“Everyone said I was just making a story…there’s no such thing as the boogeyman. But I was right.” -Stephen King
In 1985, San Francisco was chaos writ large. Joe Montana and the Superbowl winning ’49ers were carving their legacy, and the boys from Journey were busy glorifying the City by the Bay with thrashing guitar licks and big hair. On the darker side, a legion of drifters, dopers and criminals lurked under the umbrella of Golden Gate Park’s pine trees, while devil signs graffitied on bus shelters announced the arrival of satanic worshippers in a city already overflowing with demented people.
Back then, I was a teenager growing up in this bipolar town, my friends and I caught between its undulating cycles. Nevertheless, we managed to stake out sufficient real estate outside the chaos in which to grow up. But events in 1985 forced us to pay attention. That was the season of the “Night Stalker.”
Unlike serial killers who prey on the periphery of society, the Night Stalker would enter homes, often killing the male residents in their sleep before performing the macabre acts of rape and torture which made him infamous. The Night Stalker crime scenes were ghastly, his victims sometimes children, and he often left a scrawled satanic pentagram at the scene – his calling card.
It was a killing frenzy that ranged the California coast and seemed to go on forever. Finally, the cops caught a break when a tip prompted the Los Angeles Police Department to widely circulate the photo of one Richard Ramirez, a 29-year-old druggie from Texas. That same day Ramirez was recognized in East Los Angeles by a crowd that soon became a mob. Beaten and bruised, he was arrested by police before the crowd tore him apart.
When then-Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Brady announced, “California can breathe a sigh of relief tonight”, it marked the end of a nightmare for most in the region. But Ramirez left bitter reminders in my community, where he killed a family friend (a crime which went uncharged because the only female witness broke down) and left an unsolved Night Stalker case in the lap of an SFPD investigator we knew.
Ramirez was ultimately convicted of thirteen Night Stalker homicides, He was given the death sentence, but his lingering path to execution was interrupted on June 7 when he died of undisclosed natural causes at a hospital near San Quentin prison.
Ding dong, the witch is dead.
Reading the account (Trib 6/9) brought back chilling memories of that killing season, a time when every excursion after dark was given a second thought, when every lock had to be double-checked, every unexplained sound investigated.
I sometimes could not help wondering what would happen if a demon like that ever slipped into my home. I was not alone in losing sleep – during the Night Stalker crime wave, gun sales skyrocketed and tension on the streets of San Francisco was palpable.
Of course, that is the goal of serial killers who are little more than terrorists lacking in political agenda. Perverted humans like Richard Ramirez desire nothing less than the absolute subjugation of their victims, feasting not only on their fear but on the collective anxiety of millions. This may explain Ramirez’ comments during his trial, “You don’t understand me. You are not expected to. You are not capable of it. I am beyond your experience.”