LOS ANGELES -- For two years during the mid 1980s, a serial killer known as the "Night Stalker" walked the streets of the nation's second-largest city -- paralyzing millions, who never knew what he would do or where he would turn up next.
The killing spree of Richard Ramirez, who died Friday in California's San Quentin maximum security penitentiary, panicked the Los Angeles metropolitan area with the incredibly morbid nature of his murders, and the speed with which he committed them. In less than two years, Ramirez brutally killed 13 people, attempted to kill five others, and marred many of the attempts with sexual assaults of his victims.
Ramirez gained the nickname "Night Stalker" from the press for his tendency to enter his victims' homes after dark through unlocked doors and windows. And at the time, the unidentified killer's physical description only heightened the public's fear of this brazen killer. Surviving victims and witnesses said he was a dark-complected, possibly Hispanic male with long dark, curly, wiry hair, bulging eyes and widely-spaced rotting teeth.
The "Night Stalker" was bold, dangerous and deadly. He was freely roaming the neighborhoods of Los Angeles. And authorities speculated that he was likely constantly in search of his next victim.
Ramirez' rampage began in April 1984, when he killed a 9-year-old girl who lived in his apartment building. A 79-year-old woman died next, stabbed repeatedly inside her home and her throat slashed so deeply that police said she was nearly decapitated. His next attack didn't occur for another eight months, when he killed two sisters -- aged 71 and 58 -- inside their home. They, too, were stabbed to death.
By the time of the Night Stalker's next murder, in March 1985, the Los Angeles Police Department had concluded that a serial killer was literally hunting the city's residents. The next victim, 22-year-old Angela Barrios was shot by Ramirez at her home, but survived on an incredible stroke of luck. As Barrios lifted her hands to cover her face, a bullet fired by Ramirez struck a set of keys she was holding in her hand and deflected the slug into a less vital area of her body. She was lucky, but her 34-year-old boyfriend was not. He was shot and killed immediately upon Ramirez' entry into their home.
Less than an hour later, Ramirez moved to the Monterey Park section of Los Angeles and killed Tsai-Lian Yu, 30, by pulling her from her vehicle and emptied his pistol into her body as she lay in the road. Tsai-Lian survived the attack, but died before an ambulance arrived.
Two brutal attacks occurring on that same day, March 17, was what first ignited the widespread public fear in Los Angeles. Authorities attempted to profile the serial killer by analyzing clues left at the murder scenes. The news media dubbed the homicidal madman "The Walk-In Killer", "The Valley Intruder", and finally "The Night Stalker." What became even more frightening was the fact that this killer appeared to have no pattern. No one was safe.
The Night Stalker turned up next 10 days later, shooting a 64-year-old man and his wife. Authorities said the 44-year-old woman, Maxine Zazzara, was badly mutilated by numerous stab wounds and a carving in the shape of a "T" on her left breast. Her eyes had also been gouged out. The killer, police believed, was becoming even bolder.
The only trace evidence authorities had at the time was a set of footprints the killer left in a victim's flower bed, and a couple bullet slugs -- which authorities used to determine the same person was responsible for all of the crimes. The Los Angeles Police Department subsequently called several other law enforcement agencies in southern California for help, and the manhunt was on.
Another elderly couple were the next target, in May 1985, when they were attacked in their home. Police said Jean Wu, 63, had been punched repeatedly, bound and violently raped. Yet, for some reason, Ramirez let her live. Days later, an 83-year-old woman and her sister were beaten with a hammer and police said he unsuccessfully tried to rape one of the women. Instead, he used lipstick to draw pentagrams on her body and on the bedroom wall.
The massacre continued the very next day, when Ramirez assaulted 41-year-old Ruth Wilson -- who was bound, brutally raped, and sodomized while her 12-year-old son was locked in a closet. After the attack, Ramirez tied the two together and fled the home.
On June 2, a young couple were the Night Stalker's next victims. Between June and July, three additional women would be killed. Two had their throats slashed, one was beaten to death, and a 16-year-old girl was savagely beaten with a tire iron.
On July 20, the Night Stalker again struck twice on the same day. Ramirez targeted yet another young couple, forcing the woman to perform oral sex, before he shot them. A short time later, a Glendale couple were shot and their corpses mutilated.
It was at this point, police said, that the killer expanded outside of the Los Angeles area. On August 17, a San Francisco couple was attacked inside their home. The fact that this serial killer now seemed to be targeting the entire state sent the public and news media into a frenzy.
On August 24, authorities got their first big break in the case when a surviving victim managed to crawl to a window and see the car Ramirez was driving -- an orange Toyota station wagon. A short time later, a teenager gave police a partial license plate number from the vehicle, which she had seen during a TV news report. The station wagon was later found abandoned, but police removed important trace evidence from the vehicle -- including one fingerprint.
Authorities were able to determine that the fingerprint belonged to 25-year-old Richard Munoz Ramirez -- a drifter from Texas with a long rap sheet. For the first time, the police and the general public had a face to go with the murders. Using prior mug shots of Ramirez, police released his photo and urged residents to be on the lookout. By this time, Ramirez' photo appeared on the front page of every major newspaper in California and many others across the country. Not knowing when or where the Night Stalker may strike next, authorities weren't taking any chances.
The Night Stalker's reign of terror came to an end on August 31, 1985 when Ramirez was spotted at an east Los Angeles bus station, where he had just gotten off a coach. The moment he was identified by several area residents, Ramirez tried once again to flee. An angry neighborhood mob chased him down the block and beat him severely. Police officers had to break up the melee for fear that the mob might beat Ramirez to death.
Ramirez' subsequent prosecution turned into a media circus. He would often wear sunglasses in the courtroom, wave to jurors and smile repeatedly at the defendant's table. Incredibly, Ramirez somehow also attained a throng of avid supporters who would show up to the courthouse in Ramirez' support. Witnesses said it was as if the feared Night Stalker achieved rock star status.
During the trial, one of the jurors was murdered in her home -- prompting the other panel members to fear for their lives. They weren't sure, at the time, whether the juror's death was somehow orchestrated by Ramirez from his prison cell. As it turned out, there was no such connection -- as police said the female juror was killed by her boyfriend.
On another occasion, authorities installed metal detectors at the courthouse entrance upon hearing a report that Ramirez was planning to shoot the prosecutor with a weapon smuggled from the outside by an accomplice.
On September 20, 1989, the jury convicted Ramirez on 13 counts of first-degree murder, five counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault, and 14 counts of burglary. The trial became one of the most difficult, lengthy trials in American history. It took more than four years to try, convict and sentence the killer known as the Night Stalker. He was sentenced to die in California's gas chamber.
Ramirez appealed his case all the way to the California Supreme Court, but ultimately lost each hearing. By the end, in 2006, the supreme court upheld Ramirez' conviction and the death sentence.
Shockingly, Ramirez actually became married while incarcerated. A freelance magazine journalist, Doreen Lioy, first met Ramirez in 1985 during his court proceedings. The couple wed in 1996, and Lioy had previously stated that she would commit suicide on the day Ramirez is executed.
Many believed that Ramirez would be in his early 70s by the time he was put to death, due to California's lengthy appeals process and the backlog of inmates on death row. Ramirez' premature death on Friday put an end to one of the most bizarre, brutal murder sagas in American history.
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