It is a title used over and over again. From “underground” gay newspapers to mainstream rags. “Queer Killers” was another. It payed on words, on meanings, but it captured the spirit of the crime wave. Starting in the mid 1970s a rash of gay murders was quietly vexing San Francisco. The victims were “queer,” but their perpetrator or perpetrators were also queer, but in the sense of strange. The circumstances were also often quite weird.
The murders ebbed and flowed and M.O.’s evolved over the rest of the decade, but this wasn’t noticeable to the public nor was it reported. It is noticeable to me today. It wasn’t noticeable back then because most murders weren’t even reported. It was only mentioned that such gay murders were ongoing. I have spent years wading through details of cases and generalities of cases. Most importantly, I waded through more than a decade of murders. I watched the victim number flow and ebb and M.O.s shift.
One killer earned a moniker. His handle was The DOODLER or BLACK DOODLER. This handle is said to have come about somewhat inconveniently after-the-fact in 1976, after the murders had stopped. But whose murders? The DOODLER is given a crime span of January 1974 to September 1975. But similar murders continued through 1976. There was clearly more than one perp involved over these years. I not only had to discover all the cases, but excise one perp from the other.
Before I start presenting cases here on those of The DOODLER and the one I call JACK THE KNIFE, I think it is best to present this great morphing of murder sprees. It will help the reader to understand how and why I classify victims according to different perp handles. As a moniker The DOODLER has struggled for recognition in the public. JACK THE KNIFE is a moniker I am entirely responsible for. It is accurate and it has proven convenient in cataloging and classifying murders.
Do I believe all such gay slashing murders in San Francisco that don’t fit the limited M.O. of The DOODLER are the result of another single serial killer like JACK THE KNIFE? No. And this is the point of this article. I’m not even convinced there really was such an entity as The DOODLER. More than one perp left doodles behind. Before I start on presenting cases, I must present a murder timeline, concentrating on points where it clearly underwent violent evolution into another stage.
Gay murders here and there were reported in the gay newspapers and sometimes within local mainline newspapers in the early 1970s. Homosexuality, or even its hint, wasn’t the reason these murders were largely ignored. The 1970s were in the immediate wake of the late 1960s and the counterculture movement. It was the Swinging’ Seventies, and morality took a nose dive. It didn’t matter whether you were gay or whatever, the late night bar crowd was a seedy, dangerous culture. It was a promiscuous culture in an age of free wheeling morality.
A large school of fish will attract a predator. The ’70s’ morality provided this school. Just as the late 1960s saw so many American waifs leave off home and join a movement that harbored much danger behind its daisies and Kodachrome colors, the 1970s morality drew people to experiment within a late night free living crowd that was far more dangerous. Being rooted in the urban scene, cold hearted criminal elements were already present as more and more bars and clubs opened their doors for the first time and put up their gaudy shingles. Remember, this was the era that held the fad of wife swapping. Now there’s a bizarre and “liberated” fad! I can’t imagine what kind of love such couples had for each other if they were willing and ready to switch out a spouse to a friend. But I digress . . .
. . .Or do I? This was late night urban morality in the Swingin’ Seventies.
Urban and tenderloin murders, gay or otherwise, within such a bar crowd didn’t rate mainstream news. These were pointless, brutal murders in a seedy part of town– standard fare for the tenderloin of society. They had never rated much press even in the days romanticized by the great detective novelists like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.
For the gay murders of the 1970s San Francisco, it may look good to portray a Simon Pure on the prowl. It draws a parallel to Jack the Ripper and the moody, foggy nights of Whitechapel. But the gay community had a problem in San Francisco that it didn’t always want to acknowledge. It was the sado crowd. Gay newspaper columnists sometimes lamented its existence. South of Market the leather bars, as they were called, were centered. And leather meant the biker element and the sado crowd. North of Market on Mason there was even a daycare for sado slaves. Masters could take their slaves here, on leash, and register them for the day or for hours. Then they went to work or whatever and hours later came back to pick them up. It was like a veterinary clinic.
Gay nightlife was Carnivale, a constant carnivale of bars, shows, pageants, naming the reigning empress over the drag queens. A lot of gays didn’t like this. But the only place to meet other gay men were the clubs. If you didn’t like drinking, there were community centers or. . .the baths. But the baths had their own danger. At one point stalking could ensue. The victim had no idea where they had been (repeatedly) sized up. Sometimes gays were attacked in the street by the biker crowd. Five men violently raped one man. Two of the perps were in leather. Suspicion always came back to the sado crowd and the South of Market leather bars. Drugs soon got intermixed, of course, and things got worse. Revenge murders could be particularly gruesome.
In fact, SFPD inspectors had to speculate there were gang murders because of drugs. Otherwise it was hard to explain the carnage inflicted on some victims, such as poor Dennis Dickinson, who was knifed and mutilated at Folsom and Sherman in South of Market in July 1975. Yet on August 29, in true Jack the Ripper fashion, David Real was lured in the dark of night to the parking lot at 51 Dore Alley at Folsom Street, strangled and mutilated. This was not far from where Dickinson had been butchered.
This wasn’t done by a drug gang. Within the bloody pageant of terror there was some stalker who was quite adept at murder and even mutilation. This is the one I dub JACK THE KNIFE. Was he a Simon Pure? Was he a leather freak? This we will have to uncover.
When the Internet came upon the world in the mid 1990s, the bar scene collapsed– testimony to how many gay men really didn’t like it to begin with. There were other ways to connect with a friend now, and gay life didn’t need the carnivale boomtown.
But in the 1970s the nightlife, the baths, and to a lesser extent the community centers, were the cornerstones, making the gay community life a dangerous boomtown around Market, Polk, and Folsom streets. Within the particularly violent years of 1975-1976 at least 20 gay men were murdered. Almost all were by knife or silently strangled in sado. Often in flats, a couple of times at trysting locations, and a few in circumstances that do conjure Jack the Ripper and sooty Whitechapel nights— In a dingy alley, in a creepy parking lot, in a deep utilitarian basement.
The murders fade in 1977 and 1978. A new type of murder is beginning to present itself in 1979, and this would become the dominant type of murder of gays in the city in the 1980s. It was the advent of the Polk Street hustler. These were younger guys, not all necessarily gay. Runaways, castoff in their teens, they hustled on Polk Street. The Castro had the reputation for being the center of older guys. And the younger guys avoided it. But gay guys, especially older ones, made handy targets of a different kind.
A hustler would lead to a pick up, then back to the client’s apartment. Here the young hustler could rob the patron and sometimes knife or bludgeon him to death. In May 1979 an old guy, Paolazzi by name, fell victim to this. The perp left his Snoopy jersey behind and police presented it to help in identification. The suspected hustler (via M.O.) was thought to be related to another murder.
Older gay men made perfect targets because if caught the young hustler could claim they were straight (and at times they were) and they were defending themselves against the advances of a perv. By 1982 these type of Polk Street hustler crimes were more frequent, and the above excuse got Doug Toney, age 27, acquitted of the murder of local celebrity “Gangway Suzie,” the alias of popular bar tender and drag performer Alfred Slezewski. After celebrating his anniversary in the gay community for 10 years at the Gangway bar (at 841 Larkin), and his other community accomplishments, Alfred (known locally as Alan) hooked up with Toney. They went back to his Hyde Street apartment on the night of January 22, 1982, and Toney knifed him repeatedly.
The scenario repeated in June 1983. Popular cab company employee James West was slashed to death in his Bush Street apartment. Blood was everywhere, according to police detectives. Soon 20 year old Steve Lamerson was arrested for it. The Bay Area Reporter worried that he might use the same “self defense against a perv” excuse.
Even those suspected of hustling were turning up murdered. Marvin Ray Dogg Robertson, 19, was found murdered on Mount Tamalpias, a common dumping site in Marin County for San Francisco murder victims.
As Yuppiedom came upon us in the mid 1980s, hustling was getting worse. It was mixed with cocaine and “crank” and every new street drug. On September 22, 1984, fifteen year old Ted Gomez was murdered in Golden Gate Park in a particularly gross way. He had been tied to a tree with duct tape, orally raped, and then slashed repeatedly across the neck. His body had then been thrown in a ravine at the park.
Melvin did it. William Melvin White. He will become of interest in our study. He was a 42 year old black man. He was basically pimping young guys while working at the Salvation Army. He had befriended straight hustler Larry Gaines, 17. But they had a falling out, and Gaines told the Salvation Army that Melvin had a past record. An ex-con. He got fired. Melvin and a couple of his boys got Gaines and got him out near Land’s End, where Melvin sometimes lived as a homeless man. He was tortured. He repeatedly refused to orally gratify Melvin. That was the crescendo. Melvin sliced his throat back and forth and they dismembered Gaines and buried him in pieces at Land’s End. When apprehended, Melvin was on his way to Seattle to kill his third victim, the hustler who had turned him in. The price of having accomplices. SFPD went to Land’s End and picked up the pieces. Melvin was given life imprisonment without chance of parole. It’s hard to believe that Gaines and Gomez were Melvin’s first victims, but we’ll come back to that later.
There are a number of other hustler murders and more murders by them of clientele. But no need to go into them here. You get my point. The M.O.s were morphing. The hustler murders of the 1980s could be traced to some Polk Street connection, and punks were often involved. The gruesome murders by the so-called DOODLER and JACK THE KNIFE were very urban, centered around the South of Market experience and in Tenderloin west of Mason and the popular bars there. Like Melvin White’s murders of Gomez and Gaines, these were savage murders.
. . . But sex seems rarely to be involved in these 1974-1976 murders. They kibbutz back and forth between outdoor killings and inside the victims’ flats. But by late 1975 they were clearly remaining in doors and becoming increasingly sadistic and gross. The first is in December 1975. The victim is Claude DeMott. His penis is cut off, his anus is cored, and his scrotum is sliced open.
Up Turk Street at the dive owned by the Salvation Army, Bruce DeJon would be bludgeoned to death by a lamp stand. Another researcher discovered that George Gilbert had been murdered in the Fox Plaza around this time (January 1976) in what seems a similar sado crime. . .but that is for later and to give credit where credit is due for the discovery.
Both DeMott and DeJon are associated with a black man prior to their murders at seedy hotels, but their murders don’t really fit The DOODLER M.O. The DOODLER, though also a young black man, is associated with being picked up on Market and taken to the victims’ flats in July ’75 at the Fox Plaza. But both victims survive, and soon thereafter so does a “nationally known entertainer.” His victims appear to be of a higher sort than those that litter the dank hotels and dim alleys of Tenderloin and South of Market. Is the DOODLER truly a major player in this onslaught of murder most queer? Or is it the faceless JACK THE KNIFE? Or are the victims unrelated and can be divided among many perps?
On April 14, 1976, Robert Culver is murdered in his flat in The Castro. On April 25, John Marsalla is killed in his flat– an outlier down on Brompton. On October 12, Grant Dailey is horrifically murdered in his apartment at 700 Steiner across from Alamo Park.
The details are for later, in chrono, presented with the other victims. This post has had its affect hopefully to impress upon the reader that there were many murders by knife. Some were done out of individual retribution. Others by hustlers similar to those who would vex Polk Street in the 1980s. The remainder can be tentatively divided between two serials– DOODLER and a much more faceless villain I call JACK THE KNIFE. Of the two, the KNIFE never bungled and let a victim live.
Both The DOODLER and The KNIFE remain suspect for me in the early 1974 murders, but for different reasons than hitherto presented. These murders have been linked to The DOODLER since he is the only one to attain a small amount of publicity. These murders are those of Jae Stevens, popular drag performer who is slashed by knife in Golden Gate Park. Vague recountings link the murder of Gerald Cavanaugh at Ocean Beach in January 1974 and then Klaus Chrissman in July 1974, also at Ocean Beach. But during the wave of 1975 murders, Fred Capin is also murdered in similar fashion at Ocean Beach, a year after Chrissman had been slashed. The Summer of 1975 is the era of both The DOODLER and The KNIFE.
I do not believe it is wise to take the gentle Capin’s murder during the glut of murders and use it as the pivot to go back and forth and link all murders to the same perpetrator, whether that be The KNIFE or DOODLER. The problem is that the gay community was rather limited as a killing field, but it was one that was linked as easily as skipping checkers across a playing board. There was San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and northward to Seattle. Slashings and stranglings occurred over these areas during these years, and it is possible one of the perps came and went, meaning a slasher in 1974 might have come back for a while in ’75 and reused his 1974 M.O. and locations.
How many of these rippings are unrelated? If all these 1974 victims were done-in by the same serial, is it truly The DOODLER of 1975 or is it JACK THE KNIFE of 1975-1976? Both perps seem to have had a car. Both seem to have followed “clients” to nearby flats. But The KNIFE also struck drag queens and transvestites. So far as I know, the DOODLER never did.
Much still needs to be thrashed out. And that is for the posts that follow.
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.