Portrait of a Serial Killer – The Night Stalker
On February 29, 1960, Ricardo Leyva Munoz Ramirez was born in El Paso, Texas. Parents Mercedes and Julian had seven children, of whom Ricardo, also known as Richard or Ricky, was the youngest. Upon his cousin’s return from the Vietnam War, Richard and his cousin Mike became very close. Mike introduced Richard to Satanism, and frequently used drugs with him. It was not uncommon for Richard’s cousin to tell him stories about Vietnamese women he had tortured, raped, and killed during the war, and often Mike would back up his claims with grisly Polaroid photos.
The youngest Ramirez had been no stranger to trouble during his childhood or adolescence, abusing drugs and committing petty crimes in 1977 that landed him in juvenile detention. In 1982 Richard found himself in trouble again for marijuana possession, and received a probationary sentence for this offense. A short time later in 1983, he was charged with car theft and sentenced to jail. In 1984, Richard Ramirez was released from jail. Shortly thereafter his spree of violence and murder began. In the short span of two years, Richard Ramirez found himself dubbed “The Night Stalker” as he crept through the dark California nights murdering at least 13 people and beating, raping, and torturing at least 25 others. While committing his crimes, he exhibited a very disorganized typology; he left footprints, allowed victims who had seen his face to live, and didn’t have a specific ritual or type of victim. After being apprehended by an angry mob who recognized him while he attempted a carjacking, Ramirez expressed absolutely no remorse. Taunting the public by arriving at court with an inverted pentagram drawn on the palm of his hand, he remained adamant that Satan lived in him and had influenced him to commit his crimes.
“Everybody has got good and evil in them. I’d like to be 100% evil, but I can’t. I’m too easy-going sometimes. Then again, while anger and hate are two things some people can cope with, I cannot. My anger and hate grow to a level that I cannot live comfortably with.” – Richard Ramirez
In order to be considered as suffering from psychopathy, Richard Ramirez would first be required to meet the criteria for a Cluster B Personality Disorder called Antisocial Personality Disorder. To be diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder, some of the behaviors that an individual must exhibit are: a disregard for the rights or lives of other human beings, frequently committing acts that are grounds for arrest, failure to conform to social norms, a conduct disorder prior to age 15, aggressiveness, and lack of remorse. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “psychopathy is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited or bold behaviors.” Other typical characteristics related to psychopathy that Richard Ramirez exhibited are: complete lack of shame or guilt, arrogance, being verbally facile and manipulative, and narcissism.
Psychopathy stems from a Cluster B personality disorder called Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). According to the DSM-5, the prevalence of APD is most elevated (greater than 70%) in males with alcohol use disorder, substance abuse clinics, and prisons. However, the APA also states that genetics, socioeconomic and sociocultural factors play a role in the prevalence of this disorder. An article published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry states that “There is a stronger genetic as opposed to social ultimate cause to this disorder. The types of social causes proposed (e.g., childhood sexual/physical abuse) should elevate emotional responsiveness, not lead to the specific form of reduce responsiveness seen in psychopathy; the genetic influence leads to the emotional dysfunction that is the core of psychopathy.” While genetics are a major factor in determining whether an individual with have APD, there are other factors as well such as childhood conduct or behavioral problems, physical/sexual abuse, substance abuse, poverty, having an antisocial parent, or having a parent who struggles with substance abuse.
When looking specifically at the case of Richard Ramirez, there are quite a few characteristic risk factors of APD and psychopathy that are present in his background. He was raised in a family that wasn’t wealthy, and he was the youngest of seven children. From the approximate age of 13, he began abusing drugs and alcohol with an adult cousin who he considered a role model. He had behavioral issues as a child and teenager and was frequently in trouble with the police. Ramirez also witnessed the murder of his cousin’s wife and remained emotionless when later describing her blood spattering on his face.
Psychopaths usually don’t seek help on their own or communicate that they have a problem. This is because, in their own mind, there is nothing wrong with their behavior. They feel that even though they are hurting other people, somehow their actions and behaviors are completely justifiable. Typically, a psychopath won’t seek treatment or counseling until they are ordered to do so by a court of law. When communicating with an individual like Richard Ramirez, a reward may have enticed him into talking; but he wouldn’t have been threatened into talking with consequences as he seemed incapable of remorse for his actions or concern for his blatant violation of the law. He seemed very egotistical, proud, and arrogant in regard to his crimes, and I believe that the best way to get information from him would have been to act interested in what he had to say. I think he would have talked simply because of the exhilaration he would have felt at being able to tell the stories.
Richard Ramirez was a Hispanic male in his mid-twenties. He was approximately six feet tall, has dark hair, and brown eyes. He was believed to be responsible for a recent increase in home invasions, sexual assaults, and murders in the state of California. He exhibited characteristics that are associated with a psychological disorder, was most likely armed, and was considered to be extremely dangerous. If you saw him, you were asked not attempt to apprehend him; instead to contact your local emergency services and request help. Ramirez was believed to have ties to Satanism, due in part to symbols he left at the crime scenes and his behavior during previous incarcerations. He also had a history of drug use, but it is unclear whether he was currently using any drugs. At the time, police were unable to give a description of any vehicle that he may have been traveling in. He appeared to be using stolen cars as his primary mode of transportation. Ramirez’s behavior could only be described as ruthless, with absolutely no regard for the lives of others. Residents were asked to exercise caution as police worked to apprehend the suspect.
There are many different risks when there is a press release regarding murder, especially a Satanic serial murderer. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, “It becomes essential for law enforcement personnel involved in a serial murder investigation to design and implement an effective media plan. The plan should provide timely information on a regular basis, without compromising the investigative endeavors. It is essential for media releases to be closely coordinated with investigative strategies. This helps determine the best times to both educate and solicit information from the public concerning certain aspects of the investigation.” One of the biggest risks is causing hysteria or panic within a community.
It’s terrifying enough to know that there is a serial killer on the loose, it’s even worse when this is a mentally ill or psychologically disturbed serial killer. By leaving out the detail of his characteristics being suggestive of psychopathy, it lessens the fear that trickles into society. The media sells stories and gains ratings via shock value. Which is another risk that is taken during press conferences and releasing profiles. It is not uncommon for the media to become so rabidly involved in a story that they actually interfere with police work, and have even contaminated crime scenes before they were processed. Another concern is that the coverage of serial murder could be glamorized by the media, inspiring others to act as copycat killers or to create their own signature. In an article published in The Atlantic, the author suggests that to avoid this, perhaps coverage of murder should be handled as delicately as that of teen suicide in a “careful, understated, and dampened” way. In order to release a statement to the media that poses the least risk possible, we need to find a balance in the information that public needs to know in order to maintain safety, and what information the public wants to know in order to satiate their curiosity.
Even though psychopaths are famous for lacking empathy, remorse, regard for the rights and safety of others; they aren’t all serial killers who find pleasure in rape, murder, and torture. There are two subtypes of psychopathy, and the style of treatment that works for one may be ineffective for the other. Prototypical or primary psychopaths exhibit callous unemotional traits, while secondary psychopaths are more emotional, angry, or anxious; and it has been hypothesized that one form of psychopathy is primarily heritable, while the other is typically due to an individual’s environment.
It is widely believed that psychopathy is an untreatable and incurable disorder, and many also believe that an individual can evolve into a psychopath; they are either born a psychopath, or they aren’t a psychopath. According to an article in Treatment of Psychopathy: A Review and Brief Introduction to the Mental Model Approach for Psychopathy, the author states, “Findings indicate that treatment for adults shows low to moderate success with three of eight studies demonstrating treatment gains. Treatment of youth appears to be more promising with six of eight studies showing treatment benefits. Although less than optimal success rates with adults, we suggest that bright line distinctions regarding the treatability of those with psychopathic characteristics from non-psychopathic individuals are inappropriate at this time.” In the case of Richard Ramirez, his crimes required that he be sentenced to prison, where he was no longer a danger to society. Had he been offered the possibility of parole, and been required to receive mandatory treatment before release; a good option may have been a relapse prevention program combined with intensive cognitive behavior therapy. Studies show that psychopaths are at the highest risk of recidivism of violent crime, and even with the best treatment possible, they will likely reoffend within the first 10 years after release. The absolute best case scenario would be that the relapse prevention program and CBT would provide him with tools to better manage his anger, which would hopefully deter him from committing any other murders.
When encountering individuals in the real-world who exhibit signs of psychopathy or sociopathy, it is very important to understand the triggers that can be associated with these disorders, and intervention strategies that may aid with communication or treatment. By understanding the characteristics and triggers exhibited by a psychopathic or sociopathic individual, we would be better equipped to help the individual become a more functional and productive member of society. With this knowledge, we would be able to determine if an individual’s psychopathy was caused by genetics or an environmental factor, and we would be able to differentiate between effective and ineffective treatments such as talk therapy, CBT, or inpatient care in a mental health facility.
In my personal life, I have met several people who exhibited signs of psychopathy or sociopathy, but the one that stands out the most to me was a boy I dated when I was sixteen. He was very possessive, manipulative, he was unable to maintain eye contact, and when he hurt me he was incapable of showing remorse. When we finally broke up, he threatened to kill himself, he got high on pills and crashed his car. He stole money from his parents and was arrested for underage drinking, and somehow he believed that none of that was his fault. He felt that because I had broken up with him, that his behavior was justified, and if anyone were responsible for his bad decisions, it was me. When communicating with him, it was crucial to remain calm, to not allow him to see or hear any negative emotions you may be feeling, and to constantly build him up with strength identifying terms. Being stern with him, or reprimanding him only caused him to fly into a blind rage, and in those times he posed a threat not only to himself, but to others around him.
When dealing with psychopathic or sociopathic individuals in real-life situations, it is very important to ensure that they are treated ethically, and that misdiagnosis is avoided. While a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder could be beneficial in allowing an individual to seek treatment, a misdiagnosis of psychopathy could have extremely detrimental effects on a person’s reputation, personal relationships, professional relationships, and employment. The stigma attached to psychopathy and mental illness, in general, makes misdiagnosis a very frightening situation, as these individuals are typically viewed by society as monsters. In order to avoid situations where a misidentification or misdiagnosis could complicate a person’s life, or diminish their quality of life; it is important that we are careful to follow the DSM-5’s list of diagnostic criteria, and perform the proper tests to rule out other mental illnesses or psychological disorders.