US & Canada

'Night Stalker' serial killer dies in California prison

Richard Ramirez in court in 1985 showing a pentagram on his palm
Image caption Ramirez was arrested in 1985

US serial killer Richard Ramirez - known as the "Night Stalker" - has died in hospital in California.

Ramirez, 53, was on death row in San Quentin prison after being convicted in 1989 of 13 murders. Officials said he died of natural causes.

Ramirez terrorised Southern California in 1984-5 with a rampage of sexual assault and murder.

Satanic symbols were left at some of the murder scenes by the killer, who broke into victims' homes at night.

Ramirez was captured and beaten by residents in East Los Angeles in 1985 as he attempted to hijack a car.

He was recognised from a photo published in newspapers after police identified him as a suspect from a fingerprint.

Los Angeles prosecutor Alan Yochelson, who was involved in the case, said his death ended "a pretty tragic period in the history of Los Angeles County".

"Richard Ramirez hurt a lot of people and I think our thoughts should be with the next of kin and the survivors, because their lives were changed forever by this man."

Random slaughter

A drug addict and self-styled devil-worshipper, Ramirez mutilated the bodies of some of his victims.

They included an accountant, a lawyer, a mechanic and a church official. Some were children, others grandparents.

Most of the killings happened in the space of a few months in 1985. The random murder spree caused widespread fear, leading to a surge in sales of guns and locks for doors and windows.

Ramirez has also been linked to other murders for which he was never brought to trial.

After he was given the death sentence, he said: "Big deal. Death always went with the territory. See you in Disneyland."

Once in prison he attracted a number of female admirers. Some visited him and in 1996 he married freelance journalist Doreen Lioy at a visiting room in San Quentin jail.

A horror film based on his life - titled Night Stalker - was released in 2002.

California has not executed a prisoner on death row since 2006 because of a legal battle over how inmates are put to death.