Someone once asked Richard Ramirez how to avoid being targeted by a serial killer. His answer: “You can’t. Once they are focused on you, have you where you are vulnerable, you’re all theirs (…) When you drop your guard — that’s when the serial killer moves.” He would know after all, he did kill an estimated 14 people and stalked an entire city for over a year, throwing the state of California into total chaos.
He was the embodiment of Wrath, as if his body had been emptied of blood and organs and replaced with boiling steam. His very existance had people convinced that the Devil was living among them, including Ramirez himself who claimed to not only be a Satanist, but a devoted servant of Lucifer with big dreams of spending eternity by his overlord’s side.
What I’m saying is, he was a delusional, twisted sexual deviant that scared the crap out of a lot of people. He also had an embarrassingly large number of groupies but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Richard Ramirez, also known as “The Night Stalker,” was a serial killer, robber, and rapist that terrorized the residents of Los Angeles and parts of San Francisco from June 1984 until August 1985.
There have been many books written on Ramirez but, The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez by Philip Carlo is one of the best true crime biographies I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It’s right up there with Dave Cullen’s Columbine for me. Carlo holds nothing back. He describes everything and I mean EVERYTHING. From the violently invasive descriptions of sexual assault to the silly arguments that went down in the courtroom, nothing is left unsaid. The crime scenes are particularly graphic in detail, not much is left for the imagination. You’ll be able to smell the blood, feel the fear, and see the dark sky standing over Ramirez as he approaches his next target. It’s like an awful car wreck, can’t look away no matter how disturbing it is.
The book is split up into five parts (The Hunters and the Hunted, Richie, Capture, The Trial, and Epilogue) with Part One taking place during the bulk of the crime spree leading up to the end of the investigation. The narrative is shared between Ramirez and the police detectives chasing him, Frank Salerno and Gil Carrillo, with each of their individual points of view evenly distributed throughout. An interesting detail about Part One is that Ramirez is never mentioned by name. He is referred to only as “the killer” until the police actually identify him. This withholding of identification is both a narrative technique and also a way to dehumanize him, portray him as more of a force than an actual man.
It makes the book very psychological. Inserting you within the investigation so that you feel like you’re working alongside Salerno and Carrillo as they track the killer’s movements.
The Ramirez family
A Horror Story All its Own
Once we’ve removed the mask, we learn how the monster was made, only it’s a tragedy. The beginnings of the Night Stalker and the entire Ramirez family is a great big tragedy.
“My brother never slept. He was always up and moving around at night.”Ruth Ramirez
Carlo goes all the way back to Richard’s grandparents, tracing the line of violent temperament through the Ramirez bloodline. His father, Julian, was regularly abused by his own father and grandfather, becoming permanently solemn and resentful by his teenage years. He would spend the rest of his life fighting this resentment.
He meets and marries a woman named Mercedes, and together they have a total of five children. All but one would be born with behavioral issues, learning disabilities, or physical defects. Their first four children, Ruben, Joseph, Robert, and Ruth were conceived and born while the family was living near a nuclear testing site in Los Alamos. An area where many children were born with birth defects and behavioral issues.
By the time Mercedes was pregnant with Richard, the family had moved to El Paso where she had taken a job at the Tony Lama boot factory. There she worked with toxic chemicals to improve pigmentation in shoe coloring, toxins that were later linked to severe birth defects. It is widely believed that Richard, who suffered from epilepsy, was harmfully affected by these chemicals while in the womb. His epilepsy would ultimately cause damage to his temporal lobe, the part of the brain largely responsible for handling emotion. Damage to the temporal lobe has been known to cause hypersexuality, sexual aggression, and just aggression in general. He would later be diagnosed with a schizoid personality disorder.
Richard’s fate, however, was only sealed once he started hanging out with his older cousin Miguel.
Miguel was a Vietnam veteran who was a twisted, savage human being. Having killed and raped many people overseas, he would often brag about his many conquests, actually showing Richard pictures of the women he sexually assaulted and then murdered. The pictures were often taken mid-act so they were basically torture porn snuff images. Their get-togethers were cut short when Miguel murdered his wife Jessie right in front of little Richard.
Many who’ve studied Ramirez put a lot of the blame onto Miguel who they believe twisted the young man’s already troubled mind. Psychiatrist Michael H. Stone described Ramirez as a ‘made’ psychopath rather than a ‘born’ psychopath and Miguel likely had something to do with that.
“That day I went back to the apartment, it was like some kind of mystical experience. It was all quiet and still in there. You could smell the dried blood. Particles of dust just seemed to hover in the air. I looked at the place where Jessie had fallen and died, and I got this kind of tingly feeling. It was the strangest thing. Then my father told me to look in her pocketbook for this jewelry my cousin wanted, and I dumped Jessie’s pocketbook on the bed and looked through her things. It gave me the weirdest feeling — I mean, I knew her, and these were her things and she was dead. Murdered. Gone. And I was touching her things. It made me feel…in contact with her.”Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker
Trial for the ages
The next big chunk of the book is the trial but I hate reading about court cases so this part was a bit of a bore for me. Carlo still manages to make it interesting though. The whole thing was crazier than an ill-planned circus act. It covers everything from start to finish so that you come away with a full picture of what happened, that if anything, highlights how the judicial system is just as messy, boringly chaotic, and confusing as a busy call center. It’s not just the trial though. Part Four also deals with public perception and the Ramirez groupies that were crowding around the jailhouse on a daily basis.
*Charlie Kelly voice* Now let’s talk about the groupies. Can we talk about the groupies, please, I’ve been dying to talk about the groupies with you all day!
I understand this is a type of disorder but…what the f*** ladies? There were so many women drooling over Ramirez after he was captured that I actually felt ashamed of my gender for a moment.
Hybristophilia is considered a type of sexual disorder that several people, mostly women, experience but in the case of Ramirez, it was a bit more extreme, not to mention embarrassing. Hybristophilia is usually brought on when a woman encounters a violent man and thinks she can “tame” him with her love. These individuals will often find excuses for their partner’s crimes while simultaneously think that they’re special. They enjoy the thought of knowing, or thinking, that their partner has harmed others but will never hurt them.
Carlo spends a lot of time with Ramirez’s female admirers and, even though these women are clearly troubled, they make such fools of themselves that you’ll just want to b***h slap them, in particular Doreen Lioy and Cindy Haden. They weep and shamelessly salivate over him, all the while admitting that his crimes make them feel uneasy. A lot of these women seemed to believe the misconception that psychopaths are ugly. The shock of Ramirez being attractive was what lured most of them in. None of them would’ve been tearing down Henry Lee Lucas’s door. It’s one of the most infuriating and fascinating sections of this book.
The Night Stalker doesn’t play the pity card. Carlo isn’t interested in making you feel bad for Ramirez, he just wants to explain how this monster was created, which is what makes the book such a captivating read. It is dark, technical, psychological, and extremely thorough. Carlo evolved the true-crime novel that originated with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. It will make you check your windows and doors more than once during the night. (4.5 / 5)
Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review
“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.
The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot.
As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew.
Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless.(4.4 / 5)
Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review
“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.
I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.
My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house.
A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book.(4.8 / 5)
Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!
“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%
Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?
Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.
During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.
As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?
Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.
The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.
As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.
It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. (4.5 / 5)