In 1985, people in Southern California were on edge. A serial killer the media had dubbed the “Night Stalker” was creeping into random homes in the middle of the night and brutally, viciously murdering unsuspecting victims. The elusive killer baffled police and terrified residents of Los Angeles and, later, San Francisco.

I actually remember the Night Stalker case, and how, at the young age of 7, it was one of the first true crime cases that terrified and fascinated me. I recall eavesdropping on adult neighbors talking about the case, and about what they could do to add extra safety measures to their houses, even though we lived 2,000 miles away in Illinois. Who was the Night Stalker, and how and when would he finally be caught?

Though the world knew him as the Night Stalker, his parents had named him Richard Ramirez. He was born in El Paso, Texas in 1960, the youngest of 5 children. His father, a police officer in Juarez, Mexico, was prone to fits of rage, and he had a tendency to take out his anger violently on young Richard.

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When he was only 12 years old, Ramirez became fascinated with his older cousin, Mike, a Green Beret who had served in Vietnam. The two cousins smoked marijuana together, and Mike showed Ramirez gruesome Polaroids he had taken during the war. The photos showed dead soldiers, as well as innocent women Mike had raped and killed in Vietnam. Mike also taught Ramirez various military tactics, including how to kill quickly and quietly. During this period, Ramirez began to sleep in a local cemetery, mostly to escape his father’s violent outbursts.

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On May 4, 1973, when Ramirez was 13 years old, he witnessed his cousin Mike shoot and kill his wife during an argument. Mike was found not guilty by reason of insanity by a jury, and he served 4 years in a mental hospital. Ramirez’s behavior changed dramatically after the murder. After Mike’s release in 1977, his influence over Ramirez grew, and Ramirez began to develop an interest in Satanism. He started using LSD and turned to petty crime. Additionally, a brother-in-law began taking the impressionable Ramirez on his “peeping tom” escapades at night. In 1977, Ramirez was sent away to a juvenile detention center for a string of minor crimes.