In June of 1984, Richard Ramirez began his criminal career as “The Night Stalker.” His reign of terror, though ending just the following year, tormented the people of Los Angeles. Ramirez is a self-proclaimed Satanist and thief, but stealing cars and breaking into homes were not even close to the worst of his crimes. Ramirez’s friendship with his cousin, Mike, may have been the most important relationship in his life, in that not only did he teach Richard that having fun consists of riding around, smoking marijuana, and listening to heavy-metal music, but also that drugs, violence, and sex all go together.
Richard Ramirez was born in El Paso, Texas on February 29, 1960 (Richard Ramirez; The Night Stalker, n.d.). His father, Julian Ramirez, was a Mexican immigrant who worked for Santa Fe Railroad. His mother, Mercedes Ramirez, worked at a Tony Lama boot factory mixing chemicals for the boot leather (Richard Ramirez; The Night Stalker, n.d.). Fortunecity.com states, “Life was not easy in the Ramirez family, but they all worked hard to make ends meet. Julian and Mercedes loved their children and provided for them to the best of their ability. The boys, who rebellious natured and hot-tempered like their father, could have benefited from more supervision, but Julian had to travel to lay track for the railroad and was away from home frequently,” (Richard Ramirez; The Night Stalker, n.d., p. 2). Richard and his four brothers and sisters all experienced medical problems when they were young. Some of the difficulties are believed to be a result of the nuclear bomb tests the U.S. Government was conducting in New Mexico in the 1950’s. The fallout from these bombs was carried by wind over into El Paso, Texas (Grise, 2000, p. 1 & 2). Also, the fumes Mercedes inhaled while working at the boot factory may have contributed to Richard’s health problems. He was diagnosed with epilepsy in the fifth grade. “Sometimes he would have grand mal seizures and other times he would just stare off into space as he experienced petite mal seizures,” (Richard Ramirez; The Night Stalker, n.d.).
Although Richard had four older siblings, he spent most of his time with his cousin, Michael. Mike was a Vietnam veteran and returned from war with not only tales of rape and murder, but also detailed polaroids as proof (Richard Ramirez; The Night Stalker, n.d.). “Richard admits that he was especially sexually aroused by the photographs of the rape/murder victim that Michael showed him,” (Grise, 2000, p.2). “This highly successful killer and sadist took Richard under his wing and taught him how to kill and fight,” (Richard Ramirez; The Night Stalker, n.d. p.2). Richard and Mike spent a great deal of time together, riding around, smoking pot, and talking about the war. In an interview Phillip Carlo conducted with Ramirez after he had been incarcerated almost nine years, Ramirez talked about the time he spent with his cousin. He said Mike had a shoebox filled with polaroids in his closet of women and girls he had raped and killed in the jungle. He told Carlo that Mike had torn off their clothes and tied them to a tree. He raped them in front of each other and then killed them. He had pictures of them with their heads cut off. When Carlo asked if Mike had told him all of this, Richard replied, “Yeah, told me all about it – exactly what he did. We used to go for joy rides all around El Paso, smoke pot, listen to the radio, and he would tell me what he did with the women,” (Carlo, n.d., p. 9). Ramirez goes on to say that these show-and-tell sessions heavily influenced him and that he thought about it a lot. When asked if it influenced him sexually, he responded, “Fuck yeah, of course, sexually. It was all about sex,” (Carlo, n.d., p. 9). In this same interview, he also says Mike taught him about how to use a knife and how to cut people’s throats. He taught him how to wear all black and avoid reflecting light when breaking into people’s houses. Eventually, Mike’s wife got tired of her husband only wanting to spend time with Richard and glorify his sexual conquests and murders in Vietnam. This caused fights. One day, in the midst of one of these fights, Mike shot his wife, Jessie, in the face and killed her. Mike’s two boys, ages three and six, and Richard were only a few feet away and witnessed it all. Richard admitted this had a strange effect on him. He told Carlo, “I mean, to see something like that – the line between life and death right there in front of me. Intense. When she went down I saw it all in slow motion,” (Carlo, n.d., p. 8).
When Richard turned 18, he went to Los Angeles to stay with his brother, Ruben. Ruben was addicted to heroin and also a burglar. Fortunecity.com reports, “There was only one objective now – stealing money to get high,” (Richard Ramirez; The Night Stalker, n.d., p. 2). Richard became addicted to cocaine and started stealing cars also. He would drive around in the stolen cars looking for homes to rob. When Phillip Carlo asked Ramirez about his thoughts concerning cocaine, Richard said, “I think cocaine is addictive and harmful to the bodyâ€¦ Sure, it’s harmful, but the sense of pleasure it gives is very profound! There is nothing – to me anyway, that comes near it,” (Carlo, n.d., p. 5). Along with this cocaine addiction and his pride in becoming such a successful burglar, now came the Satanism. Being raised a Christian; Ramirez knew his thoughts and actions did not please God. He believed Satan would be proud of his sadistic sexual desires. When his older sister came to visit him in Los Angeles, she asked why he had chosen to worship Satan. Ramirez responded, “Because Satan represents what I feel. I’m not like other people. I’m differentâ€¦ I’ve got a trade. I’m a thief, Ruthie, â€¦and a good oneâ€¦ I’m not going to any jailâ€¦ I’m protected,” (Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker, n.d., p. 4).
“On June 28, 1984, his burglaries turned into something far more evil,” (Montaldo, n.d., p. 1). After breaking in the home of 79 year old Jennie Vincow and finding nothing valuable to steal, Ramirez became enraged. He needed money to buy more cocaine and a prostitute. He took his anger out on the sleeping woman by stabbing her repeatedly and cutting her throat. After this murder, Ramirez did not strike again for eight months. “In February of 1985 he abducted two girls in separate incidents,” (Richard Ramirez – Night Stalker, n.d., p. 1). He raped both of these girls then dumped them out. “On March 17, 1985, Ramirez jumped 22-year-old Angela Barrio outside her condo. He shot her, kicked her out of the way, and headed into her condo. Inside, was roommate, Dayle Okazaki, age 34, who Ramirez immediately shot and killed. Barrio remained alive out of pure luck. The bullet had ricocheted off the keys she held in her hands, as she lifted them to protect herself,” (Montaldo, n.d., p. 1). According to allserialkillers.com: Not long after, he pulled Tsai-Lian Yu from her car and shot her several times. She was still alive when the police got to her but died later. A few days later, he abducted and raped an eight year old girl. Then on March 27, 1985, Ramirez murdered Vincent and Maxine Zazzara. He not only shot both of them, but also stabbed Maxine and carved out her eyes. On April 14, Ramirez broke into the Doi house, shooting and killing William Doi and beating his wife Lillie. Richard’s crime spree continued. In May, he beat 84-year-old Mabel Bell and 81-year-old Florence Lang and scratched satanic symbols over them. They were not found until two days later, and Bell later died. He cut Patty Higgins’ throat in June and, only two miles away, did the same thing to Mary Cannon in July. About a week later, Ramirez beat a 61-year-old to death in her home. On July 20, Ramirez killed Chainaroung Khovanath. Next, he beat and raped his wife. “Not content with that he took their eight-year-old son into the next room with a bottle of baby oil. Mrs. Khovanath was forced to listen as Ramirez raped him, then he stole about $30,000 in cash and jewelry,” (Richard Ramirez – Night Stalker, n.d., p. 1). Max and Leta Kneiding were shot and killed in their home. In August, he attacked Christopher and Virginia Peterson, but did not kill them. A few days later, he killed Elyas Abowath and savagely beat his wife, Sakina. On August 17, Richard committed his only murder outside of Los Angeles. He shot and killed Peter Pan in San Francisco; and although beaten and shot, Peter’s wife, Barbara, survived her attack. Her description of the attacker matched the description of other survivors. The murderer was named “The Night Stalker” by the media. A week later, Ramirez shot William Carns in the head three times and raped his fiancée, Inez Erickson. In the end, Ramirez’s fingerprint was taken off an abandoned stolen car identified by Inez Erickson, and his picture was on the front page of the paper. He was spotted by a customer in a local liquor store, and chased and beaten by local thugs (Richard Ramirez – Night Stalker, n.d., p. 1) Richard was arrested for 13 murders, five attempted murders, six rapes, three lewd acts on children, two kidnappings, three acts of forced oral copulation, four counts of sodomy, five robberies, and 14 burglaries. At his trial, Richard inscribed a pentagon on his left palm and showed it to photographers. He also made devils horns with his fingers (Schechter and Everitt, 1996, p. 249). He was convicted on 46 of these counts at 2:20 p.m. on September 20th, 1989, in a Los Angeles county courtroom in California. He was subsequently given a death sentence on October 3rd of that same year,” (Grise, n.d., p. 1). He is now on death row at San Quentin State Penitentiary, where he has even gotten married!
According to Schmalleger (2009), “Social learning theory says that all behaviour is learned in much the same way and that crime, like other forms of behaviour is also learned,” (p. 300). Richard learned a lot from his cousin, Mike. According to this theory, Richard learned from an early age that sex, drugs, and violence go together and create intense pleasure. Differential identification theory is an extension of social learning theory and is defined as, “An explanation for crime and deviance that holds that people pursue criminal behaviour to the extent that they identify themselves with real or imaginary people from whose perspective their criminal or deviant behaviour seems acceptable,” (Schmalleger, 2009, p.302). Daniel Glaser said that through this process, people develop a personal identification with criminals. Richard Ramirez definitely developed a relationship with his cousin, Mike. He taught Richard how to perfect his burglaries, and Richard’s killings emulated the photographs shown to him by Mike of his rapes and murders in Vietnam. He learned a great deal from Mike and then later turned to Satanism as a result of his evil thoughts and desires. Richard’s crimes began as instrumental crimes in that they were goal-oriented. He broke into homes to steal because he needed money to buy hotel rooms, drugs, and prostitutes. He then began raping and murdering with no other motive than he simply enjoyed these acts.
What caused Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. “The Night Stalker,” to torture, rape, and murder men, women, girls, and boys in 1984 and 1985? I think it is a combination of learned aggression from his father, drug addiction, the positive associations his cousin taught him between violence and sex, and his personal thoughts about Satan. Whether or not his actions were influenced by any biological forces, we will never know. But, the impact his cousin had on his criminal career cannot b denied. Would Ramirez still have committed all those crimes had Mike not invested so much time in boasting of his sexual conquests and killings to Richard? We will also never know. What we do know is “The Night Stalker’s” crimes cannot be forgotten, and if his appeals are denied, Richard Ramirez will be put to death. Then he just might get his wish: To obtain the most honorable place at Satan’s table