Glynn Martin is a retired officer from the Los Angeles Police Department and the author of multiple books, including Satan’s Summer in the City of Angels: The Social Impact of the Night Stalker. Starting the summer of 1984, less than a year into Martin’s policing career, a series of home invasion rapes and homicides sent the city into a panic. Once investigators realized they were connected to the same man, dubbed the “Night Stalker,” and released a police sketch, people in the area became more vigilant and changed the ways they were living, including locking their windows and doors at night and sleeping with baseball bats and weapons next to their beds. (A story included in Martin’s book recounts how one resident’s little brother, a teenager at the time, would sleep under his mother’s bed, clutching a knife.)
On August 31, 1985, the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, was captured by citizens on the streets of East L.A. after attempting to steal a car, thus ending his string of at least 14 murders.
Martin shares his experience as a young cop in the L.A. area during Richard Ramirez’s reign of terror with A&E Real Crime’s Adam Janos.
We didn’t even have locks on the door, before this all rolled around. All us kids lived on one little street—a block away from the elementary school. We’d play sports in the street, or in adjoining yards: wiffle ball, touch football. In fifth grade, you’d pass your bicycle test, which was similar to a vehicle road test. You’d take your two-wheeler between cones and learn traffic signals, and then after that you’d get to start riding your bike to school.
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, Glendale, California was a considered one of the safest cities in the nation—a great place to raise a family. When I was 13 and one of my best friend’s bicycles was stolen, we thought it was the end of the planet. That’s how rarely those kinds of things happened.
After the police academy, I got transferred to my station. This was September 30, 1983.
Hollywood. It was supposed to be Tinseltown, but it was filth: overrun with prostitutes who would lean on your car at any red light or stop sign. The Olympics were coming the next summer, so we tried to clean it up…but it was like putting lipstick on a pig. And there was lots of violent crime and murders there, too.
We knew about the ‘Night Stalker’ well before that name was coined—there was a burglar out there, committing sexual assault, murder. We were all on alert.
As more and more of these occurred, people got cranked up. These homes were single-story residences, and there were all these ridiculous rumors in the streets—that he only attacked single-storied houses at the end of cul-de-sacs, that he only attacked houses painted white with yellow trim. I remember sitting at a traffic light and people would signal for me to roll down my window. They’d ask, “Did you catch him yet? Have you got him?” They didn’t need to explain. You knew who they were talking about.
I was deployed on bicycle. Plainclothes, with a partner. A four-block stretch of upper-middle class houses south of Hancock Park, and we would ride by with walkie-talkies. A mile and a half stretch: just riding up and down, inspecting houses.
One night we saw a house with the front door wide open, the lights all out. We called the troops on that one, but it was nothing. They’d just forgotten to close the front door.
I was back to riding my bicycle again. I was 26 years old.
Ramirez killed in Glendale that summer. Max and Lela Kneiding. With a machete. Nearly took their heads off. My father was a police officer—he was the Commanding Officer of Glendale’s Detective Bureau and he reported directly to the Chief of Police—and he got summoned to the scene. I think that’s why he reacted the way he did.
I remember my mom calling me up, freaking out, saying, “Hey, dad got a gun and now he’s putting locks on the door.”
They’d raised two curious boys so my dad never kept a gun at home. Never had any locks on the doors. We’d never even had air-conditioning—when it was hot we just left all the windows open. But everything was different now.
Absent World War II, I don’t think Glendale ever saw a bigger lockdown. Gun sales increased sharply. People who had never owned guns went and bought them. And people who were once comfortable leaving their windows wide open while they slept, kept them closed now. Even in the sweltering heat of the summer. It was such a different atmosphere from the one I’d grown up in.
One night I came home and I was standing in the front of my house. One of my neighbors came up to me to ask what they should do about the killer on the loose, how to stay safe. I told him: lock the windows, lock the door. Then another neighbor came, and another. Soon there was half a dozen of them, and I was telling them whatever I could. These were people who’d known me since I was 5 years old. I never thought I’d be standing out in front of that house explaining how to protect themselves from a serial killer.
I remember when the Night Stalker’s sketch came out. It’s the only sketch I’ve ever held onto. I’d carry it with me always, in plain clothes and in uniform, until the day he was apprehended.
That happened at the end of that summer, 1985. He got caught out on the streets of East L.A., by some of the residents there after he tried to steal a car.
Things didn’t totally change overnight. People kept asking me questions.
“What are they going to do?” they’d say. “Is he ever going to get out?” “I’m sure glad they got a hold of him… but are we sure he wasn’t working with somebody else?”
And while I wanted to calm their fears, those were the questions I really didn’t have answers to at the time.
Richard Ramirez was convicted of 13 murders and 30 other felonies on September 21, 1989 and later received the death penalty. DNA evidence later showed he was connected to at least one additional murder. On June 7, 2013, Ramirez died of complications from lymphoma at age 53 while on death row.