Richard Ramirez terrorized the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas from April 1984 – August 1985. Ramirez committed a plethora of crimes. His primary motivation was burglary (to support his habits and addictions) but that provided opportunity for more. Ramirez would break into private homes, viciously attack the residents, and ransack their possessions. His name became synonymous with violence, rape, and murder as he left a bloodbath in his wake. Authorities put all of California on high alert. Politicians and police scrambled to find answers and hunted him down with every resource. The media gave him nicknames such as the “Walk-in Killer” and “Valley Intruder,” but one name became legend: the “Nightstalker.”
Richard Ramirez entered the world as Ricardo Levya Muñoz Ramirez on February 29, 1960 in El Paso, TX. Both of his parents immigrated to Texas from Mexico. His father, Julián, used to work as a policeman in Ciudad Juárez and was known as having a temper. Julián himself had an abusive, alcoholic father and reportedly said he didn’t want to turn into that. The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree, as it turns out. Julián became violent towards his family which alienated his youngest, Richard. The familial physical abuse, in addition to a massive childhood head injury and dropping out of high school, only contributed to creating the Nightstalker.
Cousin Mike’s Insidious Influence
Young Richard didn’t know how to properly handle the domestic cruelty. He began drinking and doing drugs by the age of 10. Ramirez eventually turned to his older cousin Miguel to escape his father’s drunken outbursts at home. This proved one of the most devastating moves in criminal history. Miguel “Mike” Ramirez had many issues of his own, aside from the hard drugs and liquor. He had combat experience as a Green Beret during the Vietnam War and committed a number of atrocities.
Mike showcased his actions by retelling his stories to Richard and showing him Polaroids he had taken. The photos showed innocent Vietnamese women Mike had bound, raped, tortured, murdered, and dismembered. Richard was fascinated by the photos and enjoyed looking through them. Miguel Ramirez took pride in his status as a fully-fledged serial killer, rapist, and war criminal. Mike also taught Richard a number of skills the latter would later use to devastating effectiveness during his killing spree. The older Ramirez imparted survival skills he learned as a Green Beret, including stealth killing at night.
Mike’s violent stories turned into reality on May 4, 1973 when he and his wife, Jessie, began to argue. The domestic fight escalated to the point where both yelled at each other. The infamous Ramirez temper took over and he pulled out a handgun. He then fired directly into his wife’s face killing her. Mike was found not guilty by reason of insanity and only spent a few years in a mental hospital. The defense successfully argued that he suffered from PTSD from his time as a Green Beret. Richard witnessed the entire fight and murder but found it enthralling instead of horrific. It seemed the Nightstalker loved gore and violence from very early on.
The Nightstalker’s Inspiration and Motivation
Richard moved in with his older sister, Ruth, and her husband, Roberto, after Mike murdered Jessie. Mike reunited with the group once released from the mental institution. Richard, Mike, and Roberto had developed a routine where they would spy on women through windows. Their peeping rituals often involved heavy drinking and drug use. Richard experimented with LSD and acid during this time as well as developed a lasting interest in Satanism. The belief in Satan would play a major role in fueling the Nightstalker’s ferocity.
Richard believed that Satan guided and protected him while he committed his crimes. The Nightstalker justified his actions to his victims by having many of them swear on Satan’s name. He even carved a demonic pentagram into his left palm and displayed it in court while calling out, “Hail Satan!” Ramirez drew pentagrams on some victims and wrote haunting messages on their walls. His favorite music included heavy metal hits that addressed the devil, hell, and fiery takeover. The Nightstalker idolized Satan and used the occult in combination with sexual violence.
Ramirez indulged his twisted sexual fantasies when he reached his teenage years. He developed interests in bondage/BDSM and dreamt about rape/murder scenarios while in school (he dropped out in ninth grade). He molested at least two children as a teenager and attempted to rape an adult woman. His sexual appetites evolved to include more brutal tastes. Ramirez basically saw anything with a pulse as a prime target: young children all the way up to the elderly.
Richard Ramirez had the right mindset for a serial killer. His father made sure to eliminate familial affection. He grew up around the disturbed and the demented. His resumé primarily consisted of crime. The Nightstalker’s debut had come.
Ramirez ended up in California in 1982. He started robbing people, cars, and homes to support himself. Employment eluded him due to a lack of professional skills while he found comfort in weed, cocaine, and crime. Ramirez would spend a lot of time just walking up and down the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco, smoking a joint, listening to AC/DC, and figuring out how and where he would commit his next robbery.
Ramirez eventually began stealing cars which opened up his stomping grounds. The California highway system expanded his reach, frustrating authorities and putting the entire state on high alert. His timing remained his own and his victim profile showed complete randomness. He took and sold whatever he could to buy his way to his next high, substance- or murder-induced. Ramirez’s extreme violence would show itself in time.
The year 1984 saw Richard Ramirez reach a point of no return.
The Nightstalker Starts Stalking
Mei Leung, 9, and her family lived in the same apartment building as Ramirez, 24, during April of 1984. They lived in the Tenderloin district of downtown San Francisco. Leung and her younger brother ran into Ramirez one day while searching for a lost dollar bill. Ramirez somehow convinced Mei to explore the building’s basement in their hunt for the money. He ambushed the young girl and beat her. Ramirez then raped and strangled her. He finally stabbed her to death and left her to hang from a pipe. Mei Leung’s murder remained unsolved until 2009 when Ramirez’s DNA matched a sample taken from the crime scene. The first of the official Nightstalker crimes occurred two months after Mei’s sexual assault and slaying.
The Nightstalker’s Year of Fear
The first official Nightstalker murder, the second attributed to Ramirez, occurred on June 28, 1984. Ramirez entered the apartment by sneaking through a window. His fingerprint was later found on the mesh screen he removed. He ransacked the home and eliminated the owner, Jennie Vincow. Vincow, 79, looked as if someone decided to release all of their anger on her. Ramirez showed her absolutely no mercy as he repeatedly stabbed her in the head and chest. He attacked so ferociously that he almost took Vincow’s head clean off. Many of the future attacks would only get deeper and more emotional. The second Nightstalker murder would come nine months later.
The Nightstalker’s March Madness
Maria Hernandez and Dayle Okazaki
Ramirez attacked roommates Maria Hernandez, 22, and Dayle Okazaki, 34, on St. Patrick’s Day 1985. He first shot Hernandez in her garage after she got out of her car. The .22 caliber bullet headed right for her face but she fortunately lifted her hands to protect herself. Her keys took the hit and the bullet ricocheted, sparing her life. She remained on the ground pretending to be dead. Ramirez, believing he had killed Hernandez, walked inside the home. Okazaki had a much more dismal experience. She had heard the gunfire in the garage and attempted to hide behind a kitchen counter. Ramirez entered the kitchen and then saw Okazaki raise her head to check on the situation. He immediately met her with a single shot to the forehead, killing her.
Ramirez left the Hernandez-Okazaki residence and carjacked a woman named Tsai-Lian Yu, 30. He used the same gun to shoot Yu twice, who was then declared dead when she reached the hospital. The media caught wind of the St. Patrick’s Day crimes but only had police sketches to illustrate an identity. They gave the Nightstalker his first two nicknames: “Walk-in Killer” and “Valley Intruder.”
Vincent and Maxine Zazarra
Ramirez entered the home of the Zazzaras ten days after the killing of Okazaki and Yu. Vincent, 64, died from a gunshot wound to his head as he slept. Maxine, 44, woke up to her dead husband. Ramirez beat and bound her. He forced Maxine to show him where the couple kept their valuables. She snuck away and grabbed the family’s shotgun to protect herself. The gun unfortunately didn’t have any ammunition and Maxine didn’t have time to locate shells to load them.
The Nightstalker’s attack had slightly cracked in that he partially lost control of the situation. This infuriated Richard. He lifted his .22 and shot Maxine no less than three times. His anger raged as he took a knife, mutilated her corpse, and cut out her eyes. Ramirez put Maxine’s eyes in a jewelry box and took them as souvenirs. Police found the box with her eyes after his capture and arrest.
The attack on the Zazarras proved that a serial killer was committing the murders. Time become precious as more bodies were likely to drop. The Zazarra case also provided an extremely important piece of evidence against the Nightstalker. Police found an Avia shoeprint left in the dirt outside the home. This single shoeprint would go on to link multiple crime scenes together.
The Nightstalker’s May Showers Rain Blood
Bill and Lillian Doi
The Nightstalker waited about a month and half before committing his next murder. Bill, 66, and Lillian, 56, Doi didn’t expect to find Ramirez in their bedroom one night. Bill jumped up and went for his gun but Ramirez shot him in the face before he could grab it. Ramirez then continued to beat Bill unconscious before restraining Lillian. He went through the house taking anything he considered valuable. Lillian remained bound with thumb cuffs when Ramirez returned and raped her. She called 911 after she freed herself and had Bill taken to the hospital where he died of his injuries. It would only take a little over two weeks for the Nightstalker to prey again.
Mabel Bell and Florence Lang
Ramirez used his carjacking skills and lifted a car to drive to the home of sisters Mabel Bell, 83, and Florence Lang, 81. The elderly women didn’t feel comfortable locking their doors at night. They grew up without that kind of paranoia and fear and didn’t want to feel trapped in their own home. Ramirez didn’t know this but certainly took advantage of it. He tied up Lang in her bedroom, beat her with a hammer he had found, and raped her. He did the same thing to Bell only he also shocked her with electrical wires.
Ramirez then took lipstick and drew a pentagram on Lang’s leg and on the walls. It took authorities two days to discover the sisters, but they transported the women to the hospital when they did. Bell later died of the injuries inflicted upon her. It only took one day for Ramirez to attack again.
Carol Kyle and Son
Carol Kyle, 42, and her son, 11, had the horrifying experience of the Nightstalker in their home. Ramirez drew his gun and ordered the son to put on handcuffs. He made the child stay in the closet while he forced Kyle to surrender all of the valuables she could. Ramirez then raped Kyle multiple times. He finished his evil escapade, brought the child to his mother, handcuffed them together, and departed.
The Nightstalker’s Summer of Death
Mary Louise Cannon
Mary Louise Cannon, 75, met her end on July 2, 1985 when the Nightstalker entered her home and found her sleeping. He used a lamp to beat her unconscious and then stabbed her to death with her own butcher knife. Netflix actually interviewed some of Cannon’s family for a documentary the streaming giant made covering Ramirez’s crimes.
Ramirez attacked Whitney Bennett, 16, two days after Cannon’s murder. He originally came at her with a tire iron and then searched for a knife to finish her off. He had to resort to strangulation by telephone cord when he failed to find something to stab with. The attack ended when electrical sparks began to emanate from the cord. The Nightstalker freaked out and fled. Ramirez later admitted that this frightened him because he had thought Jesus had intervened to save the girl. Bennett, badly beaten and requiring hundreds of stitches, survived the assault.
One of Ramirez’s most violent, hate-fueled attacks came on July 7, 1985. Joyce Nelson, 60, slept on her couch when Ramirez entered her home. He killed her by repeatedly stomping on her face. Ramirez stomped on her with such force so many times he had actually left an Avia footprint on her face. Nelson didn’t even have a chance to realize her death had arrived.
Ramirez left Nelson in her own brains and gore as he invaded the home of Sophie Dickman, 63. He took out his .22 and forced her into handcuffs. She watched as he helped himself to her valuables and made her swear on Satan that she had relinquished everything.
Maxon and Lela Knieding
July 1985 continued as a month of hell for on July 20, the Nightstalker struck again twice. He stole a car and travelled to the Kneiding household. Maxon, 68, and his wife Lela, 66, slept in their bed when they awoke to hacks from a machete. The violence continued until Ramirez pulled out his infamous .22 handgun and shot the couple in their heads. He then went through the house taking what he wanted. The Nightstalker then drove the stolen car to the home of the Khovananth family. The Kneiding couple’s bodies showed evidence of extreme mutilation post-mortem.
Chainarong and Somkid Khovananth and Son
The Khovananth invasion showed similarities to the assault on Carol Kyle and her son. Ramirez immediately killed Chainarong Khovananth with a gunshot to the head. He beat Somkid Khovananth and then tied up her and her son, 8. He dragged Somkid around after raping her, forcing her to reveal the location of all of the valuables. Somkid, like Carol Kyle, swore to Satan that she had given everything to the Nightstalker.
Chris and Virginia Peterson / Elyas and Sakina Abowath and Son
Ramirez attempted to murder Chris and Virginia Peterson on August 6, 1985. He shot Virginia in her face and Chris in the neck. Chris tried to fight and restrain Ramirez but failed. The Nightstalker escaped without killing either of his victims. This motivated him to initiate another assault two days later. Elyas, 31, and Sakina, 27, Abowath slept soundly when a gunshot rang through their bedroom. Elyas died from a shot to the head and Sakina was bound and raped. Ramirez forced Sakina to give him the family jewelry and continued to rape her even in front of the couple’s three-year-old son. Ramirez eventually fled leaving the mother and son tied up.
The media’s focus on the string of crimes caught Ramirez’s attention. He realized he had to flee the Los Angeles area.
Peter and Barbara Pan
He travelled north to San Francisco but his slaughtering spree didn’t stop. Peter and Barbara Pan felt the Nightstalker’s bullets on August 18, 1985. Peter, 65, slept as Ramirez shot him in the head. The killer then beat and raped Barbara, 62. He shot her in the head and wrote things on the walls in lipstick, including a pentagram. The San Francisco police officers that investigated the murder found an Avia footprint outside of the Pan’s home. This information was relayed to the mayor’s office.
Diane Feinstein, mayor of San Francisco at the time, thought that revealing important evidence to the public would turn out beneficial. The mayor released crucial information, such as the shoeprints and the gun casings. This infuriated all those working on the case because it gave Ramirez the opportunity to learn from his mistakes. Ramirez even admitted that he tossed his Avias off the side of the Golden Gate Bridge after he saw Feinstein on the news. Ramirez returned to the Los Angeles area in late August of 1985.
August 24 saw the Nightstalker attempt to break into the house of James Romero Jr. Romero’s son thought he had heard something outside of the house. The child went to alert his family which caused Ramirez to flee. This caused the killer to attack Bill Carns, 30, and his partner, Inez Erickson, 29. Police found a footprint below a window outside of the house and told Romero how lucky his night turned out.
Bill Carns and Inez Erickson
Ramirez entered the Carns-Erickson house through the back door and made his way to the bedroom. He shot Bill Carns three times in the head before he turned to Inez Erickson. He tied her up and revealed himself to be the Nightstalker. She swore to Satan that she had given him everything of value before he raped her. He wanted to make sure she knew his Nightstalker identity. Ramirez wore the name as a badge of honor and reveled in the role’s responsibilities. Carns and Erickson both survived the attack. The decision to commit this crime would come back to haunt the Nightstalker.
Ramirez ditched the stolen car he used to travel to the Carns-Erickson residence. Police found it in Los Angeles’s Koreatown. They had hit gold by discovering a single fingerprint from the rear-view mirror. The print matched Ramirez, whose criminal history came raging back. Police gave Ramirez’s December 1984 mugshot (from a previous auto theft arrest) to various media outlets. News outlets furiously printed his face for all to see. The hunt for the Nightstalker gained incredible momentum and renewed energy. All of the blinding brutality and callous killing finally had a human face.
Stalking the Nightstalker
Ramirez had taken a bus to Tucson to visit his older brother on August 30, 1985. The two failed to meet and the killer returned to Los Angeles the next morning. Police stationed themselves at every transportation hub in the area in case he tried to flee the city. Ramirez saw officers at the bus depot and ducked into a small convenience store. A group of older Hispanic women noticed his resemblance to the mugshot in the papers and raised the alarm.
The Nightstalker bolted to avoid capture. He ran across busy streets and even a freeway. Local resident, Faustino Pinon, violently pulled Ramirez out of a Ford Mustang that he had attempted to steal. He wriggled free from Pinon and tried to take the car keys out of Angelina De La Torre’s hands. Her husband, Manuel, saw this and smashed a fence post over Ramirez’s head. This still didn’t stop Ramirez as he forced his legs to carry him further.
A small group of locals chased the Nightstalker until the crowd began to grow larger. They eventually caught up with Ramirez, held him down, and mercilessly beat him. Ramirez’s hatred and disgust for people never relented. He later claimed that the crowed that attacked him wouldn’t have stood a chance against him one-on-one. He also suggested that their confidence came from their numbers but he could make them cower and tremble. Police had arrived, realized who they had in custody, and arrested Ramirez. The murderous mayhem had come to an end but the open-and-shut judicious journey had started.
“See you in Disneyland”
Richard Ramirez was found guilty of all charges. The evidence against him showed a clear picture and his lack of remorse indicated his true feelings. The prosecution urged for the death penalty. Ramirez was originally set to die in the gas chamber but the execution couldn’t immediately occur due to automatic appeals. He remained calm throughout his trial and sentencing. He understood his circumstances clearly, even stating, “Big deal. Death always went with the territory. See you in Disneyland.”
The Nightstalker Appeals
Ramirez and his lawyers perpetually filed appeals, which take a notoriously long time to figure out and settle. The Nightstalker never laid his eyes on the inside of an execution chamber. He passed away on June 7, 2013 at the age of 53 due complications from blood cancer. He remained on death row for over 23 years and had appeals pending even when he died.
The spree ended in 1985 but the horror and legacy live on. The Nightstalker targeted everyone and anyone with his extreme ruthlessness, cementing his place in serial killer history.