Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker

'I Love Satan'

On August 18, 1985, Peter and Barbara Pan were found in their blood-soaked bed in Lake Merced, a suburb of San Francisco. Both had been shot in the head. Mr. Pan, a sixty-six-year-old accountant, was pronounced dead at the scene. Mrs. Pan, 64, survived but would be an invalid for the rest of her life. Scrawled on the wall in lipstick were an inverted pentagram and the words "Jack the Knife," which is from a song called "The Ripper" by the heavy-metal band, Judas Priest. Local police determined that the killer had come in through an open window. Fearing that L.A.'s Night Stalker had moved to their precinct, homicide investigators sent a bullet removed from Mr. Pan to a forensic team in Los Angeles. The bullet matched others recovered from two of the Night Stalker's Los Angeles County crime scenes.

Police in San Francisco searched their unsolved homicide files and came up with two incidents that fit the Stalker's MO. On February 20, 1985, sisters Mary and Christina Caldwell, ages 70 and 50, had been stabbed to death in their Telegraph Hill apartment. If this was indeed the work of the Night Stalker, he had committed this crime about a month before the night he killed Dale Okazaki and Tsai-Lian Yu and wounded Angela Barrios.

The police also discovered that on June 2, the day after the murders of the elderly sisters Blanche Wolfe and Malvia Keller, Theodore Wildings, 25, was shot in the head while he slept in his apartment in the Cow Hollow section of San Francisco. His girlfriend, Nancy Brien, 25, was then brutally raped by the killer.

Could the Night Stalker have been active in San Francisco as well as Los Angeles throughout 1985 and the police in San Francisco didn't realize it?

Panic spread through the city by the Bay. To quell fears, Mayor Diane Feinstein talked publicly about the hunt for the Night Stalker, but in so doing angered detectives by giving away too many details of his crimes, thus impeding their investigation. They did not want a repeat of the situation Los Angeles had just gone through. Fifteen unanswered attacks, including fourteen murders and five rapes, had been committed by a maddeningly elusive perpetrator.

But the San Francisco police caught a break when the manager of a flophouse in the Tenderloin district came forward and claimed that a young man who fit the Stalker's description had stayed at his establishment from time to time over the past year and a half. The manager remembered that the man had rotten teeth and smelled badly. The police check the room he had last stayed in. On the bathroom door they found a drawn pentagram. The man had checked out during the day on August 17. Mr. and Mrs. Pan had been attacked that night.

Investigators then located a man from the El Sobrante district who said he had purchased some jewelry—a diamond ring and a pair of cufflinks—from a young man who fit the Stalker's description. Further investigation revealed that these items had belonged to Mr. Pan.

On August 24, while the police in San Francisco were scrambling to find the mysterious young man with rotten teeth, the Night Stalker had found another couple whom he could use to play out his violent fantasy—except this couple was not in the Bay Area. They were asleep in bed in Mission Viejo, fifty miles south of Los Angeles.

A computer engineer and his 29-year-old fiancée had just drifted off to sleep when they were suddenly awakened by loud gunshots in the room. Instinctively she reached out to her fiance, but he had been seriously wounded. Before she realized what was happening, the intruder grabbed her by the hair and hauled her into another bedroom where he tied her ankles and wrists with neckties. The man then asked her if she knew who he was, admitting that he was the killer who was getting all the coverage in the press and on television. He rummaged through the house, looking for valuables, but there was nothing small enough to steal easily. Angry that the couple had so little, he returned to her and raped her, not once but twice. The horrible stink of his breath made her gag.

The man was still angry that there was nothing worth stealing. Afraid of what he might do next, she told him to look in a drawer where she knew her fiance kept some money.

"Swear to Satan," he bellowed at her.

Out of fright, she did what he wanted and swore to Satan that she was telling the truth. The Stalker found the money, and as he counted it, he mocked her, telling her that this was what she was worth. It was what saved her, he said.

She prayed that this was the end of it, that he would just leave now that he had the cash. But he wasn't through with her yet.

"Swear your love for Satan," he demanded.

Afraid of what he might do next, she did as he asked. "I love Satan," she mumbled.

He ordered her to say it again and again. He yanked her by the hair and made her kneel, then forced her to perform oral sex on him. When he was finished, he stepped back and stared at her. Still bound by the neckties, she was certain that he was going to shoot her just as he had shot her fiancé. But he didn't. He laughed at her, then suddenly he was gone.

She quickly worked herself free of the neckties and went to the window in time to see him getting into an old orange-colored Toyota station wagon. She immediately called 911.

Earlier that night a teenager who had been working on his motorcycle in his parents' garage had noticed the orange Toyota driving into the neighborhood, and he noticed it again as it was leaving. It struck him as suspicious, so he jotted down the license plate number. The next morning he called the police about the car.

Los Angeles skyline
Los Angeles skyline

With the plate number, the police were able to determine that the 1976 orange Toyota had been stolen in L.A.'s Chinatown while the owner was dining at a restaurant. An alert was put out for the car, and two days later it was located in the Rampart section of Los Angeles. The police kept the car under surveillance for nearly 24 hours in the hope that the Night Stalker would return for it, but he didn't.

Mugshot of Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker
Mugshot of Richard Ramirez,
the Night Stalker

A forensics team scoured the car for evidence and came up with one good fingerprint which they sent to Sacramento for analysis. Hours later the computer had found a match. The print belonged to Ricardo "Richard" Leyva Ramirez. Further analysis revealed that this print matched a print taken from a window sill at the Pans' house near San Francisco. At long last the police knew who their suspect was. Now they had to find him before he struck again.

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