing the final developmental seeds for the future serial killer.
Ramirez's criminal record began in 1977, when he was placed in juvenile detention for a string of petty crimes. He also received a probationary sentence in 1982 for marijuana possession. He soon moved to San Francisco, California, and then to Los Angeles, progressing to cocaine addiction and burglary, and cultivating an interest in weapons and Satanism. A car theft charge in 1983 led to a jail sentence. The following year, Ramirez was released from jail a conscienceless, Satanic criminal with poor hygiene, rotten teeth and no prospects.
Theft turned to violence in 1984. Ramirez's first known murder took place on June 28, 1984; his victim was 79-year-old Jennie Vincow, who was viciously sexually assaulted, stabbed and murdered during a burglary in her own home. What followed was a spree of brutal murders, rapes and robberies, leaving more than 25 victims in its wake.
Ramirez's second known killing occurred nearly nine months after his first. On March 17, 1985, he attacked Maria Hernandez, who managed to escape him, and then killed her roommate, Dayle Okazaki. Not satisfied with these assaults, he also shot and killed Tsai Lian Yu the same evening, spurring a media frenzy that saw Ramirez dubbed the "Valley Intruder" by the press.
Just 10 days later, on March 27, Ramirez murdered 64-year-old Vincent Zazzara and Zazzara's 44-year-old wife, Maxine, using an attack style that would become a pattern for the killer: The husband was shot first, then the wife was brutally assaulted and stabbed to death. In this case, Ramirez also gouged out Maxine Zazzara's eyes.
A full-scale police operation yielded no concrete results, and Ramirez repeated his attack pattern on pensioners William and Lillie Doi in April 1985. Over the next two months, his murder rate escalated rapidly, claiming another dozen victims in a frenzy of burglary, assault and brutal violence—complete with Satanic rituals—and driving Los Angeles into a panic. After the press demanded that the police do more to catch the killer, a dedicated task force comprised of hundreds of law-enforcement officers was established, and the FBI stepped in to assist.
This relentless media and police pressure, aided with photo-fit descriptions from his surviving victims, forced Ramirez to leave the L.A. area that August. He moved north to San Francisco, taking his first victims there, Peter and Barbara Pan, on August 17. His unmistakable MO, complete with Satanic symbolism, meant that his "Valley Intruder" moniker was no longer applicable, so the press quickly coined a new name for the criminal: the "Night Stalker," as most of his assaults took place at night in his victims' homes.
Final Murder and Capture
Ramirez's next—and final—attack, on August 24, 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." National television and print media coverage featuring his prison photo, along with a series of clues from witnesses and survivors, led to Ramirez's capture on August 30, after he was badly beaten by East L.A. residents while attempting a carjacking and police were called to the scene.
Trial, Conviction and Sentencing
Ramirez claimed that he has been mistakenly identified and did everything possible to delay the onset of the trial, which saw him charged with 14 murders and 31 other felonies in connection to his killing spree. Because 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, some of the charges against Ramirez were dropped in order to expedite what was becoming a long journey to justice.
Almost three years after his apprehension, on July 22, 1988, the jury selection process began. 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, cult-like following—many of whom were black-clad Satan worshipers—who appeared daily at his trial. One of his supporters was Doreen Lioy, whom he married while serving time in prison. Further unsettling the jury was Ramirez's own nonchalant behavior.
Yet another delay occurred when one juror was found murdered on August 14, 1989, but rumors that Ramirez had orchestrated her death proved unfounded. On September 20, 1989, the jury finally returned a unanimous guilty verdict on 43 charges, including 13 counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, 11 sexual assault charges and 14 burglary charges.
On November 7, 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." He was subsequently transferred to San Quentin Prison in California.
Following his conviction, Ramirez was linked to several more vicious crimes, most recently in 2009, when a DNA sample connected him with the April 10, 1984, rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in San Francisco
After 23 years on death row, Richard Ramirez died on June 7, 2013, at the age of 53, from complications related to B-cell lymphoma. According to San Quentin corrections officers, Ramirez's death came shortly after he was taken to Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California.
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