Inside LA - The Los Angeles Lowdown
The Night Stalker At The Cecil Hotel
The toughest part of developing our DTLA Murder Mystery Ghost tour was reading about all the horrible murders that have taken place in and around downtown Los Angeles while I was researching it. I couldn’t get the gory details out of my mind. Of all the serial killers that I researched arguably the worst was Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker; it seemed incredible that a human being could be so “evil”.
Ramirez’s reign of horror began in June 1984 (although it’s likely he had committed several earlier murders) and for more than a year he terrorized Los Angeles, spending his nights driving around, looking for houses and apartments he could break into. Once inside he would attempt to kill any men and rape, then kill, any women that were inside. He would also take all the money, jewelry and other valuables he could find or persuade his petrified victims to give him. In the end he killed thirteen people (at least).
Throughout his crime spree he was a transient, sometimes living on the streets or staying in cheap flop houses and motels. The then night clerk at the Hotel Cecil, on Main St, testified that Ramirez spent several weeks there, renting a room on the top floor during this period, and it somehow seems preordained that it would be this downtown hotel that he would stay at, as the Cecil has its own hellish history, including multiple suicides, murders, deaths and rapes.
Probably one reason I found it hard to get his crimes out of my head is the impossibility of understanding his motives. Was he a psychopath? Is it that simple? There’s always been a debate as to whether killers like Ramirez are created by circumstance or if they are born that way. In Ramirez’s case it seems likely that his own childhood experiences of abuse had a big impact. As a thirteen year old Ramirez saw his cousin, Miguel, shoot his wife in the face during an argument, and later that became one trademark of the Night Stalker.
In describing Ramirez to guests on our tour I tell them to imagine him as the Terminator and I paraphrase a line from the first film in the series. There was no stopping this guy. You couldn’t negotiate with him and you couldn’t appeal to anything human in him. He wanted to kill, rape and rob – he almost seemed programmed for it. Friends of mine that lived in L.A. at the time still remember the period with a shudder.
Thankfully he was stopped, finally, in August 1985. It’s very likely nowadays that right-wing politicians would use the fact that Ramirez was Latino to encourage anti-immigrant sentiment, but ironically it was a group of Hispanic women who reported him to the police (a mug shot having been released to the press by law enforcement, a few weeks earlier). He was then chased by some Latino men across a freeway in East Los Angeles, before being beaten up and captured. It’s said he was quite glad when the police showed up and rescued him!
Richard Ramirez died in prison, in 2013, but the crimes of the Night Stalker continue to fascinate.
(The Night Stalker at the Cecil Hotel appeared in the 2019 DTLA Book)
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– By Damien Blackshaw (Twitter)