'American Horror Story': The True Story Behind Zach Villa's '1984' Night Stalker Character

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Richard Ramirez 1984
Richard Ramirez and Zach Villa. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and FX

American Horror Story is back with another installment. This time being a slasher-themed season dubbed 1984, about five friends who escape Los Angeles to work as counselors at Camp Redwood. Co-created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the FX anthology horror series’ ninth season stars AHS veterans Billie Lourd, Cody Fern, Emma Roberts, John Carrol Lynch and Leslie Grossman

Among the newcomers to the franchise this year are Pose actress Angelica Ross, DeRon Horton, Gus Kenworthy, Matthew Morrison and Zach Villa, who is first seen in the premiere attacking heroine Brooke Thompson (Roberts) when it’s revealed that his character is Richard Ramirez.  

“You’re going to be famous,” Ramirez tells Brooke. “You’re going to die by the hands of the Night Stalker. I will find you. Satan will show me the way.”

So who exactly is Ramirez? What did he do? And how does he fit into the series? ET breaks it all down for you. 

Richard Ramirez and the Night Stalker

Widely known as the Night Stalker in the news, Ramirez is responsible for killing 14 people between 1984 and 1985. Most of his victims were living in the Los Angeles area at the time of their assault and murder, while three in the San Francisco Bay area were his first and two of his last killings. 

His crime spree initially started on June 28, 1984, when he brutally murdered his first victim -- a 79-year-old woman living in Glassell Park -- by repeatedly stabbing her in bed. But it wasn’t until March 17, 1985 that he started attacking -- often assault or rape -- and killing people repeatedly throughout the subsequent months. Most of his victims were killed between May and August, when he reportedly told one of his rape victims, “Tell them the Night Stalker was here.”

Ramirez was eventually arrested on Aug. 30, 1985.

Three years later, Ramirez finally appeared in court, though his trial had many disruptions, from Ramirez yelling “Hail Satan!” to an unrelated murder of one of the jurors. On Sept. 20, 1989, Ramirez was convicted on 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries. He remained on death row until he died on June 7, 2013 at 53 years old.   

His Unexpected Connection to John Stamos

After spending the summer of 1985 terrorizing the Los Angeles area, Ramirez was headline news. According to author Philip Carlo, by the time of his arrest, he was the lead story of practically every major news program in California. 

Doreen Lioy, an editor of Tiger Beat magazine at the time who helped launch John Stamos’ career, developed a fascination with Ramirez. Soon after he was incarcerated, Lioy started writing him letters. According to CNN, “she began visiting him in prison, sat through his trial” before eventually marrying him in 1996 at the San Quentin State Prison. 

In a 1997 interview with CNN, Lioy described Ramirez as “kind,” “funny” and “charming.” She said at the time, “I think he’s really a great person. He’s my best friend; he’s my buddy.” The two remained married until his death.

“She groomed me,” John Stamos recently told ET about his days before landing his breakout role in 1982 as Blackie Parrish on General Hospital. Lioy was the first to feature him in the magazine, he said, first in the editor’s section in a photo alongside her before he eventually became a staple on the cover. “She was sort of like a sister and became best friends with my mother -- she was a very lonely woman -- [and] spent all the holidays with us.” 

At the time Lioy was courting Ramirez, she was still writing Stamos’ mother letters. Soon after, however, the family started distancing themselves over her association with the killer. “I remember my dad shutting [my mom’s friendship with Lioy] down fast," Stamos said. Don’t answer the phone; don’t write her back, he recalled his father, William, telling her.

Ramirez in Pop Culture and on ‘1984’

Ramirez’s story has resurfaced in recent years as part of the recent true-crime craze in film, TV and podcasts. Lifetime produced the 2016 TV film, The Night Stalker, starring Lou Diamond Phillips as the serial killer and Kimberly Jürgen as Lioy, while the killer has been the subject of several podcasts including “Last Podcast on the Left,” “Murder Made Me Famous” and “True Crime All the Time.” 

While not a continuation of the character, Murphy first included a version of Ramirez on American Horror Story: Hotel in the episode, “Devil’s Night,” which also included Aileen Wuornos (Lily Rabe), Jeffrey Dahmer (Seth Gabel) and John Wayne Gacy (1984’s Lynch). 

While Villa is portraying the real-life serial killer, he tells W magazine that it’s “this magical mashup that happens where -- regardless of how much research you’ve done -- the role becomes something else completely. It’s always a version of this person.” And when it comes to Ramirez appearing on 1984, the actor explains to The Wrap that “Richard was, I mean, obviously a real person, and so I think it’s interesting, like, why he found his way to Camp Redwood. You’ll just have to watch and see I guess, at the end of the day. [Brooke] gets away, I mean, I feel like, if anything serial killers do tend to get obsessed with their victims.”

American Horror Story: 1984 airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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