Throughout the history of American newspapers are examples of editors and headlines affixing catchy names to notorious crimes and criminals. This is one of the few things that newspapers do that can fairly be attributed to the impulse to "sell papers." Since last week's death of 1980s serial killer Richard Ramirez, veterans of the late Los Angeles Herald Examiner have been recalling that paper's role in dubbing Ramirez the "Night Stalker." Joe Eckdahl, now an assistant managing editor at the Los Angeles Times, wrote in the Times over the weekend that the name was thought up during a brainstorming "rump session" at the Her Ex after authorities linked a siege of murders into a serial killer's spree.
Many names were bandied about at the meeting — among them "The Walk-in Killer" and "The Screen-Door Intruder," each referencing the ease with which the killer accessed the victims' homes. The name Night Stalker was offered up for discussion and initially rejected.
"The Night Stalker" was a 1972 TV movie and short-lived series starring Darren McGavin as a Las Vegas newspaper reporter investigating a series of murders committed by a vampire.
There was no evidence that Ramirez was stalking his victims nor at the time were there any published satanic links to the crimes. Still, the name resonated with the group and the meeting was adjourned.
The suspect was first called "The Night Stalker" in the newspaper's next edition.
The name was picked up by other media, even eventually by the Times, and stuck. Ramirez was convicted of 13 murders and sent to Death Row at San Quentin. He died Friday at a hospital in Marin County near the prison. The Herald Examiner front page from Ramirez's arrest was posted to Twitter over the weekend by Times city editor Shelby Grad. "When news of Richard Ramirez's death broke last week, it brought back a flood of memories from my years at the Herald Examiner, where i was executive news editor. This was my front page and, yes, i wrote the headline, though it pretty much wrote itself," George Foulsham writes on Facebook.
Also in the Times, Patt Morrison writes about the fear that Ramirez had instilled in Southern California in 1985. She notes that he first was called the "Valley Intruder" because that's where his home invasion killings first occurred. Sample:
Southern California is miserably accustomed to serial killers — the Manson Family, the Hillside Strangler, the Freeway Killer, the Skid Row Slasher.
But there had never been one quite like Richard Ramirez, who deserved the flashy, fearsome tabloid nickname "The Night Stalker."