He was one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. Richard Ramirez killed 13 people and raped and tortured dozens more that got him cult fame and some women even wanted to have sex with him.
He selected his targets at random and had no specific victim type. The people he killed were male and female, young and old. And those he raped and tortured included children that were as young as six-years-old.
His crimes were chronicled in a newly released Netflix documentary series: “Night Stalker, Searching for a Serial Killer”
The series does a great job presenting the hunt to catch a vicious serial killer that brought California to a standstill for more than a year. But the series does not include much on Richard’s childhood. Of the 189 minutes spread over four episodes, literally only one minute and two seconds were about his past. That leaves us with a lot of questions, including why he committed those crimes?
He was raised in a strict Catholic household and was an altar boy in his preteen years. He was the youngest of five and his father, Julian, was a Mexican immigrant living in El Paso, Texas. All of his siblings had birth defects because they were exposed to nuclear radiation. The US government was conducting nuclear tests close to where they lived and at the time little was known about its effects but there was a high rate of birth defects in the area.
His mother worked in a factory mixing chemicals when she was five months pregnant with Richard. She left the job after being warned that there may have been a risk to her unborn child.
At the age of two, a dresser fell on him knocking him unconscious and at the age of five, he was knocked unconscious by a swing. That was probably the cause for his epilepsy and seizures. At the age of seven, Richard had vivid dreams of monsters and would talk of seeing them running around the garden.
His father Julian was physically abused by his own elders and that left Jualin with unpredictable fits of rage. Julian would tie Richard to a cross in a graveyard overnight as a form of punishment. When Richard’s older brother Ruben, who had problems with substance abuse, was arrested in a stolen vehicle, Julian beat him mercilessly. Richard was said to have been “deathly frightened” of his father and around the age of 10, to escape his father’s abuse, he began to sleep in a nearby cemetery. It was around this time that he started smoking marijuana.
In his book Serial Killers, Joel Norris says that “parents who abuse their children, physically as well as psychologically, instill in them an almost instinctive reliance upon violence as a first resort to any challenge.” One study revealed that serial killers who were abused when they were young were more likely to sexually assault their victims before murdering them. However, serial killers who did not have a history of childhood abuse did not display sexually violent behavior.
Richard’s father was not the only bad influence on him. He was 12 when his cousin Miguel Ramirez or Mike returned from the Vietnam war providing him with someone to look up to after his brothers had moved out of the house. A decorated U.S. Army Green Beret, Mike regaled his younger cousin with gory stories of Vietnamese women he had raped, tortured and killed. Mike taught Richard how to kill someone with stealth and it was him that introduced Richard to Satanism or Devil Worship.
All the elements that poison a child’s brain were present in Ricahrd’s life. According to criminologist Dr. Scott Bonn, children are aroused by violence when sex and violence fuse in their minds during the years of puberty. Richard was 13 when Mike showed him pictures of women he had raped and killed. In one photo, Mike stood right next to a severed head of a woman he had abused. According to Richard’s biographer, he became sexually aroused after seeing those images.
He witnessed Mike fatally shoot his wife in the face at point blank range. Mike was arrested and Ricahrd became withdrawn and started stealing. As if all that was not enough, later that year, Richard moved in with his sister Ruth where his brother in law, Roberto, took him on nighttime missions to peep through people’s windows.
Mike was released from prison after four years on the grounds of insanity and his influence on Richard continued.
Dr. Bonn says that Richard was not a psychopath but he was a sociopath. A psychopath is born that way but a sociopath is created by his environment and circumstances. Psychopaths need control so they meticulously plan their attacks like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, the Killer Clown, but Richard randomly picked his targets. After killing an accountant Peter Pan in San Francisco, he killed and raped his wife, helped himself to everything in the fridge, threw up in the kitchen and masturbated on the living room floor — and then drew a satanic symbol on the wall. In the case of Pakistani immigrants living in Diamond Bar, California, Elyas and Sakina Abowath, Richard killed the husband and fled after raping the wife.
“He pulled my hair and he said look — he put the dagger on my son’s chest — he said ‘If you scream one time I will kill him,’” Sakina told a reporter.
Dr. Bonn adds that he did all this to satisfy his need for thrill. “Sex and violence were all a grand adventure for him.”
Genetics play a role in the creation of a serial killer but genetics alone do not compel people to commit horrendous crimes. Genetics in tandem with the environment like childhood abuse shape a person’s mind. Ottis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas, a pair of serial killers who may have murdered hundreds of people, experienced extreme physical and psychological abuse. They were both forced to dress up as young girls and then beaten.
FBI profiler Jim Clemente put it this way: “Genetics loads the gun, their personality and psychology aim it, and their experiences pull the trigger.”
I have to ask why did Julian, the father, keep on creating kids when he knew that he had a problem with his temper? He reportedly made a promise to himself that he will not treat his children the way he was treated but he repeatedly failed to keep that promise and still he had no problems creating five children. And to Richard’s mother, I ask that why did you allow Julian to make you give birth five times when clearly you did not have the resources or the skills to look after your children? And where were you when your own flesh and blood was forced to sleep in a cemetery or when Mike, the cousin, forced your child to worship the devil?
I am not blaming the parents for his crimes. I beleive in capital punishment and I believe that people should be held accountable for their actions. I am saying that unless we address the root cause of this we will never be able to stop it. Upto 30 serial killers are currently active in the U.S. and I will not be surprised if most of them were abused.
“I am beyond good and evil. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells in us all. That’s it,” said Richard in a Southern California courtroom in 1989.
You see, that would have been true, had we not been able to identify you and then arrest and prosecute you. That would have been true had you escaped arrest for your entire life and then one day secretly released a message saying, “that look, I told you, I told you that you will never catch me, that I am beyond your imagination, that I am beyond good and evil.” But that was not the case. You were put behind bars for good and there is something else.
Sociopaths generally have no remorse. But not you Richard, you felt remorse only because we made sure of that. After your arrest, you told your biographer that the reason you didn’t ever want to be caught or publicly associated with your crimes is because “there were people who loved and cared for you deeply” and you didn’t want them to be shamed. Alas, your actions did just that.
Richard was captured in 1985 and given 19 death sentences. He died in 2013 due to cancer while on death row.