(SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on if you don’t want to know what happens in “Night Stalker: Searching for a Serial Killer”.)
Richard Ramirez, known as The Night Stalker, is one of the most prolific and vicious serial killers to have terrorized the streets of Los Angeles in the ’80s. Now, Netflix’s docuseries “Night Stalker: Searching for a Serial Killer” delves into how investigators finally apprehended the killer, after he managed to evade law enforcement for a year.
Ramirez, first known as the “walk-in killer,” invaded homes, murdering and sexually assaulting the residents, from June 1984 to August 1985. He used a wide variety of weapons and would leave behind satanic symbols.
After finding prints on a stolen car and releasing a mugshot to the public, Ramirez was apprehended after he was subdued by a group of residents and was beaten before cops could step in.
On September 20, 1989, he was convicted of all charges: 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries, although he’s assumed to have committed many more crimes. He was sentenced to death — but in 2013, he died of cancer in prison, after serving 23 years on death row.
See below for 10 of the most shocking facts presented in the docuseries, available on Netflix now.
(Note: What you are about to read might be disturbing and upsetting.)
1. His Bloody Murders
You probably know how vicious his crimes were — but the true-crime series delves deeply into how bloody and gory they really were. He had a pattern — he killed the man in the house, and sexually assaulted a woman, and always made sure he could see the fear in his victim’s eyes. In the early days of his crimes, he knocked on the car hood of Maria Hernandez so she would see him before the attack, and he yanked Tsai-Lian “Veronica” Yu out of her car as opposed to shooting her through the window.
In Whittier, he cut out Maxine Zazzara’s eyes and took them with him. Investigators identified him as an “enraged killer” because of how viciously his victims had been killed: in one case, the victim, Patty Higgins, was slashed and stabbed in the throat. Another victim, Florence “Nettie” Lang, 81, was beaten to death with a hammer.
2. Post-Murderous Snacks
In the docuseries, detective Frank Salerno says, “he got comfortable after killing someone — he would take the time to have a snack. That’s a pretty sick individual.” Indeed, he would help himself to food and drinks in the kitchen after his crime.
When he continued his killing spree in San Francisco, Bay Area police said in the docuseries that he killed an accountant named Peter Pan and raped his wife Barbara, ate everything in the fridge, threw up on the kitchen floor and masturbated on the living room floor — and then wrote a satanic symbol on the wall.
3. The Shoe Trail
One of the only trails investigators had was a shoe print he left in a flower bed in one of his earlier murders. In the process of finding the shoe to match it, investigators found out it was an Avia-brand shoe, an uncommon one at the time. Heading straight to the manufacturer, they looked through spreadsheets where the shoes were distributed in the United States, and only size 11.5 black shoes (the ones he was wearing) were manufactured. Five went to Arizona, and one was sold in Los Angeles.
“He could’ve left us a signed signature,” Salerno says. However, that lead would cause some issues down the line.
Somehow, reporters heard about the shoe print lead and threatened to print it. This was problematic for investigators because that would mean the killer could just change his shoe, and the lead would go cold. However, reporters were convinced to withhold that information from the public.
But… one political figure would make a damming mistake later on. More on that below.
4. Assaults of Children
Unfortunately, Ramirez didn’t spare children. Earlier on in his killing spree, there were a series of young children being taken from their beds, assaulted, and then abandoned. One of the 6-year-old survivors would be crucial in identifying Ramirez later on.
In some cases, he would sexually assault a kid he came across in the house during a burglary.
5. Satanic Symbols
It wasn’t until Ramirez left a pentagram, written with lipstick on the wall and on the leg of a victim, that investigators drew the connection to Satanic worship. They were also concerned he was a copy cat of Charles Manson.
In the following years, he would leave more of these pentagrams behind, and would also tell his victims to “swear to Satan” instead of God.
During a court appearance, he held up the pentagram and after pleading not guilty, he said, “Hail Satan.”
6. Almost Apprehended
Investigators were close to apprehending Ramirez several times. One time, he attempted a kidnapping but it failed, and while he was driving away he committed a traffic violation and a cop saw it happen. While being pulled over, Ramirez heard a broadcast of his kidnapping attempt on the cop’s radio — and drew a pentagram on the hood of his stolen car and began running.
Ramirez is now known to have had extremely bad teeth, and in the stolen car, they found a business card for a dentist’s office. Upon investigation, they found a man named Richard Mena had been in and had gotten X-rays done, which showed he had an infected tooth — so he would be back. Investigators put two officers in the dentist’s office to be ready. But as time went on without a sign of Ramirez, the dentist’s office suggested installing an alarm that employees could press when Ramirez came back, directly alerting the cops, which they did.
However, when Ramirez did come in and the alarm was pressed — it didn’t go off.
“We missed him,” detective Gil Carrillo said. “How many more people are going to die?”
7. Dianne Feinstein’s Mistake
When Ramirez killed the accountant Peter Pan in his San Francisco home in 1985, evidence of the crime made it all the way up to then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein, which would be a tipping point in the investigation.
Holding a news conference, she held up a police sketch of the killer, and also went on to describe the evidence from all the cases throughout the state — crucial information that hadn’t been made public. And by then, investigators knew Ramirez was watching the news, because he told a surviving victim, “I am the Night Stalker.”
Feinstein gave up the caliber of gun, the type of shoe, and the fact that he left foot prints.
“Without a doubt, Mayor Feinstein made a big mistake,” said Frank Falzon, a San Francisco police inspector. Turns out, the chief of police had never told her to not release it. They never were able to find the shoes after that.
9. His Childhood
The documentary series also delves into Ramirez’s past and the horrible trauma Ramirez had to face as a child. His dad treated him poorly — he would tie him to a cross in a graveyard overnight as a form of punishment. His cousin killed his wife right in front of him when he was 13 years old.
Later, in an interview from jail, he posed the question of whether serial killers are born or bred.
10. His Heroes
When Ramirez was finally apprehended, he called Salerno “Mr. Salerno” as a sign of respect, but he also looked up to The Hillside Strangler — a serial killer Salerno had previously apprehended. “He was a student,” Salerno said in the documentary.
To persuade him to talk, they put him in the same cell as The Hillside Strangler, and he got excited. He later asked Salerno and Carrillo if they would be attending his execution.