Content Warning: This article includes descriptions of violence against women.
From the Manson murders to the Golden State Killer and Zodiac Killer, Los Angeles was haunted with serial killers and crime in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Netflix’s new true crime docuseries focuses on another name that terrorized the city in the mid-'80s — and one that might be familiar to fans of American Horror Story: the Night Stalker — real name Richard Ramirez.
The Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer illustrates not only how the serial killer, rapist, and burglar gripped Los Angeles from 1984 to 1985, but also the pursuit to catch him. Featuring interviews with the former homicide detectives who broke the case, the docuseries details the efforts to catch a serial killer who would enter homes with seemingly no pattern, killing some and letting others free. Who was Richard Ramirez, and how was he captured?
Who was Richard Ramirez?
Ramirez was exposed to violence and crime at a young age. He was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1960 to Mexican immigrants. He had four older siblings but would often spend time with his cousin Miguel, a Vietnam War vet who returned when Ramirez was 12, according to the New York Times. Miguel was a deeply influential figure for Ramirez. The pair would smoke weed and Miguel would show Ramirez images of women he assaulted and killed while overseas. On May 4, 1973, Miguel fatally shot his wife, Jessie, in the face in front of Ramirez. (Miguel was found not guilty of his wife’s murder after pleading insanity and was later released from Texas State Mental Hospital in 1977.) Later that same year Ramirez moved in with his sister, Ruth, and her husband, Roberto, a pivotal point in Ramirez’s history. Roberto was a “peeping Tom” who would take Ramirez along for his nighttime acts.
Ramirez, who began using LSD and learning about Satanism, started using violence when enacting his sexual fantasies. He got a job at a Holiday Inn, where he would rob guests while they were asleep; these were likely his first crimes. Eventually, he was caught when a guest returned to his room only to discover Ramirez attempting to rape the guest's wife. The charges were eventually dropped when the couple declined to return to testify against Ramirez. In 1982, when Ramirez was 22, he moved to California, just two years before his violent spree began.
What Did The Night Stalker Do?
Ramirez’s first known murder occurred in the basement of the hotel he was living in on April 10, 1984. He raped, beat, and stabbed to death Mei Leung, a nine-year-old Chinese-American girl, in San Francisco, before hanging her body on a pipe. It wasn’t initially connected to his crime spree, but in 2009 a DNA sample obtained from that crime scene matched Ramirez, the Los Angeles Times reports. In 2016, it was revealed that a second suspect was believed to have also been present due to DNA evidence, but they were not publicly identified.
On June 28, 1984, Ramirez’s first Night Stalker crime was identified. Jennie Vincow, 79, was found murdered in her Los Angeles apartment, nearly decapitated. Ramirez’s fingerprint was found on a window screen he removed to enter the apartment. That was followed by a string of home invasions in the area, some resulting in merely attacks (one victim was able to get away after being shot in the face) while others were killed. There was no pattern or theme among his victims – they were white, Asian, Latino, and living in both apartments and houses across Los Angeles and San Francisco.
How Was The Night Stalker Caught?
In August 1985, Ramirez finally slipped up and let his identity get “caught.” On August 24, he traveled to a Mission Viejo home in California's Orange County, but a 13-year-old boy inside heard Ramirez outside. The family, thinking he was a burglar, was able to note the color and make of his car along with a partial license plate number. Ramirez then broke into Bill Carns and Inez Erickson’s home. He shot Carns three times in the head and then told Erikson he was the Night Stalker and that she must swear to love Satan. He raped her, and then he told her, “Tell them the Night Stalker was here.” Erikson was able to give officials a description of Ramirez and found his stolen car in Los Angeles. There was a single fingerprint on the mirror, which matched Ramirez. “We know who you are now, and soon everyone else will,” officials said when releasing a mugshot of his from 1984. “There will be no place you can hide.”
Later that month, on August 30, Ramirez took a bus to Tucson, Arizona, to visit his brother. The next morning he returned to California, where he discovered his face was all over newspapers and in the media. A group of bystanders pursued Ramirez, recognizing him. One hit him in the head with a metal bar and the others held him down until police arrived.
What Happened To Richard Ramirez?
Ramirez’s trial began in July 1988. Several months later, he was convicted on 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries, putting him on death row. He died on June 7, 2013, aged 53, due to health complications at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, CA.