BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ At least once a week for the past 27
years, an increasingly frail woman has pressed her hands together
in prayer and thanked the man who shot her son three times in the
``Thank you, Richard Ramirez,'' she has said thousands of times,
``for using a small gun. Thank you, Richard Ramirez, for sparing
the life of my son.''
Anne Carns, now 85, decided during the terrible summer of 1985
that hating the man newspapers called the ``Night Stalker'' could
consume her, so she began thanking Ramirez instead.
``The Bible says, `Love thy neighbor,''' she said. ``What does
hate get you?''
Billy Carns, her 56-year-old son, has a different approach.
On Aug. 25, 1985, Billy was asleep in his Mission Viejo home
when Ramirez climbed through an open window, shot Carns with a.
25-caliber handgun and raped his girlfriend - part of a statewide
crime rampage that still conjures terror in the minds of many
California residents who lived through it.
``I would like to torture him with a chain saw or a belt
sander,'' said Billy Carns, his left arm and foot paralyzed, his
short-term memory sapped, his girlfriend long gone, his brain
Ramirez, the devil-worshipping serial killer, was convicted of
13 murders and 11 sexual assaults among 43 felony counts. He was
sentenced to the death penalty in 1989. But with appeals pending,
Ramirez lives on death row at San Quentin State Prison awaiting an
A bullet still lodged between his skull and brain, Billy Carns
has been serving a far worse, unstable, bizarre life term in
He lives next door to his mother in a small house filled with
evidence of frontal-lobe brain trauma - his collections of pens
(all red pens are kept in the bathroom while black and blue pens
congregate throughout the house), small batteries, house plants
ordered from mesmerizing television ads, 1970s stereo components,
soldering guns, bars of soap, rotting food (he forgets when he
bought it) and medication containers.
Billy sleeps next to the same headboard - dark, routed wood with
an oval mirror in the middle - from his 1985 bedroom where the
shooting took place. On the wall above the headboard is a drawing
of him and his former girlfriend from 1985.
In the basement, on the guest bed, rests the pillowcase with the
bullet hole made by Ramirez's gun. Billy sticks his finger through
the bullet hole and shows the outline of a patch that once covered
the hole but fell off after so many washings.
Billy lives surrounded by 1985, blurting constantly to anyone
who will listen that he was shot three times in the head. ``Wanna
see my scar?'' he says, cheerfully, pulling up his hair to reveal
the remnant of an exit wound ... while his mother cringes.
Twenty-seven years later, Billy Carns still cannot escape the
``The injury,'' as his mother calls it, continues to steal
everything he ever had.
Billy Carns was a North Dakota kid with a ticket out - his
He was raised in Williston, a tiny town about 230 miles from
Bismarck, the state capital where he lives today. North Dakota is a
state without frills. Its buildings are stocky and undersize, like
junior college linebackers. Its winters are as harsh as beer
breath. North Dakotans say, ``You betcha,'' ``Doncha know'' and
``Garsh'' to emphasize the point they're trying to make.
He started piano lessons when he was 5. He wanted to play in the
marching band, so he took up saxophone. Anne Carns said her son was
such a gentleman, he gave up his role as first-chair saxophonist to
a girl he liked.
``No,'' Billy said. ``She was better than me.''
He studied engineering at North Dakota State University, joined
a fraternity (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) and hosted ``The Wild Bill
Show'' on a local radio station (''1360 on radio row,'' he says in
his radio announcer voice). He played country music, but he loved
Elton John, Steely Dan, Bob Seger and Paul McCartney. His favorite
song: ``Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.''
Billy got a job at Burroughs Corp. in Fargo, and he became a
computer technician. Burroughs sent him all over the United States
to help companies with their computer problems. He once went to
Belgium as a tech troubleshooter, but he extended his trip to drink
a few beers at Oktoberfest in Germany. He was a fun-loving, popular
``He had such a bright future,'' said Ken Knodel, Billy's
brother-in-law. ``I think of what he could have been quite often.
``We miss that Billy. He was such a nice guy.''
Billy didn't like being a troubleshooter. He wanted to be a
systems designer. So he told Burroughs he was leaving. In a
last-ditch effort to keep him in the company, Burroughs - which
would later become Unisys - offered him a transfer to Southern
California. Billy took the transfer happily.
In 1984, he moved to Chrisanta Drive in Mission Viejo. He was 28
``I thought someday he would have his own company,'' Knodel
said. ``He was a bright star.''
The little yellow house on Chrisanta Drive needed work, which
was perfect for Billy. He was a tinkerer. He made one of the
bedrooms into a workshop, where he could modify speakers, amps and
stereo systems. He converted a sunroom into a music room, where he
could play his vinyl albums and enjoy the incredible sound.
Within a couple of months, his girlfriend from North Dakota
moved in with him. (She is not named in this article because The
Orange County Register generally does not publish the names of rape
victims.) He drove an Audi Coupe GT, and she drove a 1974
Barracuda. They kept their North Dakota license plates to avoid
paying higher fees in California.
The move-in was a bit scandalous back home. Billy had given his
girlfriend a promise ring, but they were not married or engaged.
``You don't do that, Billy,'' Anne Carns told him.
``Mother, I have my bedroom, and she has hers,'' he assured her.
The girlfriend's bedroom, he says now with a laugh, was a lie to
appease the people back home. Of course it was.
Billy and his mother kept a regular phone-calling schedule in
1985. Every Thursday at 9:30 p.m., Billy's phone would ring. He
would tell his mother about his adventures in Orange County. The
weather was great. The job was great (his salary was about $40,000
per year). His girlfriend was great. Life seemed to be as good as
it could get for Billy Carns.
On Thursday, Aug. 22, 1985, Anne Carns ended her conversation
with her son this way:
``Billy, keep your doors locked and your windows closed. There's
a sick man killing people up and down the coast of California.''
Billy didn't heed her advice.
On Saturday night, Aug. 24, 1985, Billy was up late in the
garage. He had found storage space in the attic, and he was
attaching a swinging ladder for easy access. It was a hot night (99
degrees as reported by the Register), and Billy stopped working
just before midnight.
The Billy Carns who went to bed that night no longer exists.
The Night Stalker's rampage is well documented. He struck
randomly, usually attacking people in their homes while they slept.
Most of the murders were near Los Angeles. But he extended as far
north as the Bay Area. He targeted two homes in Orange County. The
first was on Via Zaragosa in Mission Viejo. The Night Stalker was
scared off by a 13-year-old boy, James Romero III, who was working
on his minibike in his garage.
The second home was about a mile and a half away from Romero.
The second home had two cars with North Dakota license plates in
the driveway. And an open living-room window.
While Billy was sleeping, Richard Ramirez shot five times -
three hit Billy in the head. One glanced off his thumb and another
popped his water bed. With Billy unconscious and bleeding, Ramirez
bound Billy's girlfriend with the ties he wore to work. Ramirez
raped her, forced her to pray to Satan and ransacked the house.
Ramirez stole Billy's watch, his college ring, the girlfriend's
promise ring, her earrings, two videocassette recorders, a compact
disc player and a camera. He put the loot in a laundry basket and
carried it out of the house. Ramirez even stole the dirty clothes
in the basket.
When Ramirez fled, the girlfriend was able to untie herself and
run across the street to the home of Roger and Sandy Bradshaw.
Billy was rushed to Mission Hospital. Police listed his
condition as brain-dead. His most serious injury was a gaping
gunshot wound over his left eye that went through his brain.
The Night Stalker was caught a week later by an angry mob in
East Los Angeles.
It was a couple of weeks before Billy knew what hit him. He has
no recollection of the attack. He said he remembers climbing out of
his hospital bed a couple of times and falling flat to the floor.
One of his first communications with his mother was a strange
note: ``I want to swim by myself,'' he wrote on Sept. 9, 1985.
The frontal lobe makes humans human. It is the center of
goal-directed behavior, decision making, recognition of
consequences, memory and mood.
Billy went to therapeutic centers in Long Beach, Texas,
Wisconsin and Minnesota, searching for what the bullet took away.
He made some progress but not enough. He has such a difficult time
with completing tasks that he can't hold a job. He has no sense of
time and tremendous difficulty remembering which day it is.
But the strangest thing about the new Billy is his sense of
``My injury made everything funny,'' he said.
He used to tell people he could fit a golf ball in the wound
above his left eye. ``I'm a human tee,'' he would say with a laugh.
When you meet Billy Carns, after you get past the introductions
- ``I was shot in the head, wanna see my scar?'' - you hear the
barrage of jokes. Sometimes, they're cute.
``What does an astronaut put in his sandwich? ... Launch meat.''
And then a loud guffaw.
``What do you call Batman and Robin after they get hit by a car?
... Flatman and Ribbon.''
They keep coming, and they get weird. He's telling jokes about
``dumb women,'' minorities and penises.
He'll meet someone and say, ``When did you get so fat?'' And
then he'll laugh. ``I can see why you're ugly. Your mother is ugly,
After about two years of making his food, giving him medication,
driving him to appointments and enduring his mouth, his girlfriend
``She did the right thing,'' said Billy's sister, Linda. ``We
were really grateful to her for what she did for Billy.''
The bullets seem to have inserted some meanness into his
persona. If his girlfriend made him food that he didn't like, he
would say, ``How am I supposed to eat this (expletive)?''
``He gets bitchy sometimes,'' his mother said. ``You can't get
along with him.''
Billy knows he isn't right.
``I have trouble with impulsiveness,'' he said.
Social workers and psychologists, over the years, have told him
to keep his mouth shut - especially when he is around children. But
he seems incapable.
On a recent summer day, he went to the bowling alley in the
nearby town of Mandan. He loves to bowl, and he's pretty good. He
bowled a 118 despite his leg brace and poor balance. When he barely
missed a spare, he yelled, ``CALL THE POLICE, I GOT ROBBED!''
Then he told the people in the next lane that he was a victim of
the Night Stalker. Inexplicably, they asked him for an autograph.
As they tried to remember details of the horrific crimes, another
bowler asked Billy if the Night Stalker had an accomplice.
``Satan,'' Billy said with a belly laugh.
As he was leaving, he saw a group of elementary schoolchildren.
``Hey, who's the smart one here?'' he asked. ``Who can tell me
what year was the War of 1812?''
Sometimes, the children think he's funny. Many times, the
parents smile politely and lead their children away.
``They think I'm a child molester,'' Billy said with a laugh.
``It's a blessing,'' said Ken Knodel, the brother-in-law, ``that
he doesn't remember everything he says.''
The trouble with Billy is that he believes he can exist on his
own. He believes he has life under control. He says he doesn't need
the help that his mother, his sisters, his brother-in-law or others
are trying to give him.
``I don't like being told what to do,'' Billy said.
In 2007, Billy got a driver's license, adding to his feeling of
Driving with Billy Carns is like being on a roller coaster on a
track made of ice. His concentration suddenly slips to a sign by
the side of the road, and he isn't watching the lane in front of
him. He sometimes takes his one good hand off the wheel. He never
knows if he is truly making the correct turns.
He's been in two minor accidents. He said one was his fault, and
the other wasn't.
When he got home after the second accident, he couldn't tell his
mother what happened.
He is most careful about one thing: He locks every door behind
him. At night, he circles his house to make sure all the doors and
windows are locked tight.
His mother ties his shoes. She makes sure he takes his
medications. She helps him pay his bills. She cleans the rotten
food out of the refrigerator. Her life, since Billy's father died
several years ago, has been devoted to Billy.
``I don't think anything of it,'' she said. ``I don't want him
to end up being a street person.''
And she worries about the batteries. She thinks he's going to
mishandle them and they're going to blow up.
When you walk into Billy's house, it's hard not to notice the
batteries. They are lined up along the floorboards in the living
room. They are overflowing in cups in the basement.
Billy spends a lot of time and money at a batteries store. He
buys new batteries or he takes the batteries out of the recycled
bin. Some people have television or Facebook to eat their time.
Billy has batteries.
He takes them home and tests them to see if they have any life
``They make me feel good,'' Billy said of his batteries. ``Some
people throw batteries away, and they're not ready to be thrown
Neither is he