Neighbors Gang Up : Suspect Didn’t Have a Chance Among Heroes

Times Staff Writers

Desperate and near exhaustion, Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez made a wrong turn when he dashed onto East Hubbard Street--unknowingly he had stumbled into a neighborhood of heroes.

Four citizens grabbed and subdued the suspected murderer after a 20-second footrace down the street, one of them pounding at him with a whip-like steel rod.

The heroes who captured Ramirez were Manuel De La Torre, 32, and three of his neighbors across the street, Jose Burgoin, 55, and his sons Jaime, 21, and Julio, 17.


Another hero was Faistino Pinon, 56, next-door neighbor of the Burgoins, who had fought off Ramirez when he tried to steal his daughter’s car.

The suspected killer had invaded their quiet Eastside working-class neighborhood in a last frenetic attempt to steal a car and escape seven Los Angeles Police patrol cars that had been chasing him for 20 minutes. A police helicopter also was following overhead.

When the four citizens finally gave up their captive to police, his dark hair was matted with blood-- his scalp gashed by repeated slashing blows from a slender steel rod wielded by the enraged De La Torre.

As the first police patrol car pulled up, the bleeding suspect was begging his captors: “Dejeme en paz! Dejeme en paz!"-- Spanish for “Leave me in peace!”

‘Across the Street’

Summing up the mood of the predominantly Latino neighborhood, Eloise Cabral said she and her friends had been talking about the Night Stalker the evening before. “We were saying that if he got caught around here in East L.A. he’d probably get his butt beat up because all the guys around here all know about him. They would just love to get their hands on him. And now we wake up the next morning and find him across the street.”

Ramirez had been on the run for more than four miles, dodging through alleys and backyards, stopping several times to try to break into cars, according to Los Angeles Police Sgt. Ed Esqueda, who directed the pursuit. The zigzag chase began at 8:50 a.m. when an unidentified citizen phoned Hollenbeck Division to report that a man matching the description of the Night Stalker was acting suspiciously at Euclid Avenue and Garnet Street.

Esqueda sent all available units in Hollenbeck Division after the suspect. As the black-and-white cars began to close in, the suspect apparently realized that they were after him and began his long, panicky sprint for freedom.

At one point, Esqueda said, he threatened a woman sitting in a parked car on the 800 block of Lorena Street with a knife but dashed away when a barber rushed out of his shop and confronted him.

It was shortly after 9 a.m. when he reached East Hubbard Street.

His first mistake was trying to steal a fire-engine red Mustang coupe from the driveway of Faistino Pinon’s house at 3751 E. Hubbard St.

Pinon said he was about to begin working on the car, which belongs to his daughter. He had jacked up the front wheels and left the engine running. He was just about to crawl under the car to check the transmission, which he intended to repair.

The suspect--dressed in black with a Jack Daniel’s T-shirt and dirty jeans--jumped into the car, threw it into reverse and gunned the engine. The car pulled off the jack and started to roll down the driveway.

‘Had Him by the Neck’

Pinon said he leaped to his feet and ran quickly to the driver’s side of the car. “I had him by the neck and was trying to pull the key out,” he said. “But he had the car in reverse and he dragged me with him.”

As Pinon struggled with the suspect, Ramirez threw the car into forward, dragging the older man along. “I got a gun! I got a gun!” the suspect yelled, but Pinon hung on, finally grabbing the steering wheel and forcing the car to veer to the left and stop against a tree beside the driveway.

At that point, Pinon said, the younger man gave up, jumped out of the Mustang and ran across the street.

Moments before, Angelina De La Torre, 28, had gotten into her car to go to buy candy for a pinata to be used at her daughter’s birthday party later in the day. Her next-door neighbor, Lourdes Estupinan, 25, was in the passenger seat.

Angelina De La Torre said she had not yet closed the door when the slender man in black came toward her and demanded that she hand over the car keys. She shoved him with the car door, and when he fell back she lunged out. At the same time, Estupinan ran from the car screaming, “That’s the Night Stalker! That’s the Night Stalker!”

‘Recognized the Eyes’

Still nervous and fighting back tears several hours later, Angelina De La Torre told a reporter that she at first thought the man was just an ordinary robber.

“Then I recognized the eyes (of the Night Stalker) from the news last night,” she said. “I gave him the keys.”

As she ran toward her house screaming for help, Jose Burgoin sprinted across the street and started pulling Ramirez out of the car. Manuel De La Torre, who had been working in the backyard of his home, arrived almost simultaneously. In his hand, he had a steel rod used to secure the chain-link fence of his front yard. He smashed Ramirez on the head--and the suspect took off running.

Jaime and Julio Burgoin then joined in the chase. Jaime--wearing a blue cap with a California Highway Patrol emblem on it--described what happened next:

“I seen him as soon as he left the brown car (the De La Torres’). . . . I was in the house. . . . I seen my dad chasing him so I got into it, too. . . . My dad is 55. For being his age he’s in good shape.”

As Ramirez attempted to escape his pursuers, De La Torre kept lashing at him with the steel rod. “Once he stopped, everyone just got him,” Jaime Burgoin said. “The guy was hitting him with the bar--he just kind of stopped and looked back. I guess he was tired.” Jaime said that De La Torre yelled to his wife: “Get my gun! Get my gun! I’ll waste him right here!”

Talked Out of It

Angelina did in fact get her husband’s pistol but was talked out of giving it to him by neighbors. Ramirez was captured in front of 3732 E. Hubbard St. With his captors surrounding him, he begged them to let him go.

“He said, ‘C’mon let me go, there’s these guys chasing me.’ ” Jaime said. “He seemed tired, just lost and dazed. Scared, you know.”

Cabral, who lives across the street, said she heard the sounds of people fighting outside and went out to see what was happening.

“They had this guy sitting down against the fence, and he was hurt,” she said. “He had blood on his forehead and on the back of his neck. When the policeman got him up and turned him around, we saw the back of him soaking in blood.”

Jaime Burgoin said later that he did not realize the man he was chasing was the Night Stalker suspect until after the arrest. “Then I looked at him carefully,” he said, “and that was him.”

Asked later if he was frightened, Jaime said softly, “Not at all.”

Wants to Join CHP

Burgoin, who works as a warehouseman, said his ambition is to become a California Highway Patrol officer. He said he has already applied to the CHP and is going soon for more testing.

“This might not look so bad,” he said. “This might even help.”

After the suspect’s capture, the street took on an almost theatrical air, with police cars lining the curbs, television cameramen and neighbors milling around like extras in a crime movie. “Hey,” shouted one exuberant boy, “I just saw myself on TV.”

But Marina Vargas still seemed stunned. She carried a copy of the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion with a big front-page picture of Ramirez. “It was him. It was him,” she kept repeating in disbelief. “The same eyes, the same mouth.”

Jaime Burgoin, a slender dark-haired young man with a serious demeanor, said the Night Stalker had been much on the minds of people in the neighborhood.

“Everyone’s been kind of watching out for each other,” he said. “Kind of a Neighborhood Watch, but informal.”

Burgoin, his father and brothers, along with the De La Torres, were taken to Hollenbeck Station to be debriefed by detectives. When they left and when they returned, neighbors cheered, whistled and applauded. And one of Pinon’s children chimed in, “Hey! You’re a hero, dad.”

Contributing to this story were Times staff writers Janet Rae-Dupree and Mirna Alfonso.