Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Night Stalker

4 stars

I can't think of anything or anyone who terrifies me quite as much as Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker. Responsible for a wave of brutal murders that left LA panicked and paralysed in the mid '80s, the Stalker was a home invader. Breaking into houses in the early hours, he would usually kill any men found on the premises before turning his horrifying attentions to the women, and any children left. Even though Ramirez is now thankfully in prison, and even though I live in an entirely different country, I'll now be stepping up my home security.

This excellent book, well researched and also based on a hundred hours of interviews with Ramirez himself, drops us straight into the Night Stalker's reign of terror and we travel around LA with him in stolen cars, casing houses and listening to heavy metal, before following him inside, where we come face to face with some of the most pants-wettingly awful crimes you could read about. Testimony from surviving victims gives us an idea of what it might have been like to be woken up by the Night Stalker: 

"He put the lights on and charged her bed. She woke up with him running at her from the doorway." 
Fuuuck. Heart-stopping, right?

A very accomplished burglar who always wore gloves, thankfully Ramirez did leave behind a few clues for the detectives struggling to apprehend him - size 11 1/2 prints from an Avia Aerobic shoe (the only shoe of that size and description sold in LA), an AC/DC cap left at the scene of one of his crimes, bullet casings from victims and the descriptions from those who survived - a tall, thin man with bad teeth and a bad smell, dressed in black with shaggy hair. Frustratingly, as usual with this sort of book we also get to see how bad the police initially are at sharing information between departments and working together, much to the dismay of our lead detectives.

The second part of the book takes us back to young Richard, his family and upbringing in El Paso. The youngest of five children born to hardworking parents, his father was prone to hugely self-destructive rages (one anecdote tells of him beating himself in the face with a hammer when unable to fix the kitchen sink while his horrorstruck children looked on) and frequently crossed the line from correction to abuse when disciplining the children. More importantly though, Richard looked up to his older cousin Mike. Having served with Special Forces in Vietnam, Mike had a huge collection of stories and photographs of the rapes and murders he perpetrated during that war and regaled a young and aroused Richard with them constantly. Training him how to hunt, kill and move stealthily, Mike went even further in his making of a young serial killer by shooting his wife in the face while a 12 year old Richard looked on. Later, sister Ruth would go on to marry a Peeping Tom who took Richard out with him on his nightly forays. And here I was thinking my family was dysfunctional...

Leaving El Paso at 18, Richard moves to LA finding it sordid and exciting, and much more suited to his interests which by now already number burglary, attempted rape and Satanism. His behaviour soon escalates.

Parts Three and Four take us through Richard's extraordinary capture, in which he was apprehended and almost beaten to death by citizens who'd recognised him from the mugshots by now circulating in the media, and the events leading up to and including his eventual trial, in which his lawyers will try to cause a mistrial by dragging their feet and not bothering to show up for court (amongst other astoundingly shitty tricks). By this point all number of satanists have flocked to his cause, and thousands of completely fucking mental women have 'fallen in love' and start sending fan mail, turning up at court and making googly eyes at him while he snarls and laughs at the evidence and deeply upsetting testimonies of surviving victims. Even certain members of the jury will send him Valentine's and start a relationship with him. Meanwhile, he has crime scene photographs of his victims taped to his cell walls and constantly excites himself with them - as noted by Sean Penn who had the misfortune of being briefly jailed next to him while serving his sentence for punching a pap.

A completely shocking and horrifying portrayal of complete evil, as well as just how fucked up it would seem 'normal' people are too, I certainly won't be forgetting this one when I'm locking up the house tonight.

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