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Neighbors in East L.A. recall capture of "Night Stalker"

June 07, 2013|By Hector Becerra

Dave Munoz is proud of his East Los Angeles neighborhood.

“This is where they caught him,” the 20-year-old college student said Friday. “They caught him on my street. Richard Ramirez. My neighbors caught him.”

Hubbard Street is where Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez’s murderous rampage finally came to an end, at the hands of neighbors who beat and captured him as he tried to steal two cars and assaulted a woman. 

The capture and arrest of Ramirez turned Hubbard Street into a street of "heroes." Many of the people who lived on the block at the time are no longer around. But Munoz can point across the street to the humble, stucco home of Jose Burgoin, an 82-year-old Mexican immigrant who played a key role on that last day of August in 1985.

After Ramirez failed at carjacking the car of his next-door neighbor -- Faustino Pinon’s daughter, the killer ran across the street and tried to steal the car of another neighbor. Hearing her screams for help, Burgoin sprinted across the street and confronted Ramirez.

“I ran to defend her and he told me, ‘Don’t get closer or I’ll shoot you.’ I didn’t see a gun so I opened the door and pulled him out of the car,” Burgoin recalled. Manuel De La Torre, showed up with a steel rod to defend his wife; he smashed Ramirez on the head, sending him running. Burgoin yelled for his two sons, who had come out of the home after hearing the commotion, to not let him escape.

Julio Burgoin, 45, said he remembered chasing Ramirez and with his brother bringing him down and making him sit on the curb. The neighbors made sure Ramirez didn’t get up, though he begged them to let him go, claiming that some “guys” were chasing him.

“He was saying, ‘Hey, let me go, c’mon, let me go,’” Julio Burgoin said. “I said, ‘No, you’re not going anywhere.’”

It was only moments later that they realized who they had captured. “People started coming out and saying that’s the killer, but in Spanish. ‘El maton, el maton!’”

So many years later, Jose Burgoin tends to his guava trees in the front yard, much as he did when he watered his yard and heard the ruckus 27 years ago. The inside of his home features images of outsized figures: calendars and posters of the Virgin of Guadalupe, revolutionaries like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata and Mexican actress Maria Felix and singer Antonio Aguilar.

But on the day of Ramirez’s capture, there weren’t many more outsized figures on Hubbard Street than Burgoin. Some people came from blocks away bearing gifts and asking him to retell how the infamous serial killer was captured. He was interviewed by a reporter who came from England.

Taking a black Maglite flashlight, Burgoin illuminated a wall in a darkened hallway. That’s where he hung photos and plaques and certificates honoring him and other neighbors for their role in capturing Ramirez. He got to meet then L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley and Gov. George Deukmejian.

When he told Luis Ruiz, a neighbor who only moved to Hubbard Street a few years ago about the capture of “The Night Stalker,” the 24 year old was skeptical because he had never even heard of the serial killer whose crimes occurred years before Ruiz was born. Then the octogenarian showed Ruiz his hall of plaques, including the one from L.A. County with a seal featuring a robed woman with a nimbus around her head who Burgoin refers to as “the Statue of Liberty.”

“I thought maybe he was making this up, but then he showed me the plaques,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, congratulations.’”

Reyna Pinon, 73, a longtime resident of East Hubbard Street whose husband, Faustino, tangled with Ramirez before his capture said there was a bitterness to the way the killer died.

“I shouldn’t say I’m happy, which would be bad. But he caused a lot of harm to a lot of people, and he was not tried for all the murders he committed,” she said. “To me, he had a better death than all those people whose lives he took.”

Ramirez had tried to steal a fire-engine red Mustang coupe belonging to Pinon’s daughter, Gloria. Her husband was under the car working on the transmission, with the engine running, and ended up yanking Ramirez out of the vehicle. They fought even as the car rolled backward, finally butting into a chimney of the house.

Moments later, Ramirez would be caught, his head bloodied with De La Torre’s steel rod.

“I was proud, yes, of course,” Pinon said. “The whole neighborhood was proud.”  

Burgoin was surprised to find out that Ramirez had died. He knew the killer had been sentenced to death. Some people undoubtedly wish he had been executed. Burgoin said he wouldn’t begrudge people wishing so, especially those whose loved ones were killed by Ramirez. But Burgoin—devoutly religious—said he felt his faith compelled him to pray that God forgave Ramirez.

“Well, God have him in heaven. Once a person dies, they’ve passed on to a better life,” he said. “I felt good about having played my part. He had killed so many people. I was glad he wouldn’t do that to others.”

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Twitter: @LATimesHekutor |

hector.becerra@latimes.com


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