Anyone who has ever listened to a true crime podcast (opens in new tab), caught an episode of Law & Order, or gone down a Wikipedia rabbit hole researching an infamous criminal knows that serial killers have a knack for leaving "signatures" on their crimes. They typically have a very specific M.O. and are seemingly unable to stray from their preset patterns, which often makes tracking them down a bit easier. So, when someone begins terrorizing an entire state at random, with no discernible M.O. for investigators to pick up on, it's an absolute nightmare situation for the police and public alike.
That's what happened in Los Angeles and San Francisco for most of 1985, when the so-called Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, embarked on a crime spree that included murder, sexual assault, robbery, and carjacking, all committed with a variety of weapons and tactics on victims of all ages. Fortunately for the Golden State, he was ultimately captured in August 1985, after a wide-ranging investigation led by detectives Frank Salerno and Gil Carrillo that is detailed in the new Netflix docuseries, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer. Here's how Ramirez was finally captured, and what happened next for the remorseless killer.
How did the police catch Richard Ramirez?
Throughout 1985, investigators spent months tracking the Night Stalker's horrific crimes across California, but had been unable to identify him beyond a few eyewitness sketches and a shoe print found at multiple crime scenes. At the end of August, however, they uncovered a single fingerprint on the rearview mirror of a car he had stolen. That was enough to identify the Night Stalker as then-25-year-old Richard Ramirez, who was already in the system for several past drug and traffic violations. From there, police were able to release a mugshot from one of those previous arrests, enabling the public to aid in the search.
Indeed, within just a few days, on August 31, Ramirez was recognized in an L.A. liquor store, where he saw his photo on the front page of a newspaper, according to news reports (opens in new tab) at the time. While fleeing the store, he was chased by a group of bystanders; after an hourlong pursuit, they caught up to Ramirez and beat him until police arrived.
What happened at the Night Stalker's trial?
Ramirez's trial began in Los Angeles at the end of July 1988 and concluded more than a year later. Throughout, Ramirez, a self-proclaimed Satanist, showed no remorse and often engaged in erratic behavior, including flashing a pentagram drawn on his palm and yelling, "Hail Satan," calling the judge expletives, and using reflective objects to shine light into witnesses' eyes, the L.A. Times reported (opens in new tab) at the time. Additionally, at the very beginning of the trial, Ramirez reportedly (opens in new tab) threatened to smuggle a gun into the courtroom to shoot the prosecutor and others in attendance; the threat was believed to be linked to the introduction of a metal detector outside the courtroom.
After a year's worth of witnesses testified and exhibits were presented, the jury reportedly deliberated for 22 days. Though that process was interrupted by the shocking murder of one juror—a crime ultimately found to have no ties to Ramirez—the jury eventually found Ramirez guilty of all 43 crimes for which he had been charged, including 13 counts of murder.
In November 1989, he was sentenced to death. Upon his sentencing, Ramirez reportedly vowed (opens in new tab) that he would be avenged and said, "You don't understand me. You are not expected to. You are not capable of it. I am beyond your experience."
Where was Richard Ramirez imprisoned?
After his sentencing, Ramirez was sent to live on death row at California's notorious San Quentin State Prison. During this time, he reportedly (opens in new tab) maintained correspondence with several fans, and eventually married one, magazine editor Doreen Lioy, in 1996.
Due to California's extensive appeals process, Ramirez ultimately died of natural causes, rather than the death penalty, while awaiting the results of multiple pending appeals. He died in a nearby hospital in June 2013, at the age of 53, due to complications from B-cell lymphoma, according to the coroner's report (opens in new tab). Ramirez was also found to have several other health conditions, including hepatitis C and chronic substance abuse, stemming from drug use prior to his imprisonment.
Andrea Park is a Chicago-based writer and reporter with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the extended Kardashian-Jenner kingdom, early 2000s rom-coms and celebrity book club selections. She graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2017 and has also written for W, Brides, Glamour, Women's Health, People and more.
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