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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Yesterday's Crimes: The Night Stalker Comes To San Francisco

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2016 at 11:55 AM


By mid-August 1985, Richard Ramirez had murdered 14 people and raped several others in the Los Angeles suburbs. (A first victim, 9-year-old Mei Lung, found murdered and raped in the basement of a Tenderloin hotel in 1984, was connected to him decades later.)  

Since the beginning of his reign of terror the year before, the then-unidentified serial killer collected nicknames the way he did victims. The press and police referred to him as "The Valley Intruder" or "The Walk-In Killer," but none of his aliases inflamed the public imagination until he took a trip to San Francisco and became the Night Stalker.

Ramirez had murdered four people and attacked four others in July 1985. He started off August by attacking a couple in Northridge on August 6. He then killed Elyas Abowath, 31, and repeatedly sodomized Sakina Abowath, 27, in the couples' Diamond Bar home two days later. Fearing that the Southern California media had raised too much awareness of him, Ramirez struck north in search of new hunting grounds.

Sometime after August 8, Ramirez checked into the Bristol Hotel on Hyde Street in the Tenderloin.

"The people we get here I would call third-class types," Bristol Hotel manager Alex Melnikov told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1985. "About 70 percent are on dope. I don't ask a lot of questions."

Ramirez left his room smelling like skunk and drew a pentagram on the bathroom door that police later removed as evidence.

On August 15, Ramirez burgled some jewelry out of a house on Baker Street in the Marina. No one was home in the main house that night, but Ramirez also tried to enter the house's in-law unit where Rose Marie Ovian, 22, slept.

"He tried to get in my sliding glass door, because the screen was moved," Ovian, a relative of the burglary victim, later told the Chron.

click to enlarge Richard Ramirez.
  • Richard Ramirez.
Three days later, the serial killer spread the terror to the Lake Merced area when he broke into the home of Peter Pan, 69, and his wife, Barbara Pan, 64. Ramirez shot Peter in the head, killing him, and then shot Barbara and beat her savagely, leaving her for dead.

The couple's son, David Pan, found his parents the next day after stopping by for a morning visit. The son had to force the door open to gain entry.

On Aug. 20, 1985, the Chron reported that the Pans might have been mistaken for the winners of a $1 million jackpot from playing slots in Tahoe. Two days later, Bay Area residents realized that the attack on the Pans was no ordinary botched robbery when the SFPD issued a statement saying that the same killer who'd been prowling the LA exurbs was also a suspect in the Pan murder.

The statement read, "Because of certain similarities between a murder case in this city and the recent serial murders in the Los Angeles area, investigators from both jurisdictions had a meeting to determine if the cases were related.''

The statement want on to mention that police patrols had been "increased in certain San Francisco areas.''

After Ramirez's San Francisco homicide, the ever-sensational scribes at the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner decided that calling this then-unknown criminal "The Valley Intruder" just wasn't going to cut it anymore. The killer had gone statewide.

After nixing names based on his preferred mode of entry such as "The Screen-door Intruder," the Herald Examiner's editorial board decided to dub him "The Night Stalker" even though there was no evidence that Ramirez actually stalked his human prey. Although easy-entry into homes appeared to be how the suspect selected his victims, the paper called him "The Night Stalker" in its very next edition, and the moniker stuck.

The Night Stalker was born.

To be continued: Next week, learn how Dianne Feinstein almost ruined the Night Stalker investigation.
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Bob Calhoun

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