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 with Philip Carlo, author of The Night Stalker

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 “Mike” Ramirez

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!

Groupies

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.

Final Verdict

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 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
About the Author

Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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