Real Life Horror: The Night Stalker


Ricardo “Richard” Ramirez was born February 29, 1960, in El Paso, Texas. The youngest of five children, he suffered two serious head injuries during his childhood: at age two, a dresser fell on top of him, cutting open his forehead; at age five, a park swing knocked him unconscious. The latter injury caused epileptic seizures that persisted into his teens. Ramirez’s serial killer future was further helped by his physically abusive dad and his whackjob cousin Miguel “Mike” Ramirez.

Mike Ramirez, a Vietnam vet and Green Beret, regaled his then-twelve year-old relative with tales of his exploits in Vietnam, which all seemed to involve rape and murder. He showed Richard Polaroids of his victims, because who doesn’t like a little Show and Tell? He also taught Richard some military skills that Richard would later utilize during his Night Stalker days.

Thanks, Cousin Mike!

Richard witnessed Mike shoot and kill his wife during a domestic argument in 1973. Shortly after that, he moved in with his older sister Ruth and her husband Roberto, who just happened to be a peeping Tom. And did he take young Ramirez along on his nighttime perv jaunts? Of course he did.

Thanks, brother-in-law Roberto!

Ramirez took an after-school job at a local Holiday Inn, where he used his passkey to rob the rooms of sleeping guests. He inexplicably lost this job after a guest walked in on Ramirez trying to rape his wife. The man beat Ramirez senseless, but the criminal charges against Ramirez were dropped when the man and his wife, who were out-of-state visitors, declined to testify.

Ramirez dropped out of school in the ninth grade and moved to California when he was 18. He lived with an older brother, Ruben, and got into Satanism, burglary, and cocaine, with an occasional indulgence in PCP. He also loved sugar and subsisted mostly on sodas and candy bars, which led to some awesome dental problems.

At some point, he decided that simple burglary wasn’t enough. I’ve summarized his crimes below; unless otherwise noted, all this shit happened in the dead of night in the Los Angeles area.

June 28, 1984: Ramirez raped and stabbed to death 79-year-old Jennie Vincow, who’d left open the window of her ground-floor apartment. Ramirez removed the screen from this window, leaving behind a fingerprint.

March 17, 1985: Ramirez, armed with a .22-caliber pistol, shot 22-year-old Maria Hernandez after she pulled into her condominium’s garage. He’d been hiding behind a pillar, and after stepping out of the darkness and shooting her, he stepped over her body and entered her condo. Inside, he found Maria’s roommate, Dayle Okazaki, 34, hiding behind a kitchen counter. Dayle picked the wrong moment to pop up to see what was going on; Ramirez shot her in the forehead and left. But Maria wasn’t dead; she’d raised her hands right before the gunshot, and the bullet hit the keys she held in one hand. She found her roommate’s body and called the police. (I haven’t been able to determine how he got in; every article I read just says he went inside. But maybe Dayle the roommate had unlocked the door after hearing Maria pull up?)

One hour later, at 12:30 a.m., Ramirez pulled 30-year-old Tsai-Lian Yu from her car and shot her twice with the same gun. Then he went home. And probably ate a big bag of candy corn.

March 27, 1985: Ramirez broke into a house he had previously burgled, that of Vincent and Maxine Zazzara, who were 64 and 44, respectively. He shot Vincent in their living room. Maxine woke up, and Ramirez beat her, tied her up, and demanded the location of any valuables. Maxine told him, and while he searched their bedroom, she slipped off her bonds and retrieved a shotgun from under their bed. She aimed at the Night Stalker and fired, but . . . click. The gun wasn’t loaded. Ramirez went nuts. Maxine was shot three times, stabbed multiple times, and had her eyes gouged out. Ramirez put them in a jewelry box and took them with him, because fuck this guy. Police found shoe imprints in the flower bed belonging to Ramirez’s size 11 1/2 Avia sneakers.

May 14, 1985: Ramirez returned to Monterey Park, where he’d killed Tsai-Lian Yu, and broke into William and Lillian Doi’s house. William, 66, was shot and beaten. His disabled, 56-year-old wife was raped. William was able to call for help once Ramirez left, but he later died in the hospital.

May 29, 1985: Ramirez, behind the wheel of a stolen Mercedes-Benz, drove to the home of Mabel Bell, 83, and her invalid sister Florence Lang, 81. Ramirez tied up the women, then bludgeoned Bell’s head with a hammer and shocked her with the exposed wires from her alarm clock. He also bludgeoned and raped Lang. It was two days before the women were found by their handyman. Bell later died.

May 30, 1985: Ramirez gained entry to the house of Carol Kyle, 42, via a dog door. He held Carol and her 11-year-old son at gunpoint, handcuffed them, and tore apart the house, looking for stuff he could sell. He locked the boy in a closet, raped Carol, then left.

June 28, 1985: The body of Patty Higgins, 28, was found in her home. The school teacher had been beaten, raped, and nearly decapitated thanks to multiple stab wounds in her neck.

July 2, 1985: Ramirez, now in a stolen Toyota, broke into the home of 75-year-old Mary Louise Cannon. He beat her with a lamp and stabbed her to death with a butcher knife from her own kitchen.

July 6, 1985 (morning): Whitney Bennett, 16, woke up in a pool of her own blood, with no idea of what had happened to her, other than she had a huge gash on her scalp and a headache. The police would later find a familiar Avia sneaker print on Whitney’s comforter. The previous night, Ramirez had entered the house through the front door and crept around, figuring out how many people were inside. He came into Whitney’s bedroom, beat her with the tire iron from the stolen Toyota, and attempted to strangle her with a telephone cord. He stopped the attack and fled when the cord shot off sparks, believing that Jesus had intervened on her behalf.

July 7, 1985: Ramirez returned to Monterey Park and beat 61-year-old Joyce Nelson to death on her living room couch. Ramirez left, drove around two other neighborhoods, and returned to Monterey Park around 3 the next morning. He again used a pet door to gain entry and assaulted 63-year-old Sophie Dickman. He stole her jewelry and made her “swear on Satan” that she had nothing else. He left Sophie alive.

July 20, 1985: Armed with a machete (oh, great) and driving another stolen Toyota, Ramirez broke into the Kneidling house. He used the machete and his gun to kill 68-year-old Maxon and his wife, Lela, 66.

July 21, 1985: Four in the morning found him entering the house of Chainarong and Somkid Khovananth and their eight-year-old son. He murdered Chainarong with a .25-caliber handgun and then repeatedly raped Somkid. He robbed the house and left Somkid and her son alive.

August 6, 1985: Chris and Virginia Peterson were attacked in their home in Northridge. Virginia was shot in the face by the .25 pistol but survived. Chris was shot in the temple, but fought back and survived. Ramirez fled.

August 8, 1985: Ramirez used a sliding glass door to gain entry to the home of Elyas and Sakina Abowath. He shot 31-year-old Elyas, then beat and raped Sakina, 27. He left Sakina, now a widow, and her 3-year-old son alive.

Ramirez decided to take a powder for the San Francisco Bay area. Los Angeles was well-aware that it was under attack by a tall, thin Hispanic man who liked to dress in all black and didn’t like to shower or brush his teeth. There was an increase in the sales of guns, guard dogs, and security systems, and every news station had something to say about the Night Stalker.

August 18, 1985: Ramirez broke into the home of Peter and Barbara Pan. Peter, 66, was shot and killed. Barbara, 62, was beaten and raped, then shot in the head. Ramirez used her lipstick to draw a pentagram and the words “Jack the Knife” on their bedroom wall.

Soon after the attack on the Pans, San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein announced during a televised press conference that shoe prints matching size 11 1/2 Avias had been found at the scene and that they belonged to the Night Stalker. Ramirez tossed his sneakers off the Golden Gate Bridge that night. He stayed in the area a few more days before heading back to Los Angeles.

August 24, 1985: Ramirez took a road trip in a stolen (what else?) orange Toyota to Mission Viejo, a town 76 miles south of L.A. Bill Carns, 30, and his fiancee, Inez Erickson, 29, were awakened by the sound of Ramirez’s .25-caliber handgun being cocked. Bill was shot three times. Inez was raped and beaten. Ramirez robbed them and told Inez, “Tell them the Night Stalker was here,” before leaving in his car. A neighbor saw the “weird-looking guy in black” and wrote down most of the license plate. Bill and Inez survived the attack.


On August 28, the police, having been given a description of the car and the driver, as well as the partial plate, found the Toyota in Wilshire. They were able to get a single fingerprint from the rear view mirror. (Ramirez normally wore gloves on his nighttime jaunts, but he’d removed them this time, for whatever reason, and had attempted to wipe the car of prints.)

Police, showing a composite sketch of the Night Stalker, got a break in a crap hotel called the Bristol: the manager thought the sketch looked like the tenant in room 315. A search of 315 turned up a pentagram on the bathroom door that matched the one left at the Pan residence. The police dusted the room for prints. Thanks to Ramirez’s many arrests for traffic and drug violations, the prints were positively identified as his, and they matched the one print left in the Toyota. The police released a mug shot of Ramirez from a December 1984 arrest for car theft.

August 30 found Ramirez on a bus to Tucson, Arizona, to visit his brother, with no idea that his identity had been revealed. (Ah, the pre-Internet days . . . ) He returned to L.A. early the next day and breezed right by the cops who were staking out the terminal searching for him. Ignorance really is bliss.

He walked to a convenience store in East L.A. to buy coffee and overhead an elderly Mexican women call him “El Maton” (“The Killer”). He finally saw his face on the newspaper rack inside the store and took off. The store owner called police.

Ramirez ran. He tried carjacking a woman, but was stopped by two bystanders. They chased him, and he lost them by hopping a fence into the backyard of a man grilling meat. This guy hit Ramirez, and he climbed over another fence to escape. Two more attempted carjackings went nowhere, and during the second, the owner’s husband, Manuel De La Torre, whacked him on the head with a metal bar. Ramirez took off on foot again, with Manuel and a mob following down Hubbard Street.

Manuel struck Ramirez again with the bar, bringing him down. The mob held and beat the Night Stalker (good for them) until police showed up (aww).

Ramirez went on trial. He received the death sentence, but of course died before that could be carried out. He passed away on June 7, 2013 at age 53, of complications from B-cell lymphoma.


Works cited:

Episode 20 of the My Favorite Murder podcast profiles Ramirez:

2 thoughts on “Real Life Horror: The Night Stalker

Add yours

  1. In the book about it, it’s said he entered the home of Maria Hernandez and her roommate through the garage door. He tailed Maria ( I think ) home and when she opened the garage and went inside, he followed.

    1. Thanks! In the numerous articles I found on Murderpedia, as well as Reddit research, nothing nailed down the sequence of events. What’s the title of the book?

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