Fascinated by serial killers? So am I. In fact one of the scariest for me growing up was Richard Ramirez, who terrorized California in the 80's. I've written about his insane killing spree for this month's Dark Dream column.
Check out 'Richard Ramirez: The Bloody Trail of California's Night Stalker'
In the summer of 1985, Southern California was in the grips of a deep fear, held hostage by a bloodthirsty creature of the night, a ghoulish demon who cloaked himself in darkness to commit a series of gruesome murders. He wore all black and kept to the shadows, wrapping himself in the night and embracing his twisted inner darkness and inhumanity as something to celebrate. I was barely a teenager but I'll never forget the fear that the Night Stalker, as the media dubbed him, installed in the hearts of myself and virtually everyone I knew. It was all anyone could talk about, a real life horror story that caused a skyrocket in gun and ammunition sales and meant we all slept with our windows tightly shut and locked those insanely hot nights.
The Night Stalker would enter the house late at night and if he found a couple he would eliminate the male first, generally by placing a small caliber handgun to his head and killing him instantly. If the female victim didn't resist he would sexually assault her. If they did he would also torture and kill them. Then after robbing and ransacking the house he'd disappear. But unlike most serial killers, he would kill again soon, not having the patience to wait. Los Angeles quickly proved to be the perfect playground for a serial killer. The Night Stalker committed his crimes all over the sprawling city and surrounding areas, operating with impunity. He used the freeways to explore his dark fantasies throughout Southern California and even as far up as San Francisco. In what became a regular routine, he trolled quiet suburban neighborhoods searching for a dimly lit home in the dead of the night. When he found one to his liking he would case it before entering. He pried open windows, forcing his way in or in some cases trying the front door to find it unlocked.
What's worse the Night Stalker didn't fit the classic pattern of a serial killer. He didn't have a specific type of victim but preyed on the young and old alike. He didn't have a specific area he hunted in either, randomly selecting unrelated victims from all over Southern California. He also didn't have a single method of killing. He employed guns, knives, a tire iron, a hammer, a machete, and in one case even stomped a woman to death. What was even more peculiar was that he didn't always kill his victims. Sometimes if they pleaded he would let them live, forcing them to pray to Satan before he left. Because of this bizarre and random behavior it was nearly impossible for police to predict his next move and capture him. The question on everyone's mind was who was this madman and when would he be stopped?
Richard Ramirez was born Ricardo Leyva MuñozRamirez on Feb. 29, 1960, in El Paso, Texas. He was the fifth and last child of Julian and Mercedes Ramirez. Mercedes was a devote Catholic. Julian, who had only a first grade education, grew up in Mexico where he met and married Mercedes in 1948. A former police officer, he took a job on the Santa Fe railroad when he crossed the border with his new bride. Mercedes took work in a boot factory mixing pigments and chemicals without the benefit of protective masks or proper ventilation. By 1959, she'd given birth to four children; Rubin, Joseph, Robert and Ruth. Rubin and Joseph were both born with birth defects. She was described by those who knew her as a kind and religious woman. Her fifth pregnancy with Richard was the hardest. The fumes were making her weak and nauseous. Doctors suspected her body was trying to reject the child she was carrying. But despite her sickness, she gave birth to a lovely and seemingly happy child.
When asked later what her son was like as a little boy Mercedes cried and said he was a happy child, always laughing and giggling and dancing to the radio. But childhood was not without dangers. At the age of two a dresser fell on him, causing a laceration to his forehead that took 30 stitches to close. At age 5, Richard was knocked unconscious by a swing at a park. He experienced frequent epileptic seizures that persisted into his early teens as a result of that injury. The attacks, which began in the fifth grade, left him paralyzed and humiliated in front of his classmates. Richard was also told he couldn't play football because of his seizures, a crushing blow to him as a kid. Other forces were shaping the future killer as well. His father Julian, a strict disciplinarian, had taken to beating Richard and his brothers with a belt when he misbehaved. Richard worried more for his brothers than he did for himself. His fathers temper was so volatile he even took his rage out on himself, once banging his own head with a hammer until he bled. As a young child, Richie escaped some of his father's brutality by hanging around his mother and big sister, who tried to reinforce his strict Catholic upbringing. He attended church regularly and was even an alter boy for a while. Yet despite his closeness to his doting mother and sister, Richard began to change as he approached adolescence, manifesting deviant sexual desires in part because of the abuse he'd received at the hands of a teacher that regularly came to his house when his parents were away, molesting his brother under the guise of tutoring him. Although Richard would never admit that he was sexually assaulted by the pedophile, his brothers insist that he was.
When he was 11, his older cousin, Miguel "Mike" Ramirez, a decorated U.S. Army Green Beret combat veteran he looked up to, began bonding with the impressionable Richie over weed and gory war stories. While in Vietnam Mike murdered Vietnamese women for fun, tying them to trees and then raping and killing them. He took pictures of them while they were alive, terrified and tied up, and also pictures of them after he'd killed them, often severing their heads. When he returned from Vietnam he brought a shoebox full of these photographs with him. He spent hours telling young Richard Ramirez about these stories and showing him the pictures. He taught him the tactics of guerrilla warfare, how to sneak up on an enemy and kill with stealth and certainty. One night while arguing with his wife Mike shot her in the head. Richard witnessed the entire episode, claiming he saw her fall in slow motion - a dime-sized hole in her head spilling blood. She was dead before she hit the floor. Mike was arrested, judged insane, and committed to a mental hospital.
Richard never told his parents he was in the room when the killing took place, but his behavior became strange after the incident. He began roaming the neighborhood at night as a peeping Tom and taking LSD. To avoid his father's violent outbursts he took to sleeping in a nearby cemetery. Disillusioned with Christianity, he began praying instead to the devil. By the time he reached high school his classmates had noticed a drastic change in him. He was dirty, cold, brooding, and often high on drugs. He dropped out of school his freshman year and took a job at a Holiday Inn. Using a master key he began to first rob guests, then later to hide in some of the rooms and spy on female visitors, becoming aroused and fantasizing about overpowering them and having his way. Before long he crossed the line and made that fantasy a reality.
One night, he watched a woman get undressed and take a shower before overpowering and raping her. The woman's husband, who had gone to park the car, caught Ramirez in the act of raping his wife and beat him within an inch of his life. The next morning he was booked and taken to court. The couple, who lived out of town, wanted to put the incident behind them and refused to return to El Paso. The charges were dropped. Soon after his cousin, Mike was released from the mental hospital. Richard began to hang around with the Vietnam vet, getting high and fantasizing about rape and torture. A year later in 1978, he left El Paso for Los Angeles where he turned his fantasies into horrifying realities. Settling into the Skid Row area he found he could feed his lust for sex, drugs, and violence 24 hours a day. Ramirez began shooting up cocaine and quickly lost control of his habit. He broke into houses originally to steal and fence items so he could keep getting high. Satan was still a vital part of his philosophy. He'd even traveled to San Francisco to meet a coven of devil worshipers, but rejected becoming a member of an organized Satanic cult feeling he was superior to them. By 1983, his life had become a downward spiral of drugs, porn, prostitutes, and crime. Suspecting something was wrong because he hadn't called or written, his sister Ruth came to Los Angeles in an attempt to talk him into coming home. She begged him to return to his roots in the Catholic church. He told her he was now under the protection of Lucifer. Five months later, he was arrested for car theft. He was photographed and fingerprinted and spent six months in jail. When he was released in June of 1984, it was only a matter of weeks before he committed the first of his Night Stalker murders. Within a year, his grisly killing spree would shock the world.
The Night Stalker's reign of terror officially began on July 27, 1984, in Glassell Park, a small community north east of Los Angeles. The victim was Jennie Vincow, an elderly woman nearly 80 years old. In the dead of the night, Ramirez removed the screen to her apartment window, brutally killing her in her bed while she slept. It was a blood orgy of brutality that shocked the world. Ramirez had lost control, repeatedly stabbing her and slashing her throat so deeply that she was nearly decapitated when police found the body. At the morgue, the police discovered a key piece of evidence in the form of a fingerprint. However there was little they could do with it back then. They could only help link a suspect to a crime after he was already identified. The Department of Justice had 16 million fingerprints in master files, all in hard copy. California was developing a computerized fingerprint system that would eventually be instrumental in catching and convicting Ramirez, but it wasn't up and running yet.
In the meantime, the Night Stalker cruised the highways of Los Angeles high on cocaine, listening to heavy metal and searching for his next victim. On March 17, 1985, he followed Maria Hernandez home, creeping into her garage with her as she pulled in to park. He was dressed all in black and pointing a gun at her. Maria pleaded with him but he shot the 22-year-old in the face as she got out of her car. The bullet ricocheted off her car keys. Maria fell down and played dead, thinking he'd run off. Instead Ramirez went inside the upstairs apartment. Maria's roommate, 34-year-old Dayle Okazaki, had heard the gunshot and hidden behind a counter. When her curiosity overwhelmed her she raised her head. Ramirez was waiting for her with a devilish grin. He shot her once in the forehead, killing her instantly. She was dead before she hit the floor. Ramirez fled, but Maria got a good look at him as he did. She described him to a police sketch artist as tall, dark and Hispanic.
Ramirez's desire for murder was insatiable, far more than other serial killers. He had a deep need to fulfill his lust for killing. Unlike other serial killers who meticulously plot out their killings, painstakingly going over every detail and then savoring their crimes long afterward, allowing the tension to grow until they need to kill again, Ramirez wasn't able to control himself. He could literally be overcome by the desire to kill again a few hours after his last murder. At one in the morning that same night, high from the adrenaline of the last murder, Ramirez found another victim. He was driving on the San Fernando freeway when he spotted 30-year-old Tsai-Lian Yu. He followed her off the freeway in Monterey Park. She pulled over and asked why he was following her, threatening to call the police. He forced his way into her car and shot her twice with a .22-caliber handgun before fleeing the scene. She was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Again, Ramirez left evidence behind that would connect him to both the murders. The sheriff's department recovered bullet casings from each of the murder scenes. Within a few days, the tests came back confirming what Detective Salerno and his partner Detective Gil Carrillo, the men assigned to the case, feared most - they had a serial killer on their hands.
Ten days later, Ramirez struck again. On March 28, 1985, at two in the morning he silently coasted up to a house in Whittier that he'd burgled a year earlier. He tried the doors and the windows but they were all locked. Ramirez didn't give up. He found the laundry room window was open so he slipped in, crouching down and letting his eyes adjust to the light. 64-year-old Vincent Zazzara had fallen asleep on the couch in front of the television. Ramirez quickly dispatched him with a shot to the head that killed him instantly. Zazzara's wife, 44-year-old Maxine, was awakened by the sound of her husband's murder and tried to flee, but Ramirez captured her and tied her up. Ramirez beat her severely while demanding to know where her valuables were. While he ransacked the room, Maxine wriggled free and grabbed the shotgun her husband kept under the bed. Ramirez froze as Maxine pulled the trigger, but unfortunately for her, the gun wasn't loaded. Infuriated by her boldness, Ramirez shot her three times before taking a butcher knife from the kitchen and mutilating her body with multiple stab wounds. He gouged out Maxine's eyes and placed them in a jewelry box he took with him as a souvenir. Vincent and Maxine's bodies were discovered by their son, Peter. Ramirez left more evidence behind in his wanton killing spree. Bullets found at the scene were matched to those found at his previous attacks.
On May 14, 1985, Ramirez returned to Monterey Park in search of another random victim and entered the home of William "Bill" Doi and his disabled wife Lillian. Doi was 66, his wife 10 years his junior. Surprising Doi in his bedroom, The Night Stalker shot him in the face as Doi went for his own handgun. Even though he was already mortally wounded, Ramirez proceeded to beat William into unconsciousness before restraining Lillian with thumb cuffs and raping her. Sticking to his usual pattern, he ransacked the home for valuables. Bill Doi died of his injuries while in the hospital but Lillian lived. She described Ramirez to the police as a tall Hispanic man dressed in all black with bad teeth. He also left behind footprints from a pair of Avia sneakers in the flower beds, which the police photographed and cast. It was a new shoe with a patented sole that had only been in America since earlier that year. Detective Salerno ran a check and discovered that only one pair of shoes with that brand and size had been sold in the Los Angeles area. Unfortunately, they were paid for in cash and the store owner couldn't recall who had bought them. The Sheriff's office circulated pictures of the shoe along with a composite drawing of The Night Stalker but got no results. Once again they were at a dead end.
Two weeks later, on the night of May 29, 1985, Ramirez drove a stolen Mercedes-Benz to Monrovia where he attacked 84-year-old Mable Bell and her 81-year-old sister Florence Lang. Using a hammer he found in their kitchen, the Night Stalker bludgeoned Mabel unconscious before shocking her with an electrical cord. He then raped Lang and used Mabel Bell's lipstick to draw a pentagram on her inner thigh, as well as one on the wall of both bedrooms. The women weren't discovered for two days. Both were still alive but comatose. Bell was unable to recover from her injuries and died. For the first time, the Night Stalker had left them more than a clue, he'd given the men hunting him a view into his psyche by announcing his dedication to Satan. This provided not only motivation for the terrible crimes, but an explanation for his brazenness and recklessness at crime scenes at well. Police would later confirm that Ramirez believed he was Satan's chosen one, sent out alone to commit evil in the name of his dark master. He believed that Satan protected him and that when he died he would take his rightful place by Satan's side in hell as his right hand man.
The next day, Ramirez was back out in the stolen Mercedes looking to kill again. He silently cruised up to a home in Burbank, cutting the engine and the lights as he approached. He gained entrance to the locked house by reaching up through the dog door and letting himself in. Ruth Wilson awoke to a flashlight beam blinding her. Ramirez grabbed the 41-year-old and led her to the room of her 12-year-old son. At gunpoint he bound them with handcuffs and ransacked the house. He then sodomized her repeatedly, ordering her not to look at him and telling her at one point that he would "cut her eyes out" if she did. He fled the scene after retrieving the child from the closet and binding the two together again with the handcuffs.
On June 27, 1985, the body of a 27-year-old teacher was found in Arcadia. She'd been sodomized before having her throat slit. On the night of July 2, 1985, Ramirez returned to Arcadia in a stolen Toyota , randomly selecting the house of 75-year-old Mary Louise Cannon. He quietly slipped into the widowed grandmother's bedroom to find her peacefully sleeping. If Mary knew what was happening, it didn't last long. Ramirez bludgeoned her into unconsciousness with a lamp before repeatedly stabbed her with a butcher knife he'd picked up in her kitchen. She was found dead at the crime scene.
A couple days later, on July 5, Ramirez broke into a home in Sierra Madre and bludgeoned 16-year-old Whitney Bennett with a tire iron as she slept in her bedroom. After searching in vain for a knife in the kitchen, Ramirez attempted to strangle the girl with a telephone cord. He was startled to see sparks emanate from the cord, and when his victim began to breathe, he fled the house believing that Jesus Christ had intervened and saved her. She survived the savage beating, which required 478 stitches, nearly four feet of sutures, to close the lacerations to her scalp.
On July 7, 1985, Ramirez returned to Monterey Park to burglarize the home of 61-year-old Joyce Lucille Nelson. He was surprised to find her sleeping on the couch. She may have startled him. Ramirez beat her unconscious then stomped her to death, leaving a shoe print from his Avia sneakers literally imprinted on her face. But Ramirez wasn't done for the night. He cruised around a few neighborhoods nearby before doubling back to Monterey Park. This time, he chose the home of 63-year-old Sophie Dickman. At gunpoint, Ramirez handcuffed Dickman and attempted to rape her but quickly grew frustrated. He then stole all of her jewelry, making her "swear on Satan" that she'd given him everything of value before leaving. Linda Martinez, a sheriff's deputy familiar with the Night Stalker case, heard her neighbor Sophie crying for help, but Ramirez was already long gone.
On July 20, 1985, Ramirez purchased a machete with cash before driving a stolen Toyota out to Glendale. There he randomly chose the home of Maxon and Lela Kneiding, another elderly couple. With a bloodthirsty cry, he burst into the sleeping couple's bedroom and hacked at them with his deadly new toy. Unsatisfied with how long it was taking, Ramirez then shot both of them in the head with his .22-caliber handgun before further mutilating their bodies with the machete. When it was all done, he calmly ransacked the house for valuables, walked out the front door and vanished once more into the night. But Ramirez wasn't done.
He fenced the stolen items he'd taken from the Kneidling's then drove to nearby Sun Valley along the I-5 freeway. Around 4 a.m., he broke into the home of the Khovananth family. He shot Chainarong Khovananth in the head with a .25-caliber handgun while he slept, instantly killing him. Ramirez then repeatedly raped Somkid Khovananth, beating and sodomizing her while she begged for mercy. He restrained the couple's terrified 8-year-old son before dragging Somkid around the house looking for valuable items to steal. Again he demanded that she "swear to Satan" that she was not hiding any money from him. He then raped the 8-year-old boy and left. And again, he left shoe prints behind from his Avia sneakers, making Detectives wonder if he was baiting them. Somkid gave a detailed description of her attacker to the police. They released the information to the press, who quickly dubbed him the Night Stalker.
On Aug. 6, 1985, Ramirez drove to Northridge and broke into the home of Chris and Virginia Peterson. He startled 27-year-old Virginia before shooting her in the face. He shot Chris Peterson in the temple and attempted to flee, but Peterson fought back and avoided being hit by two more shots during the struggle before Ramirez escaped. The couple survived their injuries.
On August 8, 1985, Ramirez drove a stolen car to Diamond Bar and randomly chose the home of Elyas and Sakina Abowath. He entered the house and instantly killed the sleeping Elyas with a shot to the head. He handcuffed and beat Sakina while forcing her to reveal the locations of the family's jewelry, and then brutally raped and sodomized her. He repeatedly demanded that she "swore on Satan" that she wouldn't scream during his assaults. When the couple's 3-year-old son entered the bedroom, Ramirez tied the child up and then continued to rape Sakina. Then, Ramirez calmly ate a melon he found in the couple's fridge before leaving the home. Sakina then untied her son and sent him to the neighbors for help. It was the 13th Night Stalker murder and the police were nowhere closer to catching him. This was in part due to lack of inter-agency cooperation. LAPD didn't tell the sheriff's department what they knew. Neither did the Glendale police. The Monterrey Park police found a footprint at their crime scene that belonged to Ramirez, but didn't share that information with the detectives working the case. The police grew desperate as the killings continued and mounting pressure came in from the public to stop this deranged killer. At the same time news came in that the Night Stalker had struck again, this time in San Francisco.
Ramirez had been following the media coverage of his crimes and knew the police were eager to catch him so he'd headed to the Bay area but he couldn't stop his lust for blood. On Aug. 18, 1985, Ramirez entered the home of Peter and Barbara Pan. He killed Peter in his sleep with a gunshot to his temple then beat and raped before shooting her and leaving her for dead. At the crime scene Ramirez used lipstick to scrawl a pentagram and the phrase "Jack the Knife" on the bedroom wall.
When it was discovered that the ballistic and shoe print evidence from the Night Stalker crime scenes matched the Pan crime scene Dianne Feinstein, who was the mayor of San Francisco at the time, divulged the critical information in a televised press conference. The leak infuriated the detectives in the case, as they knew that the killer would be following media coverage and have an opportunity to destroy crucial forensic evidence. Sure enough Ramirez, who had been obsessively watching the press, walked to the Golden Gate bridge that night, dropping his size eleven and a half Avia sneakers and his favorite gun over the side and into the water. He remained in the area for a few more days before stealing a car and driving past Los Angeles to Orange County.
On Aug. 24, 1985, Ramirez drove 76 miles south of Los Angeles in a stolen Toyota to Mission Viejo where he broke into the house of 30-year-old Bill Carns and his fiance, Inez Erickson. Ramirez entered the bedroom of the sleeping couple and shot Carns three times in the head before attacking Erickson. Ramirez told the terrified woman that he was "The Night Stalker" and forced her to swear she loved Satan as he beat her with his fists and bound her with neckties from the closet. After stealing what he could find, he dragged Erickson to another room to rape and sodomize her. He then demanded cash and more jewelry, making Erickson "swear on Satan" there was no more - just like with his other victims. "Tell them the Night Stalker was here," were his last words the brazen killer taunted her with before leaving their shattered home.
But Ramirez had been unknowingly spotted. As he left in the Toyota, a 13-year-old neighbor, James Romero III, who had been outside fixing his bike, noticed the same "weird-looking guy in black" that he had seen earlier in the night. James thought he matched the police sketch of the Night Stalker or was at the very least highly suspicious, so he wrote down as much of the license plate as he could remember. Ramirez ditched the stolen car none the wiser and took a Greyhound bus to Arizona, completely unaware he'd left behind a crucial clue. Inez Erickson untied herself and went to a neighbor's house to get help for her severely injured fiance. Surgeons were able to remove two of the bullets from his head, and he survived his injuries.
When news of the attack broke, Romero told his parents about the strange man in the orange Toyota, and they immediately contacted the police and provided the partial license plate number. Erickson was able to give a detailed description of the assailant to investigators. The stolen car was found on August 28 and police were able to obtain a single fingerprint from the rear view mirror despite Ramirez's careful efforts to wipe the car clean of his prints. It had been a hot night and Richard had taken off his glove at one point then adjusted the mirror. California's new computerized fingerprint system was finally online. The print was positively identified as belonging to Richard MuÃ±oz Ramirez, a 25-year-old drifter from Texas with a long rap sheet. Law enforcement officials decided to release a mug shot of Ramirez from a Dec. 12, 1984, arrest for car theft to the media. The Night Stalker finally had a face the public could fear and despise, but also identify. Police taunted the killer back, saying at a news conference "We know who you are now, and soon everyone else will. There will be no place you can hide."
The largest manhunt in the history of Los Angeles was underway. On August 30, 1985, Ramirez took a bus to Tucson, Arizona, to visit his brother, unaware that he had become the lead story in virtually every major newspaper and television news program across the state of California. After failing to meet his brother, he returned to Los Angeles early on the morning of Aug. 31. He walked past officers who were staking out the bus terminal in hopes of catching the killer should he attempt to flee on an outbound bus, but remained calm and drew no attention to himself. He walked a few blocks to a convenience store in East Los Angeles to buy some candy. After noticing a group of elderly Mexican women fearfully identifying him as "El Matador" - Spanish for "The Killer," Ramirez was shocked. He looked down and saw his face was on the cover of every newspaper on the rack and fled the store in a panic. He tried to get on a bus, but the people on the bus recognized him and began pointing at him and yelling.
Desperate to hide, Ramirez fled on foot, running through yards and hopping over fences as he went. After running across the Santa Ana Freeway, he attempted to carjack a woman, but was chased away by bystanders, who pursued him. Some of the witnesses called the police to tell them the Night Stalker was on the run. Forty police cars and seven helicopters rushed to the area. After hopping over several fences and attempting two more carjackings, he was chased off by an angry husband who beat him over the head with a metal bar. Ramirez began running up the street but soon hundreds of residents came out to confront him yelling "the killer" and calling for blood. Someone yelled "go get my gun" while the others began stomping and beating him. The police arrived in time to save him from mob justice and take him into custody. His six-month killing spree was finally over.
Police recovered a car he had used, with bullets inside that linked him to several of the murders. They also recovered a handgun. In El Paso, the police discovered three hundred and seventy five pieces of jewelry Ramirez had stolen from his victims and then sent to his family. His friends back home were stunned to hear Richie was the Night Stalker.
He was charged with 14 murders and 30 other counts related to his rape, robbery and murder spree. During his arraignment in October of 1985 Ramirez flaunted his allegiance to the devil by turning to the media and revealing a pentagram he'd drawn on the palm of his hand. Later as he was being led off he yelled out "hail Satan." Detective Salerno wasn't surprised. Instead he used Ramirez's courtroom theatrics to tie him to his vicious crimes. Though it seemed like an open and shut case it took two years to bring it to a preliminary hearing. Two public defenders were appointed to Richard Ramirez, but he disliked them. Another defense attorney also came and went before the Ramirez family hired two new lawyers that had never tried a death penalty case.
Then through a long series of legal maneuvering his trial was delayed until Jan. 30, 1989. From the beginning Ramirez showed no remorse. Given his self-proclaimed Satanic views the consequences of an ordinary criminal justice trial seemed irrelevant, since his true reward would be in hell. He had assured his place not only in history but in eternal damnation as well.
Although Ramirez often appeared unbalanced in his court and television appearances, Detectives Salerno and Carrillo were surprised to find that the high school drop out was in fact articulate and well read. He admitted to having a fascination with murder and with serial killers and took delight in learning that the holding cell he was placed in after his capture had once also housed Angelo Buono, who committed a series of murders along with Kenneth Bianci and became known as the Hillside Strangler.
Ramirez came to court in black clothing and dark shades, donning the persona of disaffected rock star. As investigators and survivors related the gory details of their encounters with the Night Stalker, Ramirez calmly leafed through bloody crime scene photos, relishing his devilish handiwork. When evidence was shown of mutilated bodies Ramirez would laugh or giggle. When he saw his victims suffering he'd turn around and sneer at them in childish delight. It quickly became clear that he was indeed more than capable of the unspeakable crimes he'd been accused of committing. But while most people were sickened to see what he'd done, Ramirez had also attracted his own set of groupies, ranging from nurses and strippers to law students and bored housewives. Dressed in black to match their idol, they'd eager await a smile of recognition from him during the trial. One of them, Doreen Lioy, a freelance magazine editor, would later marry Ramirez in San Quentin. His charisma wasn't enough to win the jury over. The accounts from his survivors and the overwhelming physical evidence tying him to the scene of the crimes was more than enough to convince them of his guilt.
The trial cost $1.8 million, which at the time made it the most expensive in the history of California, until surpassed by the O. J. Simpson murder case in 1994. On Sept. 20, 1989 after 50 days of testimony and 165 witnesses, Richard Ramirez was found guilty. He was convicted of 67 felonies, including 14 murders. He was given 19 death sentences. "Big deal," he told the press on the way out of the courthouse after being sentenced. "Death always came with the territory. See you in Disneyland."
He was sent to death row in San Quentin. In 1996, he married Doreen. The ceremony happened in his cell. She bought a gold wedding band for herself and a platinum one for Richard, who informed her that "Satanists don't wear gold." The minister skipped the vows "until death do us part" - a common practice on death row. Doreen vowed to kill herself when Ramirez was finally executed but the couple eventually separated. Detective Salerno readily agreed to come watch the final moments of Ramirez's life when invited by the killer. On Aug. 7, 2006, his first round of State appeals ended unsuccessfully when the California Supreme Court upheld his convictions and death sentence. Ramirez, who was an avowed Satanist, never expressed any remorse for his crimes. The judge who upheld his 13 death sentences remarked that Ramirez's deeds exhibited "cruelty, callousness, and viciousness beyond any human understanding." On Sept. 7, 2006, the California Supreme Court denied his request for a rehearing. Ramirez had appeals pending until the time of his death. Legal authorities estimate Ramirez would have been in his early seventies before his execution was finally carried out, due to the lengthy California appeals process.
In 2009, DNA testing conclusively linked Ramirez to another murder, this one from April 10, 1984. Mei Leung, a 9-year-old girl, was found murdered in a hotel basement where Ramirez was living in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. She had been raped, beaten, and stabbed to death. Her body was found hanging from a pipe. She is believe to be Ramirez's first known killing.
Richard Ramirez died of complications from secondary to B-cell lymphoma at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, Calif. He was pronounced dead at 9 a.m. on June 7, 2013. Ramirez, a life long addict, had also been suffering from chronic hepatitis C. He was 53, and had spent over 23 years awaiting his execution.
Originally published on The Escapist
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