‘Night Stalker’ tied to SF victim through DNA

After unexpectedly uncovering DNA evidence that “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez may have murdered a 9-year-old girl in the Tenderloin in 1984, the San Francisco police department will begin digging through that year’s cold cases to see if others may also have been victims of the satanic killer.

“We are looking at all the homicides that occurred in that general time, place and those general areas … [looking for] any similarities between this homicide and others,” said Deputy Chief David Shinn of San Francisco Police Department’s bureau of investigation.

Ramirez is on death row at San Quentin State Prison, after being convicted of 13 murders that terrorized Californians in 1984 and 1985. He was dubbed the “Night Stalker” because he entered homes through unlocked windows and doors, and in some cases left satanic symbols at the crime scene.

The murders Ramirez was convicted for occurred in Los Angeles. However, just before his 1985 arrest, he was linked to the murder of 66-year-old Peter Pan and the torture of his wife Barbara in San Francisco. He was not tried for those crimes.

Police yesterday revealed new DNA evidence linking Ramirez to the April 10, 1984 death of 9-year-old Mei Leung, who was found murdered in the basement of the residential hotel her family lived in on O’Farrell Street in the Tenderloin.

Mei’s case has remained open since her death, but police are crediting cold case Inspector Holly Pera for taking a new look at it. Pera said the murder occurred in the neighborhood she served as a rookie on the force, and the horror of the case haunted her.

“It’s the type of case as a new officer, a case involving a little girl, that you don’t forget,” she said.

Matthew Gabriel, a DNA technician at the crime lab, said the DNA sample collected from the crime scene 25 years ago returned a “cold-hit,” matching Ramirez’ DNA profile.

On Wednesday police served Ramirez with a search warrant to verify the DNA match.

Investigators discovered Ramirez was living just blocks from the Leung family at the time of the murders. Ramirez is believed to have lived at two Tenderloin residential hotels, at 373 Ellis St. and 561 Mason St., in the spring of 1984. Both are within a mile of Leung’s home.

Mei’s family, who still live in the Bay Area, have been notified of the development, Shinn said. He said they were “very grateful” to hear the case may have some resolution.

Old evidence yields Ramirez’s DNA profile

San Francisco’s crime lab pored over numerous old items from Mei Leung’s murder scene before hitting forensic science’s version of pay dirt by finding serial killer Richard Ramirez’s DNA on a piece of evidence.

About five years ago, the lab began searching for DNA on a variety of old evidence from the case, all gathered and stored in 1984 — long before DNA profiling became a standard practice for forensic scientists.

In the end, one of the lab’s DNA criminalists “was successful in generating this profile from what I would describe as an extremely difficult item to analyze,” said Matthew Gabriel, the crime lab’s DNA technical leader.

Police have not identified the piece of evidence the DNA was discovered on.

The DNA profile was then run through CODIS — the Combined DNA Index System — a database with samples from 1.2 million people, including all convicted criminals in the state’s prison system. There was a hit — and it was with Ramirez’s DNA.

But the DNA specialists’ work is not over yet, Gabriel said. On Wednesday police inspectors served a search warrant to Ramirez to collect a new sample of his DNA to confirm the match.

Investigators Joseph Toomey and Holly Pera said Ramirez was cooperative with providing the sample.

“He made no comment,” Pera said.

The Night Stalker

Name: Richard Ramirez
DOB: Feb. 29, 1960 in
El Paso, Texas
Murder timeframe:
Convictions: 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries
Penalty: Death penalty
Signature: Drew satanic pentagrams in lipstick on walls and on a victim. Claims to be the right-hand man of Satan.
What led to his capture: Angry Los Angeles residents recognized him as he tried to carjack a woman in her driveway.

Timeline of the murders

April 10, 1984: Nine-year-old Mei Leung was found hanging over a pipe in the basement of her apartment building at 765 O’Farrell St.  

June 1984: Jennie Vincow’s throat was slashed in her Los Angeles apartment.

March 17, 1985: Dayle Okazaki and Tsai-Lian Yu were shot.

March 27, 1985: Vincent and Maxine Zazzarra were both shot.

April 15, 1985: William and Lillian Doi were attacked in their sleep. Lillian survived.

May 29, 1985: Mabel Bell, 84, was violently beaten.

July 2, 1985: Mary Louise Cannon was found beaten and with her throat slit.

July 7, 1985: Joyce Nelson was beaten with a blunt object.

July 20, 1985: Lela and Max Kneiding were shot.

Aug. 8, 1985: Elyas Abowath was shot in the head while he slept.

Aug. 17, 1985: Ramirez traveled north to San Francisco and allegedly shot Peter Pan in his Lake Merced home.

Aug. 30, 1985: Los Angeles police release a photo of Ramirez to the media. It takes citizens 12 hours to find him, and he is arrested.

Oct. 1986: Ramirez pleads not guilty.

July 1989: 165 witnesses and 658 exhibits are introduced into evidence and the case is sent to the jury.

Sept. 1989: Ramirez is found guilty of 13 counts of murder, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries.

Today: Ramirez remains on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison.


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