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Any Excuse to Party

Publishing: The famous gather at Elaine's to celebrate the notorious--serial killer Richard Ramirez. Or, rather, author Philip Carlo, who has written a book on the Night Stalker.


NEW YORK — Here at Elaine's, America's premier literary salon, the old, smoky walls are filled with framed photos and book jackets touting New York's intellectual elite:

Gay Talese, George Plimpton, Lewis Lapham, Nicholas Pileggi, Richard Ramirez. . . .

Hold it: Richard Ramirez?

"O-o-o just look at him," marvels Debbie Babitt, copy director for Kensington Books, as she ogles an enlarged, red-tinted poster of the Night Stalker, California's most infamous--and feared--serial killer. "He looks like a sexy rock star with those big, sensual lips."

Babitt tries to inch forward and get a closer view, but the huge, happy crowd won't let her move in any direction. In an age of instant media celebrity for mass killers, this is Richard Ramirez night at Elaine's--a festive New York book party about a California tragedy.

Actually, it's Philip Carlo's night. The Brooklyn-born writer spent three years researching the true crime story that riveted Los Angeles in 1985, and he's just published "The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez" (Kensington). Longtime friends like Danny Aiello and Richard Belzer have come by to congratulate him, and movie buzz fills the room.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 17, 1996 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 2 View Desk 1 inches; 13 words Type of Material: Correction
Book party--In some editions of Thursday's Life & Style, Grace Robbins was misidentified.

"Does this look like a great motion picture? You bet your life it does," says Aiello, sitting at Woody Allen's traditional table. "We live in a country that's supposed to be free, but we have to remember to close our doors, because schmucks like Ramirez are running around."


For those who don't remember, Ramirez traumatized California in the spring and summer of 1985, carrying out a crime spree that left 13 people dead. He was one of the most vicious serial killers America has ever known, because he would break into suburban homes late at night, killing some victims, raping others and paralyzing millions with fear.

When police made a dramatic breakthrough and published his photograph, Ramirez was spotted and apprehended the next day by a group of East Los Angeles citizens. The El Paso drifter--who had a long history of drug abuse and Satan worship--was convicted and sentenced to death. He is in San Quentin, awaiting the outcome of a legal appeal that could take years.

Carlo, 46, hit on the idea of writing a book about the case, having just finished a novel about child abuse and pornography. He conducted three weeks of interviews with Ramirez, as well as his family members, victims and police. The result is a chilling account of grisly murders, stomach-turning sex crimes and the innermost thoughts of a calculating killer.

"What's new here is that I got into Richard's head," says Carlo at his party, pumping hands like a politician and clapping old buddies on the back. "I showed where he came from and the abuse he suffered as a child. I showed the impact this had on police and jurors. And it turned out really great, because in writing this I've had the killer's full cooperation."

Sounds like a party. The publishers have circulated a guest list that includes many of Carlo's pals from his knockabout days as an aspiring actor and playwright: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Sean Penn, Tony Danza, Christopher Walken, Liza Minnelli, Paul Sorvino, Mira Sorvino, Johnny Depp and Peter Max. Most of them don't show, but it's still an upbeat crowd.

"This is very decadent," quips Grace Robbins, former wife of author Harold Robbins, who recently moved to New York City after living many years in California. "I mean, these days, people will use any excuse to throw a party, even if it's about the Night Stalker."

Standing at the bar, Belzer looks at the menacing posters of Ramirez and shudders.

"You know, I'm repelled by a culture that takes someone as repulsive and disgusting as Richard Ramirez and tries to turn him into a celebrity." But the book party is appropriate, he continues, because "sometimes we have to be alchemists and turn terrible things into gold. That's what Philip did. He's a good friend; I wouldn't be here if he wasn't."

Across the room, Kensington Publisher Lynn Brown predicts great success for "The Night Stalker" since her company is very publicity-driven. "A party like this is important to get a book rolling and build good reaction in the media. It's all in the timing," she says.


Timing, however, is in the eye of the beholder. On this very evening, 11 years ago, Ramirez committed one of his most sadistic crimes. As a slight rain began falling, he broke into the Monterey Park home of William Doi, 66, and his 56-year-old invalid wife, Lillian. The Night Stalker shot Doi in the mouth, then beat him unconscious. Hurrying into the woman's bedroom, he beat her savagely in the face, tied her up with thumb cuffs and raped her.

"Oh, my," says Brown, told about the May 14 anniversary. "I didn't know that."

A waiter fights his way through the bar, holding a platter of pizza, smoked salmon and pa^te. The party has two more hours to go, and it looks like Elaine's can't handle any more. But there's room for at least one more guest, a young GQ reporter who squeezes in to cover the event.

"Big crowd!" she says, inspecting a reporter's business card. "What's the L.A. angle?"

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