Investigators theorized Monday that Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez had been visiting relatives in Arizona and took a bus back to Los Angeles Saturday morning, unaware that he had been publicly identified as the prime suspect the night before.
“We thought this guy was real smart, but this just points out how incredibly arrogant he was,” said a law enforcement source close to the case who asked not to be identified.
Only after Ramirez’s return to California, when he saw his picture on the front page of a Spanish-language newspaper, did he realize that he had been publicly identified as the stalker suspect. He ran and was captured minutes later by angry citizens in East Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, police confirmed Monday that they have recovered at least one handgun believed used by the killer and are continuing to search for another small pistol that Ramirez, 25, may have dropped Saturday as he was being pursued.
The weapons are considered crucial in linking Ramirez to many of the 16 slayings that police have attributed to the stalker. Most of the victims were shot to death with one of three pistols; others were fatally stabbed or bludgeoned in a seven-month crime spree that detectives believe may have involved satanic ritual.
No Attorney Called
Ramirez remained in a high-security area of the Los Angeles County Central Jail on Monday and is expected to be arraigned on murder charges Wednesday. He had not contacted an attorney as of Sunday night, authorities said.
He has been interviewed by homicide detectives from Los Angeles and San Francisco and reportedly has remained silent when asked if he committed any crimes.
“I think he just wants a chance to rest and recuperate,” the law enforcement source said. “I think he is down from his emotional roller coaster ride and now is just a scared young man.”
Detectives believe that Ramirez, a junk food addict with rotting teeth and a history of nonviolent crime, had no permanent home or work. Originally from El Paso, he arrived in California about four years ago, dividing his time between the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, sleeping in seedy apartments and dabbling in devil worship, according to authorities.
“He was just a burglar,” said the source.
Ramirez may have been heading to California after a brief stay in Arizona at just about the moment that the manhunt for him intensified on Friday night, detectives said. It was late Friday when Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, whose department is heading a multiagency stalker task force, released Ramirez’s picture and reported that evidence linked Ramirez to the serial killings.
In Tucson, Ariz., police Sgt. Paul Hallums said Monday that his department received a call from Los Angeles authorities late last week “to check our records to determine whether or not (Ramirez) has a brother in Tucson. They told us there was a possibility (the suspect) was here last week.”
Phoenix police were also notified.
Hallums said records indicate that Ramirez, the youngest of five children, had a brother living in Tucson as late as 1983. Police were attempting to find him Monday.
Tucson police, Hallums said, also were checking whether they have had any recent homicides similar to those attributed to the stalker.
A security supervisor at the Greyhound bus depot in Los Angeles said Monday that Ramirez arrived at the station early Saturday, although investigators were still trying to determine which bus he rode.
On Saturday afternoon, four officers arrived at the depot and confiscated a large brown tote bag that Ramirez had apparently left there, the supervisor said, adding that he did not know what was in the bag.
2 Other Killings
If Ramirez was in Arizona until Saturday morning, it might remove him as a suspect in a stalker-like double slaying that occurred about 32 miles east of Los Angeles early Saturday.
The bodies of two men were found shot to death after a party in their Montclair home in suburban San Bernardino County.
Investigators said Monday that they are not yet ruling out Ramirez’s possible involvement in the case.
After leaving the Greyhound station Saturday, Ramirez went to a liquor store at 819 Towne St. A clerk there said Ramirez picked up a copy of La Opinion, saw his picture on the front page and bolted.
He was beaten into submission minutes later by citizens on East Hubbard Street, after he allegedly punched a woman in the stomach and tried to steal her car.
“He came into town fat, dumb and happy, and then he saw his picture and he panicked,” a lawman said.
Living incognito under several aliases, Ramirez stayed briefly during mid-August with a friend in El Sobrante, a suburb north of Oakland, investigators said. That friend, Armando Rodriguez, 25, was tracked down by San Francisco police in El Sobrante and provided them with Ramirez’s name on Friday.
The woman who rented Rodriguez a room in her home expressed shock when she learned that the man suspected of 16 homicides had stayed under her roof. She requested anonymity and said she never saw Ramirez.
As prosecutors prepared their case against Ramirez, a clearer picture emerged of how investigators were able to identify him as a prime suspect in the homicides.
In Lompoc, 130 miles north of Los Angeles, Police Chief J. D. Smith said Monday that his department received a call on Aug. 26 from a Lompoc woman who told officers that members of her family had been in San Francisco five days before and had purchased a bracelet and gold ring from “an old family acquaintance from El Paso, Tex., whom she knew only as Rick.”
The woman noted that “Rick” matched the description of a widely circulated composite sketch of the stalker suspect.
Investigators discovered that the pieces had been stolen in an Aug. 15 burglary in San Francisco’s Marina District. The burglary occurred two days before the stalker crept into another San Francisco residence to kill 66-year-old accountant Peter Pan and wound Pan’s wife.
Fingerprints found at the Marina District burglary matched those found in a stolen car seen Aug. 25 in the Orange County community of Mission Viejo, where 29-year-old William Carns was critically wounded in an attack. Fingerprints from both Mission Viejo and San Francisco matched Ramirez’s prints on file with the California Department of Justice in Sacramento.
An all-points bulletin went out Friday night. Ramirez was subdued and arrested 12 hours later.
Times staff writer Dan Morain contributed to this story from El Sobrante.