The Night Stalker

If you lived east of Los Ange­les in 1985, as I did, you feared for the safe­ty of your fam­i­ly. From March 17 to August 30, a Satan wor­ship­per broke into homes and raped, tor­tured, and mur­dered those he found inside. He struck first in Rose­mead, killing a woman and maim­ing her room­mate. That same night he raped and killed anoth­er woman. Three nights lat­er he raped an eight year old girl. The fol­low­ing week, he mur­dered a hus­band and wife.

The press dubbed him the Night Stalk­er, and a modus operan­di emerged. He broke into hous­es late at night, shot the men, and raped and mur­dered the women, leav­ing behind Satan­ic sym­bols paint­ed in blood or carved in flesh. His attacks were vio­lent orgies, stab­bing, slash­ing, hack­ing with a machete, and blud­geon­ing with a ham­mer. His vic­tims ranged in age from 6 to 83 years old, all races, all walks of life.

The police seemed help­less to stop him. Sales of alarms and guns hit an all-time high. I installed an alarm sys­tem, dust­ed off a shot­gun left over from my hunt­ing days in Vir­ginia, and kept it in my bed­room closet.

The Night Stalk­er killed and maimed with impuni­ty all sum­mer long until August 24, when he final­ly made a mis­take. A teenag­er saw him dri­ve away from an abort­ed break-in and remem­bered part of the stolen car’s plate num­ber. The police found the car and recov­ered a par­tial print that iden­ti­fied the Night Stalk­er as Richard Ramirez, a 25 year old, small-time thief from El Paso, Texas.

The morn­ing of August 30, Ramirez stepped off a bus on Euclid Street in East LA, walked into a liquor store, and blanched when he saw his mug shot plas­tered all over the news­pa­pers. The store’s clerk cried out, “It’s him. The Night Stalker!”

Ramirez ran, and store cus­tomers gave chase, yelling, “El mata­dor. The killer. Stop him.” Bystanders joined the hot pur­suit as Ramirez weaved through streets, alleys, and back­yards for almost two miles. Exhaust­ed and des­per­ate, he tried to hijack a woman’s car on Hobart Street. Her hus­band hit him with a met­al pipe; he stag­gered up the block; and the crowd caught up to him. When the police arrived and pulled him free from the angry mob, he was blood­ied, beat­en, and beg­ging for mercy. 

With his arrest, the city’s long night­mare of mur­der and may­hem came to an end, only to be fol­lowed by a dif­fer­ent kind of night­mare, a marathon of legal proceedings.

Pre-tri­al motions and hear­ings last­ed for three years. His tri­al took anoth­er year.

The sign of Satan

Hun­dreds of Satan wor­ship­pers marched out­side the cour­t­house dai­ly, car­ry­ing plac­ards anoint­ing him as their hero. Inside the court­room Ramirez joked with his attor­neys, flashed Satan­ic sym­bols at cam­eras, and laughed at wit­ness­es who tes­ti­fied about hor­rif­ic suf­fer­ing at his hands. He told a deputy sher­iff, “I love to kill peo­ple. I love watch­ing them die …  I told one lady to give me all her mon­ey. She said no. So I cut her and pulled her eyes out.”

On Sep­tem­ber 20, 1989, he was final­ly con­vict­ed of 13 counts of mur­der and 30 relat­ed felonies and was sen­tenced to death.

Nev­er in fear of exe­cu­tion because of California’s lengthy appel­late process, Ramirez rev­eled in his noto­ri­ety while liv­ing out his life on San Quentin’s death row. He grant­ed tele­vised inter­views to Inside Edi­tion, Mike Mat­tis, and oth­er press out­lets, fash­ion­ing him­self as a philoso­pher-king among the Devil’s acolytes. 

A fever­ish com­pe­ti­tion for his affec­tions broke out among hybristophil­i­acs, women who are sex­u­al­ly aroused and attract­ed to men who have com­mit­ted vio­lent crimes. Scores of women wrote him love let­ters and vis­it­ed him on death row. Even one of the jurors at his tri­al, Cindy Haden, fell in love with him. She sent him a Valentine’s Day cup­cake with an inscrip­tion in icing, “I love you,” and brought her par­ents along on one of her vis­its to meet him.

One of his idol­iz­ers, Doreen Lioy, didn’t expect to fall in love with some­one like Richard. Her friends from Bur­bank where she grew up described her as brainy and shy. She grad­u­at­ed from col­lege with a B.A. in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture, became a free-lance mag­a­zine edi­tor, and led a nor­mal life until she saw Richard’s mug shot on tele­vi­sion the night before his arrest. “I saw some­thing in his eyes that cap­ti­vat­ed me, maybe the vulnerability.”

She sent him a birth­day card after his arrest and vis­it­ed him in jail dur­ing the pre-tri­al pro­ceed­ings. She bought him clothes to wear in the court­room and attend­ed the tri­al every day.

After his con­vic­tion, she vis­it­ed him on death row four days a week and sent him 75 let­ters. Her relent­less cam­paign final­ly paid off in 1996 when Richard pro­posed mar­riage to her. He said he chose her over his oth­er para­mours because he trust­ed her. He was impressed that she was a vir­gin and a devout Catholic, who had come to accept his Satan­ic faith. 

Doreen was over­joyed. “He’s kind. He’s fun­ny. He’s charm­ing … He’s my best friend. He’s my buddy.”

Always sep­a­rat­ed by a plex­i­glass divider, they had nev­er touched. After Richard’s pro­pos­al, the war­den approved their first con­tact vis­it. Doreen said it was “one of those defin­ing moments.” She fell into his arms and he pulled her to him “soft­ly and gently.”

The new­ly­weds, Ramirez and Lioy

The wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny took place at 11:20 a.m. on Octo­ber 3 in San Quentin’s gen­er­al vis­it­ing area near the drink machine with a few friends look­ing on, most­ly lawyers. A state employ­ee offi­ci­at­ed. Richard’s broth­er served as best man; his sis­ter as matron of hon­or. Doreen’s fam­i­ly, hav­ing dis­owned her, didn’t attend.

The auburn-haired bride, 41, wore a knee-length white ruf­fled dress with iri­des­cent pearls, white hosiery, and white pumps. No veil. The groom, 36, wore a fresh­ly ironed prison-issue blue shirt, tail out, and den­im slacks.

They exchanged gold wed­ding bands, one engraved with “I love you for­ev­er, Richard,” the oth­er, “To my one and only love, Doreen.”

An observ­er said Doreen was ner­vous dur­ing the six-minute cer­e­mo­ny, but “Richard was very calm and lov­ing, very ten­der … Doreen brings out the best in him; they com­ple­ment each other.”

“I’m ecsta­t­i­cal­ly hap­py today,” Doreen said, “and very, very proud to have mar­ried Richard and to be his wife.”

San Quentin doesn’t allow con­ju­gal vis­its for death row inmates, so the mar­riage was nev­er con­sum­mat­ed, and as far as we know, Doreen remained a faith­ful vir­gin into mid­dle age.

Mei Leung

In 2009, DNA sam­ples gath­ered in a 1984 cold case proved con­clu­sive­ly that Ramirez raped and bru­tal­ly butchered a nine year old girl, Mei Leung, in a Satan­ic rit­u­al human sac­ri­fice so graph­ic even Doreen appar­ent­ly couldn’t excuse it. Rumor has it she divorced him, but I could find no record con­firm­ing that. 

A long string of state and fed­er­al appeals still lay ahead of Richard when dis­as­ter struck. He was diag­nosed with incur­able blood can­cer, B‑cell lym­phoma. He rot­ted away from the inside, his flesh turn­ing a hideous shade of green in his final days, and he died on June 7, 2013, at the age of 53, in Marin Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal. The rumors about Doreen’s estrange­ment appeared to be true, since no one claimed Richard’s corpse. 

So ends the sto­ry of the Night Stalk­er, but I wish his sto­ry had end­ed very differently. 

In the final days of Pres­i­dent Obama’s admin­is­tra­tion, anti-death penal­ty advo­cates worked hard to con­vince him to denounce cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment. He expressed grave reser­va­tions, but main­tained that some crimes are so heinous “the com­mu­ni­ty is jus­ti­fied in express­ing the full mea­sure of its outrage.”

The Night Stalker’s crimes were heinous to a degree beyond words. A life­time of con­fine­ment was a gross­ly inad­e­quate pun­ish­ment for his defi­ant, unre­pen­tant sav­agery, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing that he spent his time on death row enjoy­ing his celebri­ty, laugh­ing at his vic­tims, court­ing his many female admir­ers, and even mar­ry­ing one of them. Think­ing about the final moments of Mei Leung’s life and those of his oth­er vic­tims, I wish the state had exe­cut­ed him swift­ly and deci­sive­ly. The truth is he deserved far worse.