Richard Ramirez

"Night Stalker"

Serial Killer

American serial killer who broke into Californian homes, raping and torturing more than 25 victims, and killing at least 13, over a two-year rampage.

Early Life

Born in El Paso, Texas, on February 28, 1960. Richard Ramirez was born Ricardo Leyva Muñoz Ramírez on February 28, 1960, in El Paso, Texas, the youngest of seven children born to Mercedes and Julian Ramírez, a Mexican-American railway worker. Known as Richard or Ricky, Ramirez had a troubled childhood and was heavily influenced by an older cousin, a Green Beret named Mike who had recently returned from fighting in the Vietnam War. Mike told Ramirez fascinating stories about the torture and mutilation he had inflicted on several Vietnamese women, corroborating these stories with horrific Polaroid pictures.

He was influenced by his cousin

Richard’s cousin Mike was a Vietnam veteran, who boasted to Richard about his actions in Southeast Asia. He showed the much-too-young Richard explicit pictures of himself raping Vietnamese women and severing the heads of Vietcong soldiers.

Ramirez influenced by cousin

The two also discussed Satanic worship and smoked marijuana together, and Ramirez's teenage rebellion led to petty crime to fuel his drug habit, which further alienated him from his Catholic parents. As a result, he spent even more time with his cousin. When Mike murdered his wife, Ramirez was present, sowing the final developmental seeds for the future serial killer.

Killing spree

Theft turned to violence in 1984. Ramirez's first known murder took place on June 28, 1984; his victim was 79-year-old Jennie Vincow, who was viciously sexually assaulted, stabbed and murdered during a burglary in her own home.

Ramirez's second known killing occurred nearly nine months after his first. On March 17, 1985, he attacked Angela Barrios, who managed to escape him, and then killed her flatmate, Dayle Okazaki. Not satisfied with these assaults, he also shot and killed Tsai Lian Yu the same evening, spurring a media frenzy that saw Ramirez dubbed the "Valley Intruder" by the press

Just 10 days later, on March 27, Ramirez murdered 64-year-old Vincent Zazzara and Zazzara's 44-year-old wife, Maxine, using an attack style that would become a pattern for the killer: The husband was shot first, then the wife was brutally assaulted and stabbed to death. In this case, Ramirez also gouged out Maxine Zazzara's eyes.

Final murder and capture

Ramirez's next—and final—attack, on August 24, 1985, led to the identification of his stolen car by the victim four days later. After a televised appeal, the car was found, complete with his fingerprints inside, and his criminal record enabled the police to finally put a name to the "Night Stalker." National television and print media coverage, featuring his prison photo, along with a series of clues from witnesses and survivors, led to Ramirez's capture the very next day, after he was badly beaten by East L.A. residents while attempting a carjacking and police were called to the scene.

Trial and death

Ramirez claimed that he has been mistakenly identified and did everything possible to delay the onset of the trial, which saw him charged with 14 murders and 31 other felonies in connection to his killing spree. Because he changed his legal counsel a number of times, and the geographical spread of his attacks also complicated the scope of the trial with jurisdictional issues, some of the charges against Ramirez were dropped in order to expedite what was becoming a long journey to justice.

After 23 years on death row, Richard Ramirez died on June 7, 2013, at the age of 53, reportedly of natural causes. According to San Quentin corrections officers, Ramirez's death came shortly after he was taken to Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California. No other details were initially released.