SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A form of cancer killed the serial killer known as the Night Stalker who terrorized Southern California in the mid-1980s, coroner's officials said Monday.
Richard Ramirez died June 7 at age 53 at a hospital where he had been taken for treatment of liver failure.
He died of complications from B-cell lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, according to the Marin County coroner's office. It listed other "significant conditions" including chronic substance abuse and hepatitis C, which is often spread by the use of intravenous drugs.
The drug abuse predated Ramirez's time in prison, said Lt. Keith Boyd, assistant chief deputy coroner.
"That's chronic drug use prior to incarceration," he said. "There's nothing to support any kind of drug use while incarcerated."
The drug use was the likely cause of the hepatitis C infection that probably lingered in Ramirez's system for a quarter-century before eventually destroying his liver, Boyd said.
Ramirez's medical records remain confidential even after his death, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal official who controls medical care in California prisons.
Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, could not immediately say if Ramirez had any disciplinary history of using drugs or obtaining contraband in prison. His voluminous file is kept only in hard-copy and would have to be reviewed by hand, she said.
Lt. Sam Robinson, a prison spokesman, said he could not immediately comment.
Ramirez had been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since he was convicted in 1989 of 13 murders in 1984 and 1985. He also was convicted of rape, sodomy, oral copulation, burglary and attempted murder. Executions have been on hold for years, however, because of ongoing legal challenges.
Ramirez was a self-proclaimed Satanist whose trial produced gruesome details about his mutilation of his victims.
He was nicknamed the Night Stalker by the media because residents were warned to lock their doors and windows as the killings peaked during the hot summer of 1985. The killer had been entering homes through unlocked windows and doors. He then killed his victims with a gun or knife, burglarized the homes and sexually assaulted his female victims.