Just as Christians around the world are getting ready to celebrate the birth of Christ, I thought on this addition of True Crime Corner, we could take a look at a serial killer who wouldn’t be celebrating, even if he were still alive. Who was Satanist Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker?
Ricardo Leyva Muñoz Ramirez was born in El Paso, Texas, on February 29, 1960, to Julian and Mercedes Ramirez. He was the youngest of five children, having three brothers and a sister. His mother had a difficult pregnancy, and she quit her factory job on the advice of her doctor for the sake of herself and her unborn child. Exposure to chemicals in the factory were harmful to the developing baby. While she tried to protect this child from harm, she was unable to prevent the two head injuries Ramirez would receive as a young child. The first instance occurred when he pulled a dresser down on himself while trying to reach a radio. The second was when he was hit in the head by a swing on the playground.
Ramirez was no doubt influenced by his cousin Mike, a Vietnam veteran. The pair spent a lot of time together, getting stoned a part of their routine. Mike would share photos from his time overseas with the impressionable preteen. The graphic photos depicted Mike and women in sexual and violent situations. The young Ramirez found the images arousing.
As bad as all of this was, things would only get worse. One day Mike and his wife argued in front of the boy. The former Green Beret took out a gun and fatally shot his spouse, further scarring his young cousin. Mike would later be held accountable for the crime.
Dissatisfied with his life in El Paso, Ramirez left for California. There he frequented prostitutes and cocaine became his drug of choice. He turned to Satanism, adopting the Australian rock group AC/DC’s song “Night Prowler” as his personal anthem for his future crimes. He believed he was the son of Satan and had his protection in anything he would do.
Ramirez was a thief, breaking into people’s homes as they slept. If he found locked doors, he would remove window screens to gain entrance. Once inside, he would relieve people of their valuables before slinking away, dressed head to toe in all black. However, this pattern would no longer satisfy him. He escalated his routine by watching people as they slept before fleeing. After that, he added violence to his repertoire.
Californians feared Ramirez because unlike a lot of serial killers, he didn’t necessarily have a preferred type of victim. Everyone was fair game, it didn’t matter. He preyed upon males and females, adults and children, young and old. He also victimized people throughout various parts of the state. There would be beatings, and sometimes sexual assaults. There was intent to leave with something of value for his trouble. Satanic symbols were found scrawled on walls and on victims. One unfortunate woman lost her eyes when she dared to attempt to shoot the Night Stalker with a rifle she didn’t realize was unloaded. He would brutalize helpless people with his fists and sometimes his feet. Other times he would choke and shoot people.
Ramirez was consistent with one aspect of his crimes. If he found a male in the home, he would incapacitate him in order to have his way with any females he found. With someone so brutal on the loose, it’s no wonder that sales of security systems, firearms, and guard dogs soared in the state at this time.
Ramirez terrorized citizens in 1984 and 1985. He was in a convenience store when a customer recognized him from pictures in newspapers for sale in the shop. She alerted others to his presence and he fled through East Los Angeles, a mob hell bent on ending the Night Stalker, chasing him through the streets. When they finally caught up to him, the killer had to be rescued by the police before he was brutalized by the hostile crowd.
His arrest on August 30, 1985 brought relief to Californians who lived in fear of a home invasion. He had one of the most bizarre trials when it finally got underway in 1988. With his bad boy image and good looks, he had several groupies vying for his attention during the proceedings. One admirer would eventually be found on the jury panel deciding his fate. She was still an alternate when she went so far as to send him a treat with a romantic message during the trial around Valentine’s Day.
In another strange, shocking incident, one of the female jurors was killed. At first there was concern that somehow Ramirez was behind the murder, controlling the outside from the inside. He had nothing to do with it, as it was discovered that the woman’s boyfriend was the perpetrator.
A rumor circulated that a gun would be brought into the courtroom. Tighter security was instituted to prevent a weapon from being smuggled in, further disrupting the proceedings.
Ramirez was found guilty of 13 murders and other felonies on September 20, 1989. He was given the death penalty, but he died before California could carry out the sentence. On June 7, 2013 at the age of 53, the Night Stalker died from natural causes.
If you’re interested in reading more about Ramirez, don’t miss Philip Carlo’s classic and very thorough The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez. If you purchase a used copy, be sure it includes the San Quentin interview with Ramirez in the back of the book.
If video is more to your taste, Biography has a DVD available. If you’re looking for something other than a documentary, check out The Night Stalker, which aired on Lifetime earlier this year. It stars Lou Diamond Phillips as Ramirez. It’s very well done; don’t miss it.