"Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez: From the Bowels of Hell
Crescendo of Terror
Late in the 20th Century, Hell glutted on humanity. Its first bloodletting of that season of
the Devil occurred on the warm evening of June 28, 1984, when an earth-bound Lucifer
found his way into the small Glassel Park apartment of 79-year-old Jennie Vincow.
Throughout the Los Angeles area a damp humidity had oppressed the air that day, and
when the evening came and the temperature slightly cooled, Jennie left her window open
to invite what little breeze there might be into her flat. Like a fallen leaf, decayed and
tossed from its source, a fallen angel, dark, angry and also decaying, blew across the sill of
that open window. When the demon departed through that same window, he left behind
Jennie Vincow, raped, beaten and nearly decapitated.
"Her body was found by her son, who lived above her ground-floor apartment, just south
of...Forest Lawn Park," reports the Los Angeles Times. "Her throat had been slashed and
she had been stabbed repeatedly."
The police were baffled. But, in the months to come, they were to encounter a madman
whose lust for killing and depravity equaled, if not surpassed, that of Jack the Ripper or,
more contemporary, the Hillside Strangler. Soon to be named the "Night Stalker" by the
press, this madman bore, according to true crime author Richard L. Linedecker, "the
horror in his soul of a Stephen King or a Clive Barker fright novel and more." A Freddy
Kruger. For real.
Less than a year later, the monster reappeared. This time, he waited in the shadows of an
upscale condominium outside LA. The date was March 17, 1985, time 11:30 p.m., when
pretty-faced Maria Hernandez pulled her auto into the security garage, unaware the
monster was watching her from behind a pillar. When she alighted from her car, the killer
stepped from the darkness, gun upraised and, despite her pleadings, he pressed the trigger.
She stumbled. And the killer, thinking she was dead, stepped over her to enter the side
door of the condo. But, Maria had been lucky very lucky for the bullet had deflected
off the car keys she held in her hand, causing a hand wound, but nothing more.
Inside the building, Maria's roommate was less fortunate. For, when Maria finally made
her way to the safety of her place, breathless, she discovered that her friend, Dayle
Okazaki, had also encountered the killer. And this time, his bullet had found its mark.
Thirty-three-year-old Okazaki lay in a pool of her own blood, her skull smashed by a
missile fired at extremely close range.
The demon vanished just as quickly as he had appeared. The police were stumped.
All they knew of him was what Hernandez was able to tell them: He was tall, gaunt, dark,
This time, the killer didn't wait nearly a year to murder again. He struck within the hour.
His next victim that same evening was petite Taiwanese-born Tsai-Lian Yu, who, driving
her yellow Chevrolet down North Alhambra Avenue in nearby Monterey Park, withered
when someone with the eyes of a madman forced his way into her car and shot her. He
had thrown his own car into idle, simply entered hers, pushed her onto the pavement,
called her bitch, then blew her into eternity at point-blank range.
Fast. Neat. Clean.
Then dematerialized into the darkness from whence he came.
The police were beginning to realize they might have a problem on their hands, but they
remained stumped. Eyewitnesses who thought they had seen the killer described him as
tall, gaunt, dark, maybe Hispanic.
Ten days later, this elusive phantom -- whose physical description could fit any one of
thousands of males in the Greater Los Angeles area -- required more blood. This time,
shooting his prey didn't quite satisfy the urge; the demon must have been hungry, he must
have been frantic, for when he entered the home of the sleeping Zazzara couple, he
produced a bloodbath.
The couple's bodies were discovered by their son the following morning. Vincent Zazzara
had been shot in the head as he dozed on the sofa. He had died quickly -- unlike his wife
who suffered the percussion of the killer's frenzy. On her face he had carved the
embodiment of his hate, molding her physicality into something representative of how he
viewed humankind as something made to splice and cut and gouge, to bend, to twist, to
reshape to suit his own wantonness.
Clifford L. Linedecker, in his well-researched Night Stalker, describes what the police
found at the crime scene: "They (the police) would never forget the sight of Maxine
Zazzara's mutilated face. Her eyes were gouged out, and the empty sockets were ringed
with blackened gobs of blood and tissue...The killer had plunged a knife through her left
breast, leaving a large, ragged T-shaped wound. There were other cruel injuries to her
neck, face, abdomen, and around the pubic area. She had been butchered..."
Investigators found footprints visible signs of a tennis shoe -- in the service area and in
the flowerbed indicating his means of entry into the Zazzara home. There were no
witnesses this time around, but a modus operandi was becoming loosely apparent.
Nevertheless stumped, the law determined to put an end to this savage that had crawled
up from the mud up and within their midst. That they believed this latest crime to have
been committed by the same creature that had slain Vincow, Okazaki and Yu was, at this
point, not much more than a hunch. But, if they were correct, the madman was becoming
bolder and more sanguine; an inner lust seemed to be growing and, now fed and
apparently well fed, who knows what would come next! Scouring the neighborhoods
where he had already struck, blue uniforms questioned strangers, stopped midnight
strollers, clambered for witnesses. But, there proved little to go on.
Deep inside, the police feared, he It! would strike again.
Tension of the wait was short. Elderly Harold and Jean Wu did not hear the intruder
slipping into their residence through a window at pre-dawn, May 14. The first intimation
Mrs. Wu had of his presence was the loud bang that stirred her awake. She woke to find
the figure, smoking gun in hand, standing over her. Beside her, husband Harold groaned,
shot in the head. Then the killer's huge fists unloosened on the woman. He pummeled
her, slapped her, kicked her, and demanded that she turn over loose cash to him. Binding
her hands together behind her with thumbscrews, he tossed her across her bed over her
dying spouse, then rampaged through the home's drawers and cabinets for money.
Terrified, lying on her mattress, Jean Wu could hear three things Harold's furtive gasps
for life, furniture being invaded, and the madman's curses as he found nothing of great
Having rampaged through their belongings, the tall, thin, dark man returned to the Wu's
bedroom and, as she lay across her fading husband, violently raped the 63-year-old
woman. Satisfied, he zippered up, grinning. Then left. Another trophy his.
Mrs. Wu, after recovering from shock, told police her attacker was tall, gaunt, dark,
The symphony of terror played on, its next discordant notes sounded in the dark hours
before May 30, at the home of attractive 41-year-old Ruth Wilson. The woman awoke in
her bed to the blinding beam of a flashlight and the distinct silhouette of a pistol barrel
across her gaze; behind the illumination a gruff voice demanded, "Where's your money?"
Before she could muster words, the intruder yanked her by the sleeve of her negligee off
her bed and led her to her 12-year-old son's room down the hall. Using the frightened boy
as bait, he insisted that she produce something of value. She told him where an expensive
piece of jewelry was hidden. He seemed satisfied as he studied the diamond necklace in his
hands, and Wilson figured he would abscond without harming her or her boy.
She was wrong.
Locking her son in a closet, he took his pent-up emotions out on the woman in the pink
negligee who stood before him. Shoving her back to her own bedroom, he tore her gown
off her and, despite her protestations, had his way with her. First he bound her hands
behind her with a pair of pantyhose, then fell upon her. As he raped and sodomized her,
his foul breath and body odor overcame and sickened her, adding to the humiliation.
Miraculously, he let her live. He was gone...all but in her night dreams that would haunt
her over and over and over for months to come.
When the police later interviewed her, she gave her description of the devil:
He was tall, gaunt, dark, definitely Hispanic.
Police composites had been produced of the killer, compiled from descriptions from those
few who lived to tell of their attack and from witnesses who had seen the shooting of
Tsai-Lian Yu on Alhambra Avenue. With minor variations, the suspect was of Hispanic
descent, about 25 to 30 years old, wore long, unkempt black hair that hung in greasy
strands over a high forehead and which straggled down across a skeletally thin,
pock-marked face; cheekbones were sunken, lips thick, chin square. According to Ruth
Wilson, his teeth were jagged and rotten. The description wasn't a pretty one, and it fit the
face of the monster he was. Each testimony had him dressed in all-black.
Squads continued to roll throughout the city and accompanying suburbs; policemen
watched steadfastly night and day for anyone even closely fitting that description but
didn't find their man. And, in the meantime, his crimes continued without a sign of let-up,
his ferocity building.
The nature of the next attack, which occurred on June 1, the day after the assault on
Wilson, added another and an alarmingly new perspective to the suspect. He suddenly
took on the role of a Satanist and his deeds as sacrificial rituals to the Lord Master of Evil.
It would be his most aggressive and horrific action to date.
Retired schoolteacher Malvia Keller and invalid sister Blanche Wolfe, 83- and 79-years
old respectively, were viciously beaten in their small house in suburban Monrovia, off one
of the central state freeways. When found by their gardener the following morning, both
elderly women had been beaten across the head with a hammer. Wolfe lay near the point
of death, oozing blood from a head wound; she had been raped. Keller, who had
succumbed, had had her legs and arms bound and had been crushed by a heavy table which
the killer had turned over across her ribs.
"Police found a pentagram an encircled five-pointed star often linked to Satanic worship
drawn in lipstick on Malvia Keller's thigh," writes Clifford L. Linedecker in his Night
Stalker. "Another pentagram had been crudely scrawled in lipstick on the bedroom wall
where Blanche Wolfe lay in a comatose state. The tip of the pentagram was inverted,
pointing down, an indication of evil. Of Satan."
This indication of devil-worship was no surprise to Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman
Block who had, for some time, suspected the crimes to be of that origin. A black
baseball-style cap bearing the emblem of the hard-rock group AC/DC found at the scene
of Dayle Okazaki's murder had given him that impression. That music group was known
for having produced some lyrics with cultist overtones.
Reads the Los Angeles Times, "Authorities focused on AC/DC's 1979 Highway to Hell
album and its six-minute 'Night Prowler' cut, which says, in part, 'What's the noise outside
your window? What's the shadow on the blind? As you lay there naked like a body in a
tomb, suspended animation as I slip into your room.'"
Block had seen enough murder in his years as a police officer to recognize the differences
between homicides of various degrees drug-related, love-triangle, cultist, and so on.
This string of killings was the most bizarre in his years of law enforcement experience.
Dispiritedly, all he and his men had to go on at this stage of the game was a generic
description of the assailant and the flimsy roots of motive. The devil's own remained
elusive, and that's all that mattered, unfortunately. It had now become apparent that, like a
vampire of folklore, the demon had grown and was growing stronger by the moment,
more degenerate with every sip of blood.
Over the next six weeks, the Los Angeles area would endure a series of killings so brutal
that the city was thrown into a panic that took on the appearance of a cataclysm. Many
sleepless nights were had by citizens, especially by women who lived alone. No lock was
sufficient in the minds of the frightened public. No door bolt thick enough. No window
latch secure enough.
Because the killer's victims ranged all ages, no one, man or woman, child or spinster, felt
safe. Some of his victims were of Oriental culture, others were Caucasian, and the city
wondered: Who the hell next? Some writers claimed that the killer, who by all eyewitness
testimony was believed to be Hispanic, had not picked on his own -- yet they forgot Maria
Hernandez whose key ring had saved her life on a mid-March morning. The killer had not
exhibited a rabid preference for any particular culture, age group, sex or even geographic
area (his killings spanned a forty mile range encircling Greater LA). He was, as Linedecker
observes, "an equal opportunity killer".
His modus operandi remained consistent and his motives inexplicable. His break-ins, while
well-orchestrated, even ritualistic, had, at the same time, earmarks of sexual spontaneity --
as if a single spark of impure thought caused havoc so hot in his brain that, to ease the
torture, he needed to torture others.
Between June 1 (immediately following the Monrovia affair) and mid-August, 1985, nine
more bloody rampages were attributed to what the newspapers were calling, for lack of a
better name, the "Valley Intruder". The toll of his victims included:
* Patty Higgins, 32 years old, Arcadia. (June 27) Killed in her home, her throat
* Mary Louise Cannon, 75 years old, Arcadia. (July 2) Found in her home, beaten,
* Diedre Palmer, 16 years old, Arcadia. (July 5) Beaten at home with a tire iron.
* Joyce Lucille Nelson, 61 years old, Monterey Park (July 7) Bludgeoned to death and
mutilated in her house.
* Linda Fortuna, 63 years old, Monterey Park (also July 7) Survived rape and sodomy
attempts when attacker could not get an erection; he robbed her home and, fortunately, let
* Maxson and Lela Kneiding, husband and wife, 66 and 64 years old respectively,
Glendale (July 20) Shot in their beds while they slept; mutilated after death. Maxson's
head was nearly decapitated.
* Assawahem Family, Sun Valley (also July 20) Husband Chitat (32 years old) shot in
bed at point-blank range, his 29-year-old wife Sakima dragged from bed, beaten, twice
raped and made to perform oral sex. While bound, Sakima was forced to listen as killer
slapped her eight-year-old son in his bed. Afterwards, intruder departed with family cash.
* Christopher and Virginia Petersen, husband and wife, 38 and 27 years old
respectively, Northridge (August 5) Both shot in head while they were in bed; both
somehow survived despite a bullet that penetrated a section of Christopher's brain and
another that blew away Virginia's face.
* Ahmed and Suu Kya Zia, husband and wife, 35 and 28 years old respectively,
Diamond Bar (August 8) Ahmed shot in the temple and killed in the couple's bed; wife
Suu handcuffed, slapped, punched, raped, and forced to perform fellatio on intruder. She
Horrified columnists had been referring to the mystery murderer in a number of ways;
nicknames abounded, all of them colorful, the "Valley Intruder" and the "Walk-In Killer"
enjoying the longest run. But, it was not until the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner started
calling him the "Night Stalker" that the city had found his true idiom. The moniker, simple
and sharp like a knife stabbed the bull's eye. It frightened, and it numbed. And the
name stuck. Like a lump in the throat.
It penetrated like a shiv in the guts of those who heard it, especially those who lived in the
communities where the Stalker stalked.
Los Angeles was terrified.
In Los Angeles County, both the county and municipal police were anything but idle. They
recognized and admitted to the enormity of the problem they had as long as the Night
Stalker was free to roam. No one was safe but how, they wondered, leash a mad dog
that seems to be invisible?
More than any other lawman, Detective Sergeant Frank Salerno of the county
department's homicide squad was the man most apropos to answering that riddle. He
knew how tricky the mind of a homicidal maniac could be to box and tag, having played a
large role in tracking down LA's Hillside Stranger a decade earlier. He was, for that
matter, the first to sense that the valley had another serial killer on the loose.
In June, 1985, not long after the killings began, Salerno took it upon himself to list
similarities in the up-to-then six murders in suburban Los Angeles. Certain things matched.
Collected fingerprints, recovered cartridge shells (.22 caliber) and even a distinct method
of breaking and entry all the same. Imprints of the same design tennis shoe (identified as
Reebok high-tops, size 11) told a startling tale. But, more revealing still, the description of
the killer himself was nearly identical in each case where a living person had been left to
talk: tall, gaunt, dark, Hispanic, in his late 20s/early 30s. Downright ugly.
And now signs of devil worship were surfacing in many of the killings. Apart from the
pentagrams discovered at Malvia Keller's house, the murderer had, according to survivors
such as Ruth Wilson, demanded that they mouth such phrases such as "I vow to Satan" or
"I love Satan" or he would kill them. Nor had Salerno forgotten the baseball cap with the
rock group AC/DC's emblem, found after the Okazaki murder. He recalled that one of the
band's songs hinted at Satanism.
He took this evidence to his superior, Captain Robert Grimm, who was impressed. From
Grimm, Salerno sought, and gained, permission to check with the LA city forces to
compare notes. Perhaps, he thought, they had been encountering like cases, unsolved,
which might compare to the elusive killer's track record.
"Grimm recognized the wisdom in Salerno's suggestion to check with LAPD," reports
Clifford L. Linedecker in Night Stalker. "No one wanted a situation similar to the Hillside
Strangler case, when both the LAPD and the Los Angeles sheriff's deputies worked their
investigations alone and independent of each other. The result for the police agencies had
been missed opportunities, confusion and embarrassment."
Salerno and Grimm envisioned a task force comprised of the top police investigators
throughout the county and the city of Los Angeles. After discussion with the LAPD, the
latter decided that it would invest in its own separate task force but promised to work
around-the-clock and closely with Salerno, who had already been given a squad of
detectives dedicated to finding the Night Stalker. While separate entities, both
investigative teams operated, as committed, as one, feeding information back and forth
and partnering in any activities to maintain a single direction.
Salerno, in the meantime, conferred with two of his top men who had directed the
investigative efforts in two of the Stalker's previous crimes. They proved invaluable in
formatting the investigative team and in keeping its work strategic.
Detective Gil Carillo had been one of the first plainclothesmen introduced to the Night
Stalker's handiwork when he was assigned to the Okazaki shooting. Besides being familiar
with the history of this latest serial killer, Salerno called on Carillo's intrinsic knowledge of
computers, a technical expertise Salerno lacked, to create a database for incoming and
On the other hand, Detective Russell Uloth helped Salerno determine the kind of
psychopath they were dealing with. His study of the Zazzara butchery showed that the
mutilations ravaged on Mrs. Zazzara were done after she was dead. The gouging out of
the eyes the eyes that the killer evidently took with him was enacted as a sort of
Satanic cult act.
But, while his formidable adversaries were seeding the roots of war against him, the Night
Stalker managed to slip by them in the cover of darkness to commit the murders of
Higgins, Cannon, Nelson, Kneiding and Assawahem.
This series of tragedies necessitated that, by early August, the task force more directly
include the suburban law enforcement agencies around Los Angeles where the devil
continued to hunt. With a manpower of 200 investigators, it was the largest operation of
its kind ever created. Beside the full-time force, Salerno called in subject experts from the
Federal Bureau of Investigation's criminal-profiling unit who presented their views of
known types of serial killers, then narrowed the types to which the Night Stalker came
closest. Not leaving a stone unturned, the task force even consulted personalities with
knowledge on devil worship and cultist torture rituals.
Investigators, following the Satan cult theory, fell on places where such groups assembled.
They questioned followers of these leagues about their membership, hoping that they
might uncover the identity of the killer in their company. While they could not uncover a
suspect, they did find something very interesting on the floor of an East Los Angeles cult
hall. They found a shoe print that matched the imprint of the Reebok tennis shoes size
11 -- located at many of the murder scenes.
Salerno wanted the killer to feel the heat, to panic and blunder into the open through his
own hysteria. The detective had seen it happen many times; criminals, feeling the pressure,
leap before looking and announce their guilt hands-up by doing something stupid. To meet
this end, he made sure that the task force started feeding the media pieces of evidence they
uncovered, large and small, even unfounded information, to give the killer the impression
they were closing in.
Simultaneous to the big squeeze -- in August -- the task force announced its formation at a
press conference, keynoted by representatives from the County Sheriff's office. At the
conference, which was heavily attended by an anxious press, the speakers officially
confirmed the existence of a dangerous serial killer wandering at will in the Los Angeles
"We are concerned there is an individual who is responsible for more than one murder,
multiple murders," admitted Robert A. Edmonds, Los Angeles County assistant sheriff.
County Sheriff Sherman Block assured the public, however, that all surrounding police
agencies were combing the streets to end the spree. Authorities asked for the public to
keep calm, to keep doors locked, and to report any suspicious activities or persons in their
neighborhoods as soon as they manifested.
The press conference kicked off a campaign to make the public more aware of and to
make it more active in the apprehension of the Night Stalker. Salerno's task force
distributed flyers, leaflets and wanted posters bearing the composite sketch of the killer.
Posters soon hung in every visible passage in every public byway and thoroughfare and
market within and around Los Angeles. A citizen couldn't take a stroll to the corner store
or drive their kids to school without coming face to face with the large sketched ugly face
of the Night Stalker.
And things began to pop. Telephone calls from men and women, some calling
anonymously, poured in; faceless voices and unsigned letters of concern led police to
strange goings-on in their neighborhood or to oddball neighborhood characters who fit the
Night Stalker's description. Not a lead was overlooked. Transients, vagrants and
vagabonds were questioned, as were those "oddball neighborhood characters".
Terror that had gripped the people of Los Angeles had now, prompted by the police,
turned to obstinacy. The populace transformed from a group of frightened individuals into
a committee of daring hunters, begging for their chance to catch the night-time ghoul. If
he wanted to prey on them, well, they cried, let him prey because now they were
waiting. The family man and the businessman and the housewife they had bought guns,
and loaded them. Or they had as their weapons shovels, or pickaxes, or kitchen knives, or
any one of dozens of homemade utensils pointing their way to a night stalker's heart.
Suddenly, the Night Stalker realized that things had changed. He found their lights burning
at night, a silhouette in the window. Suddenly he found apartment buildings with hired
guards pacing the lobby. Suddenly he found citizens' committees strolling roundabout and
in and out in the alleys, the parks, the streets. Suddenly he found their windows nailed
shut, porch lights left on, back yards illumined by safety beams. Suddenly he found
The civic forces, too, were out in droves. Patrol cars were everywhere, marked and
unmarked vehicles. Townsfolk volunteers had been deputized, as well, to drive in the
dark, licensed to throw their search beams at anything that moved or crept or crawled
and if it resembled the Night Stalker, to step on it.
The devil, the ghost, the ghoul, the phantom, the stalker. It was time for him to leave Los
He shrugged. After all, no matter. He would go elsewhere. He could kill anywhere.
As the sun descended over San Francisco on the evening of August 17, 1985, a beat-up
brownish-red 1978 Pontiac Grand Prix pulled off Highway 80 and began to cruise the
adjacent suburbs that bordered it. Within the next couple of hours, the car found its way
into the upper-scale neighborhood of Lake Merced. It was well after dark, the time of evil.
Parking his car in the darkest spot he could find, the Night Stalker emerged and, checking
for the .22 calibre handgun in his belt, headed to one particular two-story home where, he
felt, the devil was directing him.
Tall, gaunt, dark, ugly 25-year-old Richard Ramirez paused. He turned to look back at the
Pontiac he had been driving these last few weeks. He ruminated a moment, and decided
after tonight he'd better play it safe and ditch this auto. It was time to steal another one,
perhaps before the sun rose. But first things first he drew the revolver so tight, so
hard, so metallic in the moonlight and strolled nonchalantly to the unlit gangway beside
the home of elderly Chinese couple, Mr. & Mrs. Pan.
Houses like these were so easy to penetrate, Ramirez knew...windows low to the ground,
removable screens...a snap, a slight push, and he was in. Of course, Satan was guiding his
every move, he knew that! Why fret about getting caught? All these homes, all these
homes, and yet not once had the resident heard him entering. The devil silenced their ears
while they slept. And he, Richard Ramirez, then took it a step further: He silenced them,
forever. More blood to feed Hell, to keep its furnaces burning.
Inside the house, Ramirez looked at his watch: Midnight. A good time to kill. He checked
his weapon once more yes, cylinder loaded. These homes were all laid out pretty much
the same; he knew where the bedrooms were by instinct. Without pause, he walked to
where the couple slept, found them snoring, and pulled the trigger. He loved the way their
bodies jerked upon impact.
His senses tingled...watching them rattle in death, hearing their throats beg for air,
watching as their pillows darkened with life's liquid underneath what was left of their
skulls. But, there was no time to admire his latest artwork; there was much more work to
do here before he left. Time now for a little home decorating so that the police would
know that the Night Stalker was far, far from trapped.
When the Pans' son visited his parents the next morning, he walked into the aftermath of
doomsday. His father was dead in bed, his mother next to him, seriously injured. The walls
of the home were etched with lipstick diagrams of devil worship, cursing and alien
messages such as "Jack the Knife." Drawers were ransacked. A side window had been
pried open and dirty footprints, bearing a Reebok design, trailed hastily from the
windowsill across the carpet, in and out of the parents' bedroom.
Mrs. Alberta Pan survived, but remained an invalid; her husband Peter was pronounced
dead at General Hospital.
San Francisco police knew immediately that the Horror of Los Angeles, the Night Stalker,
had come to their city. Certainly, the modus operandi bore his logo: breaking and entry,
the assassination of the male first where a couple was involved, and the cultist signatures
left on the scene.
Bullets retrieved from the victims, when matched with those in the possession of the Los
Angeles task force, confirmed it. So did the shoe prints. Comparing notes with Detective
Salerno, San Francisco homicide detective Frank Kowalski also learned that a brown 1978
Pontiac, which had been reported prowling the streets of Lake Merced the night of the
Pan killing, matched the description of an auto seen in the vicinity of the most recent
murders in the LA area. Undoubtedly, the same car, the same maniac.
Authorities began wondering if the same man who perhaps traveled between LA and San
Francisco might have committed four other recent unsolved homicides in San Francisco.
In retrospect, they now seemed to have been.
"On February 1, police discovered the mutilated bodies of Christina Caldwell, 58, and her
sister, Mary, 70. They were stabbed dozens of times," reports the San Francisco
Chronicle. "A coroner's report said a window of their ransacked flat was left open. Bloody
fingerprints, palm prints and shoe prints were left behind, although (Detective) Kowalski
said most of the prints turned out to be those of neighbors.
"Another slaying being checked is that of Masataka Kobayaki, 45, part owner and chef of
Masa's, a fashionable restaurant on Nob Hill," the Chronicle continues. "The fourth
murder involved Edward F. Wildgans, 29, who was shot June 2 through the right temple
by a late-night intruder. He died two days later. His girlfriend fought off the attacker (but
After interviewing the girlfriend, Nancy Brien, her description of her tormentor coincided
with the image of the Night Stalker.
Without delay, law enforcers in the City by the Bay disseminated wanted posters and
leaflets. "The whole department has been mobilized to apprehend the suspect," promised
Richard Klapp, police commissioner. Patrols were doubled at night, particularly in
Hispanic neighborhoods where one of that nationality might easily blend in. According to
the Los Angeles Times, investigators quickly learned that a male resembling the Night
Stalker had stayed at the Bristol, a transient hotel at 56 Mason Street, during the week of
the Pan murder. Manager Alex Melnikov remembered the lodger as dressing in all black
and reeking of body odor. The stranger had signed out the afternoon of the said crime.
Melnikov, said the paper, "had found an inverted five-pointed star, known as a pentagram,
inscribed on the door of a room adjacent to one occupied by (the boarder)... A similar star
was found in the Pans' home."
Richard Ramirez had abandoned the Pontiac; and he had abandoned San Francisco. In
haste. He chuckled, huddled behind the wheel of a stolen 1976 orange Toyota, thinking
about why he had to make a quick departure: How that mayor of San Francisco what's
her name? Dianne Feinstein mouthed off to those news station people about the police
feeling like they were closing in on the Night Stalker; then how that county sheriff had a fit
because she had screwed up the whole dragnet! Locos! Crazy people they! Now, turning
the Toyota's grille off the Golden State Freeway towards the entrance to the community
known as Mission Viejo, he determined to show them locos just who is the smartest one!
The devil protected him! But, they had no one! Tonight, someone would die not in San
Francisco as the police suspected but here in this rich-boy community so near to Los
The date was August 25, just after midnight.
William Carns and his fiancée Renata Gunther dreamed well tonight in the home on
Chrisanta Drive. Parking his car in shadow, Ramirez entered their fine stucco home and
sought out the bedroom to see who slept there. He smiled when he saw the couple sound
asleep. Both looked young, in their late twenties, and the beautiful Renata tingled his
senses. Beauty for the sacrificial altar! For Lucifer! Out came his revolver, the .22, and he
flashed its barrel toward the cranium of the male. Carns twitched, and gagged.
Renata awoke to the dark, skinny, grinning Ramirez who leaned over her, panting, calling
her bitch, shaking her and laughing in her face. His breath stank, his teeth she could see
them in the umbragewere crooked and stained. His eyes blazed.
Forcing her from her bed, he threw himself over her and raped her. Snarling in her face, he
promised to shoot her unless she "Swear to Satan". Begging for her life, she did as he
asked. But, before he released her from his grasp, he thrust her head to where he unzipped
his trousers. Having performed, he left her alive, but in pain and nauseated.
He had repaired back into the darkness from whence he came.
A middle-aged woman named Donna Myers and her friend, Serafin Arredondo, who lived
in the El Sobrante district of San Francisco had come forth in the meantime with a
fascinating tale. Myers, who let out her home occasionally as a boarding house, had from
time to time rented a room to a man she knew only as "Ricky". She told police he was tall,
gaunt, Hispanic and, in a word, strange. What's more, he closely resembled the police
sketch of the Night Stalker that appeared in the Chronicle. Ricky was from El Paso,
Texas, she explained, and traveled throughout California -- mostly between San Francisco
and Los Angeles. To her he often addressed his interest in the black arts.
She related that one day, during a recent stay, she happened to come into her TV room
when Ricky was viewing a news report about a Night Stalker victim. He seemed greatly
interested in the program. Noticing her behind him, Ricky suddenly turned to her from his
chair, grinned with a mouthful of crooked teeth, and whispered, "Now wouldn't you be
surprised if I turned out to be the Stalker?" She thought at the time it was just a sick bit of
whimsy, until she noticed the composite in the newspaper shortly thereafter. The memory
Arredondo, a friend of the Myers family who often visited the woman, displayed some
men's jewelry a diamond ring and cufflinks -- he had bought from this Ricky one
afternoon not long ago. Ricky had claimed he was strapped for cash and was selling these
items at a discount; he gave Arredondo a good deal. Since then, the buyer had read that
the Night Stalker was known for robbing his victims as well as slaying them, and
wondered if...well, just maybe...
The police nodded; they understood completely. Taking the goods that Arredondo
offered, they in turn handed them over to the investigative team for possible identification.
That evening, the ring and links were labeled as stolen property that once belonged to one
of the killer's male victims.
Never knowing when this Ricky might turn up at Myers' doorstep, plainclothesmen began
surveillance on her home night and day.
A rhythm of lucky breaks was in full tempo. While this was occurring in the Bay area,
eyewitnesses in the Mission Viejo neighborhood near LA had reported seeing an orange,
older make of Toyota prowling their streets immediately prior to the attack on Carns and
Gunther. On April 27, the book Night Stalker tells us, "the orange Toyota station wagon
was found in a parking lot in the Rampart area of Los Angeles. Detectives watched the car
for almost twenty-four hours before deciding it had indeed been abandoned and the
Stalker was not going to return for it."
But, the discovery of the auto would prove fruitful. Dusting the car for fingerprints, city
investigators delivered the prints to the Orange County Sheriff's Office whose forensic
laboratory was testing a brand new Department of Justice-created system for tracking
prints in record time.
The prints matched those of a small-time thief and miscreant from Texas named Ricardo
Lauded the Los Angeles Times, "(The system picked) Ramirez's fingerprints out of
380,000 other sets, only three minutes after the system was fed a partial print lifted from
(the Toyota)...The need to capture the Night Stalker was so urgent that the installation of
the new 'Cal-ID' computer system, which is still in progress, was interrupted so the system
could be reprogrammed to search for the Night Stalker's prints."
The police had a name. Now they needed to research the suspect, to find out more about
him. And, most importantly, they needed to find him before he slew again.
Ricardo Ramirez was born in the barrio (Hispanic section) of El Paso, Texas, on February
28, 1960. His childhood was one of poverty and of hanging with youth gangs. Parents
Julian (an illegal alien who worked in the rail yard) and Mercedes had, in all, seven
children; Ricardo who later Americanized the name to Richard was the youngest.
Roman Catholics, Mercedes tried as best she could to lead her familia onto a straight and
God-like path. She succeeded with six of her brood. But, Ricardo went astray.
Grade school teachers claimed he could have been a good pupil, had he proffered a little
interest. He failed ninth grade twice, spending more time in the video arcades than at
school. At an early age, he took to breaking into homes. Police caught him in the act of
burglary several times, each time being shipped off to a work program until the oft-time
loser was sentenced in his youth to a disciplinarian hall.
He had but three interests in junior high and cared about little else martial arts,
marijuana and heavy metal. "He loved Black Sabbath and Judas Priest," remarks a friend
from his teen years.
Another interest grew from, say boyhood friends, the sort of music he listened to that
which glorified cultist practices. He seemed preoccupied with Satanism and stories about
black magic, demons and dragons. While his mother sent him to Bible studies, hoping he'd
learn the Christian ways of life, Richard took the lessons to heart but learned them in
reverse. That is, after class he would go to the library and read up on Satan and the fallen
angels, the characters that his teachers merely skipped over while exemplifying Jesus
Christ and the twelve apostles.
Richard, in his teens, had been suspected of thievery, but the police could not prove their
accusations. His first formal arrest as an adult was for possession of marijuana. Slapped
with a small fine, he was then hit with another when pinched months later for the same
offense. On his third arrest -- for reckless driving (a friend's car) he avoided prison by
agreeing to do neighborhood youth work while on three years' probation.
At 20 years old, his probation ended, Richard Ramirez left El Paso.
Between the time he departed his native Texas and the time he took up killing innocent
people, Richard Ramirez encountered minor run-ins with the law. In 1984, he was taken
into custody and photographed while suspected of driving a stolen car, a charge that came
"Ramirez is known to have gone by several aliases," accounts a retrospective article in the
Los Angeles Times, "including Richard Moreno, Noah Jimenez, Nicolaus Adame, Richard
Munoz and Richard Mona." But, in all, aside from simple infractions, he did little more
than waste away slowly in the drug and booze bars of southern California wearing black,
always black -- salivating over Satan and freaking out on the flimsy, filmy veils of burning
No matter how evil, no matter how hideous, all things can be destroyed. Caliban shrinks
from his own reflection; Prometheus scalds from the fire he created; warlocks recoil from
the Druid stone; werewolves perish with a silver bullet; and vampires whither under
sunlight. Richard Ramirez, closest to the latter, should have known better than to step out
from under the blood-moon into the broad daylight. He was a creature of the night. But,
the shadows would no longer hide him.
On the bright morning of Saturday, August 31, 1985, Ramirez stepped from a Greyhound
bus that had just pulled into the Los Angeles depot from Phoenix, Arizona. He had gone
there immediately following the Carns killing to buy cocaine from a seller he knew there.
Still somewhat depleted from its effects, he returned to LA, the scene of his crimes
probably already scheming his next foray into depravity. He did not know that the police
in the meantime had learned his identity nor that his face and name appeared for the first
time in print in that morning's newspapers across the nation. He strutted past the depot's
newsstand, oblivious to his own black and white visage scowling into the world, and
grabbed a rapid transit to the East Side barrio.
"The man suspected of (so many) atrocities was first spotted clad in black jeans and a Jack
Daniel's T-shirt at about 8:30 a.m. Saturday when he entered a small liquor store at 819 S.
Towne Avenue and picked up a newspaper that had his picture on the first page," the Los
Angeles Times relates. According to the store clerk, Ramirez, who was waiting for the
cashier to ring up his purchase of whisky, panicked when he realized what he was looking
at. He threw the paper down and hotfooted from the store. Citizens in the market had
already recognized him and pursued him. They yelled out, "Stop, killer! Halt, el matador!"
Weaving through the Spanish-speaking neighborhood that he knew so well, but which had
suddenly turned so foreboding, he made his way circuitously corner after corner to the
800 block of Mott Street. It was the beginning of the Labor Day weekend and residents
were out this sunny morning; streets and porches brimmed with early risers, with strollers
and shoppers on their way to shopping, and dog-walkers being yanked by their pets to the
nearest fire hydrant. All their heads turned in his direction; there seemed to be a neon sign
above him, directing their attention to the gaunt, ugly, pock-marked face they had just
seen over their cup of java at the breakfast table. And they cried again, "El matador! It's
him, the killing one! The killing machine!" When he ran, several of them waved down a
passing police car and pointed out the direction of the Night Stalker's flight. When other
residents phoned in a few moments later, claiming to have seen the fugitive a few blocks
away, at Euclid and Garnet, seven squads were dispatched to the scene. Street after street,
the squads fanned out, following residents' leads along a zigzag course.
One, maybe even two or three people might be wrong, the police ascertained, but not an
entire neighborhood. The cops knew they had their man, and, he was turned in by his own
It was Ramirez's turn to live a nightmare. Finally. About him, the brownstone and slat
board walls of the barrio were closing in, so tight that the lack of space squeezed his chest
to take his breath away. Under the dirty Jack Daniel's logo he wore on his chest, his heart
hammered his bones, and it ached like the devil that had deserted him. No escape from the
world now, no escape from this bad dream. He had manufactured this mania, after all, in
the night, and in the day it came back to, at last, haunt the hell out of him. Pointing fingers
and jeers and twisted faces and taunts and open palms blocked his every move; detours led
to other detours; the place he had for so long used to blend in had broken lose, overused
and indignant. He had shamed his own people and they were hurling him through a gamut.
Police sirens screamed from everywhere, and Richard Ramirez began to sob. His world
came tumbling down, blurred in tears and perspiration.
He paused briefly at one woman's screen door. "Por favor, help me!" he implored. She
saw the mob of neighbors assembling below her stoop, pointing at the hombre estupido.
"Your him!" she shrieked, and slammed the inner door shut in his face.
"Desperate and near exhaustion, Night Stalker Richard Ramirez made a wrong turn when
he dashed onto Hubbard Street unknowingly he had stumbled into a neighborhood of
heroes," the Los Angeles Times continues. "Four citizens grabbed and subdued the
suspected murderer after a 20-second footrace, one of them pounding at him with a steel
"The heroes who captured Ramirez were Manuel De La Torre, 32, and three of his
neighbors across the street, Jose Burgoin, 55, and his sons Jaime, 21, and Julio, 17.
Another hero was Faustino Pinon, 56, next-door neighbor of the Burgoins, who had
fought off Ramirez when he tried to steal his daughter's car."
By the time the first squad arrived screeching onto the scene, the Burgoin boys had the
Night Stalker pinned to the curb; what fight remained in him was subdued with both boy's
fists and the steel whip; he was bleeding from the whelps. The man who had killed,
maimed and raped without mercy whimpered now, and trembled now, like a scared puppy,
dazed by the detonation of events. (Wasn't it only a few moments earlier he had stepped
off the Greyhound, independent and carefree?)
Cuffed and shoved into the backseat of the squad car, the Night Stalker, brushing filthy
tears from his cheek, made a strange request of the arresting deputy.
"Shoot me now, man! I don't deserve to live."
For once, Los Angeles and Richard Ramirez were of one mind.
The nation, in particular the prosecuting District Attorney's office, expected Senor Night
Stalker's case to be open and shut, adios, and go to the death chamber quick. After all, the
evidence was there and more details were zipping in as collected by the prosecution team's
crack head-hunter units.
Little did anyone expect after the Night Stalker's dramatic arrest that his trial was not to
commence for nearly two-and-a-half years. Legal manipulations and manoeuvrings would
play the largest part in postponing justice. Other factors would be interference from
outside sources, such as Ramirez's El Paso family, from hard-headed personal antagonism
rampant amongst defense lawyers, and from Ramirez's own behavior and inability to cope
with the reality of the judicial system. The defense would chase every loophole. Bias
would be shouted, as well as prejudice, and the defense would parade them before a
national grandstand, annoying press and public that knew better than to fall for the delays.
"The case appeared to be off to a running start," wrote Clifford L. Linedecker in Night
Stalker, "(Los Angeles County District Attorney Ira) Reiner appointed veteran Deputy
District Attorney P. Philip Halpin to prosecute the case within hours of Ramirez's arrest."
On Tuesday, Sept. 4, the suspect appeared in court to hear initial charges. "Standing with
head bowed, Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez was arraigned on a single murder
count and seven other charges stemming from two late-night attacks in early May in the
San Gabriel Valley," reported the Los Angeles Times. "(He) was charged with murder,
burglary, robbery, rape, sodomy and forced oral copulation in the May 14 shooting death
(of Harold Wu) and an attack on (Wu's) wife...(He) could face the death penalty."
Simultaneously, San Francisco authorities charged Ramirez with the deaths of Mr. & Mrs.
Peter Pan (August 17), and Orange County officials slapped him with murder and rape
charges on the attacks on William Carns and Renata Gunther (August 25).
Of the other Los Angeles-area crimes of which he was alleged to have committed, DA
Reiner told Times reporters, "Understand that the suspect was arrested just over the
weekend. There is a mountain of evidence that has to be collated, has to be analyzed, has
to be investigated; there is scientific investigation that is still going on. Within the next
couple of weeks, I expect it will all be pulled together and decisions will be made as to
which cases will be filed."
As Reiner predicted, during the following month Ramirez garnered 14 allegations of
murder, which were accompanied by numerous allegations of attempted murder, robbery,
burglary and sexual assault of varying degrees. Investigators had collected physical
evidence in the cases involving murder, assault and/or rape on these victims:
* Jennie Vincow (June 28, 1984);
* Dayle Okazaki & Maria Hernandez (March 17, 1985);
* Tsai-Lian Yu (March 17);
* Vincent & Maxine Zazzara (March 27);
* Harold Wu (May 14);
* Ruth Wilson (May 30);
* Malvia Keller & Blanche Wolfe (June 1);
* Patty Higgins (June 28);
* Mary Louise Cannon (July 2);
* Diedre Palmer (July 5);
* Joyce Lucille Nelson (July 7);
* Linda Fortuna (July 7);
* Mason & Lela Kneiding (July 20);
* Chitat Assawahem (July 20);
* Christopher & Virginia Petersen (August 6); and
* Ahmed Zia (August 8).
Additional allegations were filed against Ramirez for crimes that he had not been
previously suspected of, but which were recently traced to him: the robbery of an Eagle
Rock resident, Thomas Sandova (March 2, 1985); the kidnapping and rape of an
eight-year-old child in the same community (March 20); and the burglary of the Monrovia
home of Clara Hadsall.
Again, the prosecution expected a lead pipe cinch, but their strategy to move the process
along on an even keel was constantly interrupted by professional and not-so-professional
shenanigans. What occurred was what Linedecker calls, "a legal circus...a nightmarish
marathon that would last four years, cost the state almost $2 million in trial and other legal
costs, involve a half-dozen defense attorneys, and almost 3,000 jury interviews."
To begin, there was the series of pyrotechnical relationships between Ramirez's defense
lawyers, and between the lawyers and the Ramirez family. Municipal Judge Elva Soper
had designated public defender Allen Adashek counsel for the defense, but this move was
contrary to the Ramirezes of El Paso who wanted their son and brother to be defended by
another attorney, one Manuel Barraza. Adashek claimed he had been appointed chief
defense and refused to relinquish the position. After haggling caused delays, Barraza
finally backed off, announcing he was not prepared to stay with a trial that he expected to
With that matter settled, Ramirez began balking that he did not like Adashek and refused
to accept him as his lawyer. It seems to have been a clash of personalities: Adashek was a
no-nonsense type who refused to put up with his client's mood swings and bad-boy
behavior in court. (At his arraignments, Ramirez threatened the judge, fingered the
prosecution, and proved to be an unruly, unacceptable, socially harmful defendant,
drawing pentagrams on the palms of his hands and flashing these Satanic symbols into the
faces of the media there to cover the proceedings.)
In an effort to keep things rolling and to grant the defendant all the liberties allowed a man
on trial especially a minority -- Judge Soper in October hesitantly accepted Ramirez's
request for termination of Adashek and welcomed into court a new counselor hired by
Rosa Flores, Ramirez's sister. This latest was a man named Joseph Gallego, a 56-year-old
Californian with two decades of legal experience but, the court discovered, with a very
minor police record years earlier. By all indication, he was a talented man who sincerely,
personally believed in his client and, very importantly, understood the Latino culture. If
given a chance, he probably would have proven quite capable. If given a chance. Flores
Lost time -- again. In the interim, the defendant still had not answered the court's charges
on the alleged felonies, a process that should have occurred immediately after the venue of
charges was announced in early September. Months passed and the prosecution was
forced to play hold-your-breath until the process could resume.
Flores' new choice of counsel to defend her brother was the team of Daniel and Arturo
Hernandez, unrelated despite the matching surnames. Both lawyers had seen little
experience in murder trials and certainly had not the grit comparable to upholding the
weighty responsibility requested of them by the Ramirez family. Judge Soper herself
mediated the court's concern and openly announced her reticence; she clearly pointed out
the dangers of procuring inexperienced lawyers to the Ramirez family, but they wouldn't
budge. In late October, Soper hesitantly but officially appointed Hernandez & Hernandez
as counselors for the defense.
One of their first moves was to try to postpone the preliminary hearing from December,
1986, to April; 1987, vying for six months to adequately prepare their initial defense. The
court felt that their request was exaggerated, but not inflexible, postponed the hearing to
February 24, after the new year. The prosecution, who felt they had an airtight case and
had been raring to go for some time, grumbled. Expressing their disappointment, however,
they politely conceded.
In the meantime, the press had noticed the shifting of lawyers, the postponements and,
what it considered, the weakness of the court to bend to the new defense counsel's every
time-wasting whim. The year 1986 had come and gone and taxpayers were paying for the
Night Stalker's bread and board. When Judge Candace Cooper, who would preside over
the preliminary hearing, issued a gag order on the hearings, which barred the media from
the courtroom, hell broke asunder and the journalism turned blue with curses. The
syndicated press appealed the ruling with fervor. As time neared, however, the
responsibility of the preliminaries was shifted from Cooper's court to that of jurist James
T. Nelson, who, considering the factors, amended all previous decisions and decided to
allow the reporters into the courtroom. The media applauded Nelson's recognition of their
rights while the Hernandez's, who claimed that their client would be hung by a pack of
bloodthirsty newshounds, yelped but to no avail
Finally -- the preliminary hearing opened in February, 1987. The purpose of this hearing
was to identify which of the many allegations presented against Ramirez should actually
come to trial or, to quote author Linedecker, those charges where "sufficient evidence of
crimes had been presented to establish a prima facie case".
Of the 30-plus witnesses who testified during the three-week hearing, they included Jack
Vincow, who found his mother's corpse after her brutal slaying in June of 1984; Joseph
Duenas, an eyewitness to the Tsai-Lian Yu attack in March, 1985; Maria Hernandez,
roommate of the murdered Dayle Okazaki that same night; Ruth Wilson, who was raped
on May 30; Renata Gunther, rape victim of August 25; and Esparanza Gonzales, whose
boyfriend had unwittingly purchased one of the murder weapons from Ramirez.
Throughout, the defense and prosecuting lawyers often became inveigled in vocal
squabbles apart from the formal proceedings; the defense accused the court of bias and the
prosecution claimed outwardly that the defense's demeanor in court was anything but
respectful to the bench.
The defendant himself was totally void of comportment. Judge Nelson repeatedly was
forced to warn him to subdue his erratic behavior, his incessant displays of contempt
towards opposing counsel and witnesses. Messrs. Hernandez, the court noted, were not
supportive of the court, for they often joked and jibed along with Ramirez at the counsel
"Ramirez...laughed a lot, and joked with his attorneys, even cackling loudly, during crucial
testimony," states Linedecker. "Once he laughed loudly during a young widow's testimony
had caused several spectators to cry as she tearfully described how her assailant had raped
and beaten her while her slain husband lay nearby...Sometimes, Ramirez sneered openly at
the prosecution. (Studying photographs of crime scenes) he smirked...when he came
across a death-scene photo he especially liked."
The suspect seemed to enjoy staring down witnesses at the podium in an effort to fluster
them, for he realized the power of fear in his Rasputin dark eyes. At one point, the
wearied judge, who had had enough of mind games, warned him to stop stop now!
Ramirez tested the warning and once again set his black pupils on the next witness to take
the stand. The judge nodded to the bailiff, and the bailiff physically yanked the defendant's
head in the other direction. Ramirez grunted and, leaping to his feet, attacked the bailiff.
Within seconds, he was overcome by courtroom guards who dragged him from the
chambers back to his holding cell.
Hernandez & Hernandez cried unfair, but everyone else, including the judge, gleefully
closed their ears. The press loved the confrontation finally a little justice was exhibited
and they made the most of it.
The preliminary session ended on May 7. Ramirez would be tried on a total of 41 specific
criminal charges 14 for murder, five for attempted murder, 15 for burglary, four for
rape, three for forced oral copulation, and four for sodomy. Ramirez pleaded not guilty to
all charges. Trial was set for September 2, 1987.
But again, the defense sought postponement and the trial was pushed back to
December 2. More delays were forthcoming.
Suffering a workload and backup of cases by this time, the original trial judge relinquished
the case to conservative Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan. This move, though
necessary, provoked more delays. And, when the Hernandez's suddenly sparked an
argument out of the clear blue to have the trial removed from the Los Angeles area
where they said their client would not get a fair hearing another postponement loomed.
Eventually shot down, the Hernandez-initiated filing nevertheless wasted many months.
Trial was rescheduled for February 1, 1988.
And the beat went on. Hollering that they had not been given full access to the LAPD files
for scrutiny, Hernandez & Hernandez sought and won more time to browse the police
records that they claimed had been shut to them.
Trial was re-set for July, 1988, when jury selection finally began.
For the first time, the lawyers from both sides of the table agreed on something: that,
because of the media's attention to the ghastly nature of the crimes, it would not be easy to
find impartial jurors. A pool of 3,000 prospective jurors was dwindled to half that number,
they were then carefully interviewed by both counsels. Cut by cut, slice by slice, twelve of
whom both factions approved were at last chosen. Six of the jurors were Latino. It had
been an enormous, monumental, historical example of the American right to fair trial at
The trial of Richard Ramirez began on January 29, 1989, the Night Stalker's terror almost
a dim memory to the American public -- except for those who lived it. They would always
remember. And they were hungry for justice.
"Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez: From the Bowels of Hell
Judge Tynan's courtroom hummed with excitement the day the trial opened in late
January. Estimated length of the trial, claimed reporters, was four to six months.
Television cameras, allowed to shoot portions of the trial, remained unobtrusively behind
the reporters scratching their observations in steno pads; on the public benches lawmen
who had taken part in the capture of Ramirez, including Detective Frank Salerno, sat
intermingled with random spectators lucky enough to have obtained a seat. Defendant
Richard Ramirez sat calmly at the counsel's table; his lawyer had dressed him in a
conservative suit and had seen that his stringy hair was styled; sunglasses covered his
menacing gaze. A gavel announced the commencement of the proceedings and, as the
bailiff called for quiet, only the whir of the ceiling fan could be heard. Then Prosecutor
Philip Halpin spoke.
He addressed the jury, reminding them that they were there to try a vicious monster who
had no regard for human life or decency, a ghoul who had torture-killed many and had left
many alive to face days of pain and deformity. He reminded them that this monster
worshiped the devil and fed to him innocent people as sacrificial lambs, their own beds
being the chosen bloody altars.
There was no doubt, he said, that Ramirez was guilty. Four different small-caliber
handguns that belonged to him were traced down as far away as Texas; ballistic tests
already proved they killed the victims. Jewelry belonging to several other victims was
located at his sister's home in El Paso where the woman unwittingly accepted them as
gifts. Then there were Ramirez's finger and shoe prints found at the crime scenes. And
then, of course, there were witnesses many of them -- ready to come forward to identify
Ramirez as their rapist, their assailant, and the killer of their husbands and boyfriends.
He concluded: "We have alleged these murders are in the first degree, were premeditated,
and occurred during burglaries or other crimes. We are asking for the death penalty."
Defense lawyer Daniel Hernandez waived his opening remarks until the prosecution fully
concluded its forum later in the trial. Halpin had made such a dent that it was obvious that,
at this point, there wasn't much one could say in rebuttal. In fact, as the trial progressed,
Hernandez's weak start became weaker; not only because the prosecution's evidence was
so strong, but because his partner Arturo suspiciously proved to be a no-show. Going it
alone against a Goliath, Daniel Hernandez was overwhelmed and exhausted. A month into
the trial, Hernandez announced he required medical leave.
In view of all the costly delays that had already occurred, Judge Tynan refused to grant a
suspension, but commandeered help for Hernandez. He replaced the invisible Arturo with
criminal lawyer Ray Clark, an attorney of merit.
Clark virtually took over the case of the defense with alacrity. He was a well-meaning and
clever lawyer who reshaped the defense's platform by trying to show that Ramirez in many
instances was a victim of mistaken identity. But, it was all too late for that, and to no avail.
Of the 165 witnesses who addressed the court, most of them brought damaging testimony
against the defendant. Witness after witness for the prosecution had sworn under oath,
identifying Ramirez; they remembered his exact words, his cursing to the devil, and they
were simply unable to forget those pair of dark eyes that, despite the masquerade of
sunglasses, were Richard Ramirez's.
The shades, for that matter, concealed absolutely nothing, especially the negatively kinetic
Thing that dwelt beneath them. As during his preliminary hearing, Ramirez remained his
uncontrollable self throughout the court, defying the judge's orders to keep quiet,
muttering under his breath at witnesses and bursting into idiotic laughter during damaging
"At the trial, the killer played to the press," declares Jay Robert Nash in his crime
anthology, Bloodletters and Badmen. "He flashed the palm of his hand where he had
drawn a livid sign of the pentagram. On other occasions, as he sat listening to the
prosecution condemn him for his crimes, he placed two upturned fingers on either side of
his temples to indicate horns and intoned: 'Evil...Evil...Evil...'"
Not the way to befriend a jury.
Closing arguments having ended in July, it was now the jury's turn to summon a verdict.
Delays, a trademark of the Ramirez case, occurred even during jury deliberation. One
juror was fired for sleeping and replaced with an alternative. Frighteningly, another was
murdered by a jealous boyfriend. She, too, was replaced. But, both these occurrences
drew time. Months crawled while the nation awaited a verdict.
On September 20, 1989, Richard Ramirez was brought from his cell to hear what the jury
members ultimately decided: Guilty on all counts.
Despite pleas from the defense, the jury recommended death.
When Judge Tynan asked the prisoner if he had anything to say on his own behalf,
Ramirez, in true Night Stalker mien, cursed the court, cursed the jurors, cursed the world.
"I need not look beyond this room to see all the liars, haters, the killers, the crooks, the
paranoid cowards truly trematodes of the Earth," he rambled. "You maggots make me
sick one and all...I am beyond your experience, I am beyond good and evil..."
But, the nation cared not what he had to say. All it cared was that he was not beyond the
gas chamber. In the end, that's all that mattered most.
But, there was one more side to consider, that of the victims who lived, and the victims'
families. On November 11, 1989, USA Today quoted Don Nelson who had found the
mutilated remains of his mother Joyce in July of 1985. Asked what he thought of his
mother's killer's death sentence, Nelson replied, "It doesn't bring my mom back, but he can
no longer threaten anybody. I still see what my mom looked like as a result of what he did,
and that's something I'm going to have to deal with over the remainder of my life."
Today, Richard Ramirez sits in San Quentin's Death Row, where he was deposited more
than a decade ago. Having been tried for the crimes he is known to have committed in Los
Angeles, he still has not been tried for the alleged murders that occurred in the San
Francisco/Orange County area. In 1995, the then-10-year-old case against Ramirez for the
killing of Mr. & Mrs. Pan in Lake Merced, Orange County, was put on indefinite hold
pending further investigation.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "The delay in the San Francisco case was
sought while appeals of his previous murder conviction are heard...Los Angeles
prosecutors have opposed a San Francisco murder trial, fearing it would undermine the
earlier convictions and death sentence."
But, there is no way Ramirez will ever again see the light of day.