How Richard Ramirez’s Teeth Finally Brought An End To His Murderous Reign of Terror

Published April 15, 2022
Updated April 18, 2022

Between 1984 and 1985, the "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez killed at least 13 people across California and attacked many more — and the survivors all remembered his rotten teeth.

Richard Ramirez Teeth

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

For a little over a year, serial killer Richard Ramirez terrorized California. Dubbed the “Night Stalker,” he broke into homes, viciously attacked the people inside, and carried off their valuables. But those who survived his attacks often recalled one thing — Richard Ramirez’s teeth.

They were in bad shape. Rotten or missing, Ramirez’s decayed teeth gave him a gaping, sinister sneer that left an impression on his victims. Furthermore, Ramirez’s extensive dental work later punctured a hole in his alibi.

This is the story of Richard Ramirez’s teeth and how they led to the Night Stalker’s downfall.

The Night Stalker’s Murder Spree

Between June 1984 and August 1985, Richard Ramirez terrorized communities in northern and southern California. He abducted and abused children, broke into homes, and killed, raped, and tortured his victims.

Unlike other killers, who might target a particular type of person or area, Ramirez was chillingly indiscriminate. He attacked men and women, the young and the old, couples, young families, and people living alone.

Ramirez also frequently changed how he killed or attacked people. He used guns, knives, and his hands and feet. He threatened to “cut” one victim’s eyes out, demanded that another “swear to Satan,” and only later in his spree demanded that his victims call him the Night Stalker. Ramirez even changed locations, switching from southern California to northern California.

But many of his victims noticed the same thing about their attacker. The Night Stalker had bad teeth.

How Victims Remembered Richard Ramirez’s Teeth

Richard Ramirez’s teeth left an impression. As a child, he’d started his days with sugary cereal and coca-cola; as an adult, he became heavily addicted to cocaine. His teeth bore the burden of both bad habits, and they had begun to rot and fall out.

Police Sketch Of The Night Stalker

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

And his victims remembered them. After Ramirez broke into her house, attacked her, and killed her husband in July 1985, Somkid Khovananth described him as “brown-skinned, bad teeth, thirty to thirty-five, 150 pounds, six foot one or so.”

Sakina Abowath, who also lost her husband in Ramirez’s brutal assault on their home a month later, similarly described him as having “stained and crooked teeth.”

And surviving victims Sophie Dickman and Lillian Doi both told the police that their assailant had had bad teeth.

“Our biggest clues were his teeth and feet,” remembered Frank Salerno, the lead detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, referencing victim testimony and the footprints that police had documented. “That’s where we focused our energy.”

Indeed, Richard Ramirez’s teeth helped detectives to get closer to identifying the Night Stalker.

After failing to abduct a victim in northeast Los Angeles, Ramirez fled in a stolen Toyota. He was subsequently pulled over for a traffic violation and abandoned the car. But once the police got their hands on it, they found a crucial clue: an appointment card for Dr. Peter Leung, a dentist in Chinatown.

Ramirez had made the appointment under the name of “Richard Mena.” And Mena, Leung told police, had a lot of dental problems. Specifically, he had painful abscesses in his mouth and would need to return to Leung’s office.

But though a stakeout to catch Ramirez at Leung’s office failed, his dentist’s testimony proved vital following Ramirez’s arrest on Aug 31, 1985. In the end, fingerprints had identified the Night Stalker. But Richard Ramirez’s teeth would keep him behind bars.

Disturbing Testimony About The Night Stalker’s Teeth

At the Night Stalker’s trial, much was made about Richard Ramirez’s teeth. Dentists testified that nine of his teeth were decayed and that he was missing teeth from both his upper and lower gums.

Multiple witnesses also described Ramirez’s teeth. One, Ester Petschar, who’d seen Ramirez buying an AC/DC hat later left at a crime scene, said he had “hardly any teeth” and the smile of a “killer clown.”

Richard Ramirez 1984 Mugshot

Bettmann/Getty ImagesRichard Ramirez in a 1984 mugshot.

And Glen Creason, a Los Angeles librarian, also described noticing Ramirez’s “absolutely disgusting, rotted teeth” when he walked into the Los Angeles Public Library.

In the end, Richard Ramirez’s teeth did him in. During his trial, Ramirez’s father, Julian, tried to establish an alibi for his son by claiming that the killer had been with family in El Paso between May 29 and May 30, 1985. During that time, the Night Stalker had raped and killed 81-year-old Florance Lang and raped 83-year-old Mabel Bell and 42-year-old Carol Kyle.

But his dentist, Leung, had proof that Ramirez had had a dental appointment in Los Angeles during that period. In other words, Ramirez had been in the city during the Night Stalker’s brutal May attacks — not in El Paso.

As a result, Ramirez was convicted of 13 murders, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries — and was given 19 death penalties. But the story of Richard Ramirez’s teeth doesn’t entirely end there.

Did Richard Ramirez Get His Teeth Fixed?

Richard Ramirez Teeth Fixed

Bettmann/Getty ImagesRichard Ramirez in 1989, after he had dental work performed in prison.

Given how much attention prosecutors placed on Richard Ramirez’s teeth during his trial, it’s perhaps not surprising that Ramirez decided to fix his teeth while behind bars.

He promptly enlisted the help of a prison dentist named Dr. Alfred Otero, who performed a root canal, gave him filings, and treated his nine rotten teeth.

But Otero couldn’t do anything for the rot that Richard Ramirez had inflicted on California. By the time of his arrest, the Night Stalker had killed at least 13 people and raped or tortured two dozen more. He left survivors with deep trauma and turned peoples’ home sanctuaries into crime scenes.

Ramirez died before his execution on June 7,2013, from complications related to B-cell lymphoma. Just 53 years old when he died, Richard Ramirez left behind a legacy of fear and horror.

And Richard Ramirez’s teeth have a legacy all their own. They helped the police draw closer to the Night Stalker — and they helped make sure that the notoriously violent killer stayed behind bars.


After reading about Richard Ramirez’s teeth, discover the shocking story of Rodney Alca, the killer who appeared on The Dating Game. Or, go inside California’s Spahn Ranch, the home of the infamous Manson family.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.