On August 31, 1985, Richard Ramirez, the Satanic serial killer known as the “Night Stalker,” was captured, bringing an end to his two-year crime spree that included torture, rape, and murder, and left 13 people dead and the residents of Los Angeles and San Francisco paralyzed with fear.
Ramirez was born February 28, 1960 in El Paso, Texas, and was the youngest of seven children. His childhood was troubled from the beginning – after being abused by his father, he became fascinated by his cousin Mike, a Green Beret who had recently returned from the war in Vietnam.
The cousins would get high together, and Mike would tell graphic stories about torturing and mutilating Vietnamese women – and show Ramirez the Polaroids to prove it. When Ramirez was 13, Mike shot his wife in the face, killing her in front of Ramirez.
By 1977, Ramirez’s petty crimes had landed him in juvenile detention. He later moved to Los Angeles, and picked up an interest in Satanism, a cocaine addiction, and convictions for burglary.
Night Stalker murders
Ramirez’s first known murder took place on June 18, 1984, when he viciously sexually assaulted, stabbed, and murdered Jennie Vincow, 79, while robbing her house. The brutality shocked police.
On March 17, 1985, he attacked Maria Hernandez, who managed to escape him, and then killed her roommate, Dayle Okazaki. He also shot and killed Tsai Lian Yu the same evening, which led the media to nickname Ramirez the “Valley Intruder.” Journalists in Los Angeles reportedly brainstormed other monikers for the killer, including “The Walk-In Killer” and “The Screen Door Intruder.”
Ramirez normally wore all black when breaking into his victims’s homes, and used a variety of weapons to terrorize them, including knives, a gun, a hammer, a tire iron, and even a machete. He made victims swear allegiance to Satan, and carved pentagrams into their skin. On March 27, 1985, Ramirez shot and killed Vincent Zazzara, 64, and then brutally assaulted and stabbed his 44-year-old wife Maxine – before gouging out her eyes.
Justice at last
Ramirez’s final attack on August 24, 1985, led to the identification of his stolen car by the victim. When his car was found with fingerprints, the police could finally ID the “Night Stalker” – and release his prison photo to the public in a barrage of wall-to-wall media coverage. He was finally caught on August 31, 1985, after being badly beaten by an angry mob of East L.A. residents in an episode of street justice after they recognized him from his mug shot.
At his first court appearance, Ramirez raised a hand with a pentagram drawn on it and yelled, “Hail, Satan.” After significant delays in the trial, Ramirez was convicted in 1989 and received 19 death sentences, to which he responded, “No big deal. Death always comes with the territory. I’ll see you in Disneyland.”
New crimes and the mystery of the “second suspect”
He was subsequently transferred to San Quentin Prison in California, and during his incarceration, Ramirez was linked to even more crimes. In 2009, a DNA sample connected him with the April 10, 1984, rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in San Francisco.
Earlier this year, the New York Post reported that DNA matching a mystery “second suspect,” who was a juvenile at the time, had been found on a handkerchief from the crime scene of Mei Leung’s murder, along with Ramirez’s DNA. A San Francisco Police Department official later told the Post that there is not enough evidence at this time to prosecute the second suspect, whom they have not named.
Love and marriage behind bars
Incredibly, Ramirez attracted many admirers, and according to the San Francisco Examiner, he married Doreen Lioy, a freelance magazine editor (and self-professed virgin) in 1996. Lioy told CNN in 1997, “He’s kind, he’s funny, he’s charming…. I think he’s really a great person. He’s my best friend; he’s my buddy.” NBC reported that Lioy, who has also used the last name Ramirez, now lives in seclusion in Richmond, California.
After 23 years on death row, Richard Ramirez died on June 7, 2013, at the age of 53, from complications related to B-cell lymphoma. Sources told the New York Post that the killer’s skin was “green” before he died of liver complications.
Back in 2011, when actor Todd Bridges released his autobiography called Killing Willis: From Diff’rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted, the former actor discussed his encounters with Ramirez, who he said showed no remorse for his horrific acts.
“We made sure all of our windows were locked at all times, and we walked people to their cars with guns. My life had actually been touched by his crimes. I never found it hard to believe that he had done all the terrible things they accused him of — raping and torturing little old ladies and carving pentagrams into their skin. First of all, he was a Devil worshipper. That’s heavy. And then he never seemed sorry about killing all those people. That was who he really was.”
Main photo: Richard Ramirez’s 1984 mug shot [LAPD/Wikimedia Commons]