Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds, and a Coke and find a seat.
Tonight’s feature is THE TRUTH ABOUT MURDER (1946) starring Bonita Granville, Morgan Conway, Rita Corday, and Don Douglas.
Enjoy the movie!
Frustrated that her boss, District Attorney Lester Ashton, refuses to promote her to prosecutor, Christine Allen announces that she is quitting her job as the city’s lie detector administrator to take a position with her longtime friend, lawyer William Ames Crane. When Chris arrives at Bill’s office, however, she learns that the attorney has been drinking heavily and neglecting his work.
The beautiful neighborhood of Verdemont lies ten miles north of downtown San Bernardino. In 1925, nestled against the hills, it offered the perfect vantage point to witness San Bernardino’s growth and prosperity.
Twenty-three-year-old Bessie Jones may have wished she could get out more, but her father worked as a Santa Fe railroad section foreman and was gone all day. Bessie cared for her invalid mother, and for her four-year-old daughter. She sometimes went down the hill to the A.B.C. root beer stand on Third Street to get a cold drink and socialize.
On one of her trips in 1924, she met Jack Croft, who worked at the stand. Several years her senior, he was nice looking and easy to talk to. She sometimes used the root beer stand as an excuse to bump into him. Bessie lost track of Jack for about a year, until one Sunday, when he and a friend, Bobby Cline, stopped in front of Bessie’s home. She went out to talk with them.
On Sunday, September 13, Bessie saw Jack outside the house talking to her father. He had a hat pulled low on his brow. At first, she did not recognize him—then he lifted the hat. He asked her what had she been doing, and she told him most of her days she spent at home with her mother and daughter. Jack said, “Let’s go down to the corner and get a coke.” Bessie told him she could only be gone for thirty minutes to an hour at the most. Jack said that was fine with him. “Go tell your folks you will be back in about an hour.”
Bessie got in Jack’s car and he drove down to the corner of Highland and Mt. Vernon, where a small grocery was attached to a soft drink place. He got out of the car and said, “I will be back in a few minutes, if you don’t mind waiting.”
Jack returned with a package of bottles. Bessie heard them clanging together. He got behind the wheel and started for Bessie’s place. When he got to Highland, he turned up a road and drove past farm houses to a quiet spot.
Jack pulled over. He took a bottle of Delaware Punch and a bottle of something that smelled like liquor to Bessie. Jack mixed them together and took a drink. He tried to get Bessie to take a sip, but she refused. She asked him to let her out of the car. He said no. He got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side of the car, and tried to pull Bessie out. She got away from him and slid under the steering wheel and hung on.
She saw a bottle at her feet and kicked it out into the dirt. Bessie faced Jack and asked him to let her go. He said, “Well, if you are really good to me.” Bessie got out and took a few steps. Jack said, “Are you coming back?” She said yes. Instead, she ran down the road as fast as she could, hoping to get to the main highway. She hit a dead-end in an orchard and turned around.
She saw the lights of Jack’s car coming and she ran. Bessie was not a match for Jack’s car. He pulled up beside her. “Bess, I’ll take you home. I will show you I am a real man. I will take you home.”
Bessie got back into the car. Jack drove down the road in the opposite direction of her home. Fed up, she demanded to be released and said she would walk home. Jack ignored her. He stopped the car and started fighting with her again. Bessie kicked, scratched, and bit him hard. He raped her. She thought he would drive away and leave her in the dirt. He did not. Bessie told him she would cause him trouble. He laughed and said a woman cannot cause a man any trouble.
Bessie got back into the car, and Jack headed toward her home. She told him he would have to explain to her parents, if they were still awake, why the one-hour trip to the root beer stand had turned into hours. He agreed. He would say he blew a tire.
When they pulled up in front of the house, Bessie ran inside. Bessie told her mother Jack “insulted” her in a nearby wash. She said, “I’ll fix him so he will never insult another woman if I can help it.” She grabbed her father’s gun and ran outside.
Jack sat in his car with the door open. Sneering, he asked, “Is your father asleep?” Bessie lifted gun and pulled the trigger. She said, “I fired at him. I only meant to hurt him for what he had done to me—I didn’t mean to kill him.”
Critically wounded, Jack started the car and drove nearly 100 yards before he collapsed and died. The car crashed into a telephone pole.
San Bernardino deputy sheriffs arrested Bessie while they investigated further. They also needed the coroner’s jury report. Before the jury convened, deputies learned the dead man gave Bessie an alias. He was not Jack Croft. He was Albert Burress.
The coroner’s inquest was surreal. Bessie sat fewer than 20 feet from Albert’s body as she testified. In fact, they asked her to identify him as the man she shot. From the stand, Bessie described her growing rage as Albert drove her home following the assault. She admitted she planned to shoot him, and she was not remorseful. She said, “He got what he deserved.”
Today, Bessie might be on the hook for voluntary manslaughter. In 1925, the coroner’s jury listened with empathy to Bessie’s ordeal and reached the same conclusion as Bessie had. Albert deserved what he got. They ruled the shooting a justifiable homicide.
Los Angeles has long given refuge to those seeking religious freedom. Among the groups who settled in Boyle Heights, east of downtown, were Russian Molokans. Molokans are a dissenting sect of the Russian Orthodox Church. Similar in some ways to Quakers and Mennonites, Molokans are pacifists and shun alcohol. Think Quaker or Mennonite, and you’ve got the idea.
Thirty-five-year-old Peter Pivaroff, born in 1918, in Arizona, to Molokan parents, may have strayed from the core beliefs of his faith. In 1943, he enlisted in the military. By early November 1954, he was on a serious bender.
On Monday, November 8, Peter experienced chest pains. The pain got so bad his wife, June, took him to Lincoln Heights Receiving Hospital. They admitted him at 11 p.m. for treatment of a heart ailment and alcoholism. Hours later, his condition continued to deteriorate. They transferred Peter to Lincoln Hospital at 443 S. Soto Street for muscular spasms of his heart. Doctors took x-rays of his chest. When the x-rays disclosed a 3-inch-long needle in his heart, they were stunned. Peter died at 3:00 a.m. The attending physician at the hospital refused to sign a death certificate. The presence of the needle was alarming.
Autopsy surgeon, Dr. Frederick Newbarr, said they found a second puncture mark between the seventh and eight ribs and it was, “undoubtedly by the same instrument.” The puncture was about two inches deep. Dr. Newbarr called Peter’s case, “one of the most unusual cases I have seen in thousands of autopsies.”
Police Lt. Fred Laughlin said the lab would conduct microscopic tests to see “if something like a thimble or a pair of pliers were used to push the needle into the heart.” Homicide detectives R. L. Clodio and William Ojers took June to the Hollenbeck Station for questioning. She had little to offer. She said Peter gave her no explanation for his pains. “It was almost like he had amnesia.”
How did the needle get into Peter’s chest?
One explanation came from his ten-year-old daughter, Diana. She said she borrowed a long needle from a neighbor in October to work on a Halloween costume; then it went missing. Diana said the needle from Peter’s chest resembled the one she misplaced. Is it possible Peter landed on it and was so inebriated he never noticed?
The murder theory took a backseat when they discovered a doctor at Lincoln Hospital made the second puncture. Police speculated Peter’s history of alcohol abuse may have caused him to kill himself.
At the coroner’s inquest, Dr. Qualia testified he treated Peter for coronary thrombosis. When the treatment failed to produce results, the doctor called in experts for a consultation. They ordered x-rays, and that is when they saw the needle. It was not driven into his chest, entered from the armpit and pierced the center of his left breast and penetrated skin tougher than most other parts of the body.
Dr. Qualia said, “The tiny spot where the needle went in looked like a mole or a freckle. There was no bump or other surface indication that it had penetrated the skin.
The coroner’s jury determined Peter’s death was a homicide committed by a person or persons unknown. The police had no viable suspect. June testified about Peter’s out-of-control drinking and said he sometimes beat her. June had a motive.
To clear herself, June voluntarily submitted to a lie detector test. Lt. Fred R. Loflund, in charge of detectives at Hollenbeck Division, said June answered all questions honestly. She had no idea how the needle got into Peter’s chest.
Despite passing the lie detector test, the coroner’s jury urged police to find Peter’s killer. Investigators insisted Peter either committed suicide or unintentionally jabbed the darning needle into his heart while drunk.
With the police and the coroner’s jury at odds over Peter’s death, the district attorney’s office weighed in. Deputy District Attorney Aaron H. Stovitz said the facts did not warrant “under any circumstances the issuance of any criminal complaint.” He said the investigation did not reveal a suspect. He left the door open for the future by stating if evidence turned up later, they would “reconsider the matter.”
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds, and a Coke and find a seat.
Tonight’s feature is FLAXY MARTIN starring Virginia Mayo, Zachary Scott and Dorothy Malone.
Enjoy the movie!
After Caesar, one of gangster Hap Richie’s henchmen, commits a murder, Hap orders his lawyer, Walter Colby, to obtain Caesar’s release from jail. Tired of defending criminals, Walt wants to leave Hap’s organization, and to prevent this, Hap recruits singer Flaxy Martin, with whom Walt is in love. Flaxy convinces Walt to wait until they have saved more money before quitting his job, and he agrees to work for Caesar’s release.
On Tuesday, November 7, 1989, Judge Michael Tynan sentenced Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker, to death. Judge Tynan recited the final judgment before a group of courtroom spectators: “It is the judgment and sentence of this court that Richard Ramirez shall suffer the death penalty. This penalty is to be inflicted within the walls of the state prison at San Quentin, California, in the manner prescribed by law at a time to be fixed by this court in the warrant(s) for execution.”
During the sixteen months that he was on trial, Richard wore mirrored sunglasses in a macabre imitation of a rock star, and smirked his way through the proceedings. They gave him the opportunity to speak following pronouncement of the sentence. He addressed the spectators, saying, “I am beyond good and evil. I will be avenged.”
Although he believed he was a mystery too intricate for ordinary people to fathom, he was not as complex as he thought. A narcissist, he thrived on the agony of others.
Deputy Bud Phillips worked statewide transportation, and they had assigned him to deliver Richard to California’s Death Row at San Quentin in Marin County. On November 16, 1989, Bud woke Richard up in his cell and told him it was time to leave. Bud fastened the waist chains and handcuffs. Richard wondered aloud where the crowds were. The absence of press and groupies must have disappointed him. He had undoubtedly planned a farewell performance.
Bud and Richard got into the rear two seats of a waiting helicopter which had landed behind the jail. Occupying the front seats were the pilot, and Sergeant Cecil Sabatine. They flew out to the Sheriff’s Aero Bureau in Long Beach, where they climbed aboard a Cessna 210.
As they flew north over Hollister, Bud, and Richard talked about the 6.9 earthquake which had occurred the previous month. Bud looked down and said to Richard: “You should go skydiving.” Richard replied he didn’t have a parachute. Bud smiled. “You don’t need one.”
The trip to the small airport north of Novato was uneventful. A Marin County deputy, standing next to an empty van, was the only person waiting for them. Disappointed, Richard asked, “Where is everyone?” It was quiet, just as it had been behind the jail in Los Angeles In order to keep security tight, they had not informed the media of the plan to move Richard. Even though the media got wind of it the week after the sentencing hearing, they buried the story in the back pages. Richard Ramirez was irrelevant.
Richard said nothing as they approached San Quentin. The prison sits on a pristine piece of land, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, on the San Francisco Bay. The view is incredible. But if you look closer, near the death row cells, a smokestack left over from the gas chamber era is a visible reminder that the picture perfect location belies its purpose, which is to confine, and occasionally execute, California’s worst criminals.
Bud handed his prisoner over to Sergeant Sabatine so that he could wrap up the paperwork necessary for Richard’s transfer. After filling out the forms, Bud walked Richard to R&R (Reception & Receiving), where Richard checked in. Bud removed the handcuffs and escorted Richard to a holding cell.
As he was leaving, Bud turned to Richard and said, “Ricky, ‘til death do us part.” Bud later said that it must have finally dawned on Richard where he was because he whimpered.
In 1996, Richard Ramirez married Doreen Lioy, a free-lance magazine editor. The union deservedly sparked outrage. The only good news—no conjugal visits for Richard and his delusional bride. About her big day, she gushed, “I just want to say I’m ecstatically happy today and very, very proud to have married Richard and be his wife.”
In 2009, when her husband’s DNA conclusively linked him to the 1984 murder of nine-year-old Mei Leung in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, Doreen had second thoughts about her spouse. They do not appear to have formally divorced. It seems to me divorce would be unnecessary—the marriage was never consummated.
On June 7, 2013, Richard Ramirez died of complications of B-cell lymphoma at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California. He deserved worse.
The people we remember are his victims. Below is a partial list. The list does not include the women he raped before his murder spree, nor does it include a list of the children he molested. We will probably never know the actual number of murders he committed or the lives he ruined.
His first murder was Mei Leung, a nine-year-old who he beat and raped before stabbing her to death. He hung her body from a pipe in April 1984.
In June of that year, his Night Stalker killing spree began.
June 28, 1984: 79-year-old Jennie Vincow was stabbed repeatedly while asleep in bed. Her throat was cut so deeply she was nearly decapitated.
March 17, 1985: Dayle Yoshie Okazaki, 34, was shot in the forehead. 22-year-old Maria Hernandez was shot at but survived.
On the same day, Tsai-Lian “Veronica” Yu was pulled out of her car and fatally shot twice.
March 27, 1985: Vincent Charles Zazzara and Maxine Levenia Zazzara were both shot. After Maxine died, Richard mutilated her body with a knife and gouged out her eyes.
May 14, 1985: Bill Doi was fatally shot and Lillian Doi was raped.
May 29, 1985: Mabel “Ma” Bell, 83, and her disabled sister, Florence “Nettie” Lang, 81, were both bound and bludgeoned. Florence was choked with a cord and raped. Mabel died.
May 30, 1985: Carol Kyle, 42, and her son were bound. Carol was raped.
July 2, 1985: Mary Louise Cannon was stabbed repeatedly and died.
July 5, 1985: Whitney Bennett, 16 was attacked while sleeping. She survived but had severe injuries.
July 7, 1985: Joyce Lucille Nelson, 61, was beaten in her home. Sophie Dickman was held at gunpoint, and Richard attempted to rape her.
July 20, 1985: Maxon and Lela Kneiding were attacked then shot. He mutilated their bodies.
On the same day, he shot Chainarong Khovananth and raped Somkid Khovananth.
August 6, 1985: Christopher and Virginia Peterson were shot but survived.
August 8, 1985: Sakina and Elyas Abowath were both attacked, with Elyas fatally shot and Sakina raped.
August 18, 1985: Peter and Barbara Pan were both killed, and Barbara was raped.
On August 24, 1985, Bill Carns was shot but survived, and his fiancée, Inez Erickson, was raped.
On August 31, 1985, after returning from his vacation, Deputy Andy Ramirez was assigned to the morning shift. Andy and the other patrol deputies at the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station received a briefing on the Night Stalker suspect’s name and physical description. It did not surprise Andy when a few of his colleagues ribbed him about sharing the wanted killer’s surname. Later, just to be sure, he checked his family tree and found no link to the infamous killer.
Before he began his day at 8 a.m., Andy stopped for a cup of coffee at a convenience store a few blocks outside of his patrol area. As he sat in his car sipping his coffee, he heard a call go out for Unit 22 to respond to a disturbance. The unit did not answer. That was not unusual. In 1985, deputies did not have hand-held radios and could only hear a call if he was in or near his patrol car.
As Unit 22 was unreachable, the dispatcher assigned the call to Andy’s car, Unit 24. They updated the call from a disturbance to persons fighting in the 3700 block of Hubbard Street. Andy rolled. He was about midway down the block before he spied a small group of people standing on the south side of the street. They hovered over a seated man who was leaning against a chain-link fence. A man holding a metal bar stood over the cowering, black-clad figure.
As he got out of his patrol car, by-standers came up to Andy and said, “Deputy, Deputy, he’s the guy! It’s Richard Ramirez. He tried to steal a car. We chased him and hit him and he’s down.”
Andy asked the man wielding the metal bar to relinquish it, which he did. The man was the husband of a woman who stood in a yard screaming. He gestured to the man on the curb and said, “This guy tried to steal my wife’s car.”
Clad in black from head to toe, not the best choice for a 93-degree August day, the suspect dripped sweat. Andy noticed blood running down the back and side of his face. As he approached the suspect, Andy directed him to stand, and then he cuffed him. He patted the man down but found no weapons or identification, so he asked him for his name. The man said “Ricardo” in a soft voice, and then he went silent. Andy put him in the back of his patrol car.
Andy left the suspect seated on the curb and returned to his car to summon paramedics. While he waited for medical aid to arrive, he talked to the residents. They were excited. One of them waved a copy of La Opinion, the local Spanish language newspaper, which had a photo of the Night Stalker on the front page. A few minutes later, the crowd swelled from a handful of bystanders to over fifty people. People from outside the block poured in on foot, on bicycles and in cars. It didn’t take long before at least one hundred people milled around the site of the arrest. At first, the attitude of the crowd was one of jubilation—even without official identification, they knew they had captured the Night Stalker. But then the atmosphere changed. Andy sensed a rapid shift from happiness to hostility. People wanted a piece of the man who had terrified them for months and then had the audacity to bring his evil to their neighborhood.
The crowd tried to open the doors to Andy’s patrol car. He needed backup to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.
Other deputies rolled up to the scene before the crowd became a mob. Andy gave the new arrivals a thumbnail briefing, and then they pushed the crowd back. Moments later, a couple of LAPD patrol cars arrived. They told Andy they had pursued the suspect all morning from downtown. They watched in amazement as he sprinted across the freeway, avoiding vehicles as they whizzed by. The cops said they tracked him following the trail of unsuccessful car-jackings he attempted as he fled.
Following a brief conversation, Andy and the LAPD officers concluded the only way to ensure the safety of the suspect was to get him out of harm’s way. Andy requested the officers transport the tall, skinny man in the sopping wet Jack Daniels t-shirt to the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s station. He watched as the LAPD car drove away with the suspect. He did not notice they had turned left out of Hubbard instead of right.
Andy called the Sheriff’s station to tell them that the Night Stalker was being transported by LAPD and would arrive soon. Later Andy discovered they took the suspect to LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station instead. Did the LAPD officers deliberately transport Richard Ramirez to Hollenbeck, or did they make the left turn out of habit? It is impossible to know for sure. The two agencies have a relationship that is like the cross-town rivalry between UCLA and USC. Each aims to protect the public, but their territories are a patchwork of adjacent jurisdictions which can complicate the pursuit of a fleeing felon.
In the end, it didn’t matter that Richard Ramirez went to LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station. Much later the day of the arrest, Andy stopped by Hollenbeck to retrieve his handcuffs. At first, the LAPD officers claimed not to know what he was talking about. Then he told them he could identify the handcuffs as his because he had scratched his name into the metal. No doubt about it. Andy arrested the Night Stalker.
The moment Andy realized the handcuffs were a significant artifact in one of L.A.’s most notorious criminal cases, he retired them. He held on to the cuffs for almost three decades until he donated them to the Sheriff’s Museum.
On March 17, 1985, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide detectives Gil Carillo and Jim Mercer were called to the scene of a murder and an attempted murder in Rosemead. The dead woman was Dayle Okazaki. Her injured roommate, Maria Hernandez, reported the crime. Maria was lucky to be alive. The same guy who killed Dayle shot her. She gave detectives a heart-stopping account of the evening’s events and provided them with a description of the killer.
Detective Carrillo had a feeling about the Okazaki murder. The killer took nothing from the condo. What was the motive for the attacks? Maria’s statement bothered him. She said when she and her attacker were in the garage; he had deliberately smacked the hood of Dayle’s car. Carrillo knew such behavior was odd. Criminals usually rely on stealth. The killer obviously got a thrill from terrifying Maria before he shot her and left her for dead.
About forty-five minutes after Okazaki’s slaying, Carrillo, and Mercer heard a call about another random assault. Someone shot a young Asian woman named Tsai-Lin Veronica Yu and left her to die in the middle of a street in Monterey Park. A .22 caliber gun killed her. The same caliber weapon used to murder Dayle.
Criminalists at the Sheriff’s crime lab analyzed the shell casings from the two scenes. Although their findings were inconclusive, the scientists surmised the casings were a likely match.
About ten days after the murders of Okazaki and Yu, detectives picked up a double homicide in Whittier. Vincent Zazzara and his wife Maxine were murdered in their ranch style home. An intruder entered the house by upending a plastic pail and using it as a stepping stool to climb through an open window. He shot Vincent and bound and raped Maxine.
The stranger briefly left the room, and Maxine loosened her bindings. She reached under the bed for the shotgun she knew her husband kept there. She aimed it at the intruder and fired. The gun was not loaded. In a rage, the intruder shot and stabbed her. Then used his knife to gouge out Maxine’s eyes, which he took with him. They were never found. He also carved an unintelligible L-shaped word or symbol into her stomach. The gun used was a .22 caliber. The crime lab could not match the casings to those used in the previous crimes because of the distortion, not uncommon, with a .22. Still, the shell casings were determined to be consistent with those from the other slayings. It was possible that the same perpetrator had committed the murders.
Carrillo was the youngest homicide investigator in the bureau. He believed the same person who killed Okazaki and Yu also committed the Whittier murders. The other detectives shrugged off his theory. Carrillo took his hunch to Salerno. For years, Salerno worked in homicide and gained experience with serial killers. He cracked the Hillside Strangler case in 1979.
Carrillo explained his reasons for believing the same man had committed all the crimes while Salerno listened intently. Salerno considered the young detective’s theory to be credible. He took the information, his experience as an investigator, and his intuition to the head of homicide, Captain Bob Grimm. Convinced that Salerno and Carrillo were on to something, Grimm suggested Salerno form a small informal task force to investigate.
On May 14th, the Valley Intruder’s killing spree resumed. The intruder broke into the Monterey Park home of William and Lillian Doi. He shot William and sexually assaulted and beat his invalid wife, who had suffered a stroke. After William heard the man leave, he crawled to a telephone, dialed 911–then he died. Monterey Park police arrived at the scene. A quiet town, homicides in Monterey Park were rare. Someone called the Sheriff’s office and requested Detective Gil Carrillo come to the scene.
The Monterey Park investigator gave Carrillo a cool reception, and declined his offer of assistance. With no reason to stay, Carrillo gave the cop some friendly advice. He told him to be careful in collecting and preserving the evidence. It would be important later.
Just as the case against the Valley Intruder heated up, so did Los Angeles. Residents can take comfort knowing that no matter how hot it gets during the day, the nights are cool and pleasant. But the summer of 1985 was different. Angelenos were sweltering in triple digit heat, shattering records established one hundred years earlier. Temperatures climbed to over 100 degrees during the day, and at night back yard thermometers rarely dipped below the upper 70s. People did everything they could think of to beat the heat. They slept with their bedroom windows open wide to entice a breeze. A sadistic killer saw the open windows as an invitation.
By the middle of August 1985, the local media was obsessed with the heinous crimes committed by the Valley Intruder. The media coverage increased exponentially with each attack. They finally gave the mysterious killer in black a nickname; the Night Stalker.
Citizens were so terrified by the random and vicious murders that they altered their behavior. The sale of guns and locks skyrocketed. The animal shelters emptied of small dogs who could bark a warning, and big dogs who could bring a man down.
A San Fernando Valley nurse told newspaper reporters she kept two guns in her house, and she was prepared to use them. An Alhambra woman said when her husband left for the night shift, she would take their three-year-old daughter into the master bedroom and lock the door. A Monrovia man patrolled the perimeter of his property all night with a hockey stick. Six hundred Monterey Park residents packed a neighborhood watch meeting. In some neighborhoods, people held huge slumber parties, praying for safety in numbers
On August 14th, newspapers broke the story that Frank Salerno was heading up a multi-agency task force to investigate the Night Stalker case.
The detectives found important evidence, including a print from an Avila size 11 ½ shoe found at multiple crime scenes. At the time, the press and public were unaware of this. They also did not know the detectives had been working the case for months. They had a composite drawing of the perpetrator that they circulated to deputies, just in case they ran across someone who matched the art work.
During their investigation, detectives discovered the same Avila shoe print found at the Zazzara crime scene was also present in a child abduction and molestation case being investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Northeast Division. The suspect took an eight-year-old girl from her home and assaulted her at a construction site before abandoning her. Passersby discovered her in the middle of the night. The suspect left a perfect shoe print in cement at the scene.
That they found the shoe print at the scene of a child rape and at homicides of adult victims was stunning. No one ever investigated a serial killer who was also a pedophile. The detectives knew the person who committed the murders, mutilations, and sexual assaults of children was a deviant whose penchant for evil was impossible to comprehend.
To gain a better understanding of the killer they pursued, the detectives invited the FBI to review the cases and produce a profile. Although not precise, criminal profiling is a useful tool. His rage against women and his fear of men were evident at every scene. He had not hesitated to murder any adult male who was present in the homes he entered, and the overkill of most of the female victims was blood-curdling. While the killer may have had multiple motives for his crimes: burglary, rape, child molestation, murder, and kidnapping–the most salient feature of his attacks was his rage.
With the FBI profile and evidence from more murder scenes, the detectives persisted.
Detectives hold back information in a murder case whenever they can. It is invariably something that only the killer would know. In the Night Stalker case, the detectives kept mum about the Avila shoe prints. Regrettably, the shoes became headline news.
The Night Stalker read the press on his murder spree. He caught the story about Frank Salerno’s assignment to the case. It fed his ego. Salerno was a heavy hitter, a consummate investigator, and a worthy adversary. The task force made it tougher for him to commit crimes in Los Angeles. He needed to take a break. He stole a car and headed north to San Francisco.
Barbara and Peter Pan slept soundly in the bedroom of their two-story home on a residential street near Lake Merced. The Night Stalker removed the screen from an open window and slipped inside. He murdered Peter with a gunshot to the head and then he sexually assaulted Barbara. Before he left, he drew a pentagram on the wall and signed it “Jack the Knife.”
Carrillo and Salerno recognized their suspect from the modus operandi at the Pan house. He had taken his horror show on the road. They spoke with San Francisco police, who agreed to a reciprocal trade of information.
Carrillo and Salerno’s information reached Mayor Dianne Feinstein. She held a press conference.
With their mouths hanging open in disbelief, and their hands clenched in anger, Salerno and Carrillo watched as Feinstein made public every piece of evidence they had discovered. The mayor spoke about the Avila shoe prints, the weapons, and the thumb cuffs the killer used to restrain his female victims. Investigators feared the mayor’s irresponsible statements could destroy their case.
The Night Stalker watched Mayor Feinstein’s press conference, too. He could not believe it. He owed the mayor a debt of gratitude. For months, he was unaware that he left distinctive shoe prints at the crime scenes. He ditched the shoes and anything that tied him to the crimes. Feeling cocky, he returned to Los Angeles.
Thirteen-year-old Mission Viejo resident James Romero, saw a man in an orange Toyota driving down his street. He noticed the car’s headlights were off, and he grew suspicious. He memorized a portion of the license plate number.
The Night Stalker broke into a house in Romero’s neighborhood. He shot Bill Carns twice in the head, then raped his fiancée, Inez Erikson. Though he left them for dead, they survived. He returned to the stolen Toyota and drove back to L.A.
It was another steamy night, so the killer removed his gloves. He abandoned the car, and wiped it down, but neglected to clean the rearview mirror he had adjusted with his bare hand.
The Night Stalker task force worked hundreds of hours of overtime. The Feinstein press conference in San Francisco gave them a few bad moments, but they trusted Sheriff Sherman Block to have their backs. He held a press conference of his own, during which he lambasted Feinstein for compromising the case.
Salerno and Carillo finally caught a couple of breaks. One of them was a phone call from a woman who worked in the courts in Los Angeles. She said her father, Jose Perez, was a street person who hung out at the Greyhound Bus Depot downtown. He had befriended a guy named Ricky. Ricky shared details with Jose about a murder he had committed. Jose told his daughter he and Ricky took a gun to Tijuana and sold it.
The detectives felt certain that they were only steps behind the Night Stalker. Other detectives traveled to Tijuana and to their shock, recovered the weapon. Ricky did not sell the gun. Jose gave it to one of his girlfriends.
Perez said LAPD arrested his friend Ricky recently for car theft after Ricky crashed the car into the bus depot. He served a couple of days in county jail. Salerno and Carrillo contacted LAPD’s Central Division, but officers there could not locate the case.
While they waited for information from LAPD, the detectives got a call from San Francisco investigators. It was what they needed. A person who knew Ricky, and knew he fit the description of the Night Stalker, provided the investigators with their suspect’s full name. Richard Ramirez.
Police found the stolen Toyota. Criminalists recovered a single fingerprint from the rearview mirror. An Orange County detective took the print up to Sacramento and, visually, as they had done for decades, compared it to all the prints of anyone with the Ramirez surname. They found a match. After months of painstaking police work, they identified the killer.
On Friday, August 20, 1985, in a joint news conference, Sheriff Sherman Block, Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates and Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates publicly identified Richard Leyva Muñoz Ramirez as the Night Stalker.
The next day, his photo was on the front page of every newspaper in town.
Salerno and Carrillo knew Ramirez hung out at the Greyhound Bus Depot. They set up surveillance on the chance that he would try to leave town. No one expected him to be returning to Los Angeles, but that was what happened.
Ramirez was out-of-town visiting a brother in Arizona. When he arrived at the Greyhound Bus Depot, he spotted the surveillance. He was oblivious to the fact they were searching for him, but he knew law enforcement meant trouble, and that was the last thing he needed. He walked out of the building where the bus had entered instead of staying with the group of passengers who exited through the front door.
At a nearby liquor store, he bought a carton of orange juice. Then he saw his picture on page one of a local newspaper. In a panic, he got on a bus headed to East Los Angeles, where one of his brothers lived. The other passengers began to whisper and stare at him.
He got off the bus and, in desperation, he ran across several lanes of Interstate 5. Miraculously, on the Saturday morning of the Labor Day holiday, he made it across unharmed. He attempted to carjack vehicles in LAPD’s territory, but failed.
Richard Ramirez sweated profusely. Exhausted and near collapse, he ran onto the 3700 block of Hubbard Street in Boyle Heights. He was one block into Sheriff’s territory.
He tried to carjack a classic Mustang, which was being lovingly restored by its proud owners. The car wasn’t drivable, so the fugitive attempted to hijack a car from a pregnant woman who was about to run errands. The woman screamed. Her husband heard her and came running. He was wielding a length of pipe. He took one look at the shaggy-haired stranger who had the audacity to molest his wife and bashed him over the head. The ruckus brought more people into the street. Many of them picked up baseball bats and hammers and gave chase.
The battle of Hubbard Street was on.
Someone placed a call to the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s station about a fight on Hubbard Street.
Cries went up. “It’s him!” “It’s the Night Stalker!”
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds, and a Coke and find a seat.
Tonight’s feature is THE CROOKED WAY starring John Payne, Sonny Tufts, and Ellen Drew.
Enjoy the movie!
Eddie Rice, a veteran suffering from amnesia, returns to Los Angeles from a San Francisco veterans hospital hoping to learn who he is and discovers that he is a gangster named Eddie Riccardi and has a police record. Although he does not know it, five years earlier, Eddie was acquitted of murder after turning state’s evidence for homicide detective Lieutenant Joe Williams.
About 11:30 p.m., on the night of March 17, 1985, a twenty-five-year-old unemployed drifter from Texas drove aimlessly through the streets of Los Angeles. He cruised around for hours in a stolen car. Dressed in black with a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, the cocktail of drugs in his system fueled his hateful fantasies of blood, death, and Satanic power. He cranked up the volume on his Walkman and listened to his favorite album, AC/DC’s Highway to Hell.
He was hunting human prey.
The drifter lived in downtown Los Angeles, and during the day he walked to one of the nearby dives and joined the shabby strangers who sat side-by-side on bar stools nursing glasses of cheap booze, lost in their own realities. Sometimes he would visit a local liquor store and buy a bottle, a “short dog,” he could sip from a brown paper sack. At night, he came alive. The darkness energized him. The cars he stole gave him the freedom to go wherever he wanted, and on that March night, as he drove the freeways, he spotted a lone woman in gold Camaro. On a whim, he followed her.
Maria Hernandez’s car caught the attention of the drifter. She spent the evening with her boyfriend and was on her way home. She exited the highway for Rosemead, a quiet bedroom community in Los Angeles County Sheriff’s territory, and the stranger followed her. Maria turned right onto Village Lane, where she lived in a new condominium owned by her roommate Dayle Okazaki. She pressed the button on the automatic door opener, and stepped into the garage. Maria pressed a button on the wall to shut the garage door behind her. Her black clad stalker entered the garage. His soft-soled sneakers, and the carpet runner near Dayle’s green Toyota muffled his steps.
The man could have snuck up behind Maria, but he wanted to see her fear. He slammed his hand down hard on the hood of Dayle’s car. Maria jumped and turned toward the noise. As the garage door closed, the garage got darker, with just enough light to see into the shadows. Maria saw a tall, thin man in dark clothes and a baseball cap with a logo for the heavy metal band AD/DC on it. As he lifted the .22 he carried, his baseball cap fell to the floor. The garage door took eight seconds to shut before plunging them into darkness. Maria clutched her keys and reflexively threw her hands up in front of her face, as if they could repel the bullet she knew was coming.
Maria’s hands did not stop the bullet, but her keys deflected the round and saved her life. She dropped to the floor of the garage and played dead. The stranger entered the condo. Maria crept up, opened the garage door, and went around to the front of her building—she wanted to get inside and warn Dayle.
Dayle Okasaki had heard the shot, and saw a man enter her kitchen. She ducked down behind the counter, hoping he did not see her. The stranger smiled. He caught the movement as Dayle dropped behind the counter. He knew that if he was patient, her curiosity would get the better of her and that eventually she would pop up to see if he had gone. Just as he knew she would, Dayle cautiously rose from behind the tiled counter. She stared down the barrel of the .22 the man had pointed at her head. He fired, and a bullet entered her forehead, knocking her to the floor.
As Maria approached the front door, she heard a gunshot. Then, to her horror, the gaunt man in black who had tried to kill her walked out onto the stoop. She couldn’t believe it. She was certain he would exit the back way. The two stood facing each other for a second that stretched into eternity.
A black-topped orange Volkswagen sat at the curb in front of the condo. Maria bolted to it, pursued by the man. The two chased each other around the car in a macabre version of a child’s game of tag. Finally, the man caught up with Maria and raised his gun. Maria spoke to him. “You’ve already shot me. Don’t shoot me again.”
Maria held the stranger’s eyes and waited for a gunshot. The man lowered his weapon and walked away. She ran back into the condo and found Dayle on the kitchen floor, a pool of blood formed around her head. Maria phoned the Sheriff’s station and waited for deputies to arrive.
The killer drove away from the scene; but he was in no rush for the evening to end.
Forty-five minutes later, he was back on the freeway when he noticed a young Asian woman taking an exit for Monterey Park. He followed her, just as he had done with Maria Hernandez. But the woman, thirty-year-old law student Tsai-Lin Veronica Yu, noticed the man behind her, and started looking for a police car. A block or two later, she pulled over to the curb and waited for the man to drive past—then she followed him. They caught a red light on North Alhambra Avenue. The man switched off his headlights, got out of the stolen Toyota, and approached the driver’s side of Veronica’s vehicle.
Veronica confronted him and demanded to know why he had followed her. At first, he denied her accusation. Then he said he thought he knew her. She called him a liar. He grabbed at her through the open window and tried to drag her out of the car. Failing to yank Veronica from the driver’s seat, he ran around to the passenger side. Before Veronica could push the lock down, he slipped into the seat and pointed a gun at her side. He fired and wounded Veronica. She opened the door to escape. He shot her again, this time the bullet struck her in the lower back. She got out of the car and took a couple of shaky steps before she collapsed on the pavement and died.
Satisfied, the drifter returned to his room in the Hotel Cecil on skid row.
NEXT TIME: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau detectives begin an investigation into the murder.
This past Monday, I was a guest on the IT’S RADIO WITH TV’s TIM STACK podcast. I’ve known Tim for several years. He is a talented actor, producer, screenwriter, and now podcaster. During the podcast, we discussed my career as a writer, archivist, tour guide, and my upcoming book of true crimes stories set in Los Angeles during the Prohibition era. Tim asked some thought-provoking questions, and I appreciated his enthusiasm and interest in my work. We talked about how much fun I had working with James Ellroy and Glynn Martin on the book, LAPD’53. We also discussed my current work with Mike Fratantoni for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Museum. Our conversation was lively and engaging, and I can’t wait for you to hear it.