Self-Promotion by Serial Killers Fuels Their Appeal

They are driven by their own narcissism and grandiosity.

Posted Jun 15, 2020

Public Domain
Richard Ramirez 2007
Source: Public Domain

Due to massive media exposure and journalistic hyperbole, certain narcissistic serial killers such as Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez have become what I call pop culture “celebrity monsters.”

The media are not alone, however, in creating these iconic celebrity monsters. Some serial killers actually seek out public notoriety and actively engage in the creation of their own diabolical public images.

Among this ilk, the Son of Sam, BTK, the Zodiac Killer and the Boston Strangler come immediately to mind. Such criminals are well established celebrity folk devils in the popular culture. An analysis of the social construction of serial killers must consider the significant contributions of the criminals themselves. Therefore, I have analyzed the actual words and actions of notorious serial killers who were unabashed promoters of themselves. 

One of the most gruesome but enduringly popular serial killers among true crime fans is the late Richard Ramirez, dubbed the “Night Stalker” by the press. He was convicted of killing thirteen people (and suspected of killing six others) during a home invasion crime spree in Los Angeles during 1984 and 1985. Men were shot or strangled and women were brutally raped and mutilated.

At the crime scenes, the Night Stalker left occult symbols such as an inverted pentagram drawn on a wall with a victim’s lipstick as his personal signature. Ramirez, who was an avowed Satanist, never expressed any remorse for his crimes after his capture. Instead, he gloated about his brutal crimes to reporters and mugged for the news cameras. 

Ramirez contributed greatly to his satanic public image by wearing all black in the courtroom and donning sunglasses throughout his trial. At one point he said that he aspired to be “100 percent evil.” He loved the news media attention and played up to the crowd. At his sentencing, Ramirez praised Lucifer and told the judge, jurors and a packed courtroom which included some of his victims' relatives the following:

"You don't understand me. You are not expected to. You are not capable of it. I am beyond your experience. I am beyond good and evil… I don't believe in the hypocritical, moralistic dogma of this so-called civilized society.... You maggots make me sick! Hypocrites one and all... I don't need to hear all of society's rationalizations. I've heard them all before...  Legions of the night—night breed—repeat not the errors of the Night Stalker and show no mercy. I will be avenged.  Lucifer dwells within all of us… See you in Disneyland. That’s it."

Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan, who upheld the death sentence imposed by the jury, remarked that Ramirez's deeds exhibited "cruelty, callousness, and viciousness beyond any human understanding." Following his sentencing, Ramirez remained defiant in prison where he wore a perpetual sneer and enjoyed the attention of his female groupies who sent him a steady stream of love letters through the mail. When asked about his appeal to women, Ramirez said:

"I think the girls are attracted to me because they can relate to me. The girls are nice when you're in my situation, but since I'm in here I spend more time writing to them about the relationship, rather than living it, but there are good friendships formed nevertheless."

Richard Ramirez died in prison of natural causes while awaiting execution on death row in 2013. He had a strange magnetism, similar to Charles Manson, and was keenly aware of the public’s fascination with him. He skillfully manipulated the press and aggressively promoted his demonic public identity as the Night Stalker.

His broad appeal among serial killer aficionados, particularly women, has continued and perhaps even increased since his death. His great popularity is manifested in bizarre fashion by fans and groupies who collect his personal artifacts and mementoes, including his clothing, original paintings and writings from prison. Such highly coveted true crime artifacts are collectively known as “murderabilia” and may be purchased on a variety of Internet auctions sites.

Such is our curious fascination with serial killers. I explore this fascination in my best-selling book.

Dr. Scott Bonn is a professor, author and crime analyst. Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter and visit his website