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)
The Roots Grow Into The Earth
Launching next month The Roots Grow Into The Earth was a delightful read. It’s the premiere novel by horror author Bert S. Lechner. And after reading it, I hope it’s not his last.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth is a collection of nine short stories and novellas, including three previously published stories. The tales are all part of one larger story. A story of darkness, and madness. A story of a creature released that should never have been. That begins then to sink its roots into the Earth and infect innocent people far and wide.
One such example is The Wall. This is the story of a man named Sam and his wife Nat. They have a lovely normal life full of morning coffee and weekend pizza nights. Until Sam notices something on the wall of their home. While it appears to be nothing, a vision starts taking shape. With Sam’s help.
Another story that really moved me was The Orchestra.
Let me first stay that this was not a particularly fleshed out story. We do not see The Conductor before she’s infected. We don’t see the fallout. No real picture is painted for us, it’s more like a sketch.
In the case of The Orchestra, though, this is exactly the right choice. We don’t need to see the whole picture in gruesome technicolor to get what’s happening in this ill fated concert. We understand perhaps too well what’s occurring. And I thought that was brilliant.
I just want to start by gushing over this storytelling style. Short story collections always have a soft spot in my heart. In the case of The Roots Grow, all of the short stories come together to create one truly dark tale.
I also loved the clear Lovecraftian influence of this story. It’s clear that this was something that the author was going for, from interviews and social media comments. But I could tell before I saw any of that.
The story in The Roots Grow is one of madness. But more than that, it’s one of madness and destruction that the victims could not have avoided. There was no being clever enough to avoid these dark roots that touched them. There was no being strong enough, or selfless and good enough. If the roots reach out and touch you, you’ve already lost.
Finally, I want to extend some praise to my favorite character, Joanne. She is dealing with her own madness, her own demons. But she still finds kindness and strength to help others when they need her. Even against some truly dark odds.
What didn’t work
All that being said, I will say that some of the short stories felt incomplete. One prime example is What Lies In The Icy Soil. This appears to be nothing more than the tale of a person possessed by the need to dig. He digs up something that for sure shouldn’t be dug up. But there’s nothing more to the story. We don’t know who this person is. We don’t know who might be missing him, or what might come of this thing he dug up. As a part of the whole story, it fits. But if we are to consider every tale by its own merit, this one doesn’t have much of anything going for it.
That being said, this is one story in a round ten that wasn’t much of anything. The rest of the stories were wonderfully eerie, both on their own and as part of a whole.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth comes out on October 7th. And I think it would be a perfect addition to your Halloween reading list. (4 / 5)
Strange Eons Review: Cornfields and Eldritch Gods
“The elder gods arrived in the sky in early September, like an unholy aurora borealis stretching across a midnight sky. Their vastness blocked the sun, an unending eclipse, a liminal state, a breath that was inhaled but never let go. Lovecraft got it wrong, I think. It was not the sight of the gods that made humanity go mad. It’s what they destroy that hurts us. Somehow, these elder gods, these aliens, had killed time itself.” – Strange Eons by Keria Perkins
Strange Eons is a short story published in Bourbon Penn Issue 30 by Keira Perkins. Perkins, is an Indiana writer of short fiction and poetry that has also appeared in Non-Stalgia and The Heartland Society of Women Writers. Bourbon Penn is an online and print journal that specializes in speculative, odd, and surreal fiction. All issues are available to be read online for free or can be purchased as a paperback from Bookshop.org.
Strange Eons follows a young woman struggling to adjust to a life post-Lovecraftian apocalypse. This is a cozy story, the majority of which takes place as the woman lays in a cornfield and hides from well-meaning but unhelpful family members. While cozy, the piece is ominous, tackling the terror associated with pregnancy. Specifically, the terror that comes from living in a Red State and finding a significant lack of resources or options.
As a Hoosier capable of becoming pregnant, Strange Eons resonated with me. The imagery of cornfields and cicadas were very Indiana. However, so is a young woman covertly asking her sister to drive her to Illinois to receive healthcare. I loved how Perkins merged cosmic horror with the horror of receiving reproductive healthcare in Indiana but also the United States as a whole. All that was missing were predatory billboards advertising fake pregnancy centers! Talk about maddening and terrifying! Throughout the short story, the most horrific part of the young woman’s ordeal is not the eldritch gods appearing but her rather typical, hellish circumstances.
Aside from content, Strange Eons is well-written. It keeps you guessing where the story will go next. If you like a non-tropey cozy take on Lovecraftian horror or have struggled to receive reproductive healthcare, I highly recommend checking out Strange Eons! You can also check out the other stories in this issue of Bourbon Penn here. Or you can see what else Perkins is up to on her website.(5 / 5)
Walking Practice – A Book Review
Walking Practice is Dolki Min’s debut novella about an alien named Mumu, who must learn what it is like to perform as a human. Victoria Caudle, the translator of this unique Korean story, experiments with the English language to properly convey Min’s style. This, complimented with Min’s various drawings of the story’s protagonist, creates a poetic, outlandish reading experience that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
Walking Practice: Never Enough Practice
After the destruction of their home planet, Mumu crash lands their spaceship in a desolate forest far from human life. They survive by having sex with humans then, with graphic violence and great diligence, eats them.
Mumu has a strict schedule and regimen for this process; they must shapeshift their body to the specific gender and personality their date is attracted to. While this process of gender conformation is a difficult one (as the alien will often tell us), it is nowhere near as hard as the ridiculous habit humans have of walking on two legs. This is one of the many obstacles Mumu must struggle with while playing the game of life.
Mumu is a rich, self-aware character who seems to trust only one human: the reader. They address us directly, asking questions and indulging us with their theories on what it is to live on Earth. They are knowledgeable about the complexities of personhood, and aware that a person’s gender and sex are complex and not one-size-fits-all. After years of experience in multiple genders, the alien theorizes that humans are treated as people as soon as they have a sex and gender assigned to them. However, depending on the sex and gender, that treatment is never equal.
While Mumu performs various genders and personalities to match the sexual desires of their future prey, they do not identify as human. At the end of the day, they go home, stock their human leftovers in the fridge and freezer, and unleash their natural form. Their only priority is their own survival and pleasure (which, arguably, is their most humanlike quality).
“I’ve learned that my face arouses homicidal impulses”
Walking Practice uses horror, science fiction and satire to create a passionate queer narrative. While Mumu is a serial killer who prides themselves on their murderous skills, it is hard not to feel for them when karma strikes back and they are hurt. The poetic elements of Min’s story and Caudle’s translation support our empathy for such a vicious character
Min’s artwork, depicting Mumu’s alien forms, complements Caudle’s stylistic choices. There is enjambment in several paragraphs, (which can be interpreted as the alien either having a flair for the dramatic or genuinely pausing to find the right words), thus enhancing their internal dialogue. There are moments when the Mumu’s stream of consciousness confuses reality from imagination. They will also lose all learned human skills and revert to their mother tongue; words either run together or are spaced apart, and sometimes there are unintelligible symbols. At the surface, it looks like a linguistic nightmare. Once immersed in Mumu’s narrative, it is a work of art.
Walking Practice‘s balance of ambiguity and transparency keeps the reader close while also allowing an array of interpretations. It is an eccentric piece of fiction that plays with the literary status quo, resulting in an entertaining affair with an unforgettable alien. (5 / 5)