Richard Ramirez: Serial Killer (1960-2013)

Ian-Fortey by Ian-Fortey on Jun. 07, 2013

Richard Ramirez died today from an STD while in prison awaiting his execution.  In the early to mid 1980s, Ramirez terrorized Southern California as “The Nightstalker” – a nickname created by the media for a serial killer who had claimed at least 14 victims in just over one year.

Born in Texas, Ramirez was the youngest of five children.  His father, ironically a police officer, was  abusive and his cousin, a veteran, reportedly shared photos from Vietnam with Ramirez that  showed him raping and murdering Vietnamese civilians.  Ramirez was present when his cousin murdered his own wife by shooting her in the face. 

After moving to California as a child, Ramirez became something of a slacker.  He dropped out of school in the 9th grade, took up pot smoking which lead to a few charges for possession and subsisted on a diet of junk food so bad that his teeth started to rot out.  At some point he took up “devil worship” as a hobby, either legitimately or just for shock value.  It would become an influence on his terrible actions later in life.

Ramirez began committing petty crimes in and around Los Angeles, various misdemeanor thefts and then later auto theft.  This lead to breaking and entering and it’s believed that as he grew better at it he also grew bolder, breaking in when people were home, staying longer, watching them sleep and taking souvenirs of his visits. 

June 28, 1984 a 79 year old woman named Jennie Vincow was found dead in her apartment.  It was hot the night before and her window had been left open.  Her apartment had been ransacked and Jennie had been stabbed repeatedly, her throat slit so brutally her head had nearly been cut off and the autopsy revealed evidence of sexual assault. 

It was not until years later in 2009 that DNA evidence was able to connect Ramirez to an earlier crime, the beating, rape and stabbing of a 10 year old girl in San Francisco that occurred two months before the death of Jennie Vincow.

It would be nearly a year before The Nightstalker struck again, this time killing sisters Christina and Mary Caldwell.  His crimes began to escalate from here and in less than a month Ramirez appeared at the home of Angela Barrios, shooting her point blank before entering the house and killing Dayle Okazaki.  Barrios, meanwhile, was still alive, the keys in her hand having deflected the bullet.  As she tried to flee the scene so too did Ramirez, the two running into each other once more.  Only instead of killing her, Ramirez simply ran off.

Within an hour Ramirez had killed Tsai-Lian Yu in a nearby park.  Barrios called the police after finding her roommate dead and Ramirez’s hat was found at the scene.  With a survivor and two attacks in one day the media swarmed and the Nightstalker was born.  Three days later an 8 year old girl in Eagle Rock, California is kidnapped, raped and murdered.  A week after that, Vincent and Maxine Zazzara are killed in their home.  Both had been shot, but Mrs. Zazzara had also been stripped and mutilated, her eyes gouged out and her body stabbed repeatedly.

Two months later, Ramirez targeted Harold and Jean Wu.  Again, the husband was shot .  This time, however, Ramirez physically beat the wife, mercilessly attacking and raping Mrs. Wu before leaving her alive.  She was able to call for help, and provide a description for police.  Her husband died from his injuries.

Another two weeks past before Ramirez entered the home of Ruth Wilson.  Waking her at gunpoint, he bound her 12 year old son and forced him into a closet before raping Wilson.  For whatever reason, Ramirez told her he was going to let her live.  He handcuffed her to her son and left.  When police arrived, Wilson was able to give them a description.

As summer arrived, Ramirez started in on a full blown rampage.  At the end of May, 83 year old Malvia Keller and her 80 year old sister were found in their home beaten so severely with a hammer, the handle of the tool had shattered.  Pentagrams drawn in lipstick were found on not just walls but the victims themselves.

In June he raped and killed a 6 year old girl in Arcadia.  A day later a 32 year old woman was found with her throat slit.  Five days later another victim.  More followed, over a half dozen beaten, raped and murdered before police were finally able to identify Ramirez after Inez Erickson, another victim, saw the car Ramirez was driving.  Based on the description of the car and driver, another witness got a license plate number.  When the car was found, so were Ramirez’s prints.  Within two days, Ramirez’s name and face was on news broadcasts across the country and Ramirez was finished.  A mob, having identified Ramirez, chased and beat him nearly to death as he tried to steal a car.  It was only through police intervention that his life was saved.

Ramirez’s trial started in July 1988 and by September he had been found guilty of 13 murders, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries.  He was sentenced to death in November of 1989.

Curiously, over the course of his trial, Ramirez developed a fan base, particularly amongst women.  One in particular, Doreen Lioy, was so infatuated she wrote him dozens of letters.  The two were married in San Quentin Prison in 1996.

Ramirez was infamous for being one of the first serial killers to terrorize America with the help of the media.  They gave him a nickname and kept his actions on the news night after night, ensuring everyone would be afraid for the duration of his spree.  The Nightstalker was ever present, he gave interviews and the media presented thoughts and opinions from all corners in a way that had never been seen before with killers of the past. 

And now he’s dead, reportedly of an STD though that has not been made official.  And there are probably a lot of people relieved to hear that news today.