Late in the 20th Century, Hell glutted on humanity. Its first bloodletting of that season of the Devil occurred on the warm evening of June 28, 1984, when an earth-bound Lucifer found his way into the small Glassel Park apartment of 79-year-old Jennie Vincow. Throughout the Los Angeles area a damp humidity had oppressed the air that day, and when the evening came and the temperature slightly cooled, Jennie left her window open to invite what little breeze there might be into her flat.
Like a fallen leaf, decayed and tossed from its source, a fallen angel, dark, angry and also decaying, blew across the sill of that open window. When the demon departed through that same window, he left behind Jennie Vincow, raped, beaten and nearly decapitated. “Her body was found by her son, who lived above her ground-floor apartment, just south of… Forest Lawn Park,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Her throat had been slashed and she had been stabbed repeatedly. ” The police were baffled.
But, in the months to come, they were to encounter a madman whose lust for killing and depravity equaled, if not surpassed, that of Jack the Ripper or, more contemporary, the Hillside Strangler. Soon to be named the “Night Stalker” by the ress, this madman bore, according to true crime author Richard L. Linedecker, “the horror in his soul of a Stephen King or a Clive Barker fright novel and more. ” A Freddy Kruger. For real. Less than a year later, the monster reappeared. This time, he waited in the shadows of an upscale condominium outside LA. The date was March 17, 1985, time 11:30 p. . , when pretty-faced Maria Hernandez pulled her auto into the security garage, unaware the monster was watching her from behind a pillar. When she alighted from her car, the killer stepped from the darkness, gun upraised and, despite her pleadings, he pressed the trigger. She stumbled. And the killer, thinking she was dead, stepped over her to enter the side door of the condo. But, Maria had been lucky very lucky for the bullet had deflected off the car keys she held in her hand, causing a hand wound, but nothing more. Inside the building, Maria’s roommate was less fortunate.
For, when Maria finally made her way to the safety of her place, breathless, she discovered that her friend, Dayle Okazaki, had also encountered the killer. And this time, his bullet had found its mark. Thirty-three-year-old Okazaki lay in a pool of her own blood, her skull smashed by a missile fired at extremely close range. The demon vanished just as quickly as he had appeared. The police were stumped. All they knew of him was what Hernandez was able to tell them: He was tall, gaunt, dark, maybe Hispanic. This time, the killer didn’t wait nearly a year to murder again. He struck within the hour.
His next victim that same evening was petite Taiwanese-born Tsai-Lian Yu, who, driving her yellow Chevrolet down North Alhambra Avenue in nearby Monterey Park, withered when someone with the eyes of a madman forced his way into her car and shot her. He had thrown his own car into idle, simply entered hers, pushed her onto the pavement, called her bitch, then blew her nto eternity at point-blank range. Fast. Neat. Clean. Then dematerialized into the darkness from whence he came. Child’s play. The police were beginning to realize they might have a problem on their hands, but they remained stumped.
Eyewitnesses who thought they had seen the killer described him as tall, gaunt, dark, maybe Hispanic. Ten days later, this elusive phantom — whose physical description could fit any one of thousands of males in the Greater Los Angeles area — required more blood. This time, shooting his prey didn’t quite satisfy the urge; the demon must have been hungry, he must have een frantic, for when he entered the home of the sleeping Zazzara couple, he produced a bloodbath. The couple’s bodies were discovered by their son the following morning.
Vincent Zazzara had been shot in the head as he dozed on the sofa. He had died quickly — unlike his wife who suffered the percussion of the killer’s frenzy. On her face he had carved the embodiment of his hate, molding her physicality into something representative of how he viewed humankind as something made to splice and cut and gouge, to bend, to twist, to reshape to suit his own wantonness. Clifford L. Linedecker, in his well-researched Night Stalker, escribes what the police found at the crime scene: “They (the police) would never forget the sight of Maxine Zazzara’s mutilated face.
Her eyes were gouged out, and the empty sockets were ringed with blackened gobs of blood and tissue… The killer had plunged a knife through her left breast, leaving a large, ragged T-shaped wound. There were other cruel injuries to her neck, face, abdomen, and around the pubic area. She had been butchered… ” Investigators found footprints visible signs of a tennis shoe — in the service area and in the flowerbed indicating his means of entry into the Zazzara home. There were no witnesses this time around, but a modus operandi was becoming loosely apparent.
Nevertheless stumped, the law determined to put an end to this savage that had crawled up from the mud up and within their midst. That they believed this latest crime to have been committed by the same creature that had slain Vincow, Okazaki and Yu was, at this point, not much more than a hunch. But, if they were correct, the madman was becoming bolder and more sanguine; an inner lust seemed to be growing and, now fed and apparently well fed, who knows what would come next! Scouring the neighborhoods where he had already truck, blue uniforms questioned strangers, stopped midnight strollers, clambered for witnesses.
But, there proved little to go on. Deep inside, the police feared, he It! would strike again. Tension of the wait was short. Elderly Harold and Jean Wu did not hear the intruder slipping into their residence through a window at pre-dawn, May 14. The first intimation Mrs. Wu had of his presence was the loud bang that stirred her awake. She woke to find the figure, smoking gun in hand, standing over her. Beside her, husband Harold groaned, shot in the head. Then the killer’s huge fists unloosened on the woman. He pummeled her, slapped her, kicked er, and demanded that she turn over loose cash to him.
Binding her hands together behind her with thumbscrews, he tossed her across her bed over her dying spouse, then rampaged through the home’s drawers and cabinets for money. Terrified, lying on her mattress, Jean Wu could hear three things Harold’s furtive gasps for life, furniture being invaded, and the madman’s curses as he found nothing of great value. Having rampaged through their belongings, the tall, thin, dark man returned to the Wu’s bedroom and, as she lay across her fading husband, violently raped the 63-year-old woman.
Satisfied, he zippered up, grinning. Then left. Another trophy his. Mrs. Wu, after recovering from shock, told police her attacker was tall, gaunt, dark, Hispanic. The symphony of terror played on, its next discordant notes sounded in the dark hours before May 30, at the home of attractive 41-year-old Ruth Wilson. The woman awoke in her bed to the blinding beam of a flashlight and the distinct silhouette of a pistol barrel across her gaze; behind the illumination a gruff voice demanded, “Where’s your money? Before she could muster words, the intruder yanked her by the sleeve of her negligee off her bed and led her to her 12-year-old son’s room down the hall. Using the frightened boy as bait, he insisted that she produce something of value. She told him where an expensive piece of jewelry was hidden. He seemed satisfied as he studied the diamond necklace in his hands, and Wilson figured he would abscond without harming her or her boy. She was wrong. Locking her son in a closet, he took his pent-up emotions out on the woman in the pink negligee who stood before him.
Shoving her back to her own bedroom, he tore her gown off her and, despite her protestations, had his way with her. First he bound her hands behind her with a pair of pantyhose, then fell upon her. As he raped and sodomized her, his foul breath and body odor overcame and sickened her, adding to the humiliation. Miraculously, he let her live. He was gone… all but in her night dreams that would haunt her over and over and over for months to come. When the police later interviewed her, she gave her description of the devil: He was tall, gaunt, dadefinitely Hispanic. Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez: From the Bowels of Hell Stalking with Satan Police composites had been produced of the killer, compiled from descriptions from those few who lived to tell of their attack and from witnesses who had seen the shooting of Tsai-Lian Yu on Alhambra Avenue. With minor variations, the suspect was of Hispanic descent, about 25 to 30 years old, wore long, unkempt black hair that hung in greasy strands over a high forehead and which straggled down across a skeletally thin, pock-marked face; cheekbones were sunken, lips thick, chin square.
According to Ruth Wilson, his teeth were jagged and rotten. The description wasn’t a pretty one, and it fit the face of the monster he was. Each testimony had him dressed in all-black. Squads continued to roll throughout the city and accompanying suburbs; policemen watched steadfastly night and day for anyone ven closely fitting that description – but didn’t find their man. And, in the meantime, his crimes continued without a sign of let-up, his ferocity building. The nature of the next attack, which occurred on June 1, the day after the assault on Wilson, added another and an alarmingly new perspective to the suspect.
He suddenly took on the role of a Satanist and his deeds as sacrificial rituals to the Lord Master of Evil. It would be his most aggressive and horrific action to date. Retired schoolteacher Malvia Keller and invalid sister Blanche Wolfe, 83- and 79-years old respectively, were viciously beaten in heir small house in suburban Monrovia, off one of the central state freeways. When found by their gardener the following morning, both elderly women had been beaten across the head with a hammer. Wolfe lay near the point of death, oozing blood from a head wound; she had been raped.
Keller, who had succumbed, had had her legs and arms bound and had been crushed by a heavy table which the killer had turned over across her ribs. “Police found a pentagram – an encircled five-pointed star often linked to Satanic worship drawn in lipstick on Malvia Keller’s thigh,” writes Clifford L. Linedecker in his Night Stalker. Another pentagram had been crudely scrawled in lipstick on the bedroom wall where Blanche Wolfe lay in a comatose state. The tip of the pentagram was inverted, pointing down, an indication of evil. Of Satan. This indication of devil-worship was no surprise to Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block who had, for some time, suspected the crimes to be of that origin. A black baseball-style cap bearing the emblem of the hard-rock group AC/DC found at the scene of Dayle Okazaki’s murder had given him that impression. That music group was known for having produced some lyrics with cultist overtones. Reads the Los Angeles Times, “Authorities focused on AC/DC’s 1979 Highway to Hell album and its six-minute ‘Night Prowler’ cut, which says, in part, ‘What’s the noise outside your window? What’s the shadow on the blind?
As you lay there naked like a body in a tomb, suspended animation as I slip into your room. ‘” Block had seen enough murder in his years as a police officer to recognize the differences between homicides of various degrees – drug-related, love-triangle, cultist, and so on. This string of killings was the most bizarre in his years of law enforcement experience. Dispiritedly, all he and his men had to go on at this stage of the game was a generic description of the assailant and the flimsy roots of motive. The devil’s own remained elusive, and that’s all that mattered, unfortunately.
It had now become apparent that, like a vampire of folklore, the demon had grown and was growing stronger by the moment, more degenerate with every sip of blood. Over the next six weeks, the Los Angeles area would endure a series of killings so brutal that the city was thrown into a panic that took on the appearance of a cataclysm. Many sleepless nights were had by itizens, especially by women who lived alone. No lock was sufficient in the minds of the frightened public. No door bolt thick enough. No window latch secure enough. Because the killer’s victims ranged all ages, no one, man or woman, child or spinster, felt safe.
Some of his victims were of Oriental culture, others were Caucasian, and the city wondered: Who the hell next? Some writers claimed that the killer, who by all eyewitness testimony was believed to be Hispanic, had not picked on his own — yet they forgot Maria Hernandez whose key ring had saved her life on a mid-March morning. The killer had not exhibited a rabid reference for any particular culture, age group, sex or even geographic area (his killings spanned a forty mile range encircling Greater LA). He was, as Linedecker observes, “an equal opportunity killer”. His modus operandi remained consistent and his motives inexplicable.
His break-ins, while well-orchestrated, even ritualistic, had, at the same time, earmarks of sexual spontaneity — as if a single spark of impure thought caused havoc so hot in his brain that, to ease the torture, he needed to torture others. Between June 1 (immediately following the Monrovia affair) and mid-August, 1985, nine more bloody rampages were attributed to hat the newspapers were calling, for lack of a better name, the “Valley Intruder”. The toll of his victims included: Patty Higgins, 32 years old, Arcadia. (June 27) Killed in her home, her throat slashed. Mary Louise Cannon, 75 years old, Arcadia. July 2) Found in her home, beaten, throat slashed. Diedre Palmer, 16 years old, Arcadia. (July 5) Beaten at home with a tire iron. Survived. Joyce Lucille Nelson, 61 years old, Monterey Park (July 7) Bludgeoned to death and mutilated in her house. Linda Fortuna, 63 years old, Monterey Park (also July 7) Survived rape and sodomy attempts when attacker could not et an erection; he robbed her home and, fortunately, let her live. Maxson and Lela Kneiding, husband and wife, 66 and 64 years old respectively, Glendale (July 20) Shot in their beds while they slept; mutilated after death. Maxson’s head was nearly decapitated.
Assawahem Family, Sun Valley (also July 20) Husband Chitat (32 years old) shot in bed at point-blank range, his 29-year-old wife Sakima dragged from bed, beaten, twice raped and made to perform oral sex. While bound, Sakima was forced to listen as killer slapped her eight-year-old son in his bed. Afterwards, intruder departed with family cash. Christopher and Virginia Petersen, husband and wife, 38 and 27 years old respectively, Northridge (August 5) Both shot in head while they were in bed; both somehow survived despite a bullet that penetrated a section of Christopher’s brain and another that blew away Virginia’s face.
Ahmed and Suu Kya Zia, husband and wife, 35 and 28 years old respectively, Diamond Bar (August 8) Ahmed shot in the temple and killed in the couple’s bed; wife Suu handcuffed, slapped, punched, raped, and forced to perform fellatio on intruder. She survived. ***** Horrified columnists had been referring to the mystery murderer in a umber of ways; nicknames abounded, all of them colorful, the “Valley Intruder” and the “Walk-In Killer” enjoying the longest run. But, it was not until the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner started calling him the “Night Stalker” that the city had found his true idiom.
The moniker, simple and sharp – like a knife – stabbed the bull’s eye. It frightened, and it numbed. And the name stuck. Like a lump in the throat. It penetrated like a shiv in the guts of those who heard it, especially those who lived in the communities where the Stalker stalked. Los Angeles was terrified. “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez: From the Bowels of Hell Police Pressure In Los Angeles County, both the county and municipal police were anything but idle. They recognized and admitted to the enormity of the problem they had as long as the Night Stalker was free to roam.
No one was safe – but how, they wondered, leash a mad dog that seems to be invisible? Los Angeles skyline (Associated Press) More than any other lawman, Detective Sergeant Frank Salerno of the county department’s homicide squad was the man most apropos to answering that riddle. He knew how tricky the mind of a homicidal maniac could be to box and tag, having played a large role in tracking down LA’s Hillside Stranger a decade earlier. He was, for hat matter, the first to sense that the valley had another serial killer on the loose.
In June, 1985, not long after the killings began, Salerno took it upon himself to list similarities in the up-to-then six murders in suburban Los Angeles. Certain things matched. Collected fingerprints, recovered cartridge shells (. 22 caliber) and even a distinct method of breaking and entry – all the same. Imprints of the same design tennis shoe (identified as Reebok high-tops, size 11) told a startling tale. But, more revealing still, the description of the killer himself was nearly identical in each case where a living person had been left to alk: tall, gaunt, dark, Hispanic, in his late 20s/early 30s.
Downright ugly. And now signs of devil worship were surfacing in many of the killings. Apart from the pentagrams discovered at Malvia Keller’s house, the murderer had, according to survivors such as Ruth Wilson, demanded that they mouth such phrases such as “I vow to Satan” or “I love Satan” or he would kill them. Nor had Salerno forgotten the baseball cap with the rock group AC/DC’s emblem, found after the Okazaki murder. He recalled that one of the band’s songs hinted at Satanism. He took this evidence to his superior, Captain Robert Grimm, who was impressed.
From Grimm, Salerno sought, and gained, permission to check with the LA city forces to compare notes. Perhaps, he thought, they had been encountering like cases, unsolved, which might compare to the elusive killer’s track record. “Grimm recognized the wisdom in Salerno’s suggestion to check with LAPD,” reports Clifford L. Linedecker in Night Stalker. “No one wanted a situation similar to the Hillside Strangler case, when both the LAPD and the Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies worked their investigations alone and independent of each other. The result for the police agencies had been missed opportunities, confusion and embarrassment. Salerno and Grimm envisioned a task force comprised of the top police investigators throughout the county and the city of Los Angeles. After discussion with the LAPD, the latter decided that it would invest in its own separate task force but promised to work around-the-clock and closely with Salerno, who had already been given a squad of detectives dedicated to finding the Night Stalker. While separate entities, both investigative teams operated, as committed, as one, feeding information back and forth and partnering in any activities to maintain a single direction.
Salerno, in the meantime, conferred with two of his top men who had irected the investigative efforts in two of the Stalker’s previous crimes. They proved invaluable in formatting the investigative team and in keeping its work strategic. Detective Gil Carillo had been one of the first plainclothesmen introduced to the Night Stalker’s handiwork when he was assigned to the Okazaki shooting. Besides being familiar with the history of this latest serial killer, Salerno called on Carillo’s intrinsic knowledge of computers, a technical expertise Salerno lacked, to create a database for incoming and outgoing information.
On the other hand, Detective Russell Uloth helped Salerno determine he kind of psychopath they were dealing with. His study of the Zazzara butchery showed that the mutilations ravaged on Mrs. Zazzara were done after she was dead. The gouging out of the eyes – the eyes that the killer evidently took with him – was enacted as a sort of Satanic cult act. But, while his formidable adversaries were seeding the roots of war against him, the Night Stalker managed to slip by them in the cover of darkness to commit the murders of Higgins, Cannon, Nelson, Kneiding and Assawahem.
This series of tragedies necessitated that, by early August, the task force more directly include the suburban law enforcement agencies round Los Angeles where the devil continued to hunt. With a manpower of 200 investigators, it was the largest operation of its kind ever created. Beside the full-time force, Salerno called in subject experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s criminal-profiling unit who presented their views of known types of serial killers, then narrowed the types to which the Night Stalker came closest.
Not leaving a stone unturned, the task force even consulted personalities with knowledge on devil worship and cultist torture rituals. Investigators, following the Satan cult theory, fell on places where such groups assembled. They questioned followers of these leagues about their membership, hoping that they might uncover the identity of the killer in their company. While they could not uncover a suspect, they did find something very interesting on the floor of an East Los Angeles cult hall.
They found a shoe print that matched the imprint of the Reebok tennis shoes – size 11 — located at many of the murder scenes. Salerno wanted the killer to feel the heat, to panic and blunder into the open through his own hysteria. The detective had seen it happen many times; criminals, feeling the pressure, leap before looking and nnounce their guilt hands-up by doing something stupid. To meet this end, he made sure that the task force started feeding the media pieces of evidence they uncovered, large and small, even unfounded information, to give the killer the impression they were closing in.
Simultaneous to the big squeeze — in August — the task force announced its formation at a press conference, keynoted by representatives from the County Sheriff’s office. At the conference, which was heavily attended by an anxious press, the speakers officially confirmed the existence of a dangerous serial killer wandering at will in the Los Angeles valley. We are concerned there is an individual who is responsible for more than one murder, multiple murders,” admitted Robert A. Edmonds, Los Angeles County assistant sheriff.
County Sheriff Sherman Block assured the public, however, that all surrounding police agencies were combing the streets to end the spree. Authorities asked for the public to keep calm, to keep doors locked, and to report any suspicious activities or persons in their neighborhoods as soon as they manifested. The press conference kicked off a campaign to make the public more aware of – and to make it more active in the apprehension of – the Night Stalker. Salerno’s task force distributed flyers, leaflets and wanted posters bearing the composite sketch of the killer.
Posters soon hung in every visible passage in every public byway and thoroughfare and market within and around Los Angeles. A citizen couldn’t take a stroll to the corner store or drive their kids to school without coming face to face with the large sketched ugly face of the Night Stalker. And things began to pop. Telephone calls from men and women, some calling anonymously, poured in; faceless voices and unsigned letters of concern led police to strange goings-on in their neighborhood or to