How Richard Ramirez Was Finally Caught

The four-part 2021 Netflix documentary "Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer" tells the story of Richard Ramirez. After terrorizing the city of Los Angeles for years, Ramirez was convicted in the late-1980s, based on reporting from the El Paso Times. Given his long list of horrific crimes, both the public and local Southern California law enforcement officials were eager for whoever was responsible to get caught. But Ramirez — commonly known as the Night Stalker — might still be on the loose to this day if not for the help of a brave and observant young boy, who in the midst of the Night Stalker's crime spree, had a harrowing encounter with Ramirez, as well as a then still-emerging crime-solving technology.

To give some sense of how depraved Ramirez really was, his victims ranged in age from 16 to 83, and they were both male and female, as the El Paso Times goes on to explain. A self-described Satanist who was known to draw pentagrams on his palms, Ramirez was implicated in other crimes for which he was never convicted, including the murder of a 9-year-old girl, among others, as Britannica notes. Ramirez shot, stabbed, and robbed his victims. He also slashed some of their throats, and he sexually assaulted still others. One night in 1985, a quick-thinking young boy from LA, spotted Ramirez on his family's property. It's what that young boy did next that led to a crack in the case, according to CBS News.

James Romero was only 13 years old when he came face-to-face with the Night Stalker

A young boy living in LA at the time named James Romero had just returned home with his family from a road trip when he spotted Ramirez late one night. Only in the garage at that point to retrieve his pillow, he first thought the crunching in the gravel he heard could have been caused by an animal. Soon enough, though, a man's figured emerged, as Romero later told the OC Register in 2012. Romero remembered at that point locking eyes with the serial killer, who was perhaps on the verge of breaking into his house. As Romero later recalled to CBS News, "He looked right at me." From there, Romero did what presumably any young person would do, he ran inside to alert his family, who then called 911.

It's what Romero did next that turned the tide in the Night Stalker investigation. He ran back outside and caught a fleeting glimpse of Romero's car and part of the license plate. With the help of Romero, police tracked the car down, from which they gathered fingerprint evidence, using what was still relatively new technology at the time called the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, per the U.S. Department of Justice. From that fingerprint, a name and a face, both shared with the public and media, were finally tied to the Night Stalker. Shortly thereafter, Ramirez would be in custody, but not before the Night Stalker attempted one more crime.

Ramirez was captured in East Los Angeles

With Ramirez' name and image were widely circulating among the Southern California community, he was soon spotted in a liquor store in East Los Angeles. Noticing his own face in the paper, Ramirez quickly ran out, as those in the liquor store later reported, according to the El Paso Times. The Night Stalker also attempted a car-jacking around that same time but he was rebuffed, according the Los Angeles Times. With neighbors on high alert, Ramirez tried again to steal a vehicle but not visibly armed, Ramirez was confronted by nearby neighbors, some wielding nothing more than barbecue utensils with which to defend themselves, as the El Paso Times also reports. With the help of the East LA community, Ramirez was finally arrested.

After standing trial, at which young James Romero would testify (via CBS News), Ramirez was convicted of 14 burglaries, 13 murders, five attempted murders, and 11 sexual assaults, and sentenced to 19 life sentences on California's death row (via Newsweek). There he would remain until he died from cancer in 2013, as Britannica notes. After his verdict was read, Ramirez reportedly said (per El Paso Times) "Hey, big deal, death always comes with the territory. I'll see you in Disneyland." Through a combination of community awareness, a brave person thinking quickly, and the dawning of a new age in law enforcement when fingerprints could be tracked like never before, the Night Stalker's reign of terror in Los Angeles had finally come to an end.