Serial killer Ricardo “Richard” Ramirez became infamous as the Night Stalker. He was raised in a toxic environment that almost guaranteed that he would grow up to become a messed up dude. Although just how messed up he became probably shocked even those who knew him in his younger years and realized that he was headed for trouble. By his mid-twenties, Ramirez had advanced by steps from a peeping Tom to a burglar, child abuser, kidnapper, stalker, serial rapist, and serial murderer.
Raised in an extremely dysfunctional and violent household, Ramirez came from a family that was full of bad people. Not the “mom and dad were distant and never there for me and didn’t understand me” type of bad, but downright horrible frightful relatives. There was a father who beat the daylights out of his wife and children. There was a Special Forces older cousin who was himself a serial killer as vile or even worse than Ramirez became, who gave lessons on stalking and murder. There was even a peeping Tom uncle who took Ramirez with him to peek through the windows of unsuspecting women.
Ricardo “Richard” Leyva Munoz Ramirez was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1960, the youngest of five children. His father was a former Mexican cop who emigrated to the US and got a job as a railway man. Ramirez’s dad was a violent alcoholic who often flew into drunken rages, and abused his wife and children. To escape his father’s uncontrollable fits, a young Ramirez often snuck out of home at night and go sleep in a nearby cemetery. That macabre environment contributed to what became a lifelong fascination with death. He also began to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol at age ten.
As if that was not bad enough, when the future Night Stalker was twelve-years-old, he fell under the influence of an older cousin, Miguel “Mike” Ramirez, who was already a psychopathic serial killer. A decorated Vietnam War Green Beret, Mike Ramirez had sexually assaulted, murdered, mutilated, and dismembered numerous Vietnamese girls and women. He documented what he did to his victims, step by step, with Polaroid photos. Photos which he showed his young cousin, along with graphic descriptions of his wartime atrocities. Richard was not repelled by the gory images, but was instead drawn to and fascinated by them.
Twelve-year-old Richard Ramirez bonded with his older cousin Mike over weed and beer. The former Green Beret and war criminal regaled his younger relative with gruesome war stories of mayhem, murder, and mutilation. He also gave him tips and lessons on how to murder stealthily. He told Richard: “Having power over life and death was a high, an incredible rush. It was Godlike. You controlled who’d live and who died“. The macabre mentorship was interrupted in 1973, when Mike got into an argument with his wife, and fatally shot her in the face in front of the then thirteen-year-old Richard.
Mike Ramirez was tried for the murder of his wife, but he got away with it. He was deemed not guilty by reason of insanity, caused in large part by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his Vietnam War years. Mike Ramirez spent four years in the Texas State Mental Hospital, and was released in 1977. He promptly resumed his mentorship of Richard, who by then had fallen under the influence of yet another horrible older relative, this one a peeping Tom.
A young Richard Ramirez became even more withdrawn from his family when his older cousin Mike Ramirez got locked up in a mental facility. In late 1973, he moved in his with older sister Ruth and her husband Roberto. Roberto was a voyeur who liked to spy on women as they undressed and perform other intimate and perverse activities. He was a peeping Tom, in short. He initiated his young brother in law in his voyeurism, and took Richard with him on nighttime walks to catch peeks of unsuspecting women through windows.
When Richard hit the hormonal explosion of his teen years, the influences of his violent war criminal mentor Mike Ramirez and his degenerate peeping Tom mentor Roberto began to seriously mess him up. His teenage fantasies took flight, and began to combine voyeurism with violent forced bondage and assault. Around this time, he began to use LSD and developed a strong interest in Satanism and the occult. When Mike Ramirez was released from a mental hospital in 1977, he resumed his mentorship of Richard, and began to accompany both him and Roberto on nighttime peeping Tom expeditions.
Richard Ramirez got a job at a Holiday Inn when he was a teenager. It did not take long before he began to put the lessons on stealth taught him by his former Green Beret cousin Mike to practical use in burglaries. He used his hotel passkey to sneak into guests’ rooms as they slept, went through their possessions, and stole their valuables. He also began to molest underage guests. On at least one occasion, he fondled two children in an elevator, but was not charged and prosecuted. He finally got fired from the Holiday Inn when he tried to rape a woman in her hotel room.
She was saved by her husband’s timely return. The husband beat the daylights out of Ramirez until the would-be rapist was knocked out senseless, before the police arrived and took him into custody. Prosecutors hit him with a variety of felonies that could have put away the future Night Stalker away for a long time – and thus probably spared many victims in years to come. Unfortunately, the charges were eventually dropped because the couple, who were from out of state, did not want to go back to Texas to testify against Ramirez.
Richard Ramirez moved to California in his early twenties, and eventually ended up in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. There, on April 10th, 1984, the Night Stalker committed the first – or at least the first known – murder in what would become a long list of killings. His victim was a nine-year-old girl, Mei Leung, whom he lured to the basement of the building in which he lived. There, he beat, strangled, assaulted, and stabbed her to death, then hung her corpse from a pipe. The crime differed from what became known of Ramirez’s standard operating procedure, and was not attributed to him until 2009.
In June, 1984, two months after he murdered Leung, Ramirez began to commit a long list of gruesome murders that made him famous – or infamous – as the Night Stalker. In a series of macabre nighttime home invasions that lasted through August, 1985, he terrorized first the Greater Los Angeles area, and then the San Francisco Bay area. He assaulted, mutilated, and killed with a variety of weapons that included not only firearms and knives, but also machetes, hammers, and tire irons.
The Night Stalker was finally undone by a fingerprint that he left on the windshield of a stolen car used in his murder spree. Richard Ramirez’s mug shots from earlier unrelated arrests were widely publicized in California, and he was spotted by Los Angeles citizens on August 31st, 1985. After a wild chase that involved multiple failed carjacking attempts, he was captured by members of the public, and beaten half to death before the police arrived. He was eventually charged with thirteen murders, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults, and fourteen burglaries.
Despite all the gory details that came out in the trial, one of the jurors, Cindy Haden, fell madly in love with the Night Stalker. On Valentine’s Day, 1989, she gave him a cupcake with “I Love You” iced on the top. She still voted him guilty on all counts, but her passion for him did not wane. After the trial – for which Ramirez was sentenced to nineteen death sentences – Haden got a private detective license just so she could visit the Night Stalker in prison in the company of his lawyers.
The Night Stalker Still Had Tons of Amorous Fans Despite Horrific Crimes
Former juror Cindy Haden’s plan to get closer to Richard Ramirez worked. As a licensed private detective, she accompanied the convicted murderer’s defense attorney on prison visits, and when the lawyer left the room to use the bathroom, Haden kissed and groped with the Night Stalker. When asked if she had been scared to have been left alone in room with a serial killer whom she had personally voted to convict, Haden replied: “No, absolutely not. He’d never hurt me“. Haden might have fallen head over heels for Ramirez, the only serial killer she knew. He was not as madly in love with her, however, since she was not the only macabre admirer who lusted after him.
By the time his trial began in 1988, the Night Stalker had numerous fans who regularly wrote and visited him. One of them, Doreen Lioy, wrote him about 75 letters. He proposed to her, and they eventually got married in 1996 in San Quentin State Prison. She loudly proclaimed that she would commit suicide when Ramirez was executed, but she left him in 2009, after DNA proved that he had disgustingly assaulted and murdered nine-year-old Mei Leung. Ramirez was not executed, as cancer got him in 2013 before California’s gas chamber did. By then, he was engaged to yet another fan, a twenty-three-year-old writer named Christine Lee.
There’s Even a Term for People Attracted to Monsters
Women attracted to monsters like the Night Stalker are commonly referred to as “prison groupies”. However, there is a psychological term for what draws them to monsters: hybristophilia. It describes a paraphilia – an intense attraction to unusual objects, situations, fantasies, behaviors, or people – centered around people who commit crimes. The term combines the Greek words hubrizein, or the infliction of outrages upon others, and philo, a strong affinity or preference for something. For hybristophiliacs, arousal and orgasm are facilitated by, and are sometimes exclusively contingent upon, a partner known to have committed dark deeds.
Hybristophilia explains the copious amounts of fan mail that are sent to high profile evil prisoners like Richard Ramirez – correspondence that is often amorous or physically intimate in nature. The hybristophliacs who send such mail are attracted to and turned on by such monsters precisely because of the vile acts that they had committed – acts that repel most normal people. Some macabre admirers – as actually happened twice in the case of the Night Stalker – go on to marry or become affianced to the objects of their affection in prison. Another serial killer, Jeffrey Dhamer, had amorous women send him letters, gifts, money, and proposals of marriage – despite the fact that he was a homosexual.
Charles Sobhraj (1944 – ), who became infamous as “The Hippie Trail Killer”, was a Frenchman of Vietnamese and Indian origins. In his childhood, he frequently moved back and forth between France and Indochina. At an early age, he became a delinquent and took to petty crimes. Sobhraj did his first prison stint at age eighteen, for burglary. A manipulative psychopath, he met and endeared himself to a rich prison volunteer, who introduced him to high society after his release. Sobhraj used that access to the rich to enrich himself in turn. He scammed his new upper class friends and acquaintances, and scouted their homes to burglarize them.
Legal troubles eventually forced Sobhraj to flee France with his girlfriend in 1970 to avoid arrest. The couple travelled through Eastern Europe with fake documents, robbed tourists along the way, and eventually ended up in India. In India, Sobhraj ran a car theft and smuggling ring until 1973, when he was arrested for an attempted robbery of a jewelry store. He managed to escape, however, and fled to Afghanistan. There, Sobhraj and his girlfriend began to prey on tourists along the “Hippie Trail”. An overland route between Europe and South Asia, the Hippie Trail was popular with Hippies and Beatniks between the 1950s and 1970s. Sobhraj became the scariest stalker on that route.
Hippies Who Befriended This Dude Were in for a Scary Surprise
Charles Sobhraj’s girlfriend eventually left him and returned to France. He carried on with a variety of criminal schemes. One of them, in which partnered with his partner, backfired and left his sibling locked up behind bars to serve an eighteen year sentence in a Turkish prison. From then on, Sobhraj’s crimes grew steadily darker, and he began to pile up the bodies of murder victims all along the Hippie Trail. It is believed that he murdered at least twenty Western tourists, but the actual body count is thought by many to be significantly higher.
In 1976, Charles Sobhraj was finally undone when he tried to drug a group of French tourists in India. Fortunately for them, he miscalculated the dosage. His victims became violently ill, but were still conscious enough to realize what Sobhraj had tried to do. They managed to overpower and seize him, until police arrived. Thai authorities sought his extradition for a murder committed there – which likely would have earned him a death sentence. However, Indian authorities decided to try him for lesser crimes committed on Indian soil, first. Found guilty of a variety of offenses, Sobhraj was imprisoned, but he escaped in 1986 after he drugged his guards.
Charles Sobhraj was recaptured a month after he escaped. That led many to speculate that the escape had been a deliberate attempt to get extra jail time for escape tacked on to his sentence. With the extra jail time, Sobhraj remained in an Indian prison until 1997, after the 20 years statute of limitations for his crimes in Thailand had expired. Thus, he could no longer be extradited to face a potential death penalty in Thailand. While behind bars, Sobhraj managed to keep himself in the public eye and maintain his celebrity status. While imprisoned in India, he charged a bundle for interviews with journalists, and an even bigger bundle to sell his Indian movie rights.
India had no “Son of Sam” laws to prevent criminals from profiting from the celebrity that arose from their crimes, so Sobhraj presumably managed to keep those earnings. After his release from prison in 1997, he returned to Paris. There, he enjoyed a celebrity lifestyle, and reportedly sold his international movie rights for U$ 15 million. His freedom did not last long, however: he unwisely travelled to Nepal in 2003. When the authorities learned of his presence on their soil, they arrested him for a 1975 double murder committed in Nepal. He was convicted, and received a life sentence. As of the fall of 2022, an elderly Charles Sobhraj was still locked up in a Nepalese prison.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading