Thirty-five years ago fingerprint technology captured stalker Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker. It wasn’t the police that found and caught him—it was a group of civilians who recognized him while he tried to steal a car. When he tried pulling a woman out of her car, her neighbors stepped in. One of them recognized him from his picture in the papers and alerted the others—this was the serial killer that had California afraid to go to sleep at night.
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While the capture of the Night Stalker was a credit to law enforcement’s use of the media, his identification as Ramirez was the result of another modern technique. The Night Stalker case was among the first major cases to use automated fingerprinting technology.
Today, television detectives run fingerprints from a crime scene through an automated database and get results in seconds—somewhat inaccurately. In reality, the database kicks back “likely” matches and a trained fingerprint examiner must compare them to find an actual match. Still, the technology we use today allows quick searches of a vast number of fingerprints, and if a criminal leaves a fingerprint behind we can see if he’s ever been booked and fingerprinted, or if we have the same print on file from another scene.
In 1985, this use of computers was brand new. Before automated systems, examiners would have to look through fingerprints on file by hand, using ten-print cards (on which a booked criminal has rolled all ten fingerprints in ink). It meant a great deal of time and effort, and was rarely useful without a suspect in mind. Some even admitted that the collection of fingerprints at the scene was frequently done for public relations purposes only—to appear to be doing something to solve the crime.
When computers were first applied to the task, the systems were extremely expensive, making it difficult to sell to agencies with low budgets. That’s why when the California Department of Justice used their brand new automated fingerprint indexing system to immediately identify Richard Ramirez as the Night Stalker, it put these systems on the map—it proved they worked, and that the cost was justified.
In general, what happened when the killer approached a couple?
One girl was killed by a gunshot wound to the head, and another, her neighbor, was hit at point-blank range, but survived.
How did the killer get into houses?
While she was unloading groceries, the killer broke into her house.
How did he kill his first victim?
Gunshot wound to the head.
What was found on the first victim that would ultimately be helpful to this case?
How did the second victim’s roommate describe the killer?
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She could not recognize him, but it was an “evil man”.
What evidence was left behind in the car?
How was the killer able to get to a house in his car without being seen?
Another sailor driver was involved in this.
What does the act of removing an eye mean for a psychotic person?
It is like a trophy, or a reminder to the criminal that he could do it.
What information was found from the shoe print?
Traces of sneakers which could indicate the suspect’s age, weight, and height.
What was drawn on his victim and on the victim’s wall? What did it mean?
Pentagrams as a cult of Satan worship.
What drugs was Richard exposed to in his young life?
Cocaine, alcohol, and heroin
Who may have influenced Richard in his young life?
What “weird” behaviors started after Richard saw his cousin’s wife murdered?
He began fantasizing about rape and murder, and these ideas became more intrusive. In addition, he stopped saying hello to school friends and started dealing with guys who use drugs. He dropped out of school and settled on the outskirts of the city.
Why were the charges of his first rape dropped?
He moved to California.
Why didn’t he join the cult?
Most likely, the man did not want to become part of the cult, because he worked in his own unique style and was individually committed to Satan.
What did he get arrested for? How long did he spend in jail?
The man was detained for stealing a car.
What did the male fixing his bike remember?
It was the tall dark-haired man, skinny and dark.
When the print was run through the automated database, who did the print match?
There were many fingerprints, but one of them coincided with Richard Ramirez.
How many murders was he charged with?
13 murders and 30 attempted murders.
What was his sentence?
He is guilty of murder. He is sentenced to death in a gas chamber.