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'Night Stalker' killer Richard Ramirez died of cancer

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The California serial killer known as the "Night Stalker," who died this month at age 53 while on death row for a mid-1980s reign of terror in the Los Angeles area, succumbed to complications of cancer, authorities said.

Richard Ramirez, who in 1989 was convicted of committing 13 murders in the Los Angeles region, died on June 7 of complications from B-cell lymphoma, the Marin County Sheriff's Office, Coroner Division, said in a statement.

Ramirez had been held on death row at San Quentin State Prison, but he died at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California, where he had been taken for treatment.

Aside from cancer, Ramirez also suffered from chronic substance abuse and the infectious disease hepatitis C, which harms the liver, according to the coroner division.

Ramirez committed a string of killings from June 1984 to August 1985 that horrified the Los Angeles region and captured national attention. He declared at his 1989 sentencing that he was "beyond good and evil ... beyond your comprehension."

The killer dubbed the "Night Stalker" attacked most of his victims by creeping into their homes late at night, usually through an open window. In the cases of some couples he singled out, Ramirez killed the husbands with a single gunshot to the head, then raped and murdered their wives.

The lanky, long-haired Ramirez gouged out one woman's eyes. He left a pentagram, a symbol of devil worship, scrawled in lipstick on the wall of a bedroom where two elderly women had their heads smashed with a hammer.

As his reign of brutality spread throughout Southern California, people locked themselves in their homes and slept with revolvers under their pillows. Attendance at night schools and cinemas fell. Burglar alarm companies ran out of alarms.

Ramirez was one of 59 California death row inmates who died of natural causes since the state reinstated executions in 1978. Amid court challenges over its method of putting inmates to death, California has not executed an inmate in seven years.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bernard Orr)