Top 10 Facts About Richard Ramirez the Night Stalker
Born Ricardo Leyva Muñoz Ramirez in 1960, Richard Ramirez was one of the world’s most sensational serial killers. After an upbringing in poverty in El Paso, Texas, he would eventually move to the West Coast and terrorize Los Angeles and San Francisco in a series of exceptionally violent murders and home invasions. Like fellow serial killer Ted Bundy, Ramirez would attempt to charm his fans with smiles for the camera after his arrest, and he garnered a large following of female admirers.His brutal crimes featured a wide array of weaponry like handguns, tire irons, knives, and even a machete, and he was an avowed Satanist, who never displayed any remorse for his crimes. Ramirez was only 24-years-old when he began murdering people, and his crimes took place over an exceptionally brief few years during which he took the lives of 14 confirmed victims and also committed countless assaults, burglaries, and attempted murders.Here are some of the most fascinating and interesting facts about Richard Ramirez: The Night Stalker.
10. The Same Lead Detective Handled the Hillside Strangler and Night Stalker Investigations
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, California seemed beset with serial killers that included the Hillside Strangler and the Night Stalker. The Hillside Strangler was actually a pair of men who raped, tortured, and killed young women in the hills around Los Angeles. Similarly, Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, would also commit his string of murders in homes around Los Angeles County. The lead detective on both of the cases was a man named Frank Salerno, who was a sergeant at the time.
According to an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 1985, the Hillside Strangler case suffered from a disjointed and scattered investigation. Detectives actually questioned Kenneth Bianchi, one of the Hillside Stranglers, more than once, and none of the detectives realized they were investigating the same man over and over. The panic was so great during the Strangler investigation that the sheriff’s department eventually put more than 160 men on the case to sift through an incredible 10,000 leads. As the trial for the Hillside Stranglers was wrapping up, Richard Ramirez was stalking his victims, having been inspired by the duo’s grisly crimes.
By the time Richard Ramirez started terrorizing Los Angeles residents, Sergeant Salerno was experienced in serial killer cases and didn’t make the same mistakes during the investigation. Incredibly, just a few weeks after Salerno gave his interview to the L.A. Times, Richard Ramirez was arrested in late August of 1985. Although Ramirez had experienced a violent and poverty-stricken childhood and was an adherent of Satanism, would he have committed his string of murders if not for the actions of the Hillside Stranglers?
9. “The Night Stalker” Wasn’t Ramirez’s First Nickname
Reporters who cover sensational crime stories often give the criminals nicknames, and the Night Stalker is no exception. Many people know Richard Ramirez by his given name, as well as his nickname, but the Night Stalker was not the first label the media gave to him. Reporters at an old L.A. newspaper called the Los Angeles Herald Examiner had a brainstorming session one night and eventually came up with the name Night Stalker. Some of the names they came up with before settling on Night Stalker were rather amusing and included “The Walk-in Killer,” and “The Screen Door Intruder.”
In fact, before Ramirez’s arrest, the mystery killer was usually called The Valley Intruder because of how many of his crimes were committed in the San Fernando Valley and the way in which he would invade someone’s house to commit assault and murder. Oddly, Ramirez didn’t kill all of his victims. Some of his victims were beaten and sexually assaulted but survived their attacks. For example, a 63-year-old woman named Linda Fortuna was raped and sexually assaulted, but Ramirez decided to rob her and leave her alive before escaping. Other victims weren’t so lucky and were murdered by gunshots, beatings, and knife wounds.
Interestingly, the reporters at the Herald Examiner didn’t know many of the details about the killer when they decided to name him the Night Stalker. The name was based on a television movie from the early 1970s about a vampire who killed people in Las Vegas. It’s interesting that the reporters would choose to base Ramirez’s nickname off a movie about a vampire since it would eventually come out during his trial that Ramirez was an adherent to Satanism.
8. Richard Ramirez Used a Cornucopia of Weapons to Murder His Victims
When a profiler looks at a serial killer’s crimes, he or she will develop a theory about the killer’s MO, which is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase “modus operandi.” An MO literally means “method of operation” and describes the killer’s method for killing his victims. Most of Ramirez’s attacks occurred at night in the homes of his victims. He’d dress all in black to hide his approach and would then enter the home to perform a variety of attacks that ranged from sexual assault to robbery to murder.
One of the hallmarks of serial killers is the rituals they develop that are connected with their attacks. They’ll use a specific sequence to pull off their murders, and they’ll perform this sequence the same each time. Often, the MO becomes more complex, and the murder become more ritualized over time as the killer becomes more adept at killing his victims. For example, a killer might begin by strangling his victim with his hands, but then he might graduate to using implements to help him, such as rope.
Richard Ramirez is a fascinating serial killer because of the number of different weapons he used to kill his victims, as well as the varied ages, genders, and socioeconomic statuses of those he killed. He often raped women and robbed them, but he also used knives for stabbing and even cut people with a machete. He also used a hammer to bludgeon a victim, as well as a tire iron as his weapon. For many of his attacks, Ramirez would burglarize the house, murder the husband, and then rape the wife. Ramirez even employed a .22 revolver in some of his murders.
7. Richard Ramirez Allegedly Wanted to Shoot His Trial Prosecutor
After The Night Stalker had been arrested in 1985, his zeal for committing crimes was by no means extinguished. He often flirted with the cameras at his trial appearances, and he made bombastic comments whenever he was in earshot of microphones. At the end of his trial, when he was convicted, he was heard to say, “No big deal. Death always comes with the territory. I’ll see you in Disneyland.” In the middle of his trial, law enforcement tasked with keeping the courtroom safe found out about a plot Ramirez had planned to get a gun into the courtroom so he could shoot the prosecutor on the case.
After the plot was discovered, the security teams at the courthouse had metal detectors installed so that everyone who entered the courtroom had to pass through them. After Ramirez was sent to prison, he continued to plot a return to crime. An article in the NY Post published some months after Ramirez’s death suggested he’d hatched two plots to escape prison so that he could continue his murder spree. Ramirez apparently believed that if he could escape, he’d be able to commit a string of additional murders before the police would be able to catch him.
The first of Ramirez’s escape plans was prevented in the fall of 1993 when Ramirez was being brought back to prison and had to pass through a metal detector. The machine beeped as Ramirez walked through, and law enforcement found a key inserted in his rectum that would open his handcuffs. If Ramirez had been successful, he’d planned to steal a car and go on a crime spree. The second escape plan never got out of the planning stages since guards at the prison found out about a potential plot after reading a letter from an obsessed Night Stalker fan.
6. The Night Stalker Got His Trial Delayed for Three Years
Richard Ramirez committed many of his crimes without taking significant breaks, and the city of Los Angeles was in a panic in 1985 during the summer as he was committing his murders, rapes, burglaries, and beatings. In a flurry of activity, law enforcement in L.A. eventually caught Ramirez, and he was arrested on August 31, 1985. He would eventually be charged with 14 homicides, as well as dozens of other felonies connected to those murders and other attacks. Incredibly, it wouldn’t be until July of 1988 that jury selection would begin.
An article published by The Chicago Times in 1989 suggested that the trial could feature up to 1,000 witnesses and could take around two years before the jury would decide a verdict. The presiding judge made his displeasure with the attorneys well known by accusing them of “juvenile antics” in their attempts to get the trial delayed. Apparently, the defense team was routinely without the required information and paperwork during the various hearings that occurred in advance of the start of the trial. Significant delays had come from the legal teams arguing over the race of the jurors. Eventually, a jury of six African Americans and six Latinos would hear the trial.
The deputy district attorney on the case told reporters he was frustrated at the number of motions and appeals the defense team had dumped on the court in an effort to get the trial delayed. The delays were a tactic by the defense to make it more difficult to convict Ramirez. A great length of time between the crimes and the trial makes the prosecutor’s job more difficult because witnesses forget things over time. Despite the delays, the jury would eventually convict Ramirez of the murders on September 20, 1989, more than four years after his initial arrest.
5. Australian Band AC/DC Was Embroiled in a Night Stalker Controversy
Radu Bercan / Shutterstock.comFor decades beginning with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s, socially conservative and religious groups have called rock music demonic and have labeled it as influenced by the devil. Although the reputations carried by big name heavy metal acts have often been simply for show, sometimes real life events have created some controversies for big name rock acts. Such was the case for Australian rockers AC/DC, who had some problems with their reputation after Richard Ramirez was arrested and accused of being the Night Stalker.
An article in 1985 from the Los Angeles Times revealed that Ramirez was a big AC/DC fan and that he loved the “Highway to Hell” album because he was a Satanist. The band started having problems with booking shows because of the assumption that their music led Ramirez to commit his crimes. The city council in Springfield, Illinois actually worked to prevent the band from staying in motels in town during one of their shows, and they wanted to cancel the band’s appearance at a local venue. Complicating matters for AC/DC was the report that a hat with the band’s name on it had been found at one of the crime scenes.
The band didn’t take the accusations sitting down, however. They accused the city council in Springfield of violating the band’s right to free speech, and they ended playing a concert to around 5,000 screaming fans. Interestingly, the band had a song on Highway to Hell called “Night Prowler,” but people who were accusing the band of inspiring Ramirez and his Satanism often believed the track was called “Night Stalker,” just like Ramirez’s eventual nickname.
4. A Juror Was Murdered During Richard Ramirez’s Trial
From all accounts, serving on the jury that would eventually convict Richard Ramirez was something akin to a nightmare. In statements made to the press, jurors said they had frequent nightmares about the Night Stalker’s crimes and were terrified even after they declared Ramirez guilty of his crimes. During the trial, one of the jurors, a woman named Phyllis Singletary, didn’t show up one day for the trial. The trial was in the deliberation phase where jurors were trying to decide a verdict, but discussions were put on hold until it could be determined what happened to the juror. Later in the day, she was found shot to death in her home, which terrified the jury.
The jurors who were still alive wondered if they were going to be next and if Ramirez had orchestrated the murder from his jail cell. Soon after Singletary’s murder, law enforcement, and detectives determined that she’d been shot and killed by her boyfriend. However, the knowledge that the woman hadn’t been killed via a plan devised by the Night Stalker didn’t remove the terror felt by the jurors.
In fact, most of them reported that they couldn’t sleep after they decided on the verdict. One of the jurors got a guard dog and had bars installed on her windows because she was so scared. Despite the severity of Ramirez’s crimes, the jury didn’t come to the death penalty lightly. In fact, they said it was difficult to come to that decision because of how complicated and expansive the evidence was and how it took them a long time to decipher it in the jury room.
3. Ramirez Got Married While Behind Bars
Given the epic scope and brutality of Ramirez’s crimes, it’s surprising that anyone would ever decide to become friends with or associate with Richard Ramirez, but he had his share of fans who believed in his innocence and were charmed by his appearance and demeanor during the trial. Incredibly, Ramirez actually got married six years after he entered prison to a woman named Doreen Lioy. Wedding details published by the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that Ramirez’s 41-year-old wife was a self-proclaimed virgin and planned to wear a white dress at the wedding.
The engagement was a lengthy one with Ramirez reportedly asking Doreen to marry him as early as 1988, which was before he was even convicted of his crimes. They bought rings for one another that were engraved with special messages. Ramirez’s ring to Doreen was imprinted with the words, “To my one and only love. Richard,” and was made of platinum. The ring Doreen would give to her husband was made of gold and read, “I love you forever. Doreen.” Doreen wouldn’t be allowed to carry flowers, and the couple would get wedding photos in the form of Polaroid photos taken by the guards overseeing the 15-minute ceremony.
Lioy was surprised at the attention the coming wedding garnered, and the number of reporters at her home drove her to hide out in a motel. None of her relatives were slated to attend the wedding, but a few of Richard’s family members were supposed to be involved including a brother and a sister serving as the best man and matron of honor. After learning her sister planned to marry the Night Stalker, Doreen’s sister, Denise, refused to communicate with her.
2. The Night Stalker’s Victims Ranged in Age from Nine to 83-years-old
One of the most fascinating parts of Richard Ramirez’s bloody reign of terror is the age spread of his victims, which were as young as nine and as old as 83. Often, serial killers hunt the same sort of person over and over. Psychologists and profilers will look at something called victimology, which is an examination of the offender’s victims, to figure out details about the offender that may help law enforcement catch the criminal. In addition to victimology, profilers will also look at the modus operandi (MO) and the killer’s signature.
For example, the victimology in Ted Bundy’s case showed that he preferred killing girls and young women. His youngest victim was 8-years-old, and the oldest confirmed victim was 26-years-old. Although a few of his victims were of indeterminate age, Bundy’s murders were of women who weren’t more than 20 years apart in age. Additionally, he usually raped his victims and killed them through strangulation. Although serial killers might refine or change the way they kill their victims over time, they tend to use just a few different ways to kill their victims. That’s not the case for the Night Stalker, and his victims varied significantly in age.
Ramirez’s first confirmed murder was of a nine-year-old who was found murdered in a basement of the hotel where Ramirez was living. The next murder would occur just a few months later with the murder of a 79-year-old woman named Jennie Vincow, who had been stabbed. His third and fourth victims were sisters and were ages 58 and 71. Further victims would include men and women, and Ramirez would murder them with a variety of implements.
1. Richard Ramirez Turned Bright Green Before He Died
After his arrest and conviction, Richard Ramirez spent 24 years on California’s death row; however, the state wouldn’t have a chance to execute him because he died from liver failure in 2013 while in San Quentin. Several news publications reported that Ramirez turned bright green right before he died. In fact, the shade of green was so bright that the unidentified source who told the media about Ramirez’s death compared the serial killer’s skin color to a “green highlighter pen.” Given Ramirez’s connections to Satanism and the incredible violence of his killings, perhaps it’s not so shocking that he would die in such an unusual way.
In his later years while waiting for execution on death row and submitting appeals to the state of California, Ramirez would suffer from a variety of ailments including a chronic hepatitis C viral infection related to years of substance abuse. His death resulted from B-cell lymphoma and its complications that included liver failure. During liver failure, the skin can change color and appear yellow because of a substance called bilirubin. Normally, this substance is broken down and flushed from the body by the liver, but liver failure means the body can’t properly expel the substance. A buildup in the body of bilirubin causes the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
Incredibly, even though Ramirez had been on death row for more than two decades, he was still submitting appeals to the court at the time of his death. It’s not unusual for people waiting on death row to spend several decades submitting appeals to the state. The complexity of Ramirez’s case was so immense that his first appeal didn’t even reach the court until 2006.
Serial killers fascinate us despite their violence and reprehensible nature, and their court trials often captivate the nation. It’s hard to turn away from documentaries and stories about serial killers, and serial killer mysteries are one of Hollywood’s favorite grisly topics.
One of the terrifying things about Ramirez’s killings is that they held the city in a panic during his reign of terror, just like the work of serial killers like David Berkowitz, who was known as the Son of Sam and the never-captured Zodiac Killer. Many notorious serial killers worked in relative anonymity for years until they were caught.
However, Richard Ramirez made sure everyone knew about him after a frenzied day in 1985 when he shot a 22-year-old woman in the face in her front yard, then shot her roommate inside the house, and then pulled a gun on a third woman later that day. The judge who eventually sentenced Ramirez said his crimes showed “cruelty, callousness, and viciousness beyond any human understanding.”