Night Stalker: Peeling Back a Mind of Evil
For the residents of Los Angeles, 1984 and 1985 were terrifying times of paralyzing fear — but for one, it was a time to hunt.
Six-year-old children were yanked out of their bedroom windows only to be assaulted and abandoned ... young women were shot and killed point-blank in their homes ... grandparents were abused and slaughtered in their beds ... only for the killer to then sit at the kitchen table, and eat last night’s meatloaf with bloody hands.
Richard Ramirez was a thing of nightmares who died alone in his cell on death row in 2013, finally ending his ruthless reign of terror and his devilish grip on Los Angeles.
While homicide detectives chased the illusive man for over a year in the 80s, Ramirez was able to murder at least 13 people and victimize dozens more across Southern California.
However, his story didn't start in the late 80s with violence, because before that, he was just a child born in 1960.
Ramirez was part of a family with four other siblings and Mexican Immigrant parents — all living in poverty in El Paso, Texas. It was because of his tumultuous childhood that Ramirez knew the definition of survival from a young age.
Before understanding his adult-killer psyche, we have to know what happened to the young boy as he grew up that could've twisted his mind into violent knots. How could someone be so careless of others, and purposefully act on sadistic impulses? How did a seemingly-untouchable criminal finally get caught?
Let's look at the sheet.
It’s no secret that Ramirez had a traumatic childhood as he witnessed horrific physical abuse from the hands of his father and family members.
Growing up, Ramirez suffered from attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), multiple head injuries resulting in seizures, and was later diagnosed with conduct disorder for his adolescent deviant behavior — all of which was further exacerbated by the abuse he was surrounded by.
Ramirez witnessed his father's short temper explode into physical and mental attacks on him, his siblings, and his mother.
Decades later, true crime novelist Philip Carlo interviewed Ramirez while he was in San Quentin Prison, and Ramirez recalled to Carlo that it was in his late childhood that he began sleeping in a local cemetery to escape his father's violent temper, according to Carlo's 1996 book.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
At 12-years-old, Ramirez grew detached from his immediate family and drew closer to his older cousin Miguel “Mike” Ramirez, who went home to Texas after the Vietnam War. Mike came back with hundreds of war stories and graphic Polaroids to match — trophies of his own escapades abusing, raping, and killing women. A graphic photo of Mike holding a rape victim’s severed head up to his groin was one of Ramirez’s favorite, and one that Ramirez reportedly used to pleasure himself.
Then, Ramirez was only 13 when he witnessed Mike fatally shoot his wife, Jessie, in the head during one of their domestic arguments.
I can’t imagine what being present for that horrific moment must’ve done for Ramirez’s young psyche, only that I can understand how witnessing violent death first hand would’ve primed him — opened a door for him, and taken his violent fantasies to possible reality.
The fantasies only grew more complex as Ramirez began traveling to Los Angeles to visit his older brother who introduced him to prostitution corners, drugs, and took him along on burglaries. It was then that Ramirez was putting his learned-violence together with crime opportunities.
Ramirez further took all of these experiences and soaked them up like a fresh sponge. He was rewiring his brain to perceive any and all types of aggression and power as acceptable — and maybe even desirable.
Psychologists call this phenomenon Social Learning Theory — essentially ‘monkey see monkey do’ — where a mix of environmental and cognitive factors reinforce observational learning resulting in new behaviors, habits and attitudes.
To that end, it’s impossible to blame all of Ramirez’s evil on witnessing someone else’s horrors, and the horrors that he experienced himself. There are plenty of people who walk through their own fire, but don’t end up becoming one of the most notorious serial killers of American history.
But, for Ramirez, he was just getting started.
Satan's 'Right-Hand Man'
As a teenager, Ramirez worked at a local Holiday Inn, and used his access to a master key to enter a woman's hotel room while she was alone. He attempted to rape her but didn't count on the fact that the woman's husband would come back into the room. The victim's husband beat Ramirez into stopping the assault.
The couple declined to press charges considering they were on vacation and didn't want to come back for a trial.
This violent attempt was the beginning of his independent criminal career — for the first time his imagination was becoming a reality, and he was becoming emboldened while developing sophisticated behaviors.
In April of 1984, Ramirez brutally murdered the first victim that we know of, a 9-year-old Chinese-American girl named Mei Leung. Her body was found hanging in the basement of the hotel where Ramirez was living, and it wasn't until Ramirez was caught and his DNA analyzed a year later that authorities matched him to this killing.
A few months further into 1984, Ramirez reappeared on the map with a string of stabbings leaving victims nearly decapitated. Eventually he began using a gun and shooting his victims at point-blank range, while other times he'd bind them and torture them throughout the night before making himself at home in their kitchens.
The media deemed him the "Night Stalker" and this only emboldened him, stroking his sadistic ego.
When Ramirez wasn't raping and killing adults, he was doing the same to children. He would rip them from their bedrooms, take them to a secluded place, assault and then abandon them. One of the 6-year-old survivors, Anastasia Hronas, would eventually be crucial in identifying him in a line-up after he was caught.
Anastasia recounts what it was like to be taken from her home and forced into a duffle bag by Ramirez for Netflix's newest series on him, titled 'Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer.'
Anastasia told Netflix, "Something in the way that he would look at me, it was almost like, 'I’m sorry that I’m doing this to you. But I’m not sorry, cause I’m not gonna stop’."
Ramirez also became increasingly interested in Satanism as he hurt more people. Crime scenes started to be further desecrated with inverted pentagrams drawn on walls with a victim's lipstick, the same pentagrams drawn on victim's bodies, and he'd even force victims to "swear on Satan" that they wouldn't scream or that they weren't hiding valuables from him.
His obsessions with Satanism grew to the point where true crime novelist Philip Carlo wrote that Ramirez believed “Satan was his friend,” and that the devil would protect him from ever being caught for his crimes.
Maybe it's because of this belief that Ramirez tired his hand at every type of crime, and was unfortunately very successful.
Overall, because of the lack of communication between police departments, the lack of modern technology, and Ramirez's level of sophistication, it took the police over a year to identify him by his Avia shoe imprints left at various crime scenes, and a single fingerprint left on a stolen car.
Thankfully, Ramirez was apprehended by a group of citizens after police made enough leads, and his 1984 mugshot was featured on every major newspaper and television program in California. Ramirez was recognized by someone on a public transit bus who quickly reached a payphone to call police.
Eventually others on the bus noticed Ramirez was the "Night Stalker" as well, so Ramirez fled, leading to a manhunt across several neighborhoods and communities. He tried to hide in stores, run through backyards, and carjack drivers before finally being struck over the head with a metal bar by a bystander.
Ramirez was taken into custody, tried for his crimes, found guilty and sentenced to death in 1989 for thirteen counts of murder, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults, and fourteen burglaries.
Peeling Back His Criminal Mind
It’s reported that right before Ramirez died on death row of complications from b-cell lymphoma blood cancer, he requested a psychological evaluation of his mental health. Not only did he have trained clinicians looking into every crevice of his mind, but Ramirez invited true crime novelists and journalists to get to know him personally.
Novelist Philip Carlo visited Ramirez in San Quentin Prison, where he was shown the polaroids that depicted Mike’s horrors from his time in Vietnam. During a meeting with Philip, Richard reportedly told him that Mike used to talk openly about the joy he felt violating others, according to his 1996 book.
Ramirez told Philip that Mike would say, “Having power over life and death was a high, and incredible rush. It was godlike. You controlled who’d live and who’d [die], you were God.”
These were virtues Ramirez lived by, too, evident in his short cooling-off periods and pleasure in torturing others.
Psychological research also proves Ramirez's anecdotal experience, as studies have shown that adults who were abused as children were three times more likely to act violently, and that it was significantly common for male serial killers to be abused or rejected as children.
In a discussion with Dr. Scott Bonn, a criminologist and serial killer researcher, Dr. Bonn told A&E that "sex and violence were all a grand adventure for him."
He continued to say that there is no true "one-size-fits-all" nature to describe serial killers, but that Ramirez was clearly a "thrill killer" who made up his mind about what to do on the spot with no forethought or plan — only a desire for violence.
This would also explain why Ramirez didn't have a strict victim profile that he followed. In general, Ramirez attacked as many people as he could, not truly caring about their race, gender, age, or ability to fight back.
For his clinical evaluations conducted in prison, psychologists looked at Ramirez’s criminal history, his life events that lead up to his crimes, as well as symptoms for mental illnesses like psychopathy, using the empirical Psycholopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) tool — more commonly dubbed the Hare Psychopathy Test after its creator.
Ramirez reportedly scored a 31 out of a possible 40 on the Hare test, putting him at the higher end of the scale used to gauge common psychopathic traits like lack of empathy, impulsivity, lying and sexual deviance, among other traits.
For context, Ted Bundy, another notorious serial killer — surprisingly with a psychology degree — scored a 39. The average score is anywhere between a 4 and 22, so take it as you may. I finished the test with an 8.
See Also: Are You a Psychopath?
Ramirez was also a complete narcissist, totally consumed by his own image and notoriety. He loved the "Night Stalker" nick-name that the media gave him, as evident in his proclamation of his title while committing crimes. During his days in court, Ramirez dressed in all black and waved to the female groupies who would come in droves to support him during his trial. He also wore sunglasses in the courtroom — a sign of complete disrespect and self-absorption we recognize as an associated symbol of those in Hollywood.
'See you in Disneyland'
Even until the bitter end, Ramirez never showed any remorse for his crimes, or made any inclination that he would cooperate with authorities regarding other murders and assaults he's suspected of perpatrating.
After Ramirez was convicted of all charges and sentenced to death in 1989, he told reporters, "Big deal. Death always went with the territory. See you in Disneyland."
Despite what we know about Ramirez through his own words told by novelist Philip Carlo and the psychological assessment results from clinicians who studied Ramirez, it's impossible to conclude whether he would've been a different person had he not faced traumatic and formative experiences himself in adolescence.
The only thing left now is to try and learn from his cognition to better protect people in the future, and support the families of victims and the survivors themselves to ensure that Ramirez's evil doesn't permeate through lifetimes.
A&ETV Real Crime, by Stav Dimitropoulos.
Self-Promotion by Serial Killers Fuels Their Appeal, by Scott A. Bonn, Ph.D.
Richard Ramirez subject of Netflix ‘Night Stalker’ docuseries, by Aaron A. Bedoya
Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, Netflix
The Psychology of Richard Ramirez, by Caleb Harder, Medium.
Taking Down Ramirez, by Tilly Pearce