LOS ANGELES -- The Night Stalker played no favorites in his random savagery, choosing victims of all ages, races and both sexes, in an inconsistent pattern of madness that confounded and frustrated police for months.
On Saturday, less than 12 hours after police identified their chief suspect as an ex-convict and drifter named Richard Ramirez, 25, they arrested him as the alleged Night Stalker, linked to 16 murders, 21 rapes and brutal assaults on two dozen others since February.
Ramirez, a tall, thin, sallow man with bulging brown eyes and badly stained teeth who had previous convictions on minor drug possession and stolen car charges, was taken into custody after he was captured and beaten by angry citizens who grabbed him on a city street.
'We are happy to announce that the individual we have in custody is Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker,' a police spokesman said.
The Night Stalker struck without discrimination, raping women of all ages, molesting children and killing with guns and knives, or bludgeoning his victims to death.
Often, he slid into darkened homes through unlocked doors and windows after midnight, wounding or killing his victims as they slept.
The Night Stalker became another notch on California's infamous list of serial slayers -- the Hillside Strangler, the Trailside Slayer, the Freeway Killer, the Skid Row Slasher.
He defied the methods of the typical serial killer by refusing to discriminate with his victims, say criminologists.
'Most serial killers will kill with an ax or knife rather than a gun in order to achieve intimacy with the victim,' said Richard Rappaport of Northwestern University's School of Medicine.
Rappaport, who was an expert witness in the trial of John Wayne Gacy, convicted in 1980 for the murders of 33 young men in the Chicago area, said the Night Stalker is baffling in that he does not seek out prostitutes, derelicts or young coeds as other serial murderers have done.
The Stalker has hit anyone, any nationality, any age. People who live alone, families, elderly couples. Sometimes he ransacks the victims home. Usually, he takes nothing but a life.
One of the dead was a parking lot attendant who loved to garden, another a 32-year-old special education teacher who lived alone with her cocker spaniel. Her partially clad body was found in her bathroom, her throat slashed.
The Night Stalker also has snatched at least two children off the streets, sexually assualted them and then let them go.
Psychologist Joyce Brothers said, 'Symbolically, it seems to me he is looking for the family he never had.'
'We consider him cold-blooded and extremely dangerous,' said Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy John Brossard. 'If there is a husband or a male companion, he immediately tries to put him out of commission and then attacks the wife.'
The last attack took place last weekend near Laguna Beach, Calif. and followed Brossard's scenario.
The Stalker, police said, entered William Carns' light-brown, ranch-style house shortly before 3 a.m. Carns, 29, was shot three times in the head and his fiancee was raped. Both survived, though Carns was critically injured.
Other than his apparent penchant to strike at yellow and brown-colored homes located close to freeway ramps, there are no consistencies to his terror.
And the inconsistencies has created terror for millions who fall fearfully asleep at night, cringing at the sounds of barking dogs or rustling leaves, sweltering in a Southern California heatwave behind deadbolts and battened-downed windows, in dread of becoming his next random target.
But as one police officer put it coarsely, 'Better to wake up in pool of sweat than a pool of blood.'
Even burglars are worried about being confused with the Night Stalker. Burglaries in Orange County are down 66 percent the past several weeks, police report.
'We're getting a call (from citizens) every 10 seconds,' said San Francisco Police officer Jack Smoot of the 50-member statewide Night Stalker task force.
Single women are sleeping alongside hammers or knives, or moving in with boyfriends. Police are advocating buying guns. The locksmith business is booming, and gun shop owners have reported a sharp increase in sales. So have purchases of attack dogs and burglar alarms.
'It's scary. Really scary,' said Linda Roberts, 35, a single mother with two young daughters living north of Los Angeles. 'I don't have a gun, but I got a hammer right next to the bed and a baseball bat. And I'm good with a bat.'
Beverly Hills Gun Club President Arthur M. Kassell said more than 200 new members joined the club last weekend to take firearm training classes.
'I've never seen anything like this in the four years we've been in business,' Kassell said. 'People are petrified. Absolutely petrified.'
'My boyfriend has got practically everything chained up,' said Valerie Peterson, 33, of North Hollywood. 'We're barricaded in. Last night I couldn't hardly breath. You get so scared, so scared, you can't sleep.'
Rick Smith, manager of Bill's Lock and Safe Service in Whittier, Calif., said sales on deadbolts and sliding glass window locks is up 40 percent over normal the last two weeks.
'I'm sitting here with a doctor right now who is getting a home protection dog,' said Matthew Margolis, owner of the National Insititute of Dog Training.
He said his business has tripled in the last few weeks -- his dogs cost from $2,000 to $10,000 -- and he's getting 40 to 50 calls a day from frightened residents looking to bring their pet in for 'special training.'
The Guardian Angels, a controversial citizen's protection group located in 19 cities, have begun escorting terrified residents to their homes and cars, even offering to spend the entire night.
Some of them have actually put dummies in people's beds, turned out the lights and hoped the killer would come.