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A Year Can't Ease Anxieties of Attack by Night Stalker

August 24, 1986|KRISTINA LINDGREN | Times Staff Writer

Like most Southern Californians on Aug. 24, 1985, the family was riveted to evening news reports that the Night Stalker serial killer, just blamed for a new murder and assault in San Francisco, was believed headed back to the Southland.

"It'd be incredible if he came here to Mission Viejo," Grace Yoo, then 18, remarked nervously to the rest of the family.

She recalled later that her father did something unusual that night: He shut and locked all the windows and doors of their single-story home on Chrisanta Drive despite the sweltering heat.

At 5 the next morning, neighbor John Cox was leaving to play golf when he stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of swarming Sheriff's Department patrol cars and police barricade tape roping off three houses directly across the street.

Neighbors 'Just Knew' It

It would not be confirmed for another 9 1/2 hours. But retired personnel manager Jean Dickson and many others living on the quiet, tree-lined drive say they "just knew" it was the Night Stalker.

Now, as the first anniversary of the vicious attack on their neighbor, William R. Carns Jr., approaches, the people of Chrisanta Drive no longer sleep with loaded guns beside their beds or sweat in terror behind bolted windows during a blistering heat wave.

But for many in this quintessential suburban neighborhood, where the serial killer shot the sleeping computer engineer and sexually assaulted his fiancee last Aug. 25, the feeling of vulnerability and violation of their once-safe haven persists.

Twelve-year-old Jon (Bubba) Cox had barricaded his bedroom door and slept at the foot of his bed every night until a few weeks ago.

Roger and Sandra Bradshaw, who live across the street from the Carns house, have installed a sophisticated alarm system. A lawn sign advertising that fact also bears the warning: "armed response."

For James Romero III, the teen-ager hailed as a hero for spotting a car and part of a license plate number that led to the arrest of Richard Ramirez, suspect in the string of at least 14 murders and 21 assaults throughout California, the bad dreams have stopped. But James, who doesn't admit to fear, still awakens at night at the slightest sound.

His mother, Emily, believes the anxiety her now-14-year-old son has suffered may be the reason he will repeat his last semester of junior high school.

"This Night Stalker business has left terror in the lives of so many people," said Dickson, 65, who installed bolts in her sliding glass doors, locks on an outside gate and extra floodlights around her home.

The siege had its beginnings at least six months earlier in quiet residential neighborhoods of suburban Los Angeles County.

The assailant, once called the Valley Intruder because most of the attacks occurred in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, would break into dark, unlocked homes. Some victims were shot, others fatally stabbed, strangled, slashed or bludgeoned. In several attacks on couples, the sleeping man was shot while the woman was left beaten and raped, but alive. In others, both were killed.

On the weekend of the attack on Carns, San Francisco police announced a murder attributed to the serial killer had taken place in their city. And in a widely televised news conference, they speculated that the killer was on his way back to Southern California.

On Aug. 25, about 2:30 a.m., an intruder entered Carns' house on Chrisanta Drive through a living room window and shot him three times in the head. His fiancee was beaten, raped and bound. She managed to free herself and telephone for help.

Earlier Report Linked

Homicide detectives later would link a report taken 90 minutes earlier at the Romero home 10 blocks away. James Romero III had been inside his family garage, working on his bikes. He reported a suspicious car and gave part of a license plate number to sheriff's deputies called to his home.

Neighbors would say later--although law enforcement officials would not confirm it--that the serial killer was frightened away as he tried to break into the Romero house. That was why, they said, the youth darted out of the garage to see the fleeing car.

Five days after the attack on Carns, three law-enforcement agencies announced an all-points bulletin for Richard Ramirez, then 25, after fingerprints matching his were lifted from the stolen orange Toyota spotted driving from the Romero home.

The next morning, Ramirez was captured by angry residents of an East Los Angeles neighborhood who foiled an attempted car theft.

Now 26, the rangy, gap-toothed drifter from El Paso, Tex., has been ordered to stand trial in Los Angeles County later this year on 14 murder charges and 31 other felony counts stemming from the seven-month spree of kidnaping, rape and murder.

In Orange County, Ramirez was charged with attempted murder, rape, burglary and robbery in connection with the attack on Carns and his girlfriend. A preliminary hearing has been set for June, 1987, after Ramirez's anticipated lengthy trial in Los Angeles.

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