Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker

'If You Look At Me Again, I'll Shoot You!'

On the morning of March 27, 1984, Peter Zazzara arrived at his parents' home in Whittier, California.   His sixty-four-year old father Vincent had retired from investment counseling and now operated his own pizzeria.  His mother Maxine, 44, was an attorney.  Peter rang the bell several times, but no one answered, so he let himself in.  What he found was horrifying.

His father's body was on the sofa in the den.   He'd been shot through the left temple.  He appeared to have died instantly.

Mrs. Zazzara was found stretched out in bed, face up and naked.   Her eyes had been gouged out, the bloody sockets empty.  She'd been stabbed repeatedly around the face, neck, abdomen, and groin.  There was a large T-shaped knife wound in her left breast.  An autopsy later revealed that like her husband, she'd first been shot in the head and had probably died instantly.  The stabbing and mutilation were done post-mortem.  The house had been ransacked, valuables taken.

With these killings, Richard Ramirez had discovered a method that accomplished his goals and satisfied his fantasy, for he repeated it many times: Dispatch the male quickly to get him out of the way so that he could have his perverse way with the woman in the house.   The man was just an impediment and not part of the fantasy; the woman was the real object of desire.

Six weeks later Richard Ramirez returned to Monterey Park and broke into the home of Harold and Jean Wu, waking them from a sound sleep.  Ramirez took care of Mr. Wu first, shooting the sixty-six-year-old man through the head.  He pummeled Mrs. Wu, 63, viciously with his fists, demanding to know where she kept her money.  She was too worried about her husband to be coherent, so he bound her hands together behind her back with thumb cuffs to keep her still as he searched the house.  After he found what he wanted, he returned to the bedroom, dragged the tiny woman to the side of the bed, and raped her.  When he was finished, he left.

Mr. Wu, however, was not dead.   Despite his terrible head wound, he managed to crawl to the den where he dialed 911.  He was unable to tell the dispatcher what the problem was, but the call was traced, and an ambulance and patrol car were dispatched to the Wu's address .  Harold Wu was rushed to the hospital but died later that night.  Jean Wu was treated for her injuries.  She was able to give the police a physical description of her attacker.

Two weeks later on May 30, Ruth Wilson, 41, was awakened in the middle of the night by a flashlight shining in her face.   Ramirez had silently broken into her Burbank home and was holding a gun to her head.  He ordered her to get out of bed and go to her twelve-year-old son's room.  Ramirez jumped on the boy's bed and put the gun to the child's head, warning Ruth Wilson not to make a sound.  He handcuffed the boy and locked him in a closet. 

"Don't look at me," he snarled at Ruth.   "If you look at me again, I'll shoot you." 

Assuming that he was a burglar, she offered to give him her most valuable possession, a gold-and-diamond necklace.   She led him to the dresser in her bedroom where she kept it, hoping that this would placate him.  But it didn't.  After rummaging through the house, he ordered her to turn around and put her hands together.  He tied her up behind her back with a pair of pantyhose.  He then shoved her onto the bed as she pleaded with him.  After tearing off her pink nightgown, he raped and sodomized her.  His breath was so hot and foul as he lay on her she nearly gagged.   

According to Clifford L. Linedecker in his book Nightstalker, Ruth Wilson told Ramirez he must have had a "very unhappy life" to have done this to her.  He told her she looked pretty good for her age and said he was going to let her live even though he had killed many others.  When she complained that the pantyhose around her wrists were cutting off her circulation, he loosened them for her and brought her a robe before taking her son out of the closet and handcuffing them side by side.  Ramirez left them there.  Later the boy was able to get to a phone and call 911.  When the police asked Ruth describe her attacker, she told them that he was a tall Hispanic with long dark hair.

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