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Serial killers are those who commit three or four murders in a row, with a period of mental recovery in between (Schechter and Everitt, 69). Serial murderers are the most violent criminals because they lack any emotional instinct including guilt or empathy. The majority of serial killers in the United States are Caucasian males who prey on white Americans. In recent years, there has been speculation about what motivates serial murderers to murder ordinary people, but no single scientific theory has emerged to justify this psychological vice. For one instance, as opposed to other nations, the United States has a disproportionately high number of incarcerated serial murderers. One of these renowned serial killers who caused unwanted challenges was Richard Ramirez.
Early Life And Introduction To Crime
Ramirez was born in Texas, on February 29, 1960, the youngest of Julian and Mercedes Ramirez's five children. His father had a Mexican origin, but he later worked a casual worker in the United States. He was an industrious man although prone to a high temperament that frequently resulted in fights.
Ramirez suffered two severe head injuries as a young child. At the age of five years, he bumped into a swing and became unconscious. According to The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez, 86)), Ramirez experienced recurrent epileptic seizures that persevered into his early adulthood.
At 12 years, Ramirez got inspired by his older cousin, Mike, a decorated U.S. Army soldier who often bragged of his macabre doings while serving in the army. Mike often displayed Polaroid pictures of his casualties, mostly women he had raped. In some of the images, Mike posed with the grievously damaged head of a Vietnamese woman he had physically abused while serving in Vietnam. Of course, that proved enough background that made Ramirez begin serial killing.
Furthermore, Ramirez also abused drugs such as bhang at an early age of ten. He became friends with Mike because of the many joint and gory war stories he narrated. As their friendship grew, Mike taught him some of his military techniques, like killing with precision and surety. At this time, Ramirez had started to seek breakout from his father's brutal temper by spending his nights in a nearby cemetery.
It was in the cemetery that Ramirez cultivated an interest in Satanism. He was an unapologetic follower of Satan and justified that fact by carving a pentagram tattoo into the palm of his hand, the one he displayed to the courtroom and the media during his trial.
At adolescent, Ramirez began blending his flourishing sexual fantasies with barbarity, including rape. While still in school, he took up a job at a Holiday Inn where he used his unlimited access to rob sleeping guests. His engagements ended suddenly after a guest returned to his designated room to find Ramirez attempting to rape his wife. Though the man ruthlessly beat Ramirez, criminal charges could not proceed as the couple, who lived in another state, declined to go back to testify against him.
Ramirez dropped out of High School in the ninth grade. He moved to California at the age 22, where he settled permanently. It was in California that he began his serial killing crimes.
In California, Ramirez spent most of his time working at the Los Angeles Port Authority; one of the most drug-infested and crime-prone areas in California. To satisfy his ever-increasing drug abuse and addiction, he robbed several houses and sold the stolen property to maintain his ‘drug life.’
Ramirez's is believed to have begun his killing spree in May of 1984 in San Francisco when in 2009 his DNA was identified in the body of 9-year-old Mei Leung. The kid's lifeless body got discovered in a hotel basement where Ramirez was living. However, this murder was not initially linked to Ramirez's killing spree until several years later after DNA testing proved him the killer (Bronswick, 120).
The documented murders of Richard Ramirez are believed to have started on June 28, 1984, when Ramirez stabbed 79-year-old Jennie Vincow while asleep in her apartment. Her throat got slashed so deeply that she was nearly decapitated. He would continue his two-year hysteria, raping and tormenting more than 25 people, and killing over a dozen, most of them dying in their own houses.
As mentioned earlier, his capture was as a result of being recognized from one of his many arrest photos plastered on the front pages of local newspapers. After being identified, a mob of angry residents of Los Angeles chased and captured him, before mercilessly beating him while trying to highjack a car.
Trial and Conviction
Ramirez, however, claimed that he had received wrong accusations and he tried all means to delay the hearing including changing his legal counsel severally. The geographical spread of his crimes also complicated matters and caused some of the charges against Ramirez to be dropped to expedite the process. Ultimately he was charged with 14 counts of murder and 31 other crimes in connection with his killings.
Three years after his arrest, the jury selection procedure started, and the charges took a whole year to hear due to the high number of witnesses and the enormous amount of evidence presented. During the trial process, Ramirez attracted a large following which was made up of mostly women who purported to be devil worshippers and would attend his trial on a daily basis. He later married one of his women supporters while in prison.
On September 1989, the jury unanimously arrived at a liable conclusion on all the 43 charges, which consisted of 13 counts of murder, five charges of attempted murder, 11 sexual assault charges and 14 burglary charges (Bronswick, 145). Ramirez got sentenced to death in the California gas chamber.
Theoretical Explanation Of Why He Became A Serial Killer
Many probable theoretical reasons could explain why Richard Ramirez turned into a serial killer who had no remorse. However, of all the plausible theories, the social process theory best describes the behavior of Ramirez and his transformation to a serial killer.
The social process theory states that all individuals have the intrinsic ability to be criminals regardless of their race, social class or gender. The approach also purports that it is the societal bonds that define the behavior of the individuals in the society. If the relationships are constructive, then the societal members will be law-abiding, but if they are counterproductive, then most of the people will be deviants (Kubrin 86).
The social process theory is broken down into two sub-theories that substantially explain how individuals acquire their behaviors;-
The social learning theory
The theory claims that criminal behavior is a learned behavior. Therefore, criminals learn their criminal behavior from other criminals. That is conspicuously evident in the life of Richard Ramirez who learned his criminal conduct from his cousin, mike, who served in the army.
The neutralization theory
The neutralization theory also falls under the social process theories. This approach claims that criminals are not always doing illegal activities and breaking the law all the time. Sometimes they take a break from illegalities to spend time with other people mostly their friends and peers. However, when they are in these groups, it is not surprising to realize that the friends and peers are also lawbreakers.
In the Richard case, he spent most of his time with his cousin Mike, who had a significant influence on him. Mike was also an outlaw who had committed several acts of felony including later shooting his wife.
There are other theories such as the social control theory and the social structure theory that could explain the deviant behavior of Richard Ramirez, but the social process theory is the most appropriate theory that adequately analyzes the conduct.
How Ramirez Could Have Avoided the Crimes
Several factors worked in combination to make Richard Ramirez a serial killer. These factors can be explained by several theories as stated above. But, according to Teevan, et al. (45-46) there is a high possibility that the behavior of Richard Ramirez could have got controlled from an early age and his crimes avoided.
Many theoretical perspectives try to analyze and predict behavior control. Had Richards’s deviance been realized at an earlier stage in life, the crimes he committed would have got avoided as his behavior would have been easy to control before he developed into a full-blown serial killer.
The control theory is one sociological theory that explains how deviant behavior can get controlled efficiently. The theory states that individuals are primarily concerned with satisfying their needs and desires but do not want to face the consequences resulting from their actions. The society can, therefore, control deviance by setting severe punishments for people who violate the law.
The control theory has been utilized to understand why most people do not engage in criminal actions. The control theory has two micro theories that explain the absence of deviance in a state.
External controls include individuals and state institutions such as the police, family members, teachers, the governments and other authorities that will react when a person displays the tendency to deviate from the norms.
Internal control refers to the individual’s values, conscience and desire to receive approval from his close friends and peers.
In the case of Richard Ramirez, his inappropriate behavior could have got eluded had external controls be in full action. His initial efforts of deviance should have received severe punishment. However, the punishment should have started with Mike, his notorious cousin, who influenced Richards’s behavior.
Richard had no internal control as he got influenced by outlaws such as his cousin and, therefore, the best method to check his deviant behavior was to use external controls like reporting him to the police or sending him to a rehabilitation center.
Serial killers are often influenced by either traumatic experience in their childhood or by close relatives whose engagement in crime goes unpunished. Richard Ramirez was no exception to this truism. The influence his cousin, Mike, had on him and the fact that Mike was never appropriately punished for his crimes had a significant motivation for his killing behavior.
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Bronswick, Amy L. "Court-Ordered Psychological Assessment." Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime, pp. 120,145.
Kubrin, Charis E. "Social Disorganization Theory: Then, Now, and in the Future." Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research, 2009, p. 86.
Schechter, Harold, and David Everitt. The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Pocket Books, 2006, p. 69.
Teevan, James J., et al. "Approaches to Deviance: Theories, Concepts, and Research Findings." American Sociological Review, vol. 35, no. 1, 1970, pp. 45, 46.
The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez. Tantor Media Inc, 2016, p. 86.
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