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Richard Ramirez—What Caused Him to Become the Night Stalker?

Brenda Thornlow is an author, animal advocate, & certified Reiki Master from NY. Her books can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & iTunes.


Who is Richard Ramirez?

I've always been a fan of true crime. I've read dozens of books on serial killers and I am an admitted addict of the ID Channel. Many people think this is a morbid fascination and maybe it is. I think it is more a curiosity as to what compels a person to commit heinous acts of violence against another with no regard for human life. Personally, I feel bad killing a bug; I would much rather capture it and throw outside my house. Not in my wildest imagination could I imagine harming or taking the life of another human. So as I read about murderers, whether they are serial killers or murderers who have committed "crimes of passion," I wonder what could drive a person to that point.

Few true crime cases have terrified me as much as the case of Richard Ramirez, also known as the Night Stalker. The convicted rapist and serial killer died on June 7, 2013 at 53 years old of cancer while on death row in San Quentin in California. He was convicted of killing 13 people on Sept. 20, 1989. He had been captured on Aug. 31, 1985, after being identified and severely beaten by an angry mob in East Los Angeles as he was trying to steal a car. Police had to break up the mob to prevent them from possibly killing Ramirez.

Richard Ramirez was the proverbial boogey man, invading bedrooms in the middle of the night and tearing innocent people from their dreams. He would rape and torture of his victims before murdering them and then rob and sell their belongings to feed his cocaine and herion habit. He was an admitted follower of Satan and made this known in many ways including famously carving a pentagram into the palm of his hand and showing it off to the courtroom and press during his trial.

Again, I ask, what would drive a person to commit such acts of evil? Is one born this way? Could past trauma cause such actions?

Young Richard Ramirez

Young Richard Ramirez


Early Life

Richard Ramirez was born in El Paso, Texas on February 29, 1960. His father, Julian Ramirez, a former policeman who later became a laborer on the Santa Fe railroad, was a hard-working man prone to fits of anger that often resulted in physical abuse. His mother, Mercedes, was a kind-hearted woman who worked in a shoe factory straight through her pregnancy with Richard. Unfortunately, in those days, employees were not encouraged to protect themselves from any toxins they may have been exposed to while working in a factory.

As a child, Ramirez suffered from two severe head injuries. Once, when he was two years old, he tried to climb a dresser in order to reach for a radio set atop it. He loved to dance as a baby. While trying to climb the dresser, it fell on top of him, causing an injury to his forehead that required thirty stitches. The second time, he was five years old and knocked unconscious by a swing on the playground. Following those injuries he would frequently experience epileptic seizures.

As an adolescent, Ramirez formed a strong bond with his uncle Mike Ramirez. Mike was a decorated Green Beret veteran of the Viet Nam War and would spend hours with Richard smoking pot and relaying horror stories about his time at war. He would show Richard Polaroid pictures of his victims whom he would rape and murder, some of them showing the severed heads of the women he abused. Richard witnessed the murder of Mike's wife, Jessie, when Mike shot her in the face in his kitchen with a .38 caliber revolver during an argument. Mike was found not guilty for the murder of his wife by reason of insanity and was released after four years of incarceration at the Texas State Mental Hospital in 1977, continuing his influence over Richard.

Ramirez's first foray into violence started while still in high school when he worked at a local Holiday Inn. Aside from voyeurism, he would use his pass key to sneak into guests rooms and rob them. His employment ended when he snuck into a couple's room and attempted to rape the wife while her husband was out. Her husband walked in mid-attack and severely beat Ramirez.

At the age of twenty-two, Ramirez made his way from Texas to California.


The Terror Begins

In Los Angeles, Ramirez spent most of his time living out of the Los Angeles Port Authority; one of the most crime-ridden, drug-infested areas in Los Angeles. To feed his growing drug addiction, he robbed homes and sold the stolen goods for drug money.

Ramirez's killing spree is believed to have to have started in May of 1984 in San Francisco when, in 2009 his DNA was identified on the body of 9 year old Mei Leung. The child's lifeless body was found in a hotel basement where Ramirez was living in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This murder, however, was not initially linked to Ramirez's spree until years later after DNA testing.

The murders in Los Angeles are believed to have started in June 28, 1984 when Ramirez stabbed 79 year old Jennie Vincow while asleep in her apartment in Glassell Park. Her throat was slashed so deeply that she was nearly decapitated. He would continue his two year rampage, raping and torturing more than 25 victims, and murdering more than a dozen, most of them in their own homes. His spree extended from San Francisco to Mission Viejo, California.

As mentioned, his capture was the result of being recognized from one of his many arrest photos plastered among the front pages of local newspapers. After being recognized, he was chased down by dozens of residents of East Los Angeles, captured and severely beaten while trying to highjack a resident's car.


Trial and Conviction

Ramirez, of course, claimed that he had been mistakenly identified and did everything possible to delay the trial including changing his legal counsel several times. The geographical spread of his crimes also complicated matters and caused some of the charges against Ramirez to be dropped In order to expiate the process. Ultimately he would be charged with 14 murders and 31 other felonies in connection to his killing spree.

Almost three years after his apprehension, the jury selection process began and the case took a full year to hear, given the number of witnesses and sheer amount of evidence. During the trial, Ramirez would attract a large cult following which consisted primarily women who claimed to be Satan worshippers and would attend his trial daily. One of his supporters was Doreen Lioy, whom he later married while in prison.

On September 20, 1989, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict on 43 charges, including 13 counts of murder, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 sexual assault charges and 14 burglary charges.

Could This Have Been Prevented?

When examining the background of Richard Ramirez prior to his crimes, one has to wonder if this person ever had a chance of living a healthy and stable life. Don't get me wrong; there is absolutely no excuse on this earth for the vicious and evil crimes he committed. In addition, many can argue that countless people have grown up in abusive families and suffered various traumas yet they go on to live productive, well-adjusted lives. Still, there are those who don't fare as well.

If things had gone differently for this person could his life have had a different ending? Could the head trauma he suffered as a child have done lasting damage? It would seem so as he began to suffer from epileptic seizures afterward. Few can argue that the physical abuse he endured from his father and the horrors he was exposed to by his uncle Mike, including drug use, wouldn't have some sort of negative impact on him. While it is very true that we ultimately have a choice as to which direction we take in our life, it's hard to ignore that our past experiences can have influence over us.

Is there a chance that all these experiences at a young age led Richard Ramirez to become The Night Stalker? Or is there a possibility he was born with this monster and no matter what the circumstances of his childhood were, this monster would come out?

© 2014 Brenda Thornlow


Mario on March 07, 2015:

I find him to strike my curiosity more than any other serial killer. His spree was so atypical when compared to others. He didn't come off as mentally impaired or crazy or anything. He was of sound mind. He was actually not the target of his father's abuse; his petty criminal brother was, who taught him literally everything he knew about burglary and theft/ auto theft. His parents barely raised him because they worked so much. His cousin was even more of an influence on him and even more sociopathic, very much more so than a common criminal. This was around the time he was going through puberty and developing a sexuality, which became associated with power, control, domination and violence. This is very dangerous; the sex drive is one of th most powerful urges for many species, including humans.

UndercoverAgent19 on March 16, 2014:

I also share your "morbid" fascination with true crime, particularly serial killers, for exactly the reasons you described. Although I believe there is darkness within everyone, I find it difficult to understand how someone could be that cruel to other human beings. I never knew much about Ramirez's childhood, so this was a particularly interesting read for me. Thanks for sharing it!

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on March 10, 2014:

Thank you both, NathaNater & CrisSp! Definitely is a fascinating subject!

CrisSp from Sky Is The Limit Adventure on March 10, 2014:

You're not alone. Me too love true crime stories and like you said, I'm always curious to know what's in the mind of these creepy people.

Very fascinating!

NathaNater on March 10, 2014:

I have been fascinated by these stories too, for the same reason you are; I want to know what motivates serial killers to commit murder. This story is certainly particularly interesting, everything about it including his rather dramatic capture in East LA. I think you are very right to look at what might have caused him to do these things; clearly his life was rough and not good. I was reading about Richard Allen Davis the other day, and he also had a mental illness that really should have been treated. It makes me wonder who's taking care of these guys. Obviously no one is or was.

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on February 06, 2014:

Yes, believe it or not, someone did marry him. Her name was Doreen Lioy and she wasn't the typical Ramirez groupie that wore all black and into Satanism, she came across as your average "girl next door." I believe he had her brainwashed into believing that he was wrongly convicted. I would be terrified going anywhere near someone life that.

Thank you for your comment!

Richard de Mey from Scottsdale, Arizona on February 06, 2014:

How creepy. I just don't understand how someone can be so cold, but I did read an article once that serial killers have a chemical imbalance in their brains. They do not have the ability to feel empathy towards others which makes them very dangerous. While he was locked up there was some lady who visited him and if Im not mistaken she wanted to marry him. Now I'm just dying to ask her how she would feel if he murdered her parents or if she has kids. Would she still want to marry him if he killed her kids? I just don't understand how anyone could be a fan of someone so cold and heartless.

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on February 04, 2014:

Thank you so much, Jodah! Have a wonderful day!

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on February 04, 2014:

Great hub bk42, I am also intrigued by true murder mysteries/serial killers etc. The same as you, I wouldn't hurt a fly in real life, but reading about it is a totally different thing. This story was very interesting and your style a pleasure to read. Voted up.

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