How did the police catch the Night Stalker? The evidence that finally led to his arrest
A six year old girl helped pick him out of a police line up
Catching Richard Ramirez, otherwise known as the Night Stalker, was a huge police operation. The investigation spanned across Los Angeles all the way up to San Francisco, as officers tried to catch the person responsible for the brutal murders, rapes, torture, kidnapping and assaults of men, women and children of all ages across the cities. But how did the police catch the Night Stalker, and what evidence did they have to put him Richard Ramirez prison?
Netflix’s Night Stalker retells the story of how the police caught serial killer Richard Ramirez. There were several clues joining the dots and a number of missed-chances, and the investigation hit bumps in the road prolonging the arrest and allowing the Night Stalker to continue with his crimes. In the end it wasn’t the police who caught the killer, but a group of neighbours who chased Ramirez down and held him in a civil arrest. But to get to that point, the public needed to know what the killer looked like.
This is the evidence that enabled the public and police to catch the Night Stalker
In several of the cases, the same footprint kept turning up at the crime scene. The pattern was distinct, trainer shaped, and not like any other sole that was popular at that time on the market. The unique pattern helped the investigation, as it linked the murders to another series of investigations into child kidnapping and sexual assault. Senior officers did not believe detective Gil Carrillo at the time that the same person was committing both crimes, and it wasn’t until they formally linked the footprints that they were on side with the theory.
The police discovered the trainer was as size 11½ Avia trainer. Police found out only one pair of that size trainer had been sold in LA.
A six-year-old picked him out of a police line up
Anastasia Hronas was six years old when she was kidnapped and sexually abused by Ramirez. After abusing her, he let Anastasia go. Despite her age, Anastasia recalled many of the Night Stalker’s characteristics, which was especially helpful when Ramirez was finally caught and put into a police line up.
She confidently picked him out of the line up, asking Gil Carrillo “do I write the word two or the number two?” in reference to the number two card he was holding. This was one of the most important pieces of evidence to help the police catch the Night Stalker.
The Night Stalker was nearly caught when he was pulled over for a traffic violation
Rameriz was pulled over by the police as he was driving back from the attempted kidnap of a little girl. At the time the police were low on evidence, and didn’t realise they had the Night Stalker right in the palm of their hands.
Rameriz was unable to show the officer a driver’s license, and was asked to step outside of the car. He overheard the police radio talking about the attempted kidnap and the car they were looking out for (the exact one he was driving). He drew a pentagram on the hood of the car, and ran.
LAPD were told to scan the car for finger prints, but they left the car out in the sun for so long that the paint had stripped off, leaving the car useless for finding evidence. The friction between the LAPD and other forces in wanting to crack the case meant vital evidence wasn’t being picked up in time, and was sometimes lost.
There was a second missed opportunity with catching him at the dentist
Whilst the detectives were out trying to find Rameriz, evidence that could’ve lead to his arrest was sitting in the very same stolen car that Ramirez had been pulled over in. A dentist’s card was found in the car, and police called the surgery to find out if the killer had been to his appointment yet. They were merely days out from crossing paths with him.
However, the dentist said Ramirez’s tooth was infected, and there was no doubt he would be back again soon to have it treated. Survivors of the Night Stalker’s brutal attacks described the criminal as having rotting teeth.
The police installed an alarm button so that when Ramirez did show up at the dentist, the police would be informed. But when the day came, the alarm malfunctioned, and by a stroke of luck Ramirez got away with it once more.
The same distinctive bullets were linked to murders in both LA and San Francisco
Both a 22 and 25 semi-automatic pistol was being used in the shootings. The detectives noticed the 25 ammunition was unlike the 22, with a red ring around the primer. The same bullets were found in cases in both LA and San Francisco, connecting the Night Stalker to multiple crimes across the state of California, helping the police catch the Night Stalker.
Finger prints were finally found in a stolen car, but they didn’t know who they belonged to
A young man in Orange County alerted officers to an orange Toyota driving around suspiciously. He recalled some of the number plate and the description of the car.
Once the media got the details out to the public requesting information about the vehicle, the detectives received a call from somebody claiming their friend’s car had been stolen recently, and it matched that of the car the Night Stalker was thought to be driving. They managed to get the full license plate and locate the car in a parking lot.
A finger print was found on the rear view mirror, but detectives didn’t know who the fingerprint belonged to due to technology limits at the time. Only when the police had a suspect in custody would they be able to compare and see if the prints matched.
When they eventually did catch Ramirez and collect his finger prints, they matched those they found in the car, linking him to older crimes including grand theft auto.
The police finally get a name – Rick
A women called the police station telling officers her father, who lived on the streets, had befriended a man called Rick at the Greyhound bus station. He had his suspicions that Rick was the Night Stalker, because Rick had told him about the murder of an Asian couple. He told the man he’d used a 22 semi-automatic pistol to commit the murder, and that he was from El Paso. At the time, the public were not aware of the type of gun that was being used.
The father had been given the gun and had taken it to Tijuana. Police officers retrieved the gun, and found a boombox that had been stolen from one of the crime scenes.
A stolen bracelet was handed in which resulted in officers finding out Rick’s full name
A police informant’s wife’s mother had been given a bracelet from her boyfriend, who got the bracelet from a friend called Rick in El Paso. The Night Stalker had previously been described to have worn a Members Only jacket and an AC/DC cap, descriptions the mother herself gave of the man who had given the bracelet. She also described him as having “bad teeth”.
When San Fransisco police inspector Frank Falzon interviewed the boyfriend for information, he was reluctant. After some pushing from Falzon, the boyfriend revealed the full name of Rick to be Richard Ramirez. Finally, they had a name.
His picture was put in the paper for the people of California to see
Once police knew his name, they were able to find Richard Ramirez in the system. He’d been previously arrested on burglary and grand theft auto charges, and a mug shot had been taken. Police fed the screenshot to the media, and announced a county-wide hunt for the killer, encouraging the public to keep an eye out and contact police if there were any sightings.
The Night Stalker was chased down by a neighbourhood of people who recognised him from the papers
After the announcement of the photograph, the whole of the county was on alert. Ramirez’s face was on the front cover of every newspaper – there was no escaping it, making it difficult for him to stay hidden. A member of the public was reading the paper when they saw Ramirez on the bus. The police were alerted, and the chase was on.
Ramirez was chased across LA: he ran across the freeway, somehow managing not to get run over. He tried to steal two separate vehicles, at which point people’s minds clicked and they realised who the man was. A local man in the neighbourhood Ramirez was trying to steal the second car from grabbed a metal pole, and started chasing him down the street, eventually hitting him over the head. The rest of the neighbours were chasing the Night Stalker, shouting for people to stop him and declaring him as the killer. In the end the police didn’t catch the Night Stalker, the public did when they grounded him in a citizen’s arrest, and when the deputy sheriff showed up, he was handcuffed and taken to the station.
The Night Stalker was found guilty on 43 counts, and charged with 13 murders, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries. He was sentenced to 19 life sentences and ruled to die by gas chamber.