Our fears draw the image of our worst villains. We distill our concepts of evil into form. The bogey men we’ve created strike a chilling chord in us immediately. They are the incarnation of all that we dread. Their images say much about our instinct. It is innocent enough, but it is also slightly deluding. We forget that the devil does not have horns and a pointed tail. We confuse form and the spirit of evil. For example, when writers and filmmakers were faced with creating an average looking American middle class teenager or 20-something into a menacing villain, the ominous image simply was not there. They had to resort to giving them masks or making them nothing but a shadowy phantom. For Michael Myers (Halloween), the mask was that of a lifeless effigy; for Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) it was a hockey mask, the ultimate mask to conceal all emotion and intent.
Neither of the filmmakers of these popular horror franchises probably realized that there was a real life version of their fictional creations who was, at the time of those films’ initial releases (1978;1980), still on the prowl. His obscurity to this day is probably partially owed to that instinct of ours to have our villains as sophisticated top-hatted gents like The Ripper, killer clowns, black-hooded ZODIAC, or monstrous phantoms and ghouls of the night.
He was none of these. Yet he was evil incarnate. He was only between 18 and 25 years old. He was only about 5 foot 8 to 10 inches tall. He was thin. He wore a variety of ski masks, carried a number of different guns, and he liked knives. He popped up in a middle class neighborhood as a phantom stalker who materialized only over the beds of his victims, hissing threats at them through clenched teeth. This led to sadism, rape, terror, theft, ransacking and, eventually, murder.
He was not lucky. He carefully planned every step he took. He appeared with his method of reconnoiter fully intact. He had prowled the backyards for weeks, perhaps months, narrowing in his victim. He had entered the house not once but perhaps many more than twice beforehand to get a feel for what he would do. He spent hours in the house. His victims tied, tortured, raped, heard him ransack, talk to himself, perhaps cook a meal . . .then. Then it was quiet. They had to struggle loose to discover their doors open, their phone lines cut, but nothing of real value taken. He came to terrorize, rape, and arrogantly help himself to what he wanted. His tally of victims increased rapidly. He couldn’t be stopped. He sent cities into panic.
He is the greatest menace of the night that California has ever known. In truth, he is the greatest serial villain in the history of mankind, that is to say, he is the most prolific, the most contemptible, the most daring, the most calculating, the most arrogant, and the most versatile. This is not a statement spoken out of adulation obviously. It is a statement of fact based on comparative analysis of all serial killers and villains starting with Jack the Ripper unto the present time. It is not the number of his victims which sets this villain apart. He took the most risks. He made the most preparations, and he remains then and now the most elusive, which shows he truly obsessed on perfecting his crime spree.
His late night prowlings, burglaries, rapes, sadism, terrorizing and murders were truly his hobby. He never became impulsive and careless. He stuck to an obsessive, calculating method of stalking his victims and then striking them in their own homes. He was, in the truest sense of the word, a monomaniac. In truth, he was the only super-monomaniac.
It’s an old term, I know. Perhaps I’m the only one who uses it. But I prefer it. It’s not a psychiatric diagnosis. All it means is a person who obsesses on one thing. It can be used for good or evil. In the case of the most infamous and elusive serial killers, they used it for evil.
All serial killers have one overall trait in common: they are predators. And just like the predator in the wilds, they are cowards. What is the victim in the wilds?— the weak, the straggler, the wounded, the aged and infirm. The lion does not hunt the elephant. He hunts the wounded deer. They hunt for food. They want an easy kill. In like manner serial killers hunt their victims. The nourishment isn’t food. It is some thrill. It isn’t physical, but psychological. The victims of serial killers are, in order of frequency: prostitutes, women, hitchhikers, runaways, juveniles. All these bear one thing in common: they are an easy kill.
A survey of the most famous serial killers underscores this pattern. Jack the Ripper preyed upon prostitutes— they are an easy target in the dark of the night; The Torso Killer did the same and upon the homeless. Innumerable killers have made prostitutes their target: The Green River Killer, The Long Island Serial Killer, etc. John Wayne Gacy preyed upon young boys and runaway teens. The same can be said for The Atlanta Child Murderer. Juan Coroner, the first serial killer to break the 25 victim mark, targeted migrants. The Sonoma Coed Killer preyed upon hitchhikers; Ted Bundy upon women; Rodney Alcala on young girls and women; The Zodiac Killer upon unsuspecting teens at isolated petting spots.
Migrants, teens in the boondocks, campers, hikers, hitchhikers, runaways— all these are the stragglers of society, either socially or for the day based on their circumstances. Prostitutes, children, and women are the weaker and more vulnerable of our species.
From this it is plain to see that serial killers follow the exact pattern of predator animals in the wilds. No serial killer hunts heavyweight wrestlers. They know they will break them in half. Politicians are not a liked class of people. But there is no serial killer with 5 Congressmen, a couple of Governors, or Senator to their credit. They know that if they pick off one of these the whole system will be after them and they will get caught. Serial killers are cowards. There is none brave. Not one.
Yet . . .
Only one in all the history of crime breaks the pattern: The EAR/ONS— The East Area Rapist AKA The Original Night Stalker. He has perhaps over 50 rapes, over 125 ransackings of houses, and over 12 murders. Officially he is California’s No. 1 “serial offender”— ransacking, burglary, rape, murder, terror, stalking. But in truth he really is the No. 1 serial villain in all of history. He did not pick on stragglers, nor just the weak. Fathers, husbands, boyfriends with guns could not stop him. Dogs cowered when he entered the house. Entire community dragnets and vigilante committees did not thwart him. He is not brave, not by any means. I will never call a serial killer brave. But if any of them were truly gutsy and daring, he is it. He does not fit any pattern, save to rank with the greatest serial villains by the fact he carefully thought out his crime spree.
His career of terror may indeed have begun in 1974 in the arid, rural California town of Visalia as the bizarre Visalia Ransacker. The Ransacker had about 125 strange burglaries to his credit. And strange they were. The Visalia Ransacker didn’t steal things of value. He stole mostly inconsequential things. Rather, he ransacked the homes and left items (women’s undees) in suggestive or unusual places or rearranged with calculated precision. His victims were not left with the feeling of loss of personal and sentimental things. They were left with the uneasy feeling of a night intruder who showed he possessed all they had for a while and sought to disfigure their property, pictures, and clothes. In one night, the weird Visalia Ransacker hit 11 homes, knowing somehow that the owners of all 11 homes would be out that night.
This was the strange dichotomy of The Ransacker. It would seem from the results of his night prowling that he was a tetched, perhaps even retarded person. But the extent to which he must have gone to know the neighborhoods and the movements of many, many people impresses upon us how sophisticated and sly he was. He was never identified or caught.
About 2 years into the Ransacker’s spree, one Visalia detective was able to halt a man in the neighborhoods where most of the petty ransackings were occurring. For his effort, he got a bullet hole in his flashlight. The miscreant— presumably The Ransacker— fled and got away, never to strike again. Whoever he was, he didn’t like any near miss with the police, and he carried a gun . . .and he was a good shot. From just the splatter of a flashlight beam, he could take it out at the center.
About a year after this, in the beginning of the summer of 1976, this nation’s banner summer ready to celebrate the bicentennial, the eastern suburbs of California’s capitol, Sacramento, experienced bizarre rape after the other. These weren’t occurring on the streets, in parks, or dark alleys. The intruder had the audacity to enter the homes at night and wake the victim from a sound sleep. Sometimes it was by the gentle tapping of his deadly knife on the door frame. Other times a flashlight beam greeted them. They awoke to confront a ski-masked villain hissing his threats at them through clenched or gritted teeth (basically a dry, threatening whisper). Even more than rape, he liked to terrorize them. It began in Rancho Cordova.
The rapist’s MO evolved before the police. At this his first attack he tried to cut the phone line from outside, but either the bird bath he stood upon started to give way or his knife wasn’t able. In later attacks, he would merely rip the phone out of the jack or cut the wire on the phone after gaining entrance. The East Area Rapist— as he would later be called— developed his style, but his first slip (failing to cut a phone line from the exterior) is most noticeable. If he is The Visalia Ransacker, he never had to worry about phones before, for he always made sure the home was empty. Here, however, attacking a home with the intent to rape its lone occupant, necessitated disarming the phone. Obviously, he hadn’t done it before.
Although this mistake with the phone wire was a revealing slip, The EAR definitely already had a tried and true pattern for how he stalked a neighborhood. Time has told us this. He was never outed. There was nothing about his stalking pattern that indicated to the police he was developing it. He was expert from the beginning.
His conduct in the victim’s house was also bizarre, and in many ways similar to The Visalia Ransacker. After he would tie his victim up, he would wander the house, opening up drawers, kitchen cabinets, making a mess and sometimes taking petty things of little consequence. The victim had to hear all this while gagged and tied. Sometimes he did it before raping them, sometimes in between. He would stay hours, sometimes eating their food, drinking their soda. Sometimes he would stand in their backyard and snack and leave the soda bottles on the ground. Then he left.
He bound and gagged his victims in specific ways, and this added repeat clues to The EAR’s signature.
What did develop before the eyes of investigators was The EAR’s boldness. He graduated from young or teen girls, their mothers, then, becoming bolder, to women with children, sometimes raping the daughter and not the mother, then to couples in the house. Always in the house. He would lock kids in their rooms. He would tie ropes across the hallways to the door knobs to keep them in. If one of the couple was awake, he or she would hear him run down the hallway and appear at their bedroom door, ski mask over his face, flashlight in their face, and pistol pointed at them. The man would be tied up, then the villain would go to the kitchen and open the cabinets, get plates and cups and bring them back. He would set them on the man’s back and tell him if he heard them shudder or fall he’d come back and kill him. He then took the wife to the family room, turned on the TV for dim light or threw a towel over a lampshade, and raped her.
Many times after, the wife would hear him go into a dark corner and sob. Deep sobbing. This guy had a screw loose more than the average rapist. . . .Or was he laying false clues? He would then come back, hissing this threats through his clenched teeth. He asked his victims questions. Then before they could answer he growled at them to “Shut up!”
One rare mistake, even more enlightening for us today than his first slip with trying to cut the phone line outside, tells us what this stalker was all about. He hissed into the ear of one of his victims, as she lay terror-stricken in bed, with his knife to her, that he knew she went to American River College. It was meant to terrorize her, to convey how he had stalked and knew all about her. She had been game, his quarry. But he made a mistake. She had never attended that college. Investigators discovered that her neighbor’s daughter had attended there. The EAR had been in both houses, perhaps earlier in the day, most certainly earlier in the week, perhaps even more than once, and studied personal belongings, notes, those message boards we all have, to learn enough to help him know their movements and give him enough information to make them think he had stalked them for sometime. He surveyed many potential victims, but this night made a mistake. He let us know to what extent he truly prowled a neighborhood.
When the tally of his victims hit over 2 dozen, Sacramento was in a panic. Vigilante groups and CB radio watchdog teams were instituted by civic leaders. But none got close to him. The EAR obviously had some unusual talents and obsessive abilities. He planned everything carefully. Coming and going, he was largely invisible.
The only descriptions of him are from his victims, and they could only describe general body proportions. He was described as having a lean, athletic body, like a jogger or swimmer. His hair was about shoulder length in the beginning— it hung out from under the rim of his ski mask. It was brownish blonde in color. His eyes were hazel or blue. He must only have been between 18 and 25 years old. He was about 5 foot 8 or 10. He had quite an array of handguns, knives, and ski masks, seldom if ever wearing the same one twice. He also used a couple of homemade ones and perhaps a nylon on one occasion. He had a very distinguishing yet indelicate feature— a micro penis. It was like a roll of dimes at the best of times.
He must have devoted a large amount of time to prowling a neighborhood. Reports of prowlers and petty burglaries occurred in the neighborhoods for weeks or more before he struck.
This is true of his pattern in all the communities he terrorized throughout California. He branched out to Modesto, hit in Stockton, then he also attacked the East Bay area of San Francisco. Then, later, he turned up in Goleta, north of Santa Barbara. Then he moved south through LA. In Southern California, he had become a murderer. He followed the same MO as in Sacramento. Only now he killed the couples or the lone woman, after raping them. Then he vanished. After an attack in 1986, no more is heard of him. For 10 years he stalked over the State of California. Never identified. Not even a prime suspect. Then he just as quietly disappeared.
That he did not like even a close shave while he was unmasked, or with a moment outside of his calculated control, is evident by a couple of events. If he is The Visalia Ransacker, one unexpected encounter with a cop caused him to fire and bolt, never to return. Two years into his reign of terror a double murder happened in the area of Rancho Cordova where he had begun his crime spree. This was in February 1978. No one knew if it was connected. But 2 men were seen to flee the general location, one the actual crime scene.
Witnesses described them. One wore a distinctive jacket with a dragon on the front of it. EAR was too subtle in prowling to ever wear anything distinctive. The other was young, early 20s. He wore a dark jacket and brown gloves. This sounds more like The EAR. Two composites were produced and eventually released to the public and given wide circulation. After that, The EAR would never strike in the Sacramento area again.
It is amazing, but in those 2 years he terrorized the Sacramento area there had never been a good description of him stalking a neighborhood. He must have done a lot of it at night. But some “coincidences” showed investigators that he must have been active during the day. There was usually a house for sale in the neighborhood. He might have posed as a real estate agent or potential buyer and got a view of the general floor plan when visiting the house. Still this would not be enough to tell him all he needed to know about the backyards, through which he frequently moved, and the habits of the owners. Therefore, in addition, it was wondered if he worked in construction or roofing. This would give him a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood. Sometimes a house was being built in the area. The rest of his information would come from weeks of stalking, prowling and entering the homes beforehand.
From other factors in the topography of his strikes, it seems clear that EAR used a variety of stalking methods. He struck on or near cul de sacs or on streets that backed the American River or an artificial drainage ditch made of cement. In the high summer these would be dry and he could easily walk across them to back fences. Parks and schools also backed to some properties. This would make access and retreat easy, as he would be in unoccupied territory shrouded in the darkness of early morning hours. His car could be parked blocks away. Not being near the crime scene, it would have aroused no suspicions in local residents.
Moreover, he made many, many hang-up phone calls to the intended victims, learning when they’d be home by if they answered the phone or not. He also made hang-up calls to neighbors, learning their routines and habits. Some of this was no doubt done as preliminary to entering the house days or weeks in advance to reconnoiter it. This explains why he was never seen, even during the day. He would come to the house when many neighbors were gone at work or shopping. And there should be no question he committed not double but triple jeopardy. He took risk after risk to come to a house just to learn its layout, the inhabitants’ movements and, in some cases, to hide under sofa or chair cushions the ligatures or shoelaces he intended to bind them with that night or a couple of nights in the future. He was, to say the least, very familiar with the victims’ homes and lifestyle. For a last example, he attacked one woman only 2 days after her husband shifted to the night job. The neighbor confessed to police that for weeks someone had been climbing his fence and prowling around. He truly was a night stalker, skulking through yards to spy on his intended victims(s). A voyeur, to boot.
He must have had an unusual photographic memory. And perhaps he did have a disease or a heavy duty drug addiction, though if the latter you’d think he’d steal higher-end jewelry or more money. But it didn’t seem he had contact with fences. He was a loner, and didn’t part with the petty things he stole. That he might have had an unusual disease or biochemical problem is evident in how the bloodhounds reacted to his scent. They went to pieces, to put it mildly. The handlers suspected this guy had some real issues. Dogs would bark in backyards as he must have been making his way stealthily through and then leaping silently with inhuman vigor over fences. But when he entered the home, the dogs therein fell oddly silent. Even a pitbull could only raise the courage to growl faintly before he picked it off his master’s bed, before the startled eyes of his intended victims, and threw it in another room. In sum total, The EAR sounds like he’s some evil mutant out of an old B&W Universal horror picture.
But he was real.
Whatever it was that gave him his edge, The EAR was not your average criminal. He had some unusual chemistry, some bizarre ability to obsess on and devote himself to his crimes. Never was he seen clearly. No fingerprints. He seemed an uncontrollable sex maniac, violent predator, pillager and vandal. Yet once again, to hit home the point and indeed the dichotomy of his sinister character, he planned brilliantly, obsessively, like no one else. A strange, super monomaniac.
Until 2001 there was no proof, but in that year DNA proved that The EAR and The Original Night Stalker (his police moniker in Southern California) were one and the same. Others have come to believe that he is also that bizarre Visalia Ransacker. If so, he has at least 165 bizarre robberies (included would be those during his rapes), 50 terrifying rapes, and at least 12 murders to his credit.
Yet how many know of him? Not many. EAR isn’t a great handle. It seems to take that to draw attention to something. This is understandable. It is our nature. We don’t know the details of something until our attention is drawn to it, and it often takes something catchy to crystalize so much in just a few seconds. It’s like the dialog from Jaws. “You shout ‘barracuda,’ and people say, huh, what? But you shout ‘shark!’ and you have a panic on your hands.” As a name, EAR just doesn’t do it. It is to shout ‘barracuda.’ Original Night Stalker sounds like it’s inspired from a candy bar. He needs something more accurate.
But, alas, there isn’t really anything that captures his whole and variable evil character. Some call him The Diamond Knot Killer. Yes, he used a diamond knot when tying his victims, but he only killed a fraction of them and then only later in his career. Another author has dubbed him The Golden State Killer because he is California’s No. 1 serial offender. But killing is, once again, only one aspect of his crime wave.
He is, in truth, the true Night Stalker. But that handle has been undeservedly applied to Richard Ramirez. Night Intruder doesn’t truly carry with it the menace that he possessed. I call him here Night Predator. It captures it all, for this is what he was. Yet I doubt it will truly take hold. He is forever overshadowed by more than one handle and will no doubt remain The EAR/ONS. This sadly hides the identity of someone who must be outed to society no matter what.
To call him the real life Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees is not a nod to sensationalism. It is to stop calling a shark a barracuda. It is to frame him in the most accurate light. It is a sober reminder to those who now hunt him again as to what they truly face. He must be only about 56 years old now, and probably still with us. He left legend behind him, like his fictional counterparts, and he can, like them, also return.