It is phenomenal that such a crime spree as that of the East Area Rapist (1976-1986) could basically be forgotten. Had it not been for a couple of the original detectives (who only in the last few years published books) the crime spree of the EAR would have faded away. However, there is another disturbing crime spree that owes its reemergence into the spotlight (as far as Cold Case is concerned) to EAR/ONS. This is the bizarre, if not very bizarre, case of The Visalia Ransacker. Only a couple of people keep the case alive with any detail.
The strange case of the Visalia Ransacker. Strange indeed. Unusual skills, very unusual skills at prowling. Indeed the perp was quite adept at it. He set his uncanny ability to stalk a neighborhood and enter a house. No, houses. Perhaps, well, I’ve heard there’s over 100 incidents. Details are sketchy. It was a long time ago– 1974 – 1976. He could have made hundreds of thousands of dollars as a cat burglar. But the end result of his night prowling was a ransacked home. He took nothing of real value, but it was clear he got his kicks with moving about ladies undees and other such things.
Frightening thing for dozens of families to return home and find someone had invaded it, lorded over it, only to make a shambles out of it. We cannot minimize the fear and indignity felt by Visalia victims by dismissing the Ransacker as a bit “tetched” or retarded, as was the word back then. (This was only the opinion of a couple of people who thought they saw him before the fact.) The substance of the Visalia Ransacker is that of a calculated home wrecker, a villain who knew beforehand which homes would not be occupied on a given night, at a given time. Considering he may have hit 11 homes in one night this says much about his obsessive calculating abilities.
Yet he appeared young– age estimations differ. I have seen “baby faced” plus estimations of 25 to 30. He was about 5 foot 10 inches tall. He had wide hips, a big rump, thick legs with fat calves, and ran like his knees were together. “Buffalo butted” was the expression. Aw, you might think the stories are true, this was some odd fat kid or guy, an outcast, a harmless perv getting his thrill with ladies hosiery. Think again. He was a ruthless prowler who would kill and eventually did kill if interfered with in his profitless thrill of ransacking average middleclass homes. He was a crack shot, and he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot.
Few have the ability to pull off a movie shot. Yet the Ransacker did. On the night of December 10, 1975, a person thought to be the Ransacker was confronted by a detective on stakeout duty. The detective caught the prowler off guard in his flashlight beam. The prowler pulled his handgun and shot the detective’s flashlight right out of his hand. Now, that is a good shot! Needless, to say Ransacker got away.
There was a reason for such police stakeouts by this time. Not only had The Ransacker been active since April 1974, he was believed to have already killed. Three months before, on the night of September 11, 1975, professor Claude Snelling of the College of the Sequoias, awoke to the sound of strange noises in his house. He went out into his living room and saw a man trying to abduct his daughter. The intruder shot and killed him. Snelling’s home was only a street over from where the Ransacker had hit a few nights before. To this day Visalia believes the Ransacker murdered Professor Snelling.
Two shootings, one fatal, a few months apart, both in neighborhoods where Ransacker had heavily concentrated his nightly prowling. I don’t think Ransacker tried to shoot the flashlight out of the detective’s hand. He aimed at the light splatter and hit the mark. He was aiming to kill. We must also ask ourselves, what is the ultimate outcome of the abduction by such a man as this of a young woman from her own home? It isn’t to be Phantom of the Opera and take her to a hidden place to play organ music to her. It is rape and eventually murder and disposal. This was not an impulsive stalker. This was a careful, thrill prowler.
Shrinks had long warned police this nut would turn killer. Considering his unusual skill to foresee when someone would not be home, this was worrisome. Yet it seemed to have ended with the unknown prowler’s confrontation with Detective William McGowen. Why?
The Visalia Ransacker has never been identified. There are many things that make his crime spree amazing. Visalia was a small town. It is an oasis along Highway 99, an oasis in a desert of farm country in the heartland of California’s arid San Joaquin Valley. It isn’t like nearby Fresno or Bakersfield. It is an Anywhere USA town. A bit of Haddonfield, a bit of some Disney Studio backlot set. Now, the Ransacker, by his unique physical description, is going to rather stand out. But it seems locals didn’t know who this was. The Ransacker was big news, as you might imagine. Yet there was no prime suspect. No one seemed to know who he was. Nevertheless, Ransacker knew the neighborhoods he concentrated in, most of them south of Highway 198. Areas of heavy concentration were neighborhoods on opposite sides of College of the Sequoias.
Can such a creep as this stop? Apparently he did in Visalia. He didn’t strike in another area of the town. Perhaps he really wasn’t a local. He knew the area around the college best. In this area he struck off two main roads that lead into these communities– South Mooney Blvd. and South County Center Drive. Easy in, quick out. It is the standard MO of someone who considers logistics beforehand, and all successful prowlers and burglars do.
Seeing this MO in other, later prowlers doesn’t mean they are one and the same. NorCal, northern California’s somewhat chunky rapist, used a similar pattern, striking off main roads that led straight to the local highway. Otherwise he had no other visible stalking MO.
Serial villains have stopped– ZODIAC, BTK, Green River Killer. There are others. It is obsolete now to believe that because a serial is no longer active he died or was jailed for something else. But this guy? According to one newspaper report Visalia wanted him for a 125 cases of ransacking. He easily graduated to murder and attempted murder, not for thrill but to protect his own hide. Can this guy stop?
If he continued elsewhere, did this undee drawer ransacker become a rapist? NorCal would seem too young to be him, if witnesses are correct about both of these villains’ ages. Ransacker would certainly be a capable home invader. If he continued, I think that would remain a part of his MO. Not too many villains adept at that. Did he stop for a while and start again? Where?
However, by this time there should be no question that he was not EAR. The description of both villains is well known, and one cannot be the other. The case needs to be squarely separated from that of the East Area Rapist aka Original Night Stalker. Confusing the two has only caused a possible continuation of the Ransacker’s arrogant thrills to be obscured behind the case files of an entirely different villain.
If the Ransacker continued he’d be something like the chunky NorCal– a good home breaker, moping, apologizing, taunting, diabolical. Where could such a prolific villain have disappeared? How to possibly expose him today? The ransackings are out of Statute of Limitations, but the murder is not. Yet how to tie him legally to this murder 40 years ago? Not an easy task. I fear the Ransacker got away with it. Unless he continued elsewhere and can be linked to another crime spree still within SOL, one of the most prolific and bizarre thrill seekers got away with his crimes.