Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker

Full-Blown Rampage

Police composite sketch
Police composite

The attacks continued, throwing the city of Los Angeles into a state of panic.  One police official referred to the killer-rapist as the "Valley Intruder."  The newspapers dubbed him the "Midnight Stalker," conjuring up images of a modern-day Dracula or Jack the Ripper.  But Ramirez was just getting started.  In the spring of 1985 he was going through a period of escalation.  By the summer he was on a full-blown rampage.

On May 29, Malvia Keller, 83, and her invalid sister Blanche Wolfe, 80, were found in Keller's Monrovia home.   Both women had been beaten so severely with a hammer that when the police found it, the handle was split.  Blanche had a puncture wound above one ear.  An inverted pentagram with the tip pointing down had been drawn in lipstick on Malvia's inner thigh.  A second pentagram was found on the bedroom wall over Blanche's comatose body.  Ramirez had apparently tried to rape Malvia, the older sister.  Police experts estimated that the sisters had been there about two days after the attack before being discovered.  Doctors were able to revive Blanche, but Malvia soon died of her injuries.

One month later, on June 27 the Night Stalker raped a six-year-old girl in Arcadia.

A day later the body of thirty-two-year-old Patty Elaine Higgins was found in her Arcadia home, her throat slit.

Five days later on July 2, the body of seventy-five-year old Mary Louise Cannon was found in her Arcadia home.  Like Patty Higgins, she had been beaten, her throat slit.  The house had been ransacked.

On July 5 Ramirez returned to Arcadia beat   sixteen-year-old Deidre Palmer   savagely with a tire iron.  She survived her injuries.

Two days later on July 7, the body of Joyce Lucille Nelson was found in her home in Monterey Park.   The sixty-one-year-old had been beaten to death with a blunt object.

Later that same night in Monterey Park, Linda Fortuna, a sixty-three-year-old registered nurse, was awakened at around 3:30 a.m. by a "tall, bony man dressed in black."  The man, who fit the description of Night Stalker, was pointing a gun at her.  He ordered her out of bed and into the bathroom, warning her to be quiet.  After ransacking the house, he returned to her, forcing her back onto her bed.  He attempted to rape and sodomize her but could not maintain an erection.  He was frustrated and humiliated, and she was sure he would kill her.  He screamed at her furiously, but then gathered up the valuables he wanted and left.  She was astounded that he had spared her life.

Less than two weeks later, on July 20, the Night Stalker chose a new location in the Los Angeles area, Glendale.  Maxson Kneiling and his wife Lela, both 66, were found in their bed, both shot in the head and horribly slashed with a knife.  Maxson had been butchered so brutally his head was barely attached to his body.  Police experts had difficulty recreating the attack based on the evidence.  It's possible that the Stalker killed them both quickly with his gun, then mutilated them post-mortem.  But given his developing MO, it's also possible that he kept Mrs. Kneiling alive to play out his perverse fantasy.

But he also might have failed to perform sexually with Mrs. Kneiling, just as he had with Linda Fortuna, and so he turned July 20 into a double header, striking again, this time in Sun Valley.   Chitat Assawahem, 32, was shot in his sleep.  His wife Sakima, 29, was raped, forced to perform oral sex on the intruder, then beaten mercilessly.  He then sodomized the couple's eight-year-old son.  Ramirez tied Mrs. Assawahem in her bedroom and left, but not before taking $30,000 in cash and jewelry.

On August 6, Ramirez targeted another couple, Christopher and Virginia Petersen, ages 38 and 27.   Following his pattern, Ramirez broke into the Petersen's Northridge bedroom and shot them both in the head.  But they didn't die.  In fact, Mr. Petersen, a powerfully built truck driver, got out of bed and chased the intruder away despite having a bullet lodged in his brain.  Miraculously, the Petersens survived their wounds.

Two nights after the attack on the Petersens, Ramirez lashed out again, this time in Diamond Bar, California, and this time he had it his way.   Ahmed Zia, 35, was shot in the head and killed while he slept.  With the husband out of the way, Ramirez was free to play out his fantasy with Zia's wife, Suu Kyi Zia, 28.  The Night Stalker raped her, sodomized her, and forced her to perform fellatio on him.  This was Ramirez's MO played out the way he liked it, and the experts who profiled him believed that this was the way he would attack again and again, probably adding a little something more each time, a new perversion, a twist on an old predilection,   and most likely increasing the physical brutality.

Los Angeles County was terrified.  The Night Stalker's crimes were becoming more frequent.  The cooling-off periods were shortening, and his rage was escalating.  There was little doubt that he would strike again.  The only question was where and when.  But as it turned out, Ramirez decided to abandon his familiar territory.  After the attack on the Zias, he headed north.

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