Richard Ramirez captured the attention of the entire country, and news reports covered his spree in gory detail. During a time when satanic panic was at its peak, the seemingly devilish crime wave that hit Los Angeles in the mid-1980s was especially terrifying. It appeared as though the person responsible was evil personified. The "Night Stalker" would break into homes in the middle of the night, assault the residents, draw pentagrams on his victims, and make off with valuables from the premises. His methods were varied, and there was no discernable pattern to describe how he'd pick victims. The elderly, men, women, and even children in California were prey to his sick machinations.
Most everyone has heard about Ramirez - or the Night Stalker, as he was nicknamed by the media - but there's an interesting and often-overlooked detail regarding his capture. Continue reading to learn more facts about the Night Stalker and how he was eventually arrested for his unspeakable crimes.
Richard Ramirez was born in El Paso, Texas, on February 29, 1960. He was the youngest of five children born to Mercedes and Julian Ramirez - hardworking and deeply religious Mexican immigrants. The family lived in a modest home in a working-class neighborhood. According to journalist Philip Carlo, author of The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez, Ramirez had a particularly tumultuous childhood. While his former police officer father was attentive, he was prone to aggression and known to have a nasty temper. The Ramirez children were often whooped with belts.
One of the older siblings had a school teacher who'd tutor at the home and allegedly fondled his student. Family members insist that "little Richie" was left alone with the offender on numerous occasions and that he, too, was a victim. Trying to avoid his father's volatile outbursts and the alleged molestation, Ramirez began spending time at a local cemetery, where he would often spend the night.
As a child, a bureau fell on Ramirez's head, and he started experiencing seizures, an effect of temporal lobe epilepsy. During his teen years, he was banned from playing football - one of his favorite activities - due to his medical condition. Because of this, the youth became somewhat of a loner, but he admired and enjoyed spending time with his cousin Miguel, or "Mike." Mike had a reputation as the toughest guy in El Paso because of his love for fighting and eventually joined the army to serve in Vietnam.
While deployed, he claimed to have assaulted Vietnamese women and taken polaroids of his victims. Upon return, Mike shared graphic Vietnam stories and gruesome photographs with his young, impressionable cousin. Mike taught Ramirez how to hunt animals and efficiently use weapons. One day with Ramirez present, Mike and his wife got into an argument. Mike ended his wife's life right in front of Ramirez, a gratuitous scene.
James Romero will forever be credited with helping catch the notorious Night Stalker, even though he was incredibly young. The police were already searching for the Night Stalker and had plastered his police sketch on many news outlets, but 13-year-old Romero was oblivious to the man-hunt.
When hanging out in his garage on August 25, 1985, the boy heard footsteps and noticed a man hiding behind his parents' car. He dashed to the house to inform his father then ran outside in time to see the prowler driving away. Romero took note of the car description and license plate and called police with the information. Within a week, authorities were able to locate the car and get Ramirez's fingerprint off of it.
Romero was hailed a hero and given reward money as well as a Yamaha ATV for his actions. He had to testify a few years later during Ramirez's trial and stated that the deranged suspect had stared at him in the courtroom and even winked at him.
Ramirez eventually got his first job at a Holiday Inn. He had access to the hotel's master key and was known to sneak into guests' rooms and help himself to their belongings. The young teen started creeping into rooms and spying on naked women. On one occasion, he spied on a female guest while she showered and forced himself on her. The guest's husband entered the room and beat Ramirez off of his wife.
Ramirez was placed under arrest, but the case was later dismissed as this was his first offense and the couple didn't want to return to El Paso to press charges. He was thusly fired from the Holiday Inn.
Though Richard Ramirez grew up attending Catholic mass and even served as an altar boy, he denounced the Catholic faith and studied satanism. Shortly after his religious change and arrest, he left his family in El Paso and moved to Los Angeles. There he resided in cheap motels and only ventured out at night to engage in Skid Row's seedy after-hours activities.
Police initially believed that Ramirez began his reign of terror on the night of June 28, 1984, when Jack Vincow discovered that someone had ended the life of his 79-year-old mother, Jennie Vincow. Ramirez broke into the Vincow residence by removing the screen from one of the apartment windows but was angered to find nothing of value in the home. He proceeded to assault the elderly woman before repeatedly using a knife on her.
Almost a year later, in March 1985, Ramirez would strike again. He spotted Maria Hernandez on the freeway and followed her home. Ramirez crept inside the garage and shot the woman while she closed her automatic garage door, but she survived. Ramirez left Hernandez in the garage to enter the apartment where he targeted her roommate, Dale Okazaki. Later that evening, Ramirez forced Tsai-Lian Yu off the road and went after her with his gun. Yu passed in the hospital.
Vincent and Maxine Zazzara were found their home 11 days later. They both had been shot in the head by Ramirez, but Maxine's autopsy indicated extreme lacerations. Police discovered a shoe print outside of the couple's bedroom window that they believed to be made by Ramirez's Avia athletic shoe.
Two months after the Zazarras passed, 66-year-old Bill Doi and his wife, 56-year-old Lillian, became victims of the Night Stalker. Police found the couple alive at the scene. The MO matched what happened at the Zazarras, except in this instance, the wife had been bound and assaulted. Bill Doi passed in the hospital.
Ramirez also broke into the house of elderly sisters Mabel Bell, 83, and Florence Lang, 81, that same month. He beat Lang with a hammer and assaulted her before beating and electrocuting her older sister. He also drew a pentagram on Lang and multiple other locations inside the home. Both women initially survived, but Bell then passed.
One day after targeting the sisters, Ramirez broke into the house Carol Kyle shared with her 11-year-old son. He repeatedly assaulted Carol before handcuffing her and her son together. He let the victims live but threatened to end them if they sought help from authorities. As was his custom, Ramirez took items from the residence before making his exit.
Police soon began linking the crimes to one person, and they referred to the assailant as the "Valley Intruder."