Richard Ramirez — What Caused Him to Become the Night Stalker?
Who is Richard Ramirez?
I’ve always been a fan of true crime. I’ve read dozens of books on serial killers and, I admit it, I am an ID Channel addict. Many people think this is a morbid fascination and maybe it is. I think it is more a curiosity as to what compels a person to commit heinous acts of violence against another with no regard for human life. Personally, I feel bad killing a bug; I would much rather capture it and throw outside my house. Not in my wildest dreams could I imagine harming or taking the life of another human. So as I read about murderers, whether they are serial killers or murderers who have committed “crimes of passion,” I wonder what could drive a person to that point.
Few true crime cases have terrified me as much as the case of Richard Ramirez, also known as the Night Stalker. The convicted rapist and serial killer died on June 7, 2013 at 53 years old of cancer while on death row in San Quentin, California. He was convicted of killing 13 people on Sept. 20, 1989. He had been captured on Aug. 31, 1985, after being identified and severely beaten by an angry mob in East Los Angeles as he was trying to steal a car. Police had to break up the mob to prevent them from possibly killing Ramirez.
Richard Ramirez was the proverbial boogey man, invading bedrooms in the middle of the night and tearing innocent people from their dreams. He would rape and torture his victims before murdering them and then rob and sell their belongings to feed his cocaine and heroin habit. He was an admitted follower of Satan and made this known in many ways including famously carving a pentagram into the palm of his hand and showing it off to the courtroom and press during his trial.
Again, I ask, what could drive a person to commit such acts of evil? Is one born this way? Could past trauma cause such actions?
Richard Ramirez was born in El Paso, Texas on February 29, 1960. His father, Julian Ramirez, a former policeman who later became a laborer on the Santa Fe railroad, was a hard-working man prone to fits of anger that often resulted in physical abuse. His mother, Mercedes, was a kind-hearted woman who worked in a shoe factory straight through her pregnancy with Richard. Unfortunately, in those days, employees were not encouraged to protect themselves from any toxins they may have been exposed to while working in a factory.
As a child, Ramirez suffered from two severe head injuries. Once, when he was two years old, he tried to climb a dresser in order to reach for a radio set atop of it. He loved to dance as a baby. While trying to climb the dresser it fell on top of him, causing an injury to his forehead that required thirty stitches. The second time, he was five years old and was knocked unconscious by a swing on the playground. Following those injuries he would frequently experience epileptic seizures.
As an adolescent, Ramirez formed a strong bond with his uncle, Mike Ramirez. Mike was a decorated Green Beret veteran of the Viet Nam War and would spend hours with Richard smoking pot and relaying horror stories about his time at war. He would show Richard Polaroid pictures of his victims that he raped and murdered. He even shot pictures of severed heads of the women he abused. Richard witnessed the murder of Mike’s wife, Jessie, when Mike shot her in the face in his kitchen with a .38 caliber revolver during an argument. Mike was found not guilty for the murder of his wife by reason of insanity and was released after four years of incarceration at the Texas State Mental Hospital in 1977, continuing his influence over Richard.
Ramirez’s first foray into violence started while still in high school when he worked at a local Holiday Inn. Aside from voyeurism, he used his passkey to sneak into guests rooms and rob them. His employment ended when he snuck into a couple’s room and attempted to rape the wife while her husband was out. Her husband walked in mid-attack and severely beat Ramirez.
At the age of twenty-two, Ramirez migrated from Texas to California.
The Terror Begins
In Los Angeles, Ramirez spent most of his time living out of the Los Angeles Port Authority; one of the most crime-ridden, drug-infested areas in Los Angeles. To feed his growing drug addiction, he robbed homes and sold the stolen goods.
Ramirez’s killing spree is believed to have to have started in May of 1984 in San Francisco when, in 2009 his DNA was identified on the body of 9 year-old Mei Leung. The child’s lifeless body was found in a hotel basement where Ramirez was living in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This murder, however, was not initially linked to Ramirez’s spree until years later after DNA testing.
The murders in Los Angeles are believed to have started on June 28, 1984 when Ramirez stabbed 79 year-old Jennie Vincow while she slept in her apartment in Glassell Park. Her throat was slashed so deeply that she was nearly decapitated. He continued his two year rampage, raping and torturing more than 25 victims, and murdering more than a dozen, most of them in their own homes. His spree extended from San Francisco to Mission Viejo, California.
His capture was the result of being recognized from one of his many arrest photos plastered among the front pages of local newspapers. After being recognized, he was chased down by dozens of residents of East Los Angeles, captured, and severely beaten while trying to highjack a resident’s car.
Ramirez, of course, claimed that he had been mistakenly identified and did everything possible to delay the trial including changing his legal counsel several times. The geographical spread of his crimes also complicated matters and caused some of the charges against Ramirez to be dropped in order to expedite the process. Ultimately, he was charged with 14 murders and 31 other felonies in connection to his killing spree.
Almost three years after his apprehension, the jury selection process began and the case took a full year to hear given the number of witnesses and sheer amount of evidence. During the trial, Ramirez would attract a large cult following which consisted primarily of women who claimed to be Satan worshippers and attended his trial daily. One of his supporters was Doreen Lioy, whom he later married while in prison.
On September 20, 1989, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict on 43 charges, including 13 counts of murder, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 sexual assault charges and 14 burglary charges.
Could This Have Been Prevented?
When examining the background of Richard Ramirez prior to his crimes, one has to wonder if this person ever had a chance of living a healthy and stable life. Don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely no excuse on this earth for the vicious and evil crimes he committed. In addition, many can argue that countless people have grown up in abusive families and suffered various traumas yet they go on to live productive, well-adjusted lives. Still, there are those who don’t fare as well.
If things had gone differently for this person could his life have had a different ending? Could the head trauma he suffered as a child have done lasting damage? It would seem so as he began to suffer from epileptic seizures afterward. Few can argue that the physical abuse he endured from his father and the horrors he was exposed to by his uncle Mike, including drug use, wouldn’t have some sort of negative impact on him. While it is very true that we ultimately have a choice as to which direction we take in our life, it’s hard to ignore that our past experiences can have influence over us.
Is there a chance that all these experiences at a young age led Richard Ramirez to become The Night Stalker? Or is there a possibility he was born with this monster and no matter what the circumstances of his childhood were, this monster would come out?
**Brenda Thornlow is a published author from Brooklyn, NY. Her work can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.***