Dark Dreams
The Bloody Trail and History of California's Night Stalker

Devan Sagliani | 22 Apr 2015 12:00
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Richard never told his parents he was in the room when the killing took place, but his behavior became strange after the incident. He began roaming the neighborhood at night as a peeping Tom and taking LSD. To avoid his father's violent outbursts he took to sleeping in a nearby cemetery. Disillusioned with Christianity, he began praying instead to the devil. By the time he reached high school his classmates had noticed a drastic change in him. He was dirty, cold, brooding, and often high on drugs. He dropped out of school his freshman year and took a job at a Holiday Inn. Using a master key he began to first rob guests, then later to hide in some of the rooms and spy on female visitors, becoming aroused and fantasizing about overpowering them and having his way. Before long he crossed the line and made that fantasy a reality.

One night, he watched a woman get undressed and take a shower before overpowering and raping her. The woman's husband, who had gone to park the car, caught Ramirez in the act of raping his wife and beat him within an inch of his life. The next morning he was booked and taken to court. The couple, who lived out of town, wanted to put the incident behind them and refused to return to El Paso. The charges were dropped. Soon after his cousin, Mike was released from the mental hospital. Richard began to hang around with the Vietnam vet, getting high and fantasizing about rape and torture. A year later in 1978, he left El Paso for Los Angeles where he turned his fantasies into horrifying realities. Settling into the Skid Row area he found he could feed his lust for sex, drugs, and violence 24 hours a day. Ramirez began shooting up cocaine and quickly lost control of his habit. He broke into houses originally to steal and fence items so he could keep getting high. Satan was still a vital part of his philosophy. He'd even traveled to San Francisco to meet a coven of devil worshipers, but rejected becoming a member of an organized Satanic cult feeling he was superior to them. By 1983, his life had become a downward spiral of drugs, porn, prostitutes, and crime. Suspecting something was wrong because he hadn't called or written, his sister Ruth came to Los Angeles in an attempt to talk him into coming home. She begged him to return to his roots in the Catholic church. He told her he was now under the protection of Lucifer. Five months later, he was arrested for car theft. He was photographed and fingerprinted and spent six months in jail. When he was released in June of 1984, it was only a matter of weeks before he committed the first of his Night Stalker murders. Within a year, his grisly killing spree would shock the world.

The Night Stalker's reign of terror officially began on July 27, 1984, in Glassell Park, a small community north east of Los Angeles. The victim was Jennie Vincow, an elderly woman nearly 80 years old. In the dead of the night, Ramirez removed the screen to her apartment window, brutally killing her in her bed while she slept. It was a blood orgy of brutality that shocked the world. Ramirez had lost control, repeatedly stabbing her and slashing her throat so deeply that she was nearly decapitated when police found the body. At the morgue, the police discovered a key piece of evidence in the form of a fingerprint. However there was little they could do with it back then. They could only help link a suspect to a crime after he was already identified. The Department of Justice had 16 million fingerprints in master files, all in hard copy. California was developing a computerized fingerprint system that would eventually be instrumental in catching and convicting Ramirez, but it wasn't up and running yet.

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In the meantime, the Night Stalker cruised the highways of Los Angeles high on cocaine, listening to heavy metal and searching for his next victim. On March 17, 1985, he followed Maria Hernandez home, creeping into her garage with her as she pulled in to park. He was dressed all in black and pointing a gun at her. Maria pleaded with him but he shot the 22-year-old in the face as she got out of her car. The bullet ricocheted off her car keys. Maria fell down and played dead, thinking he'd run off. Instead Ramirez went inside the upstairs apartment. Maria's roommate, 34-year-old Dayle Okazaki, had heard the gunshot and hidden behind a counter. When her curiosity overwhelmed her she raised her head. Ramirez was waiting for her with a devilish grin. He shot her once in the forehead, killing her instantly. She was dead before she hit the floor. Ramirez fled, but Maria got a good look at him as he did. She described him to a police sketch artist as tall, dark and Hispanic.

Ramirez's desire for murder was insatiable, far more than other serial killers. He had a deep need to fulfill his lust for killing. Unlike other serial killers who meticulously plot out their killings, painstakingly going over every detail and then savoring their crimes long afterward, allowing the tension to grow until they need to kill again, Ramirez wasn't able to control himself. He could literally be overcome by the desire to kill again a few hours after his last murder. At one in the morning that same night, high from the adrenaline of the last murder, Ramirez found another victim. He was driving on the San Fernando freeway when he spotted 30-year-old Tsai-Lian Yu. He followed her off the freeway in Monterey Park. She pulled over and asked why he was following her, threatening to call the police. He forced his way into her car and shot her twice with a .22-caliber handgun before fleeing the scene. She was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Again, Ramirez left evidence behind that would connect him to both the murders. The sheriff's department recovered bullet casings from each of the murder scenes. Within a few days, the tests came back confirming what Detective Salerno and his partner Detective Gil Carrillo, the men assigned to the case, feared most - they had a serial killer on their hands.

Ten days later, Ramirez struck again. On March 28, 1985, at two in the morning he silently coasted up to a house in Whittier that he'd burgled a year earlier. He tried the doors and the windows but they were all locked. Ramirez didn't give up. He found the laundry room window was open so he slipped in, crouching down and letting his eyes adjust to the light. 64-year-old Vincent Zazzara had fallen asleep on the couch in front of the television. Ramirez quickly dispatched him with a shot to the head that killed him instantly. Zazzara's wife, 44-year-old Maxine, was awakened by the sound of her husband's murder and tried to flee, but Ramirez captured her and tied her up. Ramirez beat her severely while demanding to know where her valuables were. While he ransacked the room, Maxine wriggled free and grabbed the shotgun her husband kept under the bed. Ramirez froze as Maxine pulled the trigger, but unfortunately for her, the gun wasn't loaded. Infuriated by her boldness, Ramirez shot her three times before taking a butcher knife from the kitchen and mutilating her body with multiple stab wounds. He gouged out Maxine's eyes and placed them in a jewelry box he took with him as a souvenir. Vincent and Maxine's bodies were discovered by their son, Peter. Ramirez left more evidence behind in his wanton killing spree. Bullets found at the scene were matched to those found at his previous attacks.

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