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

Devan Sagliani | 22 Apr 2015 12:00
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Desperate to hide, Ramirez fled on foot, running through yards and hopping over fences as he went. After running across the Santa Ana Freeway, he attempted to carjack a woman, but was chased away by bystanders, who pursued him. Some of the witnesses called the police to tell them the Night Stalker was on the run. Forty police cars and seven helicopters rushed to the area. After hopping over several fences and attempting two more carjackings, he was chased off by an angry husband who beat him over the head with a metal bar. Ramirez began running up the street but soon hundreds of residents came out to confront him yelling "the killer" and calling for blood. Someone yelled "go get my gun" while the others began stomping and beating him. The police arrived in time to save him from mob justice and take him into custody. His six-month killing spree was finally over.

Police recovered a car he had used, with bullets inside that linked him to several of the murders. They also recovered a handgun. In El Paso, the police discovered three hundred and seventy five pieces of jewelry Ramirez had stolen from his victims and then sent to his family. His friends back home were stunned to hear Richie was the Night Stalker.

He was charged with 14 murders and 30 other counts related to his rape, robbery and murder spree. During his arraignment in October of 1985 Ramirez flaunted his allegiance to the devil by turning to the media and revealing a pentagram he'd drawn on the palm of his hand. Later as he was being led off he yelled out "hail Satan." Detective Salerno wasn't surprised. Instead he used Ramirez's courtroom theatrics to tie him to his vicious crimes. Though it seemed like an open and shut case it took two years to bring it to a preliminary hearing. Two public defenders were appointed to Richard Ramirez, but he disliked them. Another defense attorney also came and went before the Ramirez family hired two new lawyers that had never tried a death penalty case.

Then through a long series of legal maneuvering his trial was delayed until Jan. 30, 1989. From the beginning Ramirez showed no remorse. Given his self-proclaimed Satanic views the consequences of an ordinary criminal justice trial seemed irrelevant, since his true reward would be in hell. He had assured his place not only in history but in eternal damnation as well.

Although Ramirez often appeared unbalanced in his court and television appearances, Detectives Salerno and Carrillo were surprised to find that the high school drop out was in fact articulate and well read. He admitted to having a fascination with murder and with serial killers and took delight in learning that the holding cell he was placed in after his capture had once also housed Angelo Buono, who committed a series of murders along with Kenneth Bianci and became known as the Hillside Strangler.


Ramirez came to court in black clothing and dark shades, donning the persona of disaffected rock star. As investigators and survivors related the gory details of their encounters with the Night Stalker, Ramirez calmly leafed through bloody crime scene photos, relishing his devilish handiwork. When evidence was shown of mutilated bodies Ramirez would laugh or giggle. When he saw his victims suffering he'd turn around and sneer at them in childish delight. It quickly became clear that he was indeed more than capable of the unspeakable crimes he'd been accused of committing. But while most people were sickened to see what he'd done, Ramirez had also attracted his own set of groupies, ranging from nurses and strippers to law students and bored housewives. Dressed in black to match their idol, they'd eager await a smile of recognition from him during the trial. One of them, Doreen Lioy, a freelance magazine editor, would later marry Ramirez in San Quentin. His charisma wasn't enough to win the jury over. The accounts from his survivors and the overwhelming physical evidence tying him to the scene of the crimes was more than enough to convince them of his guilt.

The trial cost $1.8 million, which at the time made it the most expensive in the history of California, until surpassed by the O. J. Simpson murder case in 1994. On Sept. 20, 1989 after 50 days of testimony and 165 witnesses, Richard Ramirez was found guilty. He was convicted of 67 felonies, including 14 murders. He was given 19 death sentences. "Big deal," he told the press on the way out of the courthouse after being sentenced. "Death always came with the territory. See you in Disneyland."

He was sent to death row in San Quentin. In 1996, he married Doreen. The ceremony happened in his cell. She bought a gold wedding band for herself and a platinum one for Richard, who informed her that "Satanists don't wear gold." The minister skipped the vows "until death do us part" - a common practice on death row. Doreen vowed to kill herself when Ramirez was finally executed but the couple eventually separated. Detective Salerno readily agreed to come watch the final moments of Ramirez's life when invited by the killer. On Aug. 7, 2006, his first round of State appeals ended unsuccessfully when the California Supreme Court upheld his convictions and death sentence. Ramirez, who was an avowed Satanist, never expressed any remorse for his crimes. The judge who upheld his 13 death sentences remarked that Ramirez's deeds exhibited "cruelty, callousness, and viciousness beyond any human understanding." On Sept. 7, 2006, the California Supreme Court denied his request for a rehearing. Ramirez had appeals pending until the time of his death. Legal authorities estimate Ramirez would have been in his early seventies before his execution was finally carried out, due to the lengthy California appeals process.

In 2009, DNA testing conclusively linked Ramirez to another murder, this one from April 10, 1984. Mei Leung, a 9-year-old girl, was found murdered in a hotel basement where Ramirez was living in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. She had been raped, beaten, and stabbed to death. Her body was found hanging from a pipe. She is believe to be Ramirez's first known killing.

Richard Ramirez died of complications from secondary to B-cell lymphoma at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, Calif. He was pronounced dead at 9 a.m. on June 7, 2013. Ramirez, a life long addict, had also been suffering from chronic hepatitis C. He was 53, and had spent over 23 years awaiting his execution.

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