The Making (and Breaking) of Richard Ramirez, Night-Stalker

by Patrick H. Moore

Richard Ramirez, the world-famous Night-Stalker, died of “natural causes,” reportedly Hepatitis C or some other form of liver disease, in June of 2013. He was only 52. Few murderous crime sprees have matched that of Ramirez for sheer ferocity. During a relatively short period of time in 1985, Richard wreaked such havoc that when he was finally captured in East Los Angeles by a group of angry citizens on August 31, 1985, he was charged with thirteen murders, five attempted murders, six rapes, three lewd acts on children, two kidnappings, three acts of forced oral copulation, four counts of sodomy, five robberies and fourteen burglaries. Out of the 55 counts, he was convicted of 41 in a Los Angeles county courtroom on September 20, 1989. Since then, he has been serving time on Death Row in San Quentin.

colorRamirez’ distinctive moniker was based on his modus operandi. He typically crawled into homes through open windows in the early morning hours. He was an equal-opportunity slayer who alternated between strangling, throat slashing and shooting. He left spray-painted pentagrams — a distinctive Satanist symbol — on the walls of the some of victims’ homes. The killings so terrorized Los Angeles County that there was a significant increase in the sale of guns, ammunition, locks and window bars.

One of the strange aspects of the Night-Stalker’s case is that he was captured and beaten by angry citizens in East Los Angeles after trying to steal a woman’s car. He made a frantic effort to escape seven Los Angeles Police patrol cars that chased him for 20 minutes, but was subdued by four determined citizens who worked him over with a steel rod. When the police finally arrived, they found him covered in blood, begging for his life in Spanish:

“Dejeme en paz! Dejeme en paz!” — Spanish for “Leave me in peace!

According to writer Jennifer Grise:

childRichard was born in 1960 in El Paso Texas, to parents of meager economical means. His father, Julian Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant, and his mother, Mercedes Ramirez, a Mexican American citizen, both worked long hours every day to support their five children. Julian was an abusive parent as his father was before him. If Mercedes or any of the children did anything that Julian considered wrong they were physically beaten.

Richard and his siblings all had medical difficulties during early childhood, in part due to the Government-sponsored nuclear bomb tests in nearby New Mexico. The radioactive fallout from the bombs was wind-borne to El Paso, infecting the landscape, the livestock and the human population. The Ramirez children were born with problems ranging from respiratory difficulty to bone deformation, which permanently disabled Richard’s older brother Reuben.

In 1959, while pregnant with Richard, his mother Mercedes “was working at Tony Lamaís boot factory… mixing chemicals such as benzene, xylene and toluene.” During that era, the toxicity of these chemicals was either unknown or ignored. Mercedes gave birth to Richard on February 29th, 1960.

While in the 5th grade, Richard began having grand mal seizures in school and was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. By this point, he had put his childhood ailments behind him “and was considered to be a healthy although hyper and aggressive child.”

faceRichard’s home environment was hardly a picture of mental health, but the single most destructive influence in his life was his cousin Michael, a Vietnam veteran just back from the war who had enjoyed killing and raping Vietnamese women. After his arrest, Richard reported that when he was 12 years old, Michael showed him a series of detailed photographs depicting him raping a Vietnamese woman. It is unclear who took the pictures or if they are authentic, but there is little doubt that they had a markedly deleterious effect on Richard. According to Richard, the last picture in the sequence was of the same rape victim’s severed head, “held by Michael in his hand, positioned so that the victim’s mouth was placed around his penis.” The series of photographs was, in effect, a photographic snuff film. Michael also taught Richard how to shoot a gun, and how to effectively maneuver a knife.

After a few months of this diabolical tutelage, a tragedy occurred:

fangsRichard and Michael were at Michael’s house playing billiards. Michael’s wife Jessie was very angry with her husband, a fight ensued and Michael shot her, right in front of a twelve year old Richard. He then casually told Richard to get out of there before the police arrived, and never to tell a soul what he saw. This traumatic event was locked inside Richard’s mind for an extremely long time. Richard admits that he was especially sexually aroused by the photographs of the rape/murder victim that Michael showed him. He knew it was wrong to feel that way, and he couldn’t talk to anyone about it without getting Michael in trouble. So Michael remained his most special confidant and teacher, until he killed himself shortly there after. Richard continued to practice shooting the gun and wielding the knife until he was arrested.

When Richard turned 18, he moved to Los Angeles where he hit the streets and soon became an alcoholic and a cocaine addict. He and his crew hung out at the bus station. Honing his criminal skills, Richard obtained a master set of keys to Toyota and Honda cars. Each night, he stole a car and drove around Los Angeles looking for houses to rob. His all-around crime skills quickly improved:

Within two years he was robbing up to two homes per night. Once he became a master at burglarizing homes, he decided to up the anti. He began raping women and robbing them when he was through. Eventually Richard’s behavior escalated to include torture and murder. His torture, rape and murder spree was underway.

darkAlthough Richard claimed to be under the sway of Satanic influence, he had no specific identifying, ritualistic behavior to leave as his mark at each crime scene. He was no “This Is Zodiac Speaking.” He was rather an all-around murder generalist. Stabbing, strangling, shooting, it did not matter. He was no cannibal nor is there evidence he was fascinated with corpses a la Jeffrey Dahmer. Rather, he was a stone-cold killer, and a county of 10 million souls recoiled in fear as he left his swath of destruction in his bloody wake.

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