The Lurid Case of The Black Dahlia: Unsolved, 70 Years LaterRicardo Leyva Munoz Ramirez, the youngest of five siblings, was born February 29, 1960 in El Paso, Texas. Twenty-five years later, the world would come to know him as ‘The Nightstalker’, a serial killer and devout Satanist who terrorized the residents of California with his heinous crimes from 1984-1985. He is considered to be one of the most brutal serial killers to have ever lived, known for torturing and sexually assaulting his victims before killing them. He often mutilated the bodies or left behind Satanic symbolism, occasionally, forcing them to “swear on Satan” during his attack. After committing a murder, he would generally rob the homes of his victims, as well. He was known for using a wide range of weapons during his attacks including handguns, knives, a machete, a hammer and a tire iron. Richard Ramirez died in 2013 at the age of fifty-three, having never shown a glint of remorse for his horrendous crimes.
Richard Ramirez was the youngest of Julian and Mercedes Ramirez’s five children. During childhood, Richard sustained two major head injuries. At two years old, a dresser fell on him, causing a laceration on his forehead which required thirty stitches. Then at five, he was knocked unconscious by a park swing; Afterward, Richard suffered frequent epileptic seizures which lasted into his early teens. Richard’s father, Julian, a former Juarez police officer, was physically abusive and prone to outbursts of rage. In order to escape his father, Richard began sleeping in the local cemetery. He looked up to his older cousin, Miguel “Mike” Ramirez, a decorated United States Army Green Beret and Vietnam War veteran. Mike would provide 10-year-old Richard with marijuana and recount gory stories from the war; He had polaroid photos of his victims, including many Vietnamese women he had raped and mutilated, and would show these photos to young Richard Ramirez.
On May 4, 1973, when Richard was only twelve years old, he witnessed Mike shoot his wife, Jessie, in the face with a .38 caliber revolver following a domestic dispute. After watching Mike kill Jessie, Richard appeared to become withdrawn and moved in with his older sister Ruth and her husband, Roberto. Roberto was a “Peeping Tom” and would bring Richard along with him at night to watch women through the windows of their home. Roberto also began providing Richard with LSD and sparked his interested in Satanism.
As a teen, Richard Ramirez began having violent sexual fantasies. He got a job at a Holiday Inn, where he supplemented his income by robbing guests while they were sleeping. He was fired from his job after he was caught attempting to rape a female guest. The woman’s husband beat Richard within an inch of his life but charges were never filed; The couple were visiting from out-of-state and did not want to return to give their testimony. Shortly after, while in the 9th grade, Richard dropped out of high school.
Then in 1977, after four years in the Texas State Mental Hospital, Mike was released and reentered Richard’s life. He had been found not guilty by reason of insanity with his combat record as a mitigating factor.
On June 28, 1984, after Richard Ramirez had been living in California for two years, he committed his first known murder. He broke into the home of 79-year-old Jennie Vincow and sexually assaulted her before stabbing her to death. Nine months later, on March 17, 1985 he broke into the home of Maria Hernandez and shot her. She survived, but he then turned his attention to her roommate, 34-year-old Dayle Okazaki, whom he shot and killed. Later that same day, he shot and killed 30-year-old Tsai “Veronica” Lan Yu. The papers began calling him “The Walk-In Killer” and “The Valley Intruder” and his crimes increased dramatically in frequency and brutality.
During the span of his killings in Los Angeles, Ramirez rented a $14/night room on the 14th floor (actually 13th floor) of the infamous Cecil Hotel. After committing his crimes, he would dump his bloody clothing in the dumpster behind the hotel and enter through the back door. Allegedly, he performed Satanic rituals in his room, adding to the sordid history of the Cecil Hotel which also has ties to The Black Dahlia and Jack Unterweger.
On March 27th, he murdered Vincent Zuzzard (64) and Maxine Zuzzard (44) in their home. Richard gouged out Maxine’s eyes posthumously and carved a “T” into her left breast. The bodies of the Zuzzards were later discovered by their son, Peter. It was at this murder that Richard Ramirez established his pattern of first shooting and killing the male in the household before sexually assaulting the man’s wife and stabbing her to death. He also left behind the first piece of evidence at the Zuzzard residence; His footprints were found in the flowerbed which police were able to photograph and cast.
With survivors of his attacks giving accurate descriptions to the police of a man with, “long, curly hair, bulging eyes and wide-spaced, rotten teeth.”, he began to worry he’d be caught and moved to the SanFrancisco area in August 1985, where the attacks continued. His last known murder took place on August 24, 1985. He had shot and killed 29-year-old Bill Carns and attacked his 27-year-old fiancee Inez Erickson but spared her life. After Ramirez had left, Inez made her way to the window and saw him leaving in an orange Toyota station wagon. A teenager later spotted the car and having recognized the description from news reports, wrote down as much of the license plate number as he could. On August 28, the orange station wagon which Ramirez had stolen was discovered by police and his fingerprints were found on the vehicle.
Richard Ramirez was arrested on August 31, 1985. At the time of his arrest, Ramirez was being chased by an angry mob in East L.A.; A group of onlookers had spotted him trying to steal a car and they were determined to stop him. The police say they had to break up the crowd to, “keep them from killing him”.
Ramirez’s trial lasted four years; On September 20, 1989 a jury unanimously handed down a guilty verdict on forty-three charges. He was accused of fourteen burglaries, eleven sexual assaults, and five attempted murders in addition to being charged with the murder of thirteen people: Jennie Wincow (79), Dayle Okazaki (34), Tsai “Veronica” Lan Yu (30), Vincent Zazzara (64), Maxine Zazzara (44), William “Bill” Doi (66), Mable “Ma Bell” Keller (83), Mary Loise Cannon (75), Joyce Lucille Nelson (61), Max Kneiding (68), Lela Kneiding (66), Chainarong Khovanath (32), Elyan Abowath (35). On November 7, 1989 when he received nineteen death sentences he commented, “No big deal. Death always comes with the territory. I’ll see you in Disneyland.”.
Richard Ramirez gained a cult following during his trial, mostly comprised of “goths” and real, practicing Satanists, for displaying his devotion to the Devil. He once stated in court, “I am beyond good and evil. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells in us all.”. He even attracted a wife, Doreen Lioy, who began writing to Ramirez in 1985. In 1988 Ramirez proposed and the two were married in Califonia’s San Quentin State Prison on October 3, 1996. For years, Lioy claimed she would kill herself when Ramirez was executed; However, the two separated in 2013, not long before his death.
While in prison, Richard Ramirez had a couple of run-ins with celebrities. In 1987 he and Sean Penn were both in jail in downtown Los Angeles. Penn, who was serving sixty days for reckless driving and punching an extra on set, had been in jail with Ramirez for nearly a month when Ramirez asked a deputy to get Penn’s autograph for him. Ramirez then sent Penn a note reading, “Hey, Sean, stay tough and hit them again -Richard Ramirez 666”. Sean Penn replied, writing, “You know, Richard, it’s impossible to be incarcerated and not feel a certain kinship with your fellow inmates. Well, Richard, I’ve done the impossible, I feel absolutely no kinship with you. And I hope the gas descends upon you before sanity does, you know?”. Todd Bridges from Diff’rent Strokes was also in prison with Ramirez, who tormented him. In his book, Bridges revealed, “He used to come by my cell and shake my door really hard. He always tried to freak me out. ‘I’m going to come in and get you.’, he said.”.
Since his arrest, Ramirez has been linked to more crimes including the April 10, 1984 rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl. It is presumed he had far more victims than police are aware of. After living in a 10ft. by 12ft., windowless cell on death row for over 23 years, Ramirez died on June 7, 2013 at age 53 in Greenbrae, California. He died from B-cell lymphoma caused, in part, by chronic substance abuse and chronic hepatitis C viral infection. Due to California’s lengthy appeal process, it is estimated that Richard Ramirez would not have been executed until he was in his early 70s.