Tuesday, June 06, 2006
The year was 1985 and Los Angeles’ Night Stalker haunted our dreams and waking hours. Once the sun set, once the moon rose, my brother stood watch in our parents’ bedroom of our Pasadena home, holding the orange-tinted sheer curtains aside, looking for a very real serial killer. The thirteen killings of the hard-working suburbanites were bloody, brushed with satanic symbolism and sexual in nature, perfect to feed intense media speculation and public paranoia. Living mere miles from several of the murder sites (Eagle Rock, Glendale, Monterey Park, Whittier) my parents, siblings and I would sit around the dinner table, listening to the television news reports for the latest clue regarding the curious pattern of the Stalker.
There was the idea that the murders took place in homes near freeway exits, and then the killer might have focused on homes painted yellow. Our house was about a mile, maybe more, from the 210’s San Gabriel exit and was painted white with green shutters so we felt somewhat protected. But those suggestions were just that: suggestions. One never knew if a house was vulnerable. The crimes themselves varied. There were shootings, stabbings, and rapes. The victims were just as varied, the ages ranging from 84 to 8. As outsiders not exposed yet to FBI profiling and CSI methods of identification now popular, we couldn’t possibly know what was in the killer’s terrifying mind.
An early survivor of the Night Stalker saw enough to help create a crime artist’s rendering. We had a face to focus on, a devil’s face with the dark eyes, cut cheekbones, and black, longish hair. This man was easy to envision breaking into houses, cutting the owners up, leaving lipstick pentagrams on the walls. We saw him everywhere. In the supermarket, at the post office, in the car next to us. We knew this man.
The real break came towards the end of the Stalker’s run, from a series of victims who were able to provide a better physical description of the man and his orange Toyota, along with his license plate. The car was found abandoned. A fingerprint was gathered which lead to mug shots from previous crimes that would be publicized. Now we knew positively what the killer looked like.
So much so that when Richard Ramirez was on the move through an East Los Angeles neighborhood, he was spotted and physically attacked by a throng of anxious urbanites. The Spanish-speaking crew brought him down and brought him down hard. He was found cowering and beaten, the police having to protect him from a near-lynching. The next morning, the Los Angeles Times ran a photo of the scared Ramirez as he was put into the police unit. An aunt of mine said later, “You know, with guilt I say, he was kind of sexy.”
She wasn’t the only one to think so. In the years that followed, Ramirez developed a real following of women, receiving wedding proposals, money, countless offers of love. In 1998, he received the ultimate gift: the death penalty. Los Angeles could breathe again. We could sit now in peace until the next paranoia-inducing event, such as the air crash over Cerritos which set off a paranoia about mid-air collisions.
Today, I was reminded of those days when I read that Ramirez is seeking a new trial based on the lack of competence by his first lawyers. The timing of the article was rather…coincidental, being that today is the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year of the millennium, 6-6-6. The article claims the lawyers were too new to provide an adequate defense. One might think so considering Ramirez pretty much received the heaviest punishment with no mitigation. On the other hand, as his former lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, said in the article, “But we did it pro bono. Didn't get a penny. For free, I think we did a hell of a good job.” Well, I suppose one could argue that you get what you pay for.
In the meantime, while we wait for the results of the Ramirez effort, on this day, I’ll be sure to lock my windows and doors and keep an eye out for the ghosts in the shadows, for the devil walking my quiet suburban street.
Picture of Darren McGavin from: The Night Stalker
Picture of Richard Ramirez from: All Serial Killers