Though Richard Ramirez originally terrorized the greater Los Angeles area in the '80s, a new audience is now getting to see the extent of his depravity in the four-part Netflix docuseries, Night Stalker.
Ramirez used a wide range of weapons to burglarize, rape, torture, and oftentimes, murder his victims. After years of investigations, he was ultimately apprehended in 1985. He died from cancer in 2013 while awaiting his execution.
Before he was caught, Ramirez left behind shoe prints from the same sneakers, calling cards, and other pieces of evidence at many of his crime scenes. Plus, survivors also were able to narrow down his appearance and help investigators. But there was one impediment that many think slowed down the search. It came from the then-mayor of San Francisco, Dianne Feinstein.
Dianne Feinstein's press conference "jeopardized" the Night Stalker investigation.
While most of Richard Ramirez's crimes took place in the greater Los Angeles area, he veered from his normal zone on one notable occasion. In August of 1985, he shot and killed 66-year-old accountant Peter Pan in his San Francisco home. He assaulted and beat Peter Pan's wife, Barbara Pan. She did survive, and she later gave police information about the assailant's appearance.
Certain aspects of the crime scene, including a drawing of a pentagram, convinced the authorities that the killer was also behind many of the most gruesome crimes in Southern California. A subsequent ballistics investigation and shoe print analysis confirmed this.
Before this was shared publicly, investigators asked the then-mayor of San Francisco, Dianne Feinstein (who served from 1978 to 1988), to authorize a reward for information about the Pan intruder. While announcing a $10,000 reward at a press conference, Feinstein revealed information about the case that had never been made public before.
"He's someone that will go into a home at night and will kill. It's a very serious situation. There's a $10,000 reward for any information which can lead to his arrest and his conviction," she said.
Her next statement would haunt some of the people actively working on the case.
"Ballistics on the weapon that killed both Mr. and Mrs. Pan out on Eucalyptus over the weekend are the same ballistics on, I understand, more than a dozen murders committed in Southern California," she added.
Prior to this press conference, members of the public were not aware that the murders had been linked together via a shoe print and ballistics. They also didn't know any information about the vehicle or the shoes.
Detective Frank Salerno, who worked on the investigation, explained why the mayor's actions negatively impacted the case.
"She vomited all the really important information out to the public," he recalled in Night Stalker. "She gave up the fact that we had connected these cases with a shoe print, with firearms evidence."
The former mayor revealed aspects of the case that only the killer would have known. It, therefore, made it more difficult when interrogating suspects.
Plus, the detectives believed that the killer was actively watching any and all coverage of the case. By learning this information, he would be able to adapt with the weapon, vehicle, or shoes.
Detective Salerno revealed that they never recovered the Avia shoes that the Night Stalker had worn during most of his crimes.
"I mean, we were pissed. Absolutely livid," the detective shared about the aftermath of the mayor's news meeting.
Sherman Block, the former Sheriff of Los Angeles County, later held a press conference of his own. He shared his regret that certain agencies had decided to publicize crucial information in the case.
"I am telling you that information has significantly jeopardized the investigation that is underway," the sheriff stated, before adding that they had a "lot less" to work with as a result.
Though Mayor Feinstein's actions may have impeded the Night Stalker investigation, he was caught in August of 1985, just days after the attack on the Pan family.
Where is Dianne Feinstein now?
Though the former mayor is a key figure in the third episode of Night Stalker ("Lock. Your. Doors."), she did not contribute to the docuseries.
After serving as the mayor for 10 years, Dianne Feinstein ran for governor of California in 1990. She lost to Peter Wilson, but she won a seat in the Senate in 1992 after a special election.
She has been re-elected five times. At 87 years old, Senator Feinstein is the oldest sitting senator. In January of 2021, Feinstein filed paperwork with the FEC, which many interpreted to be an announcement that she would run for office again in 2024.
However, a representative for Feinstein downplayed the FEC filing.
"To be clear, Senator Feinstein has had a campaign committee since she took office, as all senators must. In order to keep this account active, the senator has to maintain filings with the FEC," the spokesperson said to Los Angeles Magazine on Jan. 13. "Yesterday's filings merely reflected an updated address."
Night Stalker is available to stream on Netflix now.