A group of Brits working on a true crime documentary visited Los Angeles just after the Fourth of July on what might have been the hottest day of the year.
The couple were here to talk about Richard Ramirez, the infamous Night Stalker who terrorized Southern California in the summer of 1985. I’ve become a mini-expert on the story, not because I ever covered it as a reporter, but for other reasons.
Namely, my expertise stems from interviews with Sheriff’s Detectives Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno, who were the lead investigators on the case. And, beyond them I’ve interviewed survivors, mapped out the crime scenes and begun work on a book chronicling 1985’s summer of serial killers. Ramirez wasn’t the only one preying on L.A. Chester Turner, the Southside Slayer, was killing prostitutes in South L.A. along the track on South Figueroa and Lonnie Franklin, the Grim Sleeper was knocking off strawberries in his neighborhood northwest of there, along Western above Century.
Ramirez got the bulk of the coverage that summer. And, like so many others who didn’t fully understand what was happening at the time, his crime spree made me examine my habits.
Looking back at it, Ramirez’s murderous rampage through the San Gabriel Valley is unparalleled. The types of murders and how constantly changed his approach was frightening to the public and investigators alike. Carrillo says his family was so spooked that he had to move them out of their home until Ramirez was in custody.
Four years after he was captured by outraged residents of Boyle Heights, a downtown jury convicted Ramirez on 13 counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault and 14 counts of burglary in connection with the terrible crime spree. He probably did a lot more. He certainly was a terrorist who struck so much fear in the heart of our region that a mere mention of his name memories of a time when people worried that their next-door neighbor might be an unrepentant slayer.
Throughout much of the summer of ‘85, Ramirez lived in the Cecil Hotel – now called Stay on Main. So, of course, the Brits wanted to take a look for themselves. It’s an historic hotel at 6th and Main and has been home to a variety of bizarre crimes over the years. Some say its haunted. Historians will tell you the unfortunate events that occurred at the Cecil over the years are more likely a function of place, price and people. Even though it is a nice hotel, having an address on the edge of Skid Row doesn’t help much.
Go inside though and you get a sense of the grandeur that once was. The Cecil is highly worthy of a visit in that regard.
Outside lies a different story.
It can be disconcerting and dangerous to wade into the heart of Skid Row with an expensive video camera, but we did just that and did it – not surprisingly – without a problem. I don’t think the Brits learned much about the Night Stalker’s life here in the mid-1980s, but they did get a better picture of Los Angeles than they might have perched on a hillside in Silver Lake. And that alone was worth the trouble. I only wish they were doing a documentary on the two L.As. That’s a story we have yet to tell.