In the early morning hours of January 27th, 1974, while it was still dark, a man's body was found at San Francisco's Ocean Beach. The corpse was starting to stiffen with rigor mortis. The slightly overweight white male had been stabbed various times, and his hand had evidence of defensive wounds. The coroner noted that the John Doe #7 was wearing underwear, shoes, socks, pants a shirt and jacket. He only had $21 in his pocket and was wearing a Timex watch.
The murdered man turned out to be Gerald Earl Cavanaugh, 49 years of age, born in Canada on March 2nd, 1923 and a resident of San Francisco. A photo that ran in the San Francisco Sentinel after his death shows that he was balding. He worked in a mattress factory. He was five-foot-eight and weighed 220 pounds. He was Catholic. “Never married,” wrote the coroner, a polite way of implying that he was homosexual.
Cavanaugh was the first victim in a string of homicides that, to this day, remain unsolved. From January 1974 to September 1975, The Doodler — or, as he was sometimes known, the Black Doodler, on account of his skin color — caught the eye of the Castro’s bar patrons by drawing caricatures and cartoons of them. Amused, flattered, perhaps titillated by the attention, man after man would leave the bar with their killer for a more secluded, intimate spot. Once they were alone, the men were stabbed and their bodies left on waterfronts and in parks.
The Doodler has been credited with fourteen victims, but it is far more likely there were, in fact, five or six. (The larger figure may be due to the frequency with which gay men were murdered in those years; it’s possible that several distinct cases were conflated and the Doodler given too much credit).Five men were contemporaneously identified in the newspapers as Doodler victims.
After more than forty years, entire story of the Doodler killings has been fully told. Unlike cases with similar body counts — the Zodiac Killer and David Berkowitz, for example — this one was quickly forgotten. It was, perhaps, somewhat a matter of timing. When the killings began, it had been just a year since the American Psychiatric Association Board of Trustees ceased classifying homosexuality as a disorder.
A woman, never identified, found a body at Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park on June 25, 1974. Joseph Stevens, nicknamed “Jae,” had been stabbed three times; there was blood in his mouth and nose. He was last seen the previous night, leaving the Cabaret Club on Montgomery Street in the North Beach neighborhood. Police theorized that Stevens himself had driven the murderer to the park. The 27-year-old was the Doodler’s second victim.
Stevens, born in Texas, was a popular female impersonator and had been named the summer replacement at Finocchio’s, an old-time club that had been around since the early thirties. It had once been a hot spot for the military and celebrities, but by the seventies “the high tourist attendance and hands-off rules discouraged the gay crowd and they largely went elsewhere.”
The woman who found the body called to Warner Jepson, an avant-garde composer, who in turn called the police.
By 1974, the Castro was for gay men a beautiful refuge from everywhere else. The bar and bathhouse scenes were jumping. Harvey Milk had just opened his camera shop. It was a pre-AIDS wonderland.
Claus A. Christmann, a 31-year-old German national and employee of Michelin, was the Doodler’s third victim. He was last seen alive at Bojangles.
Christmann was found on July 7, 1974 at the foot of Lincoln Way, by the beach. Tauba Weiss, now 88, was walking her dog, Moondance, and discovered the body. “The dog was running and I followed him,” she told me. “I knew something was wrong. I saw a man laying there and he wasn’t moving. I knew he was dead.” She returned home and called the police.
Christmann’s throat was slashed in three places and he was stabbed at least fifteen times. Inspector David Toschi described the murder "as one of the most vicious stabbings he has ever seen.” Toschi, a 20-year veteran of the Department, had also investigated the Zodiac murders.
At his death, Christmann wore a tan leather jacket, “black side zipper ankle boots with brown cuban-heels [sic], a white Italian (Sela) shirt, orange bikini briefs, one blue moonstone ring and one brown cameo ring along with a gold wedding band.” According to a Homicide Division information bulletin, Christmann was also found with a make-up tube in his pocket, which suggested “homosexual propensities".
Christmann, who had a wife and two children, had been staying with his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Booker Williams, and had been in the city for three months. His body was returned to Bamberg, Germany for burial.
The homicide rate had begun to tick up as the gay immigration to the city intensified. After a drop at the beginning of the decade , from 112 in 1970 to 131 in 1975.
On May 12, 1975 nearly a year since the murder of Claus Christmann the Doodler left another corpse; Frederick Elmer Capin, 32, was found by a hiker behind a sand dune between Vicente and Ulloa Streets. Capin — six-feet-tall and a lithe 148 pounds — was wearing a blue corduroy jacket, multi-colored “Picasso” shirt, blue jeans, brown socks, brown shoes and blue shorts. His jacket and shirt were blood-soaked.
The coroner determined that cause of death was “stab wounds of the aorta and heart.” There were marks in the sand leading to Capin, he wrote, “indicating that he had been dragged approximately 20 feet.”
Capin had a sister who lived in Port Angeles, Washington. The local paper, the Port Angeles Daily News, ran an obituary for him; he was a medical corpsman in the Navy and the recipient of a “commendation medal for saving four men under fire in the Vietnam war.” He lived with his grandparents while attending school.
Harald Gullberg was the Doodler’s last and oldest victim. he was 66 years old. He was found on June 4, 1975 on a Lincoln Park golf course by a hiker, ten yards off the trail, slashed across the neck. His pants were unzipped and he wore no undergarments. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that he’d been dead for approximately two weeks; maggots and fly larvae occupied his face.
Gullberg was Swedish and a sailor by profession. He was tattooed on both arms. According to immigration records, between June 1930 and July 1940, he stopped in numerous harbors, including Boston, Puerto Vita, Cuba, Shanghai, Melbourne, San Luis Obispo, Yokohama and Liverpool. He became a naturalized citizen on August 15, 1955.
Five months later, the SFPD released a composite drawing of the suspect. He was known, said the police, to “frequent bars and restaurants in the Upper Market and Castro areas.” He was black, between 19 and 22 years old, between 5’10” and 6” tall, slim and frequently wore “a Navy-type watch cap.”
Police believed the killer had a quiet, serious personality, with an upper middle class education and above average intelligence. Quite possibly he was an art student; he’d informed a witness he was “studying commercial art.”
The police also believed the suspect had a history of “mental difficulties involving sex.” One paper reported he had “sexual identification problems” and was undergoing psychiatric care on “an out-patient basis.”
According to the Chronicle, he told each victim, “All you guys are alike,” by which he meant gay. Witnesses were reluctant to cooperate with the police for fear of being exposed as homosexuals.
In the absence of an arrest, there were rumors. A Los Angeles man described an encounter with a man who he thought was the Doodler. He was about to go to bed with a young black man resembling the composite sketch, but changed his mind when a knife fell out of the man’s coat.
Numerous press accounts mention three surviving witnesses. One was a European diplomat assigned to the States who, in May 1975, met the suspect in an Upper Market restaurant “where he was having a midnight snack.” The suspect asked the diplomat if he had any cocaine. They went back to the diplomat’s apartment, where the suspect stabbed him six times. For his part, the diplomat denied he’d had “sexual relations” with the suspect.
Another surviving witness was an entertainer of some kind who, according to police, was “nationally known.” The third — described by the Sentinel as “a well known San Francisco figure” left the city and reportedly wouldn’t answer letters or phone calls. The identity of the “nationally known” figure is one of the great secondary mysteries of the case. To my surprise, his name never leaked into the gay press.
Randall Alfred, the Sentinel’s news editor in 1975 was asked who the entertainer might have been. “Was it Johnnie Ray? Was it Rock Hudson? Richard Chamberlain?” he said. “It was a time of very cheap airfare from L.A. to San Francisco.” Of the three, only Chamberlin is still alive.
More than a year after the Doodler killings began, little progress had been made on the case. On May 2d, Nick “Granny Goose” Bauman was found dead in a South of Market basement , his skull had been fractured. His was the twenty-first, unsolved murder of San Francisco’s gay men during the past eighteen months. A person involved in the case, said the 29-year-old’s scrotum looked “like someone had stomped them into nothing.”
The San Francisco Chronicle more or less ignored the Doodler killings until they were over. In January 1976, Maitland Zane, whose obituary praised his “writing about those on life’s margins,” wrote a story about the spate of homicides titled “The Gay Killers.” The city, he wrote, had become “nightmarishly dangerous for gay men,” of whom seventeen had been murdered in the last year:
Six of the killings have been linked to the sadomasochist leather bars and bath houses in the Folsom street district.
After the Chronicle’s story ran, the SFPD, besieged with tips, questioned a number of suspects. One man, who resembled the composite sketch, was taken into custody after he entered a Tenderloin bar and offered to draw the patrons. Along with a book of sketches, he’d been carrying a butcher knife. He was booked for carrying a concealed weapon and, after he attacked homicide inspectors during an interrogation, charged with aggravated assault.
There were dozens of suspects, and at least one of them looked good for the murders. In July 1977, a suspect had for the last year been questioned and had “talked freely” with police but declined to confess to the killings. The police “are ‘fairly certain’ that ‘The Doodler’ is involved in the slayings, but court testimony of the survivors would be needed to identify him.”
Mentions of the Doodler murders vanished, even among the gay publications. Without any witnesses willing to go on the record, the Doodler suspect walked.
If the Doodler is still alive today, he would be in his early-to-mid 60s, and was not brought to justice for these killings.
source - TheAWL
Marlene at Miami Ghost Chronicles is a freelance paranormal investigator and writer.
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