The Twisted Tale Of Richard Ramirez, The ‘Night Stalker’ Serial Killer Who Terrorized 1980s California

Published October 15, 2021
Updated March 6, 2024

Born Ricardo Leyva Muñoz Ramirez, Richard Ramirez became infamous as the "Night Stalker" after killing 13 people between 1984 and 1985.

On August 31, 1985, serial killer Richard Ramirez walked into a convenience store in Los Angeles. At first, the man known as the “Night Stalker” seemed like any ordinary shopper. But then, he noticed his own face on the cover of a newspaper — and ran for his life.

By that point, Richard Ramirez was already considered the main suspect in the brutal “Night Stalker” murders that had terrorized California for over a year. But authorities had only just released his name and picture to the public.

Richard Ramirez

Getty ImagesRichard Ramirez, also known as the “Night Stalker,” terrorized California in 1984 and 1985.

This gave residents plenty of time to memorize his physical features — and point him out to authorities as he dashed out of the store. It also gave Ramirez very little chance to get away. But of course, he still tried to escape.

The ensuing chase involved seven police cars and a helicopter that tracked Ramirez throughout the city. But an angry mob of bystanders caught up to him first. Enraged by his heinous crimes, they began to beat him relentlessly — and at least one man used a metal pipe. By the time the police arrived, Ramirez was practically thanking them for arresting him.

The Night Stalker had begun his brutal killing spree a little over a year before his arrest. In that time, Richard Ramirez murdered at least 14 people — and committed countless other violent acts. But his life of crime started long before that.

Richard Ramirez’s Traumatic Childhood

Night Stalker Mugshot

Getty ImagesRichard Ramirez was convicted of 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries. Decades later, he was linked to another rape and murder — of a nine-year-old girl.

Born on February 29, 1960, Richard Ramirez was raised in El Paso, Texas. Ramirez claimed that his father physically abused him and that he sustained multiple head injuries at an early age. One injury was so severe that it reportedly caused him to have epileptic seizures.

To escape his violent father, Ramirez spent a lot of time with his older cousin, Miguel, who was a Vietnam veteran. Unfortunately, Miguel’s influence wasn’t that much better than his father’s had been.

During his time in Vietnam, Miguel had raped, tortured, and even dismembered several Vietnamese women. And sickeningly, he had the photographic evidence to prove it. He often showed “little Richie” photos of the horrors he inflicted upon the women.

And when Ramirez was just 13 years old, he witnessed his cousin fatally shoot his own wife. Shortly after the shooting, Ramirez began to transform from a scared, abused boy to a hardened, sullen young man.

From developing an interest in Satanism to becoming addicted to drugs, Ramirez’s life took a dark turn. Even worse, he was still under his cousin’s influence — since Miguel had been found not guilty of the murder by reason of insanity. (Miguel ultimately spent just four years in a mental hospital until he was released.)

Before long, Ramirez developed an obsession with the same kinds of sexual and physical violence that Miguel had inflicted on the women in his photos. Ramirez also began to have more run-ins with the law — especially after he moved to the Los Angeles area in California.

Though most of his early crimes in the late 1970s and early 1980s were related to theft and drug possession, it would only be a matter of time before they escalated to unspeakable violence.

The Brutal Crimes Of The Night Stalker

Richard Ramirez In Court

NetflixAfter he was arrested, Richard Ramirez often publicly flaunted his Satanism.

For a long time, Ramirez’s first murder was believed to have taken place on June 28, 1984. It was then that he killed 79-year-old Jennie Vincow. Not only did Ramirez stab and sexually assault his victim, he also slashed her throat so deeply that she was nearly decapitated.

But decades after Ramirez was arrested in 1985, he was also linked by DNA evidence to the murder of a 9-year-old girl, which took place on April 10, 1984 — months before the Vincow murder. So that may well have been his first killing — unless there were more that happened before that.

After the Vincow murder, it would be several months before Richard Ramirez struck again. But when he did, he pursued his depraved impulses with horrific dedication.

On March 17, 1985, Ramirez’s murder spree began in earnest with an assault on Maria Hernandez in her home. Though Hernandez managed to escape, her roommate Dayle Okazaki was not so lucky. That evening, Okazaki became another one of Ramirez’s murder victims.

But Ramirez still wasn’t done. Later that same night, he shot and killed yet another victim named Tsai-Lian Yu.

A little over a week later, Ramirez murdered 64-year-old Vincent Zazzara and his 44-year-old wife, Maxine. Sickeningly, it was then that Ramirez began to establish his signature attack style: shoot and kill the husband, then assault and stab the wife. But his murder of Maxine was especially ghastly — as he’d gouged out her eyes.

For months, Ramirez would continue to stalk and murder more victims in California — striking fear in the hearts of people all throughout the state.

Richard Ramirez’s Reign Of Terror Continues

Police Sketch Of The Night Stalker

Bettmann/Getty ImagesPolice sketches of the Night Stalker killer from 1985.

One of the most terrifying things about Ramirez was that he was willing to kill just about anyone who crossed his path. Unlike some other serial killers who have a “type,” Richard Ramirez murdered both men and women and preyed on victims both young and old.

At first, it seemed like Ramirez was only attacking people near Los Angeles, but he soon claimed a couple of victims near San Francisco as well. And since the press dubbed him the “Night Stalker,” it was clear that most of his crimes happened at night — adding yet another scary element.

Disturbingly, many of his attacks included a Satanic element as well. In some cases, Ramirez would carve pentagrams into his victims’ bodies. And in other cases, he would force victims to swear their love for Satan.

All over California, people went to bed fearing that the Night Stalker would break into their homes while they slept — and perform an unspeakable ritual of rape, torture, and murder. Since he apparently attacked at random, it truly seemed like no one was safe.

The LAPD increased their presence on the street and even created a special task force just to find him — with the FBI lending a hand. Meanwhile, the public anxiety was so intense around this time that there was a noticeable surge in the sales of guns, lock installations, burglar alarms, and attack dogs.

But ultimately, it was Richard Ramirez’s own mistakes in August 1985 that led to his capture. After he was spotted outside a witness’s home, he accidentally left a footprint behind — and he also left his car and license plate in plain sight.

When the police tracked down the vehicle, they were able to find just enough of a fingerprint to make a match. By that point, they had already received tips that someone with the last name of Ramirez was involved.

Sure enough, the LAPD was able to identify Richard Ramirez thanks to their new computer database of fingerprints. And even though the records only included criminals who were born after January 1960, it just so happened that Ramirez was born in February 1960.

Authorities soon found Ramirez’s mugshots from his prior arrests, and one of his surviving victims came forward with a detailed description that was quite similar to the photos. By the end of August 1985, police decided to release the Night Stalker’s image and name.

Though they initially worried that this would give Ramirez a chance to escape, it turned out that he was blissfully unaware of his newfound publicity — until it was too late.

The Capture Of The Night Stalker

Night Stalker Portrait

YouTubeBy the time he was arrested, high sugar consumption and cocaine use had rotted Richard Ramirez’s teeth.

By pure happenstance, Richard Ramirez was traveling back to Los Angeles when his photo was released. So he didn’t realize that he had been tracked down until he was back in the city — and he saw his own face on the newspapers.

Though he attempted to flee the police — and tried to steal a car in the process — he was tracked down by a vigilante mob that recognized him, in part due to Ramirez’s notoriously bad teeth. They beat him up until the police finally closed in.

After his arrest, Ramirez was found guilty of 13 counts of murder. In addition to the murder charges, authorities also found him responsible for committing several rapes, assaults, and burglaries.

Ramirez was sentenced to death in the gas chamber for his crimes — and he smiled in response. The Night Stalker later said, “I am beyond good and evil. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells in us all. That’s it.”

He was held in San Quentin State Prison for the rest of his life — but he was never put to death. Due to the complicated nature of his case — which included a 50,000-page trial record — the state’s Supreme Court wasn’t able to hear his appeal until 2006. And even though the court rejected his claims, additional appeals would’ve taken several more years.

Doreen Lioy

TwitterDoreen Lioy allegedly separated from her husband before he died in 2013.

During this extended delay, Richard Ramirez met a female admirer named Doreen Lioy who had struck up a correspondence with him. And in 1996, he married her while he was on death row.

“He’s kind, he’s funny, he’s charming,” Lioy said one year later. “I think he’s a really great person. He’s my best friend; he’s my buddy.”

Obviously, most people did not share her feelings. For the countless Californians who lived in terror during the mid-1980s, Ramirez was little better than the Devil he worshiped.

“It’s just evil. It’s just pure evil,” said Peter Zazzara, the son of victim Vincent Zazzara, in 2006. “I don’t know why somebody would want to do something like that. To take joy in the way it happened.”

Ultimately, Richard Ramirez died of complications from B-cell lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, in 2013. He was 53 years old.

While he was alive, the Night Stalker never expressed remorse for any of his crimes. In fact, he often appeared to take pleasure in his infamy.

“Hey, big deal,” he said, shortly after getting the death sentence. “Death always comes with the territory. I’ll see you in Disneyland.”

Now that you’ve read about serial killer Richard Ramirez, the ‘Night Stalker’, learn about five serial killers you’ll wish you’d never heard of. Then, take a look at these 21 serial killer quotes that will chill you to the bone.

Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Serena, Katie. "The Twisted Tale Of Richard Ramirez, The ‘Night Stalker’ Serial Killer Who Terrorized 1980s California.", October 15, 2021, Accessed May 18, 2024.