|the 1940 mystery writer||
Between June 1984 and August 1985, the west coast was rocked by a string of particularly vicious murders and sex crimes. The killer was dubbed the Nightstalker by the media after an AC/DC baseball cap was dropped at the second crime scene, in reference to the song “Night Prowler” from the Highway to Hell album.
The Nightstalker preferred couples. He broke into apartments, usually through left-open windows, and surprised the residents while they slept. Several times he shot the adult male without warning, and then raped and sodomized the female in the same bed. At least two women were forced to perform oral sex on the unwashed, stinking killer, each beside the body of her deceased partner who’d been shot in the head as he slept. One was forced to swear upon Satan while being sodomized.
Some of the female victims were left alive, bound with ties or pantyhose, as the killer escaped. Others were murdered, as well, usually shot. Two elderly sisters were beaten with a hammer, the older one with an inverted pentagram scrawled in lipstick on her inner thigh. Two women were knifed, two were found with their throats slit, another beaten to death with a blunt object, and one couple were hacked after death with a machete.
Most of the murders took place in Los Angeles or its suburbs. One dual murder was in San Francisco, and the final, brutal onslaught, on August 24, 1985, was in Mission Viejo, as the Nightstalker fanned out from his home territory.
Besides the AC/DC cap, the killer’s fingerprints were recovered from the first crime scene and his shoeprints from a later one. Ballistics for nine murders and two attempted murders all confirmed the same weapon, which almost always means the same killer. Nine survivors were able to describe him: a tall, slender Hispanic male in his twenties, always scruffy and stinking, with neglected teeth. Jewelry items stolen from the San Francisco victims were later recovered by police, and had been sold by a man fitting the same description. When a San Francisco hotel manager recognized one of his former guests from the sketch released on the nightly news, a pentagram was found drawn on the bathroom door of the room he’d rented.
The final victim kept her head even as she was raped beside her dead fiancé. The Nightstalker left her tied and escaped, but she freed herself quickly and peered through the window in time to note his license plate number as he drove away. A neighborhood teenager also noticed the car, an old orange Toyota that had been stolen outside a Chinatown restaurant. It was found in a nearby parking lot. The police recovered another, partial fingerprint from the car’s interior.
In 1985, the Los Angeles Police Department had just installed a fingerprint identification computer. The process of uploading the hundreds of thousands of fingerprints in the LAPD files was in the initial stages, and in August of that year only the prints of criminals born after January 1, 1960 were active and available for search. Detectives were steeling themselves for a long, manual hunt through the paper files when the computer dinged with a positive
match . . . born in February of 1960.
The famous and haunting photo from the trial
_Richard Ramirez was 25 years old, a known Satanist, and already had several arrests for drug possession and auto theft. His mug shot showed a scruffy, unwashed man with intense dark eyes and bad teeth. Next day that photo was plastered on the front page of every newspaper on the west coast and the L.A. Hispanic community, enraged at the negative publicity, took careful note. Ramirez had taken a Greyhound bus to Arizona to purchase cocaine. Back in L.A. he stopped for coffee, unaware until he walked into the corner store that his face was front-page news. He was quickly recognized and the neighborhood residents mobbed him. Amidst screams of “El Matador!” he was chased across backyard fences for two miles, tried to steal several cars but was attacked each time, and finally collapsed beneath a blow from a metal fence post, smashed onto the back of his head.
He was subsequently convicted on thirteen counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, eleven sexual assaults, and fourteen burglaries. Sentenced to the gas chamber, he currently sits on California’s Death Row at San Quentin.