The True Story of Richard Ramirez, The Killer in 'American Horror Story: 1984'

Emma Dibdin
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images


Of all the places you go to get your true crime fix, American Horror Story probably isn't high on the list–after all, Ryan Murphy has a whole other FX anthology show for that! But the ninth season of AHS, which premiered last night, included an unexpected treat for true crime fans with the introduction of Richard Ramirez, aka "The Night Stalker."

Ramirez, who's played by Zach Villa, provides the catalyst for the whole plot when he breaks into Brooke's (Emma Roberts) Los Angeles apartment and attacks her, When she fights him off with a frying pan, he flees, but not before leaving her with this deeply creepy promise: “You’re going to be famous. You’re going to die by the hands of the Night Stalker. I will find you. Satan will show me the way!" Much later in the episode, Ramirez is shown making good on his promise, reappearing to quietly stalk Brooke at Camp Redwood, the more-than-slightly-creepy summer camp where she's now working as a counselor. Between Ramirez, the even more sinister killer Mr Jingles (John Carroll Lynch) and an entire psychiatric institution's worth of escaped convicts, it's shaping up to be a fun season for the whole Redwood gang!

Here's a few key facts to know about the real Ramirez, and his history with the AHS franchise.

His murder spree began in 1984.

Between April of 1984 and August of 1985, Ramirez murdered at least 14 people, and raped and tortured at least 24 more. His MO involved home invasion: he broke into homes across California, mainly in and around the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, attacked the inhabitants and stole their valuables. Ramirez's victims were mainly women – though later in his spree he also began to target couples – and his widely publicized crimes earned him the media moniker "The Night Stalker".

Ramirez's final attack was on Bill Carns, 30, and his fiancée, Inez Erickson, 29, in Mission Viejo, California. After shooting Carns in the head, Ramirez beat and raped Erickson and identified himself as the murderer from the headlines, telling her to "tell them the Night Stalker was here." Both Carns and Ercikson survived the attack, and when police apprehended Ramirez thanks to a footprint he left at the scene – in addition to a fingerprint he left in a stolen car – she was also able to identify him in a police lineup.

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

The story of his capture is extraordinary.

After the police linked Ramirez to the Mission Viejo attack, his photograph was released to the press and plastered across newspapers nationwide. When Ramirez, now back in Los Angeles, belatedly realized this, he attempted to flee across a freeway in East LA and carjack a woman, but was chased away and subdued by a group of bystanders, who held him down and beat him until the police arrived.

On September 20, 1989, Ramirez was convicted of 13 counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault and 14 counts of burglary. Two months later, he was sentenced to the death penalty and sent to San Quentin Prison in California. Ramirez spent almost 24 years on death row but was never executed–he died in hospital on June 7, 2013 from lymphoma.

Photo credit: MARK RALSTON - Getty Images

He's already appeared in American Horror Story.

Back in the fifth season, Hotel, Evan Peters' ingenious murderer James March held a Devil's Night Soiree, to which he invited the ghosts of the serial killers he most admired. Ramirez, played by Anthony Ruivivar, appeared alongside a slew of other famous real-life monsters including John Wayne Gacy, Aileen Wuornos and Jeffrey Dahmer.

Though Ramirez was one of many killers who popped up in Hotel, there's a real-life connection that made his appearance more meaningful. At some point during the mid-1980s – i.e. during much of his murder spree – Ramirez lived in a room at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. To say that the Cecil has bad vibes would be a huge understatement: at least 16 different murders, violent deaths and "unexplained paranormal events" have allegedly taken place there. No surprise, then, that it was the inspiration for the fictional Hotel Cortez in AHS: Hotel.

Ramirez seemingly had free reign at the Cecil – according to a truly incredible Medium article on the subject, he would "return to the Cecil after a killing and ditch his blood-soaked clothes in the dumpsters out back, then walk into the hotel either naked or maybe in his underwear, none of which would have raised an eyebrow since the Cecil in the 1980s... was total, unmitigated chaos.”

His role in AHS: 1984 got a lot more complicated in episode two.

Who among us could have predicted that within the first two hours of the season, the Night Stalker would be enjoying a tender heart-to-heart with Margaret (Leslie Grossman), the devout Camp Redwood leader who is definitely not what she seems? Exhibit A: she claims to love Jesus, but is making moon-eyes at known Satanist Richard Ramirez. Upon finding Ramirez waiting creepily in her room, Margaret doesn't seem fazed at all, and tends to his wounds in a manner that I can only describe as "low-key thirsty" while Ramirez describes his sad backstory to her (in a nutshell: prenatal poisoning, childhood head trauma, abusive household).

Margaret insists that destiny has brought the pair of them together. What does a God-fearing woman like Margaret have in common with a Satan-worshipping serial killer, you might ask? Well. Explaining how she's going to "save" Ramirez, Margaret lets him (and us) in on her philosophy, which is basically that you can get away with anything at all, so long as you claim to be doing it in the name of God. “I believe in Baby Jesus, Richard, and I believe in you,” she finishes. Welp. Ramirez certainly seems into it.

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