Richard Munoz Ramirez, also known as the “Night Stalker,” was a Mexican-American serial killer who committed a series of murders in the years 1984-1985. He grew up in El Paso, Texas, the youngest of five children, son to Mercedes and Julian Ramirez, the latter of which was a railway worker. Ramirez was heavily influenced by his cousin, Mike, starting in his preteen years. Mike boasted of torturing several Vietnamese women while fighting in Vietnam and showed Ramirez Polaroid pictures of his mutilated victims. He was also present when Mike shot and killed his wife. Ramirez dropped out of Jefferson High School in the ninth grade and moved to California at the age of 22.
Ramirez is responsible for the murders of at least 13 individuals, but his total victims amount to 25 people. During a two-year period, lasting from 1984 to 1985, Ramirez terrorized Los Angeles and San Francisco. He brutally murdered his victims, often after torturing and raping them, and mutilated the corpses. Ramirez usually attacked them after breaking into their homes. His youngest victim was 30 years old, and his oldest was 83. Ramirez never made any effort to get rid of the evidence that he left behind or to conceal his role in the crimes, suggesting that his motive in committing the murders and assaults was hedonistic and that in doing so, he sought some form of psychological gratification or thrill.
It was difficult for the police to find decisive evidence at the crime scenes. In many cases, surviving victims were able to provide them with details about Ramirez’s appearance, describing him as tall, dark-haired, and Hispanic. Ramirez left a variety of evidence suggesting that the murders he committed were serial. For example, the police were able to match bullets found at different crime scenes to each other. Ramirez also made a habit of leaving satanic signs at murder scenes. After Ramirez targeted Vincent and Maxine Zazzara, the police found footprints in the flower beds outside their home, but not much else.
I expected that much more trace evidence would be found at the crime scenes than was recovered in actuality, especially since Ramirez did not attempt to conceal any of it.
There was finally a break-through in the case on August 24, 1985, when survivor Inez Erickson was able to give both a physical description of Ramirez and his vehicle, an orange Toyota station wagon, which turned out to be stolen. The car was found four days later, and the police were able to recover a single fingerprint on the mirror of the vehicle. The killing sprees ended when the print was identified as belonging to Ramirez.
Ramirez tried to delay the trial for as long as possible, but on July 22, 1988, he was finally found guilty of 13 counts of murder, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries. His trial became one of the longest and most difficult in American history. On November 7, 1989, Ramirez was sentenced to death. On August 7, 2006, his first round of state appeals ended unsuccessfully when the California Supreme Court upheld his convictions and death sentence, and his request for a rehearing on September 7, 2007, was denied. Ramirez died on June 7, 2013, in a hospital, after being housed on death row for 23 years. He never met his long-awaited execution. The cause of death was said to be liver failure.
There are several elements that made the Ramirez’s crimes famous. One of these is the police’s slow and ineffective course in identifying Ramirez as the killer, due partly to the extreme lack of usable trace evidence recovered. Additionally, the panic and terror this uncertainty caused throughout the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas was a trademark characteristic of the killing sprees.