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This Rookie Had A Hunch About Who The ‘Night Stalker’ Was, But It Was Hard To Believe

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From June 1984 to August 1985, Richard Ramirez terrorized Los Angeles, and later parts of San Francisco. The search for the person behind the spree is the subject of a new docu-series, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, which features the two lead investigators on the case, Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno.

Carrillo was a rookie in Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide unit when he was paired up with Salerno, a veteran investigator, to look into the crimes being committed by Ramirez, who was eventually given the name “Night Stalker” by the L.A. Herald Examiner.

Early on, Carrillo had a hunch one man was behind them, but his colleagues didn’t buy it at first, because the cases didn’t fit a single profile on record.

The crimes varied, from murder to rape to robbery, and they occurred all over town, across multiple jurisdictions, and the victims included both children and adults. That array of crimes was unheard of, Carrillo said.

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“It was difficult to believe one man was responsible for everything, since no one in criminal history had been documented doing what Richard did,” Carrillo told our newsroom's news and culture show Take Two, which airs on 89.3 KPCC.

One of the early clues was how Ramirez approached those he murdered, Carrillo said:

"I had never been to any profiling school, but there was a professor at Cal State L.A. by the name of Dr. Robert Morneau, and I took two semesters of Advanced Criminal Investigations, and he instilled in me that a part of a sign of a sexual deviant is that they like to see the frightened look on people's faces and they dominate people."

In at least three cases, there was evidence that Ramirez let his victims know he was coming — and one survivor, Maria Hernandez, gave a physical description that matched an artist rendition of a suspect in an attempted child abduction that year.

Eventually, a print from the bottom of a shoe helped point to one man being behind the crimes, but then a San Francisco Police inspector got the full name of the suspect during an interrogation: Richard Ramirez. That led to the man everyone had been hunting for.

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Eventually, it was a group of bystanders who brought Ramirez to justice. After witnessing an attempted carjacking by Ramirez, they chased him down and held him until police arrived.

“I remember going in [to the station to see Ramirez] and he knew exactly who I was and who Frank was,” said Carrillo. “It was a great feeling — we’d been chasing, up until the night before, an unknown person and now he was in custody.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW:

GO BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE DOCUMENTARY:

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