Over just 14 months, Richard Ramirez killed 13 people and attempted to kill 5 more.
When Richard Ramirez walked into a convenience store in Los Angeles in August of 1985, he failed to notice the group of police officers standing in the street or the stacks of newspapers on the racks outside.
It wasn’t until he looked out the window and saw a group of elderly women, fearfully pointing him out to a police officer, that he realized the face on the cover of those newspapers was his own, and fled.
The ensuing chase involved seven police cars, and a helicopter, tracking Ramirez through the streets and alleyways of L.A. Eventually, a group of bystanders finally caught the exhausted Ramirez, and tackled him, beating him with a metal pipe. By the time police arrived, Ramirez was thanking them for arresting him.
After a dramatic chase with an even more dramatic ending, the Night Stalker, a vicious murderer, and rapist who had terrorized Los Angeles residents for over a year, had finally been caught.
Richard Ramirez, dubbed the Night Stalker by the local media, had begun his killing spree exactly 14 months before his arrest. In that time, he had killed 13 people, attempted to kill five more, and assaulted countless others. On top of his physical crimes, he was guilty of burglary, and petty theft. Though his murders only spanned a year, his life of crime began when he was just 13 years old.
Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Richard Ramirez was often subjected to abuse by his father. He even sustained two serious head injuries, after which he experienced frequent epileptic seizures. To escape his violent father, Ramirez began to hang out with his older cousin, Miguel, a decorated Vietnam veteran.
Unfortunately, Miguel’s influence wasn’t much better than his fathers’ had been. During his time in Vietnam, Miguel had developed a habit of torturing women. Miguel often showed Ramirez photos of the horrors he had inflicted on the women, including one where he posed with one of the women’s severed heads. Later, Miguel would fatally shoot his own wife, in full view of a 13-year-old Ramirez, who would take the event deeply to heart.
The shooting turned Richard Ramirez from a scared, abused young boy into a hardened, sullen man. He began using LSD and cultivating his interest in Satanism, which he practiced throughout his life.
Still under his murderous older cousin’s influence — Miguel had been found not guilty of the shooting, and spent just four years in an insane asylum before being released — Ramirez developed an obsession with the same kinds of sexual violence Miguel had inflicted on the Vietnamese women in his photos.
The obsession almost reached its pinnacle when Ramirez was arrested for attempted rape. The charges were later dropped when the woman declined to testify against him, but the damage had already been done. Ramirez had developed a taste for blood, and was searching for an outlet.
On June 28, 1984, he found it, in the form of 79-year-old Jennie Vincow. Authorities found the woman’s body in her bed, brutally raped, her throat slashed so deeply she was almost decapitated. Her apartment showed sign of forced entry, and items were found to be missing as well.
The Vincow case started Richard Ramirez’s seemingly random, year-long spree of brutal rapes, murders, and burglaries. For 14 months, Ramirez traveled all over California, from L.A. to San Francisco, murdering, raping and robbing.
The victims were both male and female, ranging in age from 22 to 80, from all over southern California. The one thing all of the crime scenes had in common was evidence that a Satanic ritual of some kind had occurred.
As word started to spread, it seemed that no one was safe. Eventually, by August of 1985, the public had caused an upswing in the sale of guns, locks, and window bars, and police had increased their presence tenfold. The FBI had created a special task force dedicated to catching Ramirez, though no one could find him.
Eventually, one of Ramirez’s attempted victims was able to give a detailed enough description, that a sketch artist could provide the newspapers with a picture. The image was published in every newspaper in southern California, in the hopes that someone would notice it and recognize Ramirez.
Ironically, the only one who didn’t notice his own fame was Ramirez, ultimately leading to his downfall.
After his arrest, in the most expensive trial the state of California had ever seen, Richard Ramirez was convicted of all charges, including 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries. He was sentenced to death by gas chamber, and imprisoned to wait out the rest of his days.
Because of the depth of his case, including 50,000 pages of trial records, the courts couldn’t hear his appeal until 2006, effectively staying his execution. During the time between his trial and appeal, Ramirez met a fan and married her, and was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma.
During his first round of appeals in 2006, the courts upheld the original ruling and sentence. However, Ramirez was able to stall it again, by submitting more requests for more appeals, for the next seven years until he finally succumbed to his lymphoma. Richard Ramirez died in prison in 2013, at the age of 53 after spending 23 years on death row.
Not once during those 23 years did he admit wrongdoing, or express remorse. In fact, upon hearing his sentence, he smiled.
“Hey, big deal,” he said. “Death always comes with the territory. I’ll see you in Disneyland.”