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Richard Ramirez, 'Night Stalker' serial killer, dies at 53

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Richard Ramirez, the serial killer known as the Night Stalker who terrorized Los Angeles County and was convicted in 1989 of 13 murders, died Friday morning, California corrections officials said. He was 53.

Ramirez died of natural causes in Marin General Hospital, the department said in a statement. No other details were released.

Sentenced to death, Ramirez, who was housed at San Quentin, was one of 735 offenders facing execution and one of 59 who died from natural causes since capital punishment in California was reinstated in 1978.

Ramirez was a chilling figure during his crime spree in 1984 and 1985 and remained so throughout his lengthy trial. When he was sentenced on Nov. 8, 1989, the devil-worshiping Ramirez told a judge, jurors and a packed courtroom that included some of his victims’ relatives: “You don’t understand me. You are not expected to. You are not capable of it. I am beyond your experience.”

“I will be avenged,” Ramirez vowed. “Lucifer dwells in us all.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan agreed with the husky-voiced Ramirez on one point: His crimes, which included gouging out a victim’s eyes, were “beyond any human understanding.”

In addition to the murders, Ramirez was convicted of 30 felonies, including burglaries and sexual assaults. He was apprehended in 1985 by angry East Los Angeles residents as he attempted to steal a car.

Born Feb. 29, 1960, in El Paso, Texas, he was the fifth and final child of Santa Fe Railway worker Julian Tapia Ramirez and his wife, Mercedes. Neighbors said the boy's parents were strict and old-fashioned, and Richard grew up going to church with his parents.

“He’s really just a poor boy who was raised to believe in God,” his father told a reporter in 1989. The elder Ramirez said drugs had helped lead his son astray.

As a teenager Ramirez gained a reputation as a petty thief and became fascinated with the art of burglary and, later, Satanism, The Times reported in 1985. His nimbleness at thievery earned him a nickname in El Paso, “Dedos,” Spanish for “Fingers.”

Shortly before his 17th birthday he dropped out of high school and within a couple of years was drifting between El Paso and California.

He spent the summer of 1980 in the San Francisco Bay Area and three years later moved to Los Angeles, where he began injecting cocaine and became more involved in Satanism, Earl Gregg Jr., who briefly lived with Ramirez in the Bay Area, told The Times in 1985.

After moving to Los Angeles, Ramirez hung out at a bus station and roomed in cheap hotels. He also got a tattoo on his elbow, a witch's star -- a star with a circle around it. 

His murderous rampage ended less than 12 hours after the Los Angeles Police Department issued an all-points bulletin for him. Dazed and bloodied after he was chased down by East L.A. citizens, Ramirez said to the officer who took him into custody: “Thank God you came.”

Gun sales spiked the summer he committed most of his crimes. After he was captured, then-Mayor Tom Bradley said: “California can breathe a sigh of relief tonight."

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steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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