In a time when serial killers were becoming household names, Richard Ramirez turned everything we knew about this breed of killer on its head. He was a mix of a serial killer, mass murderer, spree killer, and home intruder all wrapped up into one vicious and unpredictable killer. Netflix is currently streaming the documentary Night Stalker which chronicles Ramirez’s crimes up until his capture and death.
Richard Ramirez — also known as The Night Stalker — terrified Los Angeles during the first half of 1985.
Ramirez went against everything the criminal justice system knew about serial killers at the time. Unlike Bundy, Ramirez preyed on many different types of victims. Unlike most serial killers, Ramirez did not have one perfect type of victim. He raped women of all ages, sexually molested children of both genders, and killed men.
Ramirez also did not have a weapon of choice. The Night Stalker used guns, kitchen knives from the victims’ homes, and even a machete. He was also an opportunist when it came to finding items used to bludgeon his victims.
Ramirez would commonly steal jewelry and valuables after assaulting or killing the homeowner. He would then brazenly help himself to their refrigerator.
Finding an Identity Among the Media
The only common thread among Ramirez’s crimes was that he broke into these homes while the residents were asleep. This consistent trait lead to many different nicknames from the media: “The Walk-In Killer,” “The Valley Intruder,” and finally “The Night Stalker.”
Not having a signature M.O. to link the crimes together, it took a while before the LAPD realized all of these crimes were being committed by the same individual.
Once the LAPD knew they were looking for the same man, another problem arose: notoriety. LA is a patchwork of different counties and departments; since not all of the crimes took place in the same jurisdiction, it almost became a competition to see who was going to catch the notorious Night Stalker.
Ramirez was coming off of the heels of the recent capture of The Hillside Strangers — Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono — in 1978. Once captured, it became known that Ramirez idolized Bianchi. Since the arrest of the Hillside Strangers, police were becoming more familiar with the rare breed of killer — and the fame that accompanied it.
Lack of Communication Among the Police
Once the boys in blue knew they were looking for a serial killer, they each wanted to be the department to bring him to justice. This machismo made the police reluctant to share information with other departments, which only made the capture of Ramirez more difficult and drawn out.
While the different precincts didn’t necessarily want to cooperate with others, Ramirez’s capture inevitably came down to good police work. Ramirez had two pieces of evidence that worked strongly against him.
First, Ramirez wore a rare and signature sneaker that was found at many crime scenes: Avia. The second piece of evidence was a single fingerprint lifted from a car that the Night Stalker had stolen. With that particular fingerprint, the LAPD finally had an ID after matching it to his previous rap sheet.
Finally The Night Stalker is Identified
The morning of August 31, 1985, Richard Ramirez discovered that he was the headline of every major newspaper in the city. His mug shot stared back at him at every newsstand and convenience store. It was the beginning of the end for Ramirez.
Ramirez tried to board a bus leaving the LA area, but realized that at least one fellow rider on the bus recognized him. Abandoning the bus, Ramirez had no hopes of blending into the crowd. Everywhere he ran, citizens would shout and point ‘El Matador’ — meaning ‘The Killer’ — as they recognized the Night Stalker fleeing through their neighborhoods. He cut through backyards and jumped fences, but he could not escape the angry mob.
After a failed carjacking, Ramirez was hit over the head with a metal pipe by a citizen. A crowd soon formed and collectively began to beat the man that once terrorized their city. If it wasn’t for a patrol car arriving at the scene, the outraged citizens of Los Angeles may have very well beaten the Night Stalker to death.
The residents of Los Angeles were finally able to take back the power the Night Stalker had taken away from them.
Ramirez revealed to be a creature all his own.
Once in custody, Ramirez brandished a crudely drawn pentagram on his left hand for the cameras. He did not keep his belief and worship of Satan a secret.
Through testimony from surviving victims, it was revealed that Ramirez would tell his victims to “swear to Satan,” and even demanded they devote their love to Satan. Ramirez often spoke of Satan, good and evil, and his place amongst all of it.
One of his most chilling quotes in court was;
“I do not need to hear all of society’s rationalizations. I’ve heard them all before and the fact remains that was is, is. You don’t understand me. You are not expected to. You are not capable. I am beyond your experience. I am beyond good and evil.”
Ramirez also capitalized off of the female groupies who flocked to his trial to get a look at the dangerous killer. Many swooned at his sight and copied his pentagram onto their own skin. As Ramirez waited for his trial date, he appeared to cater to a rock star appearance, which made his fans go into a frenzy.
Once in prison, Ramirez had many female admirers who wrote him constantly, and he even married one of them.
The take away from this wretched man is the fact that not all men who kill are part of a specific formula. While there may be similarities in the form of a difficult or even abusive childhood, how they channel their anger will vastly vary between each individual. With his lack of a consistent M.O., and his unpredictable, erratic behavior, Richard Ramirez is a prime example of this.
For more true crime, check out “His Name Was Ted Bundy“.