What can prevent and cause the development of a serial killer? Can serial killers be rehabilitated? Featuring Richard Ramirez.


The understanding of how a criminals mind works and what causes their criminality has been a key area of interest from many psychologists, in particular the thought process and causalities of serial killers. Theories can date back pre-Darwinism when key criminologists and psychologists such as Lombroso and Freud whom attempted to find a scientific reasoning to why criminality is caused and there have been many schools of thoughts in finding the core reason for criminality. Psychology is key in aiding the Criminal Justice System in the condemning of a serial killer, and is working into finding a solid prevention for such crime by suggesting traits or aspects that could be found in a child’s persona which may lead them to become a killer. A serial killer is traditionally defined by the act of killing three or more people in a period of time however the FBI defines a serial killer as one who commits “a series of two or more murders, committed as separate events, usually, but not always, by one offender acting alone,” (3) most serial killers commit their crime for psychological gratification. Research in the forms of interviews, and various therapies and trials have proven many criminals have different ‘blames’ for their crime, these examples include; aspects of their childhood, religious beliefs, psychological problems, fantasies, hate, need for power, sexual lusts, external and internal exclusion and isolation from society. Other killers say they found their influence from media, pornographic exploitation influenced Ted Bundy, violent films and games the ‘Batman Killer’ James Holmes found his influences from the game ‘Arkham City’ and the batman movies, and also the way media glorifies other serial murderers tends to influence other ‘insane’ or fame hungry individuals to follow their route. There is a certain correlation of traits within serial killers which may abet to serial killing tendencies, the most common traits among these are; majority of the serial killers have had a head injury in their childhood, they have come from broken backgrounds, which correlates with the far right theory, 99% of serial killers tend to act out their fantasies first on animals then eventually transition their killings and torture onto humans and surprisingly pre-teen bed wetting has shown a strong correlation. (4)

Psychologist Frederic Reamer boasted that there are different types of serial killers such as; an organised killer – one who kills because he is told to in order to obtain a finance, a retribution killer who kills in a cold calculative way, a rage killer who kills in the heat of rage, a “frolicking” killer who kills for enjoyment, a addicted killer who is asphyxiated by killing and one who suffers from mental illness. Though his analogy of different types of serial killers may be flawed, due to the lacking of serial killers who kill for sexual stimulation which makes up a large number of killers, or killers who in the name of their religion i.e. Satanists, the occult and also killings which occur by children who are curious or deviant, his studies do conclude with some facts. (8) In his book ‘Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences’ Reamer conducted research in the possible ways of murder prevention, such as capital punishment. Reamer studied intensively into the works of other psychologists whom were also seeking ways of crime deterrence; however unfortunately he found that were little or no correlation between the increase of capital punishment and the decrease of violent crimes and murder.  Due to the large difference in types of serial killers with a variation of motives, ideologies and aspects, it is very difficult to rehabilitate a serial killer and some psychologists deem it as impossible. (7) Therefore if it is difficult to rehabilitate serial killers then prevention must be the only way to reduce the uprising cases of serial murders. Though there are many common traits serial killers share in their developmental stages there are several killers which had little or no signs or acquired traits for example, Jeffrey Dahmer killed, tortured and skinned small animals in his childhood whereas Richard Ramirez did not show any early signs however Ramirez had several injuries to his head as a child whereas Dahmer didn’t. (4,8)

There are many ways to rehabilitate murderers or other criminals using processes such as PCL-R, CBT and Token Economy Therapy, however there is no known rehabilitation therapies that can aid serial killing sociopaths to become civilized, and due to the level of their heinous crimes, it would be unethical to give them the privilege of being rehabilitated and eventually be allowed to be released.(8)

Richard Ramirez who was famed by the tabloid name of ‘The Night Stalker’ was a lower middle class second generation of Hispanic immigrants, though his upbringing was normal and average for his environment, he grew up in the small town of El Paso in Texas to Catholic parents. When Ramirez was two years old, a dresser fell on top of him which severely injured his forehead and required thirty stitches to close the wound and a few years later he acquired another head injury which knocked him unconscious. (2) During his childhood he frequently suffered from epileptic seizures which stopped in his early teens, to his friends and family he was known as being popular, funny, nice and outgoing, showing no signs of introversion though soon after he turned 12, he grew a close bond with his cousin Miguel Ramirez whom was a veteran soldier fighting in the Vietnam war. His cousin would often boast whilst they’d smoke weed, about the terrible crimes he committed during the cold war, and how he committed brutal rapes and murders and performed fellatio to decapitated heads of women, he exposed young Ramirez to images of such acts and Miguel also shot his wife dead during an argument in front of Ramirez. His relationship to his cousin and his influence was a key cornerstone moment in Ramirez’ life which may have been the causality of his serial killing tendencies. (1) This all occurred in the most vital developmental stage of human nature, puberty, which is a difficult stage in life when many changes are occurring and due to his experiences and influences, this key developmental stage was corrupted. In high school, Ramirez showed his clear change from being the nice, funny, considerate boy next door, to a gang member, Satanist, drug affiliate and hard rock lover. Ramirez then dropped out of school and started living on the streets and sleeping in cemeteries, he started stealing and committing petty theft to fuel for his drug addiction. In an El Paso hotel he attempted to rape his potential first victim however failed which led him to flee to California, and the unsuspecting communities were living amongst a man who would then lead a reign of terror which lasted from April 10th 1984 until August 31st 1985, the date he was apprehended. Prior to his first murder, during his time in California he became a hard drug addict, basked in alcoholism and cocaine and began using prostitutes. He also was a felon breaking and entering in homes, stealing cars, theft to fuel for his drug addiction although it is known that his burglaries were sexually motivated. (1, 2)

His murders were conducted as followed (2):

  • April 10th 1984 – 9 year old girl Mei Leung was found dead in a hotel basement where Ramirez lived. This was his first known murder which was initially unidentified as a link to his killing spree however it was only in 2009, Ramirez’s DNA was matched to DNA obtained at the crime scene.
  • June 28th 1984 – Jennie Vincow aged 79 was found brutally murdered in her apartment stabbed repeatedly whilst asleep in her bed, her throat was slashed so deeply that she was nearly decapitated. (Glassell Park)
  • March 17th 1985 – Ramirez attacked 22-year-old Maria Hernandez outside her home shooting her in the face with a 22 caliber handgun after she pulled into her garage. Inside the home was her roommate Dayle Okazaki aged 34, Ramirez shot and killed. Hernandez survived her attack. (Rosemead)
  • Within an hour of the home invasion, Ramirez attacked 30 year old Tsai-Lian “Veronica” Yu and shot her twice with the same handgun and fled. She was found breathing but was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The two attacks occurring on the same day attracted heavy media attention, and in turn causing panic and fear amongst the public. (Monterey Park)
  • March 27th 1985 – Ramirez entered a home that he had burgled a year earlier at approximately 2 a.m. and killed Vincent Zazzara aged 64, with a gunshot to his head from the same handgun, Zazzara’s wife Maxine aged 44, was awakened by her husband’s murder, and Ramirez beat her and bound her hands while demanding to know where her valuables were. While Ramirez ransacked the room, Maxine escaped her bonds and retrieved a shotgun from under the bed, which was not loaded, Ramirez was enraged and shot her three times, then with a large carving knife from the kitchen her body was mutilated with multiple stab wounds, and her eyes were gouged out and placed in a jewelry box, (1) which Ramirez left with. It was after this incident in which the investigators recovered a correlation to the murders by accrediting the same gun for the murders, thus concluding the crimes of a serial killer.
  • May 1985 – Harold Wu aged 66, who was shot in the head and his wife, Jean Wu aged 63, who was punched, bound, and then violently raped. Ramirez did not kill his Jean and left behind more clues to his identity, and was named “The Night Stalker” by the media. Survivors of his attacks provided the police with a description of a tall Hispanic man with long dark hair.
  • May 30th 1985 – Ramirez attacked Malvial Keller aged 83 and her disabled sister, Blanche Wolfe aged 80, beating each with a hammer. Ramirez attempted to rape Keller, but failed. Using lipstick, he drew pentagrams on Keller’s thigh and on the wall in the bedroom. Wolfe survived the attack.
  • May 31st 1985 – Ruth Wilson aged 41, was bound, raped, and sodomized by Ramirez, while her 12-year-old son was locked in a closet. Ramirez slashed Wilson once and then bound her and her son together and left, both survived.
  • July 5th 1985 – Ramirez broke into a home in Sierra Madre and bludgeoned sixteen-year-old Whitney Bennett with a tire iron as she slept in her bedroom. She survived.
  • July 7th 1985 – Linda Fortuna aged 63, was attacked and Ramirez failed in attempt to rape her.
  • July 20th 1985 – In Sun Valley Ramirez shot and killed a 32-year-old man, Chitat Assawahem. His wife Sakima, 29, was beaten and forced to perform oral intercourse. Ramirez then collected valuables and proceeded to leave.
  • Later in the same day a Glendale couple, Maxson Kneiding, 66, and his wife Lela, also 66, were shot and their corpses mutilated.
  • August 6th 1985 – Ramirez shot both Christopher Petersen, 38, and his wife, Virginia, 27, in the head. They both survived.
  • August 8th 1985 – Ramirez attacked another couple; shooting dead Ahmed Zia aged 35, before raping, sodomizing, and forcing Zia’s wife aged 28, to perform fellatio on him.
  • August 17th 1985 – Ramirez shot to death a 66-year-old man in San Fransisco, also shooting and beating his wife. The wife survived.
  • August 24th 1985 – Ramirez traveled 50 miles south of Los Angeles to Mission Viejo, and broke into the Mediterranean Village apartment of Bill Carns, 29, and his fiancée, Inez Erickson, 27. Ramirez shot Carns in the head and raped Erickson. He demanded she swear her love for satan and afterwards, forced her to perform oral intercourse on him. He then tied her and left.

Richard Ramirez was captured on August 31st 1985 on 13 counts of murders, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries. (1) His apprehension and arrest was a lengthy process, in the end he was captured by the public who identified him, chased and brutally battered him until the police arrived. A manual capture by the police however would have been very difficult as it was proven to be, as Ramirez committed inconsistent murders as some victims were beaten to death, bandaged, shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, raped and mutilated. His victims also varied, he attacked children, women, men, elderly and teenagers without a motive, thus making it difficult to find patterns and predict the next killing. At his trial, Ramirez was found guilty and sentenced to death row. During his trial, Ramirez had gained a notorious female fan following who would regularly write to him and pay him visits, send proposals and gifts throughout his time in prison and eventually Ramirez ended up marrying one of his admirers. (8)

The book ‘The Night Stalker’(1) by professor Philip Carlo goes into depth of the thought processes that Ramirez had and also in depth accounts of the victims, therefore showing both sides of the story. He conducted in depth interviews with Ramirez and the victims to produce his book. The book shows details of why he committed certain murders, for example Jennie Vincow; he had broken into her home to steal valuables and goods with which he would have sold for money, drugs and sex, unfortunately he realised that she was suffering from poverty and had no materialistic valuables, therefore he became enraged when he realised there was nothing worth stealing except for her soul. When he murdered her he became sexually excited and believed he had become one with the satan and with the ideology that the last vision of Vincow’s was him. Carlo tends to emphasise on Ramirez’ fantasies and beliefs of the satan and it is mentioned throughout the book, he stated “He (Ramirez) was certain that satan, archenemy of Christ, of all things good, was travelling with him and that satan would protect him so long as he stayed evil in his heart and showed no mercy.” This clearly is an indication that Ramirez’s motives behind killing were ritualistic, and he believed that his acts were of which satan would be pleased with. The book then further goes on to the explicity of Ramirez’s mind and thought processing which has shaped him into the man he is. In an interview with Ramirez after his prosecution, he admits to being evil and presents his ideologies one of his quotes which have become infamous is ‘Serial killers do, on a small scale, what capitalist governments do on a large one.’ (6) He also goes on to admitting that he enjoys killing and that is why he did it, the lack of remorse shows that Ramirez is a cold blooded killer, he also states that if he were to be released he would carry on killing. In a recent article by his niece states that when she went to visit him, he said to her that if she wasn’t his niece he would gladly have sexual intercourse with her and began to masturbate, the niece who was then mortified was told by Ramirez to not wear gold as satan would not be pleased. (5) His belief in the evil entity and lack of remorse even after more than two decades in prison on death row, shows that he is one of the many who are virtually impossible to rehabilitate and if ever released would cause a serious threat.(8)


The causality of Ramirez’s actions may be due to his early head injuries which caused a fissure in his development as child, also his strong bond with his deviant criminal cousin whom influenced him in the tender age during puberty which caused him to develop that lack of remorse and empathy fused with his early drug addiction and satanic beliefs which may have caused him to turn to killing. He was not assessed for his mental state nor was he granted an appeal. He admitted that he enjoyed killing, therefore showing that there was no real motive to his killing and in cases like Ramirez’ other than preventing him from being around negative influences and acquiring head injuries, there really is no way of preventing a person from becoming a serial killer. Cautious measures can be taken such as the right realistic measures, including zero tolerance and the ideology that negative upbringing, parenthood and childhood can cause criminality should be assessed, however there is no direct correlation to this and the reduction of serial murders. Serial killing is complex to analyse in the sense of generally pin pointing the causalities and prevention as there are several variations and hybrids of killers and killings and each have an individual cause and prevention measure. Though many psychologists aimed to categorise serial killers into types, there are always going to be such who don’t fit into a category or some who may fit into several. Psychology can aid in finding the cause of a single serial killer but not all collectively, there have been many theorists such as Lombroso, Freud etc. who attempted to generalise the causes of criminality, however failed due to the field of serial killers not fitting into their paradigms and in the same way, a prevention theory would only work to a particular serial killer but not to all. Psychology aids greatly in the conviction of criminals, due to a psychosis analysis which would be undertaken to prove if the criminal was mentally fit during the crimes, which may reduce their sentences and enroll such into mental institutions.  The flaw lies in the fact that laboratory tests cannot be conducted, the only analysis which can be conducted is with killers who have already committed their crime, and it would be unethical for one to predict someone who is mentally unfit to become a serial killer, and let them out to the public, though assessments such as this can aid in protecting the public from people who are seen as mentally unfit to reduce the possibilities of such crimes. In cases like Ramirez’s there is no way of preventing such criminals becoming serial killers and rehabilitating them, the only thing that can be done is to incarcerate them.




1)      Carlo, P. 1996. The night stalker. New York, NY: Kensington Books.

2)      En.wikipedia.org. 2013. Richard Ramirez – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Ramirez#Death [Accessed: 18 Jun 2013].

3)      En.wikipedia.org. 1970. Serial killer – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_killer [Accessed: 18 Jun 2013].

4)      Listverse. 2013. 10 Most Common Traits of Potential Serial Killers – Listverse. [online] Available at: http://listverse.com/2013/01/02/10-most-common-traits-of-potential-serial-killers/ [Accessed: 18 Jun 2013].

5)      Pelisek, C. 2013. My Uncle the Serial Killer: ‘Night Stalker’ Richard Ramirez’s Niece on His Death. [online] Available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/06/14/my-uncle-the-serial-killer-night-stalker-richard-ramirez-s-niece-on-his-death.html [Accessed: 18 Jun 2013].

6)      Ramirez, R. n.d.. A Jailhouse Interview with Richard Ramirez. Interviewed by Mike Watkiss [TV] San Quentin State Prison.

7)      Reamer, F. 2005. Heinous crime. New York: Columbia University Press.

8)      YouTube. 2000. Serial Killers ? Jeffrey Dahmer ? Night Stalker ? Documentary. [online] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNAI-LOUtFE [Accessed: 18 Jun 2013].

(1)   Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences – Frederic G Reamer.

(2)   ‘The Night Stalker’ – Philip Carlo.

(3)   http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/06/14/my-uncle-the-serial-killer-night-stalker-richard-ramirez-s-niece-on-his-death.html

(4)   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXs0gX9fXa0 (interview)

(5)   http://listverse.com/2013/01/02/10-most-common-traits-of-potential-serial-killers/

(6)   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Ramirez#Death

(7)   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_killer

(8)    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNAI-LOUtFE


3 responses to “What can prevent and cause the development of a serial killer? Can serial killers be rehabilitated? Featuring Richard Ramirez.

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