Richard Ramirez, the ‘Night Stalker’ Killer, Dies at 53
Published: June 7, 2013
Richard Ramirez, who claimed to be inspired by Satan when he killed at least 14 people in the “Night Stalker” attacks that terrorized California in 1985, died on Friday in a hospital in Greenbrae, Calif. He was 53.
Lennox McLendon/Associated Press
Sam Robinson, a spokesman for San Quentin State Prison, where Mr. Ramirez was on death row, announced the death, The Associated Press reported. No cause was given.
The killings began on June 28, 1984, when Mr. Ramirez slit the throat of a 79-year-old woman, Jennie Vincow, during a burglary. They ended when an angry mob, recognizing him from his mug shot released to the news media, beat him and held him until the police arrived to make an arrest on Aug. 31, 1985.
Most of the killings were committed before dawn during residential burglaries in Los Angeles County, and all were markedly coldblooded, involving savage beatings, mutilations and sexual assaults.
His weapons included guns, knives and hammers, and his victims were both men and women, ranging from a 6-year-old to octogenarians.
Mr. Ramirez left occult symbols at crime scenes, most often an inverted pentagram as a mark of the devil. As frightened Angelenos raced to buy guns and locks, the news media named the mysterious killer the “Night Stalker.”
Four years after his arrest, a jury found Mr. Ramirez guilty of all 43 crimes of which he was accused. These included 13 counts of first-degree murder, one of second-degree murder and many more of rape, burglary and sodomy. He was sentenced to death.
As he awaited execution at San Quentin, Mr. Ramirez was linked to other murders, in one case by traces of DNA, but never tried for them.
Ricardo Leyva Muñoz Ramirez was born in El Paso, Tex., on Feb. 28, 1960, the last of five children of Mexican immigrants. His father worked for the Santa Fe Railway and his mother for a boot factory.
A picture of his life emerged from interviews and court testimony. In the fifth grade, he was found to have epilepsy. In the seventh grade, he started sniffing glue. He began spending nights at cemeteries.
When he was 12, Richard’s cousin Miguel Ramirez returned from the Vietnam War, and they began spending time together. They smoked marijuana, and his cousin showed Richard photos of Vietnamese women he said he had raped, tortured and killed. When he was 13, Richard was present when his cousin shot his wife in the face, killing her. (Miguel Ramirez, in part because of his war record, was sentenced to seven years in prison.) By then Richard had begun burglarizing homes. He dropped out of high school after less than a year.
Shortly after turning 15, Mr. Ramirez moved to Los Angeles, where an older brother helped him refine his burglary techniques. He became addicted to cocaine, which he paid for by selling things he stole. He spent several months in jail for auto theft.
After his first known murder, in June 1984, he lay low until March 17, 1985, when he attacked Angela Barrio, 22, outside her home and shot her before entering the house. He then shot and killed her 34-year-old roommate, Dayle Okazaki. Ms. Barrio survived when the bullet ricocheted off the keys she was holding.
Mr. Ramirez continued his home invasions, usually through a window that had been left open. He became known for mutilating corpses, gouging out one woman’s eyeballs. Though he varied his routines, witnesses and surviving victims were able to provide the police with a description: Hispanic, with long hair and a foul smell.
One victim, who had been forced by Mr. Ramirez to declare her love for Satan and perform oral sex on him, was able to glimpse his car, an orange Toyota station wagon. A teenager who spotted the car, identifying it from news reports, wrote down half its license plate number.
The car turned out to have been stolen, and the police found it where Mr. Ramirez had abandoned it. They obtained a fingerprint from the mirror and identified Mr. Ramirez from his criminal records, then released his photo to the news media.
When Mr. Ramirez tried to steal another car, its owner, who was under the car working on it at the time, identified him as the “Night Stalker.” A mob soon formed and began beating him with an iron post before the police arrived to rescue him and take him into custody.
At his trial, Mr. Ramirez wore black sunglasses and flashed a two-finger “devil sign” to black-clad Satanists who attended the trial. Eight witnesses — including six women who had survived his attacks — identified him as the assailant or placed him at crime scenes. More than 1,600 potential jurors had to be interviewed to find 24 (including 12 alternates) who could promise to be impartial about Mr. Ramirez.
As he left the courthouse after being convicted, he offered a one-word comment: “Evil.”
While on death row, he married Doreen Lioy, a freelance magazine editor, in 1996. She had begun writing to him in 1985 after his arrest, and he proposed in 1988, choosing Ms. Lioy over other correspondents who were also hoping for a relationship with him.
She bought a gold wedding band for herself and a platinum one for Mr. Ramirez. “Satanists don’t wear gold,” he had explained to her.
Information about other survivors was not available.
Six weeks after they had voted to convict Mr. Ramirez, the jury returned to ask that he be put to the death.
“Big deal,” Mr. Ramirez said. “Death always went with the territory.”