Daughter 'Honors Their Memories' : Remembers Parents as More Than Alleged Victims of 'Stalker'

Times Staff Writer

In Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, prosecutors will present evidence of the gruesome murders of Vincent and Maxine Zazzara, allegedly committed by Night Stalker defendant Richard Ramirez. But Grace Zazzara Bertorelli would like her parents to be remembered not for how they died but how they lived.

"Nothing can bring them back. But it's important to honor their memories," said Bertorelli, 31.

In an interview last week, she also talked about how her own life has been severely disrupted by the alleged Night Stalker crimes. Since her parent's murders in 1985, she has gone through a divorce, remarried and only six months ago did her nightmares stop.

"I'm still overwhelmed by grief," she said.

But Bertorelli said she is content to let the criminal justice system take its course against Ramirez, the self-proclaimed devil worshiper who is charged with 13 murders stemming from a spree of nighttime residential attacks in 1984-85.

In their ransacked home, Vincent Zazzara, 64, was found with a bullet hole in the head. Maxine Zazzara, 44, had been shot twice. In addition, her throat had been slit and her eyes gouged out.

Bertorelli said she did not learn of these details until months later when she turned on the television news. "It almost killed me," she recalled. "I can't describe how I felt."

Immigrant Father

She described her father, an Italian immigrant, as a fun-loving, caring person who always went out of his way to make other people feel good. "He was a walking party," she said.

Bertorelli, an administrative assistant to the chairman of a Beverly Hills investment firm, called her stepmother, a lawyer and an accountant, "a Superwoman" who raised a large family but found time to sing in a church choir and did the church's books.

Vincent and Maxine Zazzara had been married for nearly 20 years. For both, it was a second marriage.

Bertorelli grew up in a happy, bustling household with three brothers and a sister. "The house was always full of visitors being wined and dined," she recalled. "It was the kind of place where people would stop by anytime."

"He loved to talk, and he loved to cook," Bertorelli said of her father. "And he did things like send the housekeeper to English classes. He always wanted everyone to be the best they can be."

Vincent Zazzara came to the United States from Northern Italy as a teen-ager. After serving in the Army during World War II, he settled in Whittier and opened an accounting business, C. Vincent & Co. He met his future wife through work and they later worked together at the small family business.

For relaxation, her parents often went to their vacation house in Bishop, where their best friends also had a ranch.

In recent years, as Vincent Zazzara went into semi-retirement, he opened two pizza parlors, in Whittier and in Downey, "as kind of a hobby," she said.

Bertorelli said her stepmother had been her role-model. "She was poised and very bright--a very special person. She was always working hard, studying hard. She'd probably be a Ph.D. by now."

Time for the Children

Even though her stepmother led such an active life, Bertorelli said, "she always made time for us children whenever we needed it."

Maxine Zazzara has a daughter from her previous marriage.

The Zazzaras also tried to have a child of their own, but the infant was stillborn. The three are buried together at Rose Hills Memorial Cemetery.

One of her most cherished memories, Bertorelli said, was Christmas Day of 1984, three months before they died.

There was a big family gathering, with all the children and five grandchildren. They were gathered around a piano singing carols when a Santa Claus--hired by her father, it turned out--suddenly burst in, bearing gifts for everyone.

"That's a special memory--especially when you didn't have a chance to say goodby," Bertorelli said.

She said the younger grandchildren still have not been told how the Zazzaras died. "They were just told it was a car accident," she said.

Bertorelli said her own life was turned upside down by her parent's murders.

One immediate effect was the breakup of her three-year marriage. "It was a good marriage. But any marriage takes a lot of work. And when one person is so consumed by something else, then there is nothing left to put into the marriage," Bertorelli said.

"I just began pulling away from everything that was familiar to me," she recalled. She moved. She replaced all her furniture. "I guess I was trying to run away from all my grief. It was a nice try. But it didn't work."

Eventually, she sought counseling and now talks by telephone once a month with a woman whose sister also was murdered, allegedly by Ramirez. "We've just been supporting each other."

Bertorelli also began doing volunteer work at the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "It was helpful to get your mind off your own problems and help others.

"I'm just trying to get my life together again. I've been trying to erase the memories," she said. Two years ago, she remarried. Her husband, like her parents, is an accountant.

Bertorelli said she does not closely follow the prosecution of Ramirez. "It's out of my hands and in very capable hands," she said, referring to Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Attys. Phil Halpin and Alan Yochelson. "I just want it all to be over with."

Bertorelli said friends often ask her about her feelings toward the man accused of brutally murdering her parents.

"Sure, I'm angry," she said. "And I still am overwhelmed with sadness. I've never really gotten over that. But there's nothing I can do to him--no matter how horrible--that can bring my parents back. There's no punishment adequate for what he did. They say he worships Satan. Well, he's going to be spending a lot of time down there."

For the Record Los Angeles Times Monday February 13, 1989 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 5 Metro Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction Sunday's Times incorrectly stated the date that trial will resume for Richard Ramirez, the defendant in the Night Stalker case. Proceedings will begin again Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
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