Serial killers are always terrifying, but Richard Ramirez was your worst nightmare…
WARNING: Contains graphic detail
The guitar strings vibrate. A voice starts to sing.
Was that a noise outside your window? What’s that shadow on your blind? As you lie there naked like a body in a tomb, suspended animation as I slip into your room…
The words of Night Prowler – a rock song by the band AC/DC – which might well have been forgotten over time. Had it not been for the crimes of Richard Ramirez – crimes that mirrored the lyrics.
From 1984 to 1985, Ramirez crept into the bedrooms of his sleeping victims. He’d rape and murder them and mutilate their bodies, gouge out their eyes and write Satanic messages on their walls.
The Press even started calling him the Night Stalker. Ramirez was a fan of that AC/DC song. The police claimed he was wearing an AC/DC T-shirt during one of the murders. But no-one becomes a serial killer because of a song.
So what made this quiet, heavy-metal fan turn to murder?
One of five children, Richard Ramirez was born in El Paso, Texas, on 29 February 1960, to Julian and Mercedes Ramirez.
Money was tight. Both parents worked long hours. But that was the least of their worries.
All five Ramirez children had health problems, mostly respiratory. Those health issues might have been the result of nuclear-bomb tests carried out in nearby New Mexico.
To make ends meet, Mercedes worked at a boot factory while pregnant with Richard. There, she worked with toxic chemicals.
As a child, Richard had brain seizures. At 10, he was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy.
He started spending time at his older cousin Michael’s. Richard would skip school so they could listen to AC/DC records and smoke marijuana. Michael even taught his cousin how to fire a gun.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, he showed Richard pictures of him raping Vietnamese women, and then holding the woman’s severed head, her mouth around his penis. Later, Richard would admit to getting aroused by these photos.
But Michael’s murder of his wife Jessie was perhaps an even bigger turning point for Richard.
Jessie had complained about husband Michael not having a job. So he shot her in the face in front of young Richard. Shortly afterwards, Michael took his own life.
Richard left Texas for Los Angeles. Ate sweets and junk food, had decaying teeth and bad breath.
He started stealing to support his use of marijuana. Then he began burgling homes…
His first known victim was killed on 28 June 1984. Jennie Vincow, 79, had left a window open when she went to bed. Richard crept in, like the character in his favourite AC/DC song.
He stabbed her so she was almost decapitated. And raped her.
After that, he went into a killing frenzy…
He broke into homes and shot men, women and children. During some attacks, he gouged out women’s eyes. Other times, he’d use their lipsticks to draw Satanic symbols on their bodies and the walls.
By the time Richard Ramirez was arrested in August 1985, the Night Stalker had claimed 13 known victims.
Ramirez, 25, appeared in court in July 1988. He held up his hand to reveal he’d carved a Satanic symbol into his palm.
He was convicted of 13 murders and 30 other counts, including attempted murder, rape and first-degree burglary.
He was sentenced to death, but died while awaiting execution.