“Night Stalker” Richard
Ramirez: From the Bowels of
by Joseph Geringer
Crescendo of Terror
Late in the 20th Century, Hell glutted on humanity. Its first
bloodletting of that season of the Devil occurred on the warm
evening of June 28, 1984, when an earth-bound Lucifer found his
way into the small Glassel Park apartment of 79-year-old Jennie
Vincow. Throughout the Los Angeles area a damp humidity had
oppressed the air that day, and when the evening came and the
temperature slightly cooled, Jennie left her window open to invite
what little breeze there might be into her flat. Like a fallen leaf,
decayed and tossed from its source, a fallen angel, dark, angry and
also decaying, blew across the sill of that open window. When the
demon departed through that same window, he left behind Jennie
Vincow, raped, beaten and nearly decapitated.
“Her body was found by her son, who lived above her ground-floor
apartment, just south of…Forest Lawn Park,” reports the Los
Angeles Times. “Her throat had been slashed and she had been
The police were baffled. But, in the months to come, they were to
encounter a madman whose lust for killing and depravity equaled, if
not surpassed, that of Jack the Ripper or, more contemporary, the
Hillside Strangler. Soon to be named the “Night Stalker” by the
press, this madman bore, according to true crime author Richard L.
Linedecker, “the horror in his soul of a Stephen King or a Clive
Barker fright novel and more.” A Freddy Kruger. For real.
Less than a year later, the monster reappeared. This time, he waited
in the shadows of an upscale condominium outside LA. The date
was March 17, 1985, time 11:30 p.m., when pretty-faced Maria
Hernandez pulled her auto into the security garage, unaware the
monster was watching her from behind a pillar. When she alighted
from her car, the killer stepped from the darkness, gun upraised and,
despite her pleadings, he pressed the trigger. She stumbled. And the
killer, thinking she was dead, stepped over her to enter the side door
of the condo. But, Maria had been lucky very lucky for the bullet
had deflected off the car keys she held in her hand, causing a hand
wound, but nothing more.
Inside the building, Maria’s roommate was less fortunate. For, when
Maria finally made her way to the safety of her place, breathless, she
discovered that her friend, Dayle Okazaki, had also encountered the
killer. And this time, his bullet had found its mark.
Thirty-three-year-old Okazaki lay in a pool of her own blood, her
skull smashed by a missile fired at extremely close range.
The demon vanished just as quickly as he had appeared. The police
All they knew of him was what Hernandez was able to tell them: He
was tall, gaunt, dark, maybe Hispanic.
This time, the killer didn’t wait nearly a year to murder again. He
struck within the hour. His next victim that same evening was petite
Taiwanese-born Tsai-Lian Yu, who, driving her yellow Chevrolet
down North Alhambra Avenue in nearby Monterey Park, withered
when someone with the eyes of a madman forced his way into her
car and shot her. He had thrown his own car into idle, simply entered
hers, pushed her onto the pavement, called her bitch, then blew her
into eternity at point-blank range.
Fast. Neat. Clean.
Then dematerialized into the darkness from whence he came.
The police were beginning to realize they might have a problem on
their hands, but they remained stumped. Eyewitnesses who thought
they had seen the killer described him as tall, gaunt, dark, maybe
Ten days later, this elusive phantom — whose physical description
could fit any one of thousands of males in the Greater Los Angeles
area — required more blood. This time, shooting his prey didn’t quite
satisfy the urge; the demon must have been hungry, he must have
been frantic, for when he entered the home of the sleeping Zazzara
couple, he produced a bloodbath.
The couple’s bodies were discovered by their son the following
morning. Vincent Zazzara had been shot in the head as he dozed on
the sofa. He had died quickly — unlike his wife who suffered the
percussion of the killer’s frenzy. On her face he had carved the
embodiment of his hate, molding her physicality into something
representative of how he viewed humankind as something made to
splice and cut and gouge, to bend, to twist, to reshape to suit his own
Clifford L. Linedecker, in his well-researched Night Stalker,
describes what the police found at the crime scene: “They (the
police) would never forget the sight of Maxine Zazzara’s mutilated
face. Her eyes were gouged out, and the empty sockets were ringed
with blackened gobs of blood and tissue…The killer had plunged a
knife through her left breast, leaving a large, ragged T-shaped
wound. There were other cruel injuries to her neck, face, abdomen,
and around the pubic area. She had been butchered…”
Investigators found footprints visible signs of a tennis shoe — in the
service area and in the flowerbed indicating his means of entry into
the Zazzara home. There were no witnesses this time around, but a
modus operandi was becoming loosely apparent. Nevertheless
stumped, the law determined to put an end to this savage that had
crawled up from the mud up and within their midst. That they
believed this latest crime to have been committed by the same
creature that had slain Vincow, Okazaki and Yu was, at this point,
not much more than a hunch. But, if they were correct, the madman
was becoming bolder and more sanguine; an inner lust seemed to be
growing and, now fed and apparently well fed, who knows what
would come next! Scouring the neighborhoods where he had already
struck, blue uniforms questioned strangers, stopped midnight
strollers, clambered for witnesses. But, there proved little to go on.
Deep inside, the police feared, he It! would strike again.
Tension of the wait was short. Elderly Harold and Jean Wu did not
hear the intruder slipping into their residence through a window at
pre-dawn, May 14. The first intimation Mrs. Wu had of his presence
was the loud bang that stirred her awake. She woke to find the
figure, smoking gun in hand, standing over her. Beside her, husband
Harold groaned, shot in the head. Then the killer’s huge fists
unloosened on the woman. He pummeled her, slapped her, kicked
her, and demanded that she turn over loose cash to him. Binding her
hands together behind her with thumbscrews, he tossed her across
her bed over her dying spouse, then rampaged through the home’s
drawers and cabinets for money. Terrified, lying on her mattress,
Jean Wu could hear three things Harold’s furtive gasps for life,
furniture being invaded, and the madman’s curses as he found nothing
of great value.
Having rampaged through their belongings, the tall, thin, dark man
returned to the Wu’s bedroom and, as she lay across her fading
husband, violently raped the 63-year-old woman. Satisfied, he
zippered up, grinning. Then left. Another trophy his.
Mrs. Wu, after recovering from shock, told police her attacker was
tall, gaunt, dark, Hispanic.
The symphony of terror played on, its next discordant notes sounded
in the dark hours before May 30, at the home of attractive
41-year-old Ruth Wilson. The woman awoke in her bed to the
blinding beam of a flashlight and the distinct silhouette of a pistol
barrel across her gaze; behind the illumination a gruff voice
demanded, “Where’s your money?” Before she could muster
words, the intruder yanked her by the sleeve of her negligee off her
bed and led her to her 12-year-old son’s room down the hall. Using
the frightened boy as bait, he insisted that she produce something of
value. She told him where an expensive piece of jewelry was hidden.
He seemed satisfied as he studied the diamond necklace in his hands,
and Wilson figured he would abscond without harming her or her
She was wrong.
Locking her son in a closet, he took his pent-up emotions out on the
woman in the pink negligee who stood before him. Shoving her back
to her own bedroom, he tore her gown off her and, despite her
protestations, had his way with her. First he bound her hands behind
her with a pair of pantyhose, then fell upon her. As he raped and
sodomized her, his foul breath and body odor overcame and
sickened her, adding to the humiliation.
Miraculously, he let her
live. He was gone…all
but in her night dreams
that would haunt her
over and over and over
for months to come.
When the police later
interviewed her, she
gave her description of
He was tall, gaunt, dadefinitely Hispanic.
“Night Stalker” Richard
Ramirez: From the Bowels of
Stalking with Satan
Police composites had been produced of the
killer, compiled from descriptions from those
few who lived to tell of their attack and from
witnesses who had seen the shooting of
Tsai-Lian Yu on Alhambra Avenue. With
minor variations, the suspect was of
Hispanic descent, about 25 to 30 years old,
wore long, unkempt black hair that hung in
greasy strands over a high forehead and
which straggled down across a skeletally
thin, pock-marked face; cheekbones were
sunken, lips thick, chin square. According to
Ruth Wilson, his teeth were jagged and
rotten. The description wasn’t a pretty one, and it fit the face of the
monster he was. Each testimony had him dressed in all-black.
Squads continued to roll throughout the city and accompanying
suburbs; policemen watched steadfastly night and day for anyone
even closely fitting that description – but didn’t find their man. And, in
the meantime, his crimes continued without a sign of let-up, his
The nature of the next attack, which occurred on June 1, the day
after the assault on Wilson, added another and an alarmingly new
perspective to the suspect. He suddenly took on the role of a
Satanist and his deeds as sacrificial rituals to the Lord Master of Evil.
It would be his most aggressive and horrific action to date.
Retired schoolteacher Malvia Keller and invalid sister Blanche
Wolfe, 83- and 79-years old respectively, were viciously beaten in
their small house in suburban Monrovia, off one of the central state
freeways. When found by their gardener the following morning, both
elderly women had been beaten across the head with a hammer.
Wolfe lay near the point of death, oozing blood from a head wound;
she had been raped. Keller, who had succumbed, had had her legs
and arms bound and had been crushed by a heavy table which the
killer had turned over across her ribs.
“Police found a pentagram – an encircled five-pointed star often
linked to Satanic worship drawn in lipstick on Malvia Keller’s thigh,”
writes Clifford L. Linedecker in his Night Stalker. “Another
pentagram had been crudely scrawled in lipstick on the bedroom
wall where Blanche Wolfe lay in a comatose state. The tip of the
pentagram was inverted, pointing down, an indication of evil. Of
This indication of devil-worship was no surprise to Los Angeles
County Sheriff Sherman Block who had, for some time, suspected
the crimes to be of that origin. A black baseball-style cap bearing the
emblem of the hard-rock group AC/DC found at the scene of Dayle
Okazaki’s murder had given him that impression. That music group
was known for having produced some lyrics with cultist overtones.
Reads the Los Angeles Times, “Authorities focused on AC/DC’s
1979 Highway to Hell album and its six-minute ‘Night Prowler’ cut,
which says, in part, ‘What’s the noise outside your window? What’s
the shadow on the blind? As you lay there naked like a body in a
tomb, suspended animation as I slip into your room.'”
Block had seen enough murder in his years as a police officer to
recognize the differences between homicides of various degrees –
drug-related, love-triangle, cultist, and so on. This string of killings
was the most bizarre in his years of law enforcement experience.
Dispiritedly, all he and his men had to go on at this stage of the game
was a generic description of the assailant and the flimsy roots of
motive. The devil’s own remained elusive, and that’s all that mattered,
unfortunately. It had now become apparent that, like a vampire of
folklore, the demon had grown and was growing stronger by the
moment, more degenerate with every sip of blood.
Over the next six weeks, the Los Angeles area would endure a series
of killings so brutal that the city was thrown into a panic that took on
the appearance of a cataclysm. Many sleepless nights were had by
citizens, especially by women who lived alone. No lock was
sufficient in the minds of the frightened public. No door bolt thick
enough. No window latch secure enough.
Because the killer’s victims ranged all ages, no one, man or woman,
child or spinster, felt safe. Some of his victims were of Oriental
culture, others were Caucasian, and the city wondered: Who the hell
next? Some writers claimed that the killer, who by all eyewitness
testimony was believed to be Hispanic, had not picked on his own —
yet they forgot Maria Hernandez whose key ring had saved her life
on a mid-March morning. The killer had not exhibited a rabid
preference for any particular culture, age group, sex or even
geographic area (his killings spanned a forty mile range encircling
Greater LA). He was, as Linedecker observes, “an equal
His modus operandi remained consistent and his motives
inexplicable. His break-ins, while well-orchestrated, even ritualistic,
had, at the same time, earmarks of sexual spontaneity — as if a single
spark of impure thought caused havoc so hot in his brain that, to ease
the torture, he needed to torture others.
Between June 1 (immediately following the Monrovia affair) and
mid-August, 1985, nine more bloody rampages were attributed to
what the newspapers were calling, for lack of a better name, the
“Valley Intruder”. The toll of his victims included:
Patty Higgins, 32 years old, Arcadia. (June 27)Killed in
her home, her throat slashed.
Mary Louise Cannon, 75 years old, Arcadia. (July 2)Found
in her home, beaten, throat slashed.
Diedre Palmer, 16 years old, Arcadia. (July 5)Beaten at
home with a tire iron. Survived.
Joyce Lucille Nelson, 61 years old, Monterey Park (July 7)
Bludgeoned to death and mutilated in her house.
Linda Fortuna, 63 years old, Monterey Park (also July 7)
Survived rape and sodomy attempts when attacker could not
get an erection; he robbed her home and, fortunately, let her
Maxson and Lela Kneiding, husband and wife, 66 and 64
years old respectively, Glendale (July 20)Shot in their
beds while they slept; mutilated after death. Maxson’s head
was nearly decapitated.
Assawahem Family, Sun Valley (also July 20)Husband
Chitat (32 years old) shot in bed at point-blank range, his
29-year-old wife Sakima dragged from bed, beaten, twice
raped and made to perform oral sex. While bound, Sakima
was forced to listen as killer slapped her eight-year-old son in
his bed. Afterwards, intruder departed with family cash.
Christopher and Virginia Petersen, husband and wife, 38
and 27 years old respectively, Northridge (August 5)
Both shot in head while they were in bed; both somehow
survived despite a bullet that penetrated a section of
Christopher’s brain and another that blew away Virginia’s
Ahmed and Suu Kya Zia, husband and wife, 35 and 28
years old respectively, Diamond Bar (August 8)Ahmed
shot in the temple and killed in the couple’s bed; wife Suu
handcuffed, slapped, punched, raped, and forced to perform
fellatio on intruder. She survived.
Horrified columnists had been referring to the mystery murderer in a
number of ways; nicknames abounded, all of them colorful, the
“Valley Intruder” and the “Walk-In Killer” enjoying the longest run.
But, it was not until the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner started
calling him the “Night Stalker” that the city had found his true idiom.
The moniker, simple and sharp – like a knife – stabbed the bull’s eye.
It frightened, and it numbed. And the name stuck. Like a lump in the
It penetrated like a shiv in the guts of those who heard it, especially
those who lived in the communities where the Stalker stalked.
Los Angeles was terrified.
“Night Stalker” Richard
Ramirez: From the Bowels of
In Los Angeles County, both the county and municipal police were
anything but idle. They recognized and admitted to the enormity of
the problem they had as long as the Night Stalker was free to roam.
No one was safe – but how, they wondered, leash a mad dog that
seems to be invisible?
Los Angeles skyline (Associated Press)
More than any other lawman, Detective Sergeant Frank Salerno of
the county department’s homicide squad was the man most apropos
to answering that riddle. He knew how tricky the mind of a homicidal
maniac could be to box and tag, having played a large role in
tracking down LA’s Hillside Stranger a decade earlier. He was, for
that matter, the first to sense that the valley had another serial killer
on the loose.
In June, 1985, not long after the killings began, Salerno took it upon
himself to list similarities in the up-to-then six murders in suburban
Los Angeles. Certain things matched. Collected fingerprints,
recovered cartridge shells (.22 caliber) and even a distinct method of
breaking and entry – all the same. Imprints of the same design tennis
shoe (identified as Reebok high-tops, size 11) told a startling tale.
But, more revealing still, the description of the killer himself was
nearly identical in each case where a living person had been left to
talk: tall, gaunt, dark, Hispanic, in his late 20s/early 30s. Downright
And now signs of devil worship were surfacing in many of the
killings. Apart from the pentagrams discovered at Malvia Keller’s
house, the murderer had, according to survivors such as Ruth
Wilson, demanded that they mouth such phrases such as “I vow to
Satan” or “I love Satan” or he would kill them. Nor had Salerno
forgotten the baseball cap with the rock group AC/DC’s emblem,
found after the Okazaki murder. He recalled that one of the band’s
songs hinted at Satanism.
He took this evidence to his superior, Captain Robert Grimm, who
was impressed. From Grimm, Salerno sought, and gained,
permission to check with the LA city forces to compare notes.
Perhaps, he thought, they had been encountering like cases,
unsolved, which might compare to the elusive killer’s track record.
“Grimm recognized the wisdom in Salerno’s suggestion to check with
LAPD,” reports Clifford L. Linedecker in Night Stalker. “No one
wanted a situation similar to the Hillside Strangler case, when both
the LAPD and the Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies worked their
investigations alone and independent of each other. The result for the
police agencies had been missed opportunities, confusion and
Salerno and Grimm envisioned a task force comprised of the top
police investigators throughout the county and the city of Los
Angeles. After discussion with the LAPD, the latter decided that it
would invest in its own separate task force but promised to work
around-the-clock and closely with Salerno, who had already been
given a squad of detectives dedicated to finding the Night Stalker.
While separate entities, both investigative teams operated, as
committed, as one, feeding information back and forth and partnering
in any activities to maintain a single direction.
Salerno, in the meantime, conferred with two of his top men who had
directed the investigative efforts in two of the Stalker’s previous
crimes. They proved invaluable in formatting the investigative team
and in keeping its work strategic.
Detective Gil Carillo had been one of the first plainclothesmen
introduced to the Night Stalker’s handiwork when he was assigned
to the Okazaki shooting. Besides being familiar with the history of
this latest serial killer, Salerno called on Carillo’s intrinsic knowledge
of computers, a technical expertise Salerno lacked, to create a
database for incoming and outgoing information.
On the other hand, Detective Russell Uloth helped Salerno determine
the kind of psychopath they were dealing with. His study of the
Zazzara butchery showed that the mutilations ravaged on Mrs.
Zazzara were done after she was dead. The gouging out of the eyes
– the eyes that the killer evidently took with him – was enacted as a
sort of Satanic cult act.
But, while his formidable adversaries were seeding the roots of war
against him, the Night Stalker managed to slip by them in the cover
of darkness to commit the murders of Higgins, Cannon, Nelson,
Kneiding and Assawahem.
This series of tragedies necessitated that, by early August, the task
force more directly include the suburban law enforcement agencies
around Los Angeles where the devil continued to hunt. With a
manpower of 200 investigators, it was the largest operation of its
kind ever created. Beside the full-time force, Salerno called in
subject experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s
criminal-profiling unit who presented their views of known types of
serial killers, then narrowed the types to which the Night Stalker
came closest. Not leaving a stone unturned, the task force even
consulted personalities with knowledge on devil worship and cultist
Investigators, following the Satan cult theory, fell on places where
such groups assembled. They questioned followers of these leagues
about their membership, hoping that they might uncover the identity
of the killer in their company. While they could not uncover a
suspect, they did find something very interesting on the floor of an
East Los Angeles cult hall. They found a shoe print that matched the
imprint of the Reebok tennis shoes – size 11 — located at many of
the murder scenes.
Salerno wanted the killer to feel the heat, to panic and blunder into
the open through his own hysteria. The detective had seen it happen
many times; criminals, feeling the pressure, leap before looking and
announce their guilt hands-up by doing something stupid. To meet
this end, he made sure that the task force started feeding the media
pieces of evidence they uncovered, large and small, even unfounded
information, to give the killer the impression they were closing in.
Simultaneous to the big squeeze — in August — the task force
announced its formation at a press conference, keynoted by
representatives from the County Sheriff’s office. At the conference,
which was heavily attended by an anxious press, the speakers
officially confirmed the existence of a dangerous serial killer
wandering at will in the Los Angeles valley.
“We are concerned there is an individual who is responsible for more
than one murder, multiple murders,” admitted Robert A. Edmonds,
Los Angeles County assistant sheriff.
County Sheriff Sherman Block assured the public, however, that all
surrounding police agencies were combing the streets to end the
spree. Authorities asked for the public to keep calm, to keep doors
locked, and to report any suspicious activities or persons in their
neighborhoods as soon as they manifested.
The press conference kicked off a campaign to make the public
more aware of – and to make it more active in the apprehension of –
the Night Stalker. Salerno’s task force distributed flyers, leaflets and
wanted posters bearing the composite sketch of the killer. Posters
soon hung in every visible passage in every public byway and
thoroughfare and market within and around Los Angeles. A citizen
couldn’t take a stroll to the corner store or drive their kids to school
without coming face to face with the large sketched ugly face of the
And things began to pop. Telephone calls from men and women,
some calling anonymously, poured in; faceless voices and unsigned
letters of concern led police to strange goings-on in their
neighborhood or to oddball neighborhood characters who fit the
Night Stalker’s description. Not a lead was overlooked. Transients,
vagrants and vagabonds were questioned, as were those “oddball
Terror that had gripped the people of Los Angeles had now,
prompted by the police, turned to obstinacy. The populace
transformed from a group of frightened individuals into a committee
of daring hunters, begging for their chance to catch the night-time
ghoul. If he wanted to prey on them, well, they cried, let him prey –
because now they were waiting. The family man and the businessman
and the housewife – they had bought guns, and loaded them. Or they
had as their weapons shovels, or pickaxes, or kitchen knives, or any
one of dozens of homemade utensils pointing their way to a night
Suddenly, the Night Stalker realized that things had changed. He
found their lights burning at night, a silhouette in the window.
Suddenly he found apartment buildings with hired guards pacing the
lobby. Suddenly he found citizens’ committees strolling roundabout
and in and out in the alleys, the parks, the streets. Suddenly he found
their windows nailed shut, porch lights left on, back yards illumined
by safety beams. Suddenly he found defiance.
The civic forces, too, were out in droves. Patrol cars were
everywhere, marked and unmarked vehicles. Townsfolk volunteers
had been deputized, as well, to drive in the dark, licensed to throw
their search beams at anything that moved or crept or crawled – and
if it resembled the Night Stalker, to step on it.
The devil, the ghost, the ghoul, the phantom, the stalker. It was time
for him to leave Los Angeles.
He shrugged. After all, no matter. He would go elsewhere. He could