Sean Penn’s unlikely pen pal: ‘Night Stalker’ Richard Ramirez

Ramirez, Penn
Left, Richard Ramirez seen in 1985. Right, actor Sean Penn.
(Los Angeles Times file | Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times)

Richard Ramirez was one of California’s most notorious serial killers; few who lived through it would ever forget his reign of terror across the state.

Ramirez, known as the “Night Stalker,” was arrested in 1985 and eventually convicted of 13 murders. Authorities believe he is also responsible for additional slayings from Orange County to San Francisco, as well as numerous rapes, assaults and burglaries.

While in jail, the serial killer made a connection with a surprising pen pal -- actor Sean Penn.

Penn was speaking at Loyola Marymount University recently, the Hollywood Reporter says, and noted that both he and Ramirez were in a downtown L.A. jail in 1987.


Penn said “after about a month of seeing each other around,” Ramirez asked for his autograph through a deputy. Then, Penn said, Ramirez wrote in a letter to him: 'Hey, Sean, stay tough and hit them again -- Richard Ramirez, 666.’ ”

Penn wrote back. “I said, ‘You know, Richard, it’s impossible to be incarcerated and not feel a certain kinship with your fellow inmates. Well, Richard, I’ve done the impossible, I feel absolutely no kinship with you. And I hope gas descends upon you before sanity does, you know?”

So why was Penn in jail at the time? A Times report from 1987 explains:

“Actor Sean Penn, whose hot temper has repeatedly landed him in trouble off the screen, was sentenced Tuesday to 60 days in County Jail for reckless driving and for punching an extra on the set of his latest movie.


“Municipal Court Commissioner Juelann K. Cathey ordered the 26-year-old actor to surrender July 7 ‘with his toothbrush and overnight case’ to begin serving his sentence.

“She also ordered him to undergo at least six months of psychotherapy for his violent behavior.

“ ‘I think he’s a talented individual, and I don’t see any reason for this kind of conduct,” Cathey said.’ ”

While Penn was serving his 60 days, what was it like for Ramirez as he awaited trial?

According to The Times, “Ramirez remains isolated in a windowless, 10-by-12-foot cell, devouring newspapers, magazines and books, including a recent biography of the late actor David Niven. ... The defendant is allowed one visit a day -- from ‘friends and family.’ ”

Ramirez died while on death row in 2013 while receiving cancer treatment at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae. The Marin County coroner’s office said Ramirez died of complications related to B-cell lymphoma.

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