Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Symbols of Evil

In the summer of 1984, a 79-year-old woman was slain in her home in Glassell Park, California, near Los Angeles. Her throat was slashed and she was stabbed several times after the fatal wound was inflicted.

Two more murders with similarities occurred over the next eight months and then two young girls were abducted, raped, and dropped off in another location, alive. No one linked these crimes until later.

Then police got a lead. A man entered a condominium in the Rosemead suburb, shooting the two female occupants. One died from a shot to the head but the other survived and managed to offer a few details: bulging eyes, a long face, curly hair, and disgusting teeth. He was also dressed in black, and that same night he shot another woman in the streets.

The murders and rapes continued, targeting females from the young to the elderly, and also several men. Vincent Zazzara was attacked in his home and killed, while his wife was shot and then stabbed to death. The assailant removed her eyelids, carved out her eyes and took them with him.

In May 1985, two elderly sisters were bludgeoned, one fatally. Their attacker left Satanic symbols in the form of a pentagram on the thigh of the one who died. He also used lipstick to draw pentagrams on the walls .

Then the killer escalated, killing one person after another over a span of several weeks. Sometimes it was a single female, sometimes a couple. In one home, he shot an elderly man and then raped his invalid wife. In another instance, he raped a woman next to her dead husband and made her swear allegiance to Satan. Then he added a machete and an Uzi submachine gun to his arsenal. He also went north to San Francisco and shot a couple there.

The man became known as the Night Stalker for his penchant for climbing into unlocked windows, by August of that year he was credited with some 14 murders.

The Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez (CORBIS)
The Night Stalker,
Richard Ramirez

Then he killed a man, raped his fiancé and escaped in a stolen car. When he later abandoned the car, police managed to get a fingerprint. A database turned up the name of Richard Ramirez, who'd been arrested numerous times for traffic and drug violations. As they started to investigate, they discovered that Ramirez was a known Satanist whose favorite song was "Night Prowler." Philip Carlo documents Ramirez's long-term affair with darkness in The Night Stalker. There was little doubt that he was a killing machine, full of rage against society, and according to Corey Mitchell in Hollywood Death Scenes, he took Satanism seriously. "The further down he slipped, the more he believed that he was a minion of Satan sent to Los Angeles to commit the Dark One's dirty work."

Ramirez's picture was widely publicized and when he tried to steal a car on August 30, he was beaten and held by a group of citizens who recognized him. It was the police who saved his life, although he later told his guard, "I love watching people die." He was ultimately charged with thirteen murders and thirty other criminal counts, including rape and burglary.

At a preliminary hearing, Ramirez praised Satan and flashed a pentagram that he'd had tattooed onto the palm of his handthe same hand that had betrayed him with a fingerprint. When he was convicted, his lawyers warned him that he could get the death sentence. He didn't care. "I'll be in hell, then," he said, "with Satan." He was sentenced to death and he is now on California's death row. Among his female admirers are avowed Satanists who want him to join them in their religion.

Just as Ramirez became enamored of a symbol of evil in his youth, so also did two of the most notorious school killers.

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