“We are all evil, in some form or another,” Richard Ramirez, aka, The Night Stalker, said in an interview after being imprisoned for his heinous crimes. He relished evil, has even been called the embodiment of evil, not just because of the murders he committed, but because he believed his sadistic impulses were in line with what Satan would have wanted. “A one man epidemic of madness and murder,” the American media said about him after he was captured.
“Lock you doors, lock your windows,” intoned the Los Angeles police, because you could be next. Ramirez was the boogeyman; he sneaked into houses at night and left a trail of blood behind him. Men, women, boys, girls, all saw this face of evil. But what drove him to do these things? What were the precursors for his sadism and siding with Satan?
Los Angeles Police Department, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Night Stalker carved pentagrams into his victims
The man who had signed his gruesome crime scenes with “Jack the Knife” or inverted pentagrams, was born on February 29, 1960. Before becoming an avowed Satanist, he was, like us all, an innocent young boy. What happens to the boy is the molding of the man, and as with many, or even most, serial killers, childhood is filled with terror and trauma. According to the seminal book on serial killers, “The Method and Madness of Monsters,” Ramirez’ childhood fit the description of many killer’s younger years.
He grew up with a father who had once been a policeman in Mexico, but later had moved to El Paso, Texas. This father was prone to fits of violence of which Ramirez was said to be a victim. His mother was a religious zealot.
The same book tells us that Ramirez experienced something else many other killers have, and that’s serious head injury. He was knocked unconscious twice as a child which later resulted in him having epileptic seizures. It’s also said that when he was just seven or eight years old he may have witnessed one of his brothers being molested by a neighbor, but it’s unknown if this happened to Ramirez himself. Nonetheless, during childhood he was liked in school, had girlfriends, with one of those girls later saying he was always sweet and gentle with her. So, what happened?
One of the things often mentioned when people try and understand the madness of Richard Ramirez is when he was just 12-years old he was witness to a grim sight. These were photos showed to him by his cousin, a Green Beret who had returned from the Vietnam war.
Those photos should have been traumatic for Ramirez, because what he saw was American soldiers forcing young Vietnamese women to perform fellatio on them. Other photos revealed something even more horrific, and that was the severed heads of those girls. Was he traumatized by these photographic scenes?
Years later Ramirez would say no; he would say that he had been aroused by what he had seen. At that same house where his cousin lived Ramirez would eventually see that cousin shoot his own wife in the face in cold blood. Ramirez, then 14, was told to keep quiet about the murder.
He did, but the cousin was arrested. He wasn’t convicted of murder for the reason of him being insane. After this, Ramirez was sent around to that house to pick up some property. He later said he could still smell the blood, saying he found that to be a “mystical experience.” The young boy was withdrawn, quiet, for years after.
Here we have the killer in the making, but before he embraced sadism he began burgling houses. He pretty much dropped out of school, went to LA to visit his heroin-addicted brother, and that’s when he was trained in the art of stealing. There he began experimenting with the powerful hallucinogenic LSD, and if that wasn’t bad enough for an obviously fragile mind, he started to take an equally powerful drug, a horse tranquilizer nicknamed Angel Dust.
This drug is well known to cause delirium and mania in some people, and with Ramirez at this point becoming obsessed with dark heavy metal and slasher horror films, we might see where his fixation with Satan was born.
FX / American Horror Story
In the summer of 1978, while exploring one of his new pastimes: injecting cocaine, Ramirez read a book by a man who claimed to be a fully-fledged Satanist. The book was called “The Satanic Bible”, and it would inspire the 18-year old Ramirez to drive out to San Francisco to meet the author. There he got involved with satanic rituals and said later that during those dark ceremonies he actually felt the hand of Satan touch him. At this point he pretty much cut off all ties with his family.
We know little about what happened to Ramirez in the ensuing years, but it’s said he took a part-time job in an El Paso hotel while still a teen and started robbing guests as he had the door keys at times. It’s also said he was beaten very badly at one point after a male guest had returned to his room to find Ramirez attempting to molest his wife. After that, Ramirez moved to California for good, where his darkness would be consummated in the act of various depravities including rape, extreme violence and murder.
In 1983 Ramirez’ sister went looking for her estranged brother. According to the book we mentioned, she found him living in a cheap hotel situated close to the LA bus station. He was still injecting cocaine, and he told her that he sustained his addiction by robbing from houses. He’d done this many times, informing his sister that the reason he had never been caught was because Satan was on his side.
A year later and we have the first of his murders. This terrible deed was only found out much later after his arrest, with investigators matching his DNA to the scene of the crime in 2009. He’d raped a nine year old girl in the hotel where he was staying while in San Francisco. He then stabbed her and hanged her from a pipe in the basement.
Just two months later and Ramirez would commit his second murder, which was originally said to be the first of the dreaded Night Stalker’s kills. This time Ramirez had entered the house of a 79-year old woman and found her sleeping in her bed. He stabbed her multiple times and then almost decapitated her after slashing her throat. His second attack came almost a year later, when he waited for a young woman to pull into her driveway.
When she got out of the car he shot her. She survived, as would many other of his victims. He shot another woman in her house sometime later, this time killing his victim. Just one hour later, he shot and killed another woman. It’s at this point he got the name the Walk-in killer. Here was a man who just entered people’s homes, their safe havens, and in Ramirez case, literally let hell break loose.
His killing spree in 1985 shocked the city of Los Angeles. Another time he entered the house of a husband and wife, shot the husband dead, then raped and killed the woman. He took out her eyes, walking off with them and rest of his stash. It’s said he took those eyes with him inside a jewelry box he’d stolen. Often he would take out the husband, and then bound and gag the wife. Then he’d rape the wife, sometimes telling them they had to say the words, “I love Satan,”, leaving them dead or close to dead. That same year he entered the house of two women over the age of 80.
He bound and raped them both, bludgeoned them with a hammer, after which he drew a Pentagram with lipstick on one of the women’s thighs. They were both found alive but unconscious, and one of the women died from her injuries. Another time he got into the house of a woman and her 11-year old son. He brutally raped the woman, but spared them both after tying them up.
Later he found a 16-year old girl sleeping in her bedroom. He hit her repeatedly across the head with a tire iron, only then to look for a knife to finish her off. He didn’t find one, and so tried to strangle her with a telephone cord, but electric sparks scared him off. He immediately fled, believing those lights to be God intervening and saving the girl. The girl survived, but needed over 450 stitches.
He committed many more similar crimes, entering houses of families, killing the husband, and brutally raping the wife. Often he would make his victims swear to Satan. Sometimes he would leave them breathing, sometimes he would make sure they were dead. Other times people just miraculously survived their ordeal.
This was confusing to police, as to why he would sometimes leave people alive. What some criminologists did know was that here was a man who talked about Satan, left satanic symbols at crime scenes. He killed for thrills, but he might also be what’s called a missionary killer, sent to do his business by a power higher than him.
As his crime spree in 1985 was almost coming to end, Ramirez attempted to enter the house of a family but his attempt was thwarted. Ramirez drove away, but his stolen car was clearly seen. Not long after he broke into the house of a family and shot the husband three times in the head. He then raped the wife and left her tied. On his way out he said to her, “Tell them the Night Stalker was here.” The woman was able to give a very precise description of what her assailant looked like, and police found fingerprints.
They also found that stolen car. They had their man, and soon police released a picture to the public of who the Night Stalker was, adding that he was a drifter with a very long rap sheet. At the press conference police said to the cameras, we know who you are, and you cannot hide. They were right. Ramirez wasn’t aware of this, but his face was all over the TV. It’s said he only got suspicious when he heard a group of aged Mexican women calling him El Matador, the killer. He attempted to carjack a citizen soon after, but was caught by what one might call an angry mob. It’s said they beat him within an inch of his life.
He appeared in court in 1989 looking the part of a Satan worshipper, dressed in black, wearing dark sunglasses. During the trial one of the jurors was actually murdered, and rumors abound that perhaps Ramirez had orchestrated this. Was he really in league with Satan, asked some people who were perhaps overly devout. There was no way to link him to the murder, however; it was just a grim coincidence.
This man from the dark side developed his own following, people were mentally arrested by the specter of a devil worshipper, and then on September 20, 1989, Ramirez was handed a down-to-Earth verdict, convicted of 43 charges.
The judge said what he had done was “beyond any human understanding.” This included 13 counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, 11 sexual assault charges and 14 burglary charges. After hearing this Ramirez said all he could see in the courtroom were liars, haters, killers. He growled, “You maggots make me sick, hypocrites and all,” and again he blamed the government, the world itself for his crimes, concluding his vitriolic speech with, “You don’t understand me. You are not expected to. You are not capable of it. I am beyond your experience… I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells within us all.”
Women all over the country, including one of the jurors at his trial, fought for his attention while he was in prison. The handsome, but literally devilish man was attractive for some women. This might seem implausible, but many serial killers have found such affections while in prison, some of them even getting married while behind bars. He gained attention from the media, too, while in prison. One time in a TV interview he was told he was now ranked among the worst serial killers in American history, besides people such as Ted Bundy.
At this point, he couldn’t hide a smile of appreciation. This kind of focus by the media on killers has been said to be perhaps one of the reasons some killers ply their depraved trade because even beasts sometimes want attention. In that same TV interview, he tried to mitigate what he’d done by invoking wartime killing, once saying, “Serial killers do on a small scale what governments do on a large one, they are a product of the times, and these are bloodthirsty times.”
In 2013 he died from cancer, age 53, with one of his surviving victims saying that was too good for him. He’d been on death row 23 years, having been married to one of those serial killer-loving women we talked about.