3 – The Doodler (6-14 victims)
While the Zodiac killer garnered far more attention, the Doodler apparently had more victims and also operated in California. Also known as the Black Doodler (he was believed to be African-American), this serial killer operated in San Francisco’s gay community and killed up to 14 people from January 1974 to September 1975. He was given his nickname due to his penchant for drawing sketches of his victims prior to the sexual encounters and subsequent attacks.
To say The Doodler case is shrouded in mystery is an understatement; it is difficult to even find the names of all his victims. What is known is that the first victim was Gerald Cavanaugh, a 49-year-old Canadian-born male who moved to San Francisco. The body of the mattress factory worker was found on 27 January 1974 at the water’s edge of Ocean Beach. According to the coroner, Cavanaugh was conscious at the time of the murder and had tried to fend off his assailant. Self-defense wounds were found on the body. Aside from what I mentioned above, little is known about the victim other than he was a Catholic who had never married. Indeed, he was originally unidentified and called ‘John Doe #7′.
It appears as if The Doodler caught the eye of patrons of Castro bar, a well-known haunt for homosexuals in the city. He would flatter his victims by drawing caricatures of them and on a number of occasions; men would leave the bar with The Doodler and go to a more secluded spot where they were murdered.
The next known victim was Joseph ‘Jae’ Stevens who worked as a ‘female impersonator’. His body was found off the walking path of Spreckels Lake (which was quite a distance from the Castro bar) on 25 June 1974. He had been stabbed in the lungs and stomach. The other named victims were Klaus Christmann, Frederick Capin and Harald Gullberg. Gullberg’s body was found on 4 June 1975 about two weeks after he had been murdered. There is some doubt as to whether he was even a Doodler victim.
There are several issues when it comes to this case. The most pertinent was probably the reluctance of the men who survived attacks from The Doodler (there were allegedly at least three survivors) to come forward for fear of being ‘outed’. A number of victims were seemingly closeted gay men. Even the first openly gay man to elected to public office in the city (and state of California), Harvey Milk, expressed sympathy for the men who would not speak to the police for this reason. As the victims were drag queens, sadomasochists and upper-middle-class men, police initially believed that there were three different killers.
It is said there were several suspects including at least one prime suspect who had been identified by survivors. Yet because these men refused to come forward for fear of being ostracized by society, (homosexuality had been classed as a ‘disorder’ at this time) no action was taken. In the end, no one was ever arrested or charged for the murders.
A sketch was released and it was believed The Doodler was an African-American male who was between 5ft 10 and 6ft tall and 18-21 years of age. He was said to have worn a Navy-type watch cap and possessed above-average intelligence. There is also a belief that he was an art student. For all we know, The Doodler could still be alive and living in San Francisco!