South by Northwest — Assessing D.B. Cooper

Assessing D.B. Cooper. Indeed. After one investigates the actual sequence of events leading up to and after the skyjacking on November 24, 1971, one must proceed to assess which fork in the road to take. Did D.B. Cooper survive or did he “splatter”?  Before one can investigate and begin the process of elimination to try and identify the most notorious skyjacker in history, one must sort this out.

Ralph Himmelsbach, the lead Fed, preferred to believe that Cooper “splattered.” The wise guys told him the chances of someone in a business suit without a helmet jumping from a jet airliner at 10,000 feet on a stormy night. They didn’t even think his shoes– only loafers– would stay on. How could someone like this survive hitting the ground, slogging through muddy prairies, and then through the dense undergrowth of the forest? How could he even get through the dense pine forests on the way to the ground without being shredded by the trees?

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Basically all we officially know of “Dan Cooper.”

Even long after he retired, Himmelsbach searched the wilderness in the area he thought the most probable drop zone. The problem is Feds aren’t very good with street investigation. It’s not their turf. To read an FBI influenced report is to see how detailed, meticulous, analytical they can be at a higher level. They are quite logistic, which is good. But the street is not their turf. Even more so, the forest is no lawman’s turf.

Ralph Himmelsbach nor any lawman was at an advantage here.

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Ralph Himmelsbach warns that the Bureau has a long memory– In Search of 1979.

What the FBI had done in the initial phase of the search in 1971-1972 was to alert the banks about the serial numbers. How often tellers checked, we do not know. The Bureau did sweeps of missing persons and felons who had skydiving skills.  They checked into missing persons. Who had not come home? What neighbors are missing? Abandoned cars? No one fit.

But the wilderness has no cross reference and no one is there to assist. This was the last known location of D.B. Cooper.

Because agent Himmelsbach preferred to believe Cooper died in the jump, he eventually limited himself to a personal pursuit of looking for a needle in a haystack. Somewhere that red parachute or pieces thereof should be found. A body. A chewed suit. Even a loafer. How about the briefcase that contained the “bomb”?  Neither he nor anybody ever found anything to indicate what happened to Dan Cooper.

As the years went by, it seemed something should turn up if he lived or died. One of those $20 dollar bills if he lived, some relic of his passing in the wilderness if he died. Nothing.

A relic was not improbable in the wilderness. The survival of some bit of clothing or parachute or even the money was confirmed in 1978 when hunter Carroll Hicks while stalking elk came across  the remnant of the warning placard that had been sucked out of the Boeing 727 when Cooper lowered the aft stairs in flight and the suction yanked it out.

Some 15 minutes after this Dan Cooper jumped with the $200,000 wrapped around his waist in the remnant of one of the parachute sacks he didn’t need. Yet not a trace of any of the clothes, parachute, briefcase has been found. Even if he survived a remnant of the briefcase should have been found. He could not have held on to that all the way down. Nada.

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The search at Tina Bar.

Then in 1980 3 bundles of the ransom money were found on Tina Bar, north of Portland. One bundle was shy 200 bucks worth of 20s, making the total amount recovered 5,800 dollars instead of $6,000.00.

This changed everybody’s mind as to just where the 727 was when Dan Cooper jumped.

The calculations had undergone several adjustments even during the search in 1971. Now 9 years later it was time to reconsider. The first calculation proposed that the 727 was near Merwin Dam by Ariel, Washington, when Cooper jumped. Then it seemed the flight had to be further west, and Captain Scott, the pilot, later came to that view as well. It seemed somewhere by Woodland, Washington, was more likely.

By the time 1980 rolled around and the location of the money on Tina Bar, these were 9 year old calculations that had inspired searches that had found nothing. Now it seemed the Woodland one had to be wrong. Woodland is north of where the money was found. Nothing drifts upriver.  Could it be the original was truly the most accurate? Himmelsbach began to think so. The only answer is that Cooper drifted from near Ariel southeast to the Washougal Valley. There he splattered. Over time floods or whatever moved some of the money down to the Washougal River. There it floated in the Columbia, through Portland, past Caterpillar Island and a few bundles beached on Tina Bar.

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The first arrow at top of map indicates Woodland where it was later thought probable that Cooper jumped. Star marks Caterpillar Island. Second arrow marks the Washougal. Lake Merwin and Merwin Dam are at the top of the map.

This alone seemed to explain the location of the money and the evidence it had been in the water for a while before it had washed up onto the sand bar within a 3 foot layer of sediment. Clearly flood had moved the money and enough sediment to deposit 3 feet of it, with the money scattered in it, upon Tina Bar.

Logical.

However, nothing has been found in the Washougal Valley to suggest that D.B. Cooper’s remains are there. Moreover, Himmelsbach used as supporting evidence for his theory the report of a pilot, Bohan by name, who was flying his airliner behind the 727 but at a higher altitude. Bohan said the wind was 180 on the nose. Why did Himmselbach not notice that this would be a headwind from the location of Flight 305 to the Washougal? How could Cooper drift southeast into a southeast headwind? It is impossible. And Woodland is too far. If the wind at Cooper’s altitude here was favorable and drifting toward the southeast he was too far away to drift over 25 miles to the Washougal from Woodland. If Cooper jumped in either location he could not have drifted into a headwind.

How then did the money get where it was found?

Neither wind, adjusted location for the flight route, nor anything natural can explain how the money got to Tina Bar.

Because of this the location of the money did not settle the question on what happened to D.B. Cooper. It only raised questions. Did he survive? Did he find out the Feds had taken down the serial numbers and the extorted gains were no good? Did he pitch it afterward? On some dark night did he go out in a boat and dump the money in the river? If he did, when? The sediment band in which was located the money was on top of a band of sediment cast up when the Columbia was dredged in 1974, 3 years after the skyjacking.

Ralph Himmelsbach’s theory could explain it if it hadn’t been for the wind making the Washougal impossible and therewith any subsequent drift of the money in the Columbia River.

Did Dan Cooper survive and get rid of the incriminating money? With the Washougal seemingly out of the picture, and with this a defined landing location to scour removed from the equation it seemed easier to follow through on the probability that “Dan Cooper,” the “Jesse James of the Jet Age,” survived.

It is this fork that I elected to take, and this is the path that led me to my POI.

I preferred that D.B. Cooper splattered. It would be more enticing to think one can traipse across beautiful forests and suddenly find his remains or those of the rest of the money and get a whopping reward! But those chances are slim, and in 44 years no one has done so despite the example of Carroll Hicks finding a needle in a haystack in 1978.

In taking this fork, we must accept that Cooper buried his red parachute and made it out of the forest; that nobody has come across his briefcase out there with the “bomb” or didn’t know what it was; that he did not spend any significant amount of the money (though 200 bucks was missing from one bundle recovered); that he was a local Portlander or that he returned to dump the money.

The last step on the aft stairs of Flight 305 is the last sure step we know of “Dan Cooper.”

More than this we must accept the obvious clues and evidence that Cooper was qualified to make the jump.  That he took time to learn the 727 and the route. Equally, we must accept that he took the time to plan out a drop zone. He knew where to have those flaps set on the plane, what altitude to order it to fly– everything. He must have taken equal care about his escape.

Let us pursue this further in our next D.B. Cooper post.

 

*         *          *

For 25 years 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. “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.

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Finding More than D.B. Cooper

It is the most frustrating thing and I think on today’s anniversary it is good to elaborate on it. Finding motive. After 40 to 50 years that is a hard thing to do in a villain’s crime.

It is especially difficult in the case of D.B. Cooper or just Dan Cooper. On the night of November 24, 1971, he pulled off the most daring crime in the 20th century. He skyjacked a Northwest Orient airliner in flight, let the other passengers go after it landed in Seattle, held it and the crew under threat of a bomb in his briefcase, then after the ransom money was paid by the executives, he let the plane take off from Seattle and soon thereafter he jumped out with a parachute and the ransom money.

What is going to make a man go to the lengths he went to get $200,000.00 smackerls? It’s more than just the need for money. The chances of surviving his escapade are slim, even for an experienced parachutist. His chances of not being identified would seem even slimmer.

Dan Cooper sat in a seat in the airliner, in a nice business suit, and was observed quite well by the stewardesses. He smoked his cigs, drank his whiskey, and appeared the most sophisticated criminal. Even if he got away with this, he knew his face had clearly been seen. What’s the point of pulling this off if you can be quickly identified? This certainly didn’t allow him to spend any significant amount of the money soon after the crime.

No mystery as to what “Dan Cooper” looked like. Thin, thin face, thin nose, close to 40 years old. He smoked Raleigh cigarettes.

Well, clearly the man using the alias Dan Cooper did it and pulled it off . . . halfway. He didn’t spend the money or most of it. While he was never found, some of the money was found years later in 1980 on Tina Bar on the Columbia River, an odd if not impossible place for it to have gotten unless it was intentionally dumped.

It’s not as hard to explain what must have happened after he jumped than to explain what his motive might have been for something so daredevil as the first skyjacking and parachuting from a jet airliner in history.

But let’s assume he fully intended to survive and spend his ill-gotten gains. From Portland he came, for this is where he boarded the Boeing 727 on the way north to Seattle, and before Portland he jumped on the return flight. That is the last ever seen of Dan Cooper. No body was found, no parachute, no chewed clothes, shoes, briefcase with the supposed “bomb” in it, no bag of money. Ironically, years later the placard from the back of the jetliner is found in the forest. It was ripped off the backdoor when the aft stairs were lowered and the suction pulled it out. But nothing of Dan Cooper despite a massive search in what was felt to be the most probable drop zone north of Portland.

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The crew of the airliner discusses what happened.

Let’s think of logistics. Even if the theory is true that Dan Cooper had an accomplice on the ground waiting to pick him up, what are the logistics that he, on a stormy night, is going to hit his drop zone correctly from a jet airliner at 10,000 feet? Odds are slim. The alternative? Dan Cooper must have been prepared to spend some time in the forest working his way out, to a cabin or someplace where he had a change of clothes.

It would seem phenomenal that a local Portlander would take this risk. After all, his face had clearly been seen. To remain around Portland would be to invite disclosure and capture. Everybody knew this is where he boarded the plane north to Seattle. One might like to think he came from afar and simply boarded the plane here to skyjack it. However, since he jumped in the forests north of Portland, he must have felt he was fairly familiar with the location.  As unbelievable as it sounds, he seems to have been a local Portlander.

It must have taken him quite a while to get out of the forests and back to civilization. Perhaps as much as a couple of weeks. By the time he returns, he has a beard, a change of clothes, and a shock. He discovers through the press announcements of the FBI’s continuing investigation that the $20 bills that made up the ransom were photographed. The Feds know every serial number. The heist has been worthless. What to do? Dump it.

Sounds easy, but there is a problem. Remnants of the ransom were found where they really could not have been deposited if Dan Cooper had merely “splattered.” One of the easiest theories is that the wind drift would take him to east to the Washougal Valley. Here he died on impact. Over time the money was dislodged, drifted down the Washougal River to the Columbia, drifted through Portland and then some was deposited on Tina Bar during a flood. This explains why it was found in a sediment band that was deposited after the dredging that occurred in 1974. It must have been dislodged after this time during a flood, years after the skyjacking, years after the dredging in 1974. Yet it was later discovered that the winds were not favorable and the airliner had been further west than at first thought.  A parachutist could not have drifted that far.

The other explanation is that he himself dumped it in the Willamette River and it drifted to the confluence of the Columbia.

Manning search

Investigating and searching at the time; trying to figure the drop zone.

But you ask, why dump it so late? Why not in December when he finds out? Well, good question. He might have been afraid it could be found and he overestimated what the FBI would deduce. Yet he might, in fact, have dumped it quickly and a few of the bundles didn’t wash out to the Pacific. In a major flooding time after 1974 the 3 remaining bundles may have been washed out and then deposited on Tina Bar. They showed signs of having been in the water quite sometime before being embedded in the sand.

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It remains a mystery, and that’s why we like it. There is so much that is unexplainable. It was daredevil and risky. Awfully elaborate. D.B. Cooper captured our anti-establishment attitudes of the time. He dressed in a  dark suit like Bond, smoked his Raleighs, drank his whiskey, and held up a corporation. He wouldn’t rob a citizen. He even offered to pay for his cocktail as he waited for the airline to get his ransom money. If D.B. Cooper survived, and so far I believe he did, his greed failed but his stunt succeeded.  The hunt for D.B. Cooper, the “Jesse James of the Jet Age,” continues.

 

*         *          *

For 25 years 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. “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.

Doodled to Death: The Victims

To Jack the Ripper, his victims were a means to an end.  Modern profiling has tried to claim he was only a sex killer. None of this was based on any of the inquest testimony or the circumstances. It was based on the ghastly folklore that dominates “Ripperology.” He was not a prostitute killer. Even by prostitutes’ standards, his victims were dregs. They were a part of the river of traffic that entered London’s impoverished East End 1888. They were easy prey.

Such an era was not repeated again until the 1930s depression in America. Kingsbury Run in Cleveland was a hobo village. Here a stalking predator killed hobos after torturing them. Then he returned their headless bodies to the Run to dump them. Like with the Ripper, too many indications pointed to a doctor or postmortem man. Elliot Ness, in charge of the case, suspected a congressman’s cousin, the mad Dr. Sweeney.

Such an era of regress and egress in public places was not seen again until the antiestablishment movement brought a river of hippies to San Francisco. Then gays starting making The Castro their center. They came from all over the world. By 1974, one or more predators was butchering gays in public with a knife. One was known as The Doodler.

The Doodler was a young black man, so it is said. But he wasn’t from the wrong side of the tracks. He had what was believed an upper middle class education and was possibly an art student.

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The one police sketch of The Doodler. It says it was done on 10/24, but no year. I cannot read the case number, but many of the Doodler’s victims are not known. None are reported in any October over the 1974-75 period he was active.

Gays were being stabbed more than the police probably wanted to admit. That they were specific targets was an easy denial. A dead body, stabbed several times, laying in the park– how do you know what the victim is? Those victims that could be traced to the nightlife of The Castro were suspected to be gay.

Such was the stalking territory of The Doodler. As Whitechapel was to The Ripper, so was The Castro to The Doodler. He frequented bars and eventually left with another man. That man was never seen alive again.

January 27, 1974

The first victim attributed to The Doodler was a very unattractive Canadian named Gerald Cavanaugh. He was 50, stodgy at 5 foot 8 and 220 pounds.  His body was found by the surf at Ocean Beach. Whoever led him there left no definite footprints in sand, as expected. Cavanaugh had injuries to his left hand indicating he defended himself. Then he had been stabbed many times. He was found face up, rigor mortis setting in.  He was fully dressed. He had a Timex watch on his wrist and in one pocket $21.12 . His identity had been removed.

It had been a cold January night. I have no specifics. Few do. But I doubt there was anything of an “intimate nature.” He had strolled a cold Frisco beach with someone and put up a futile defense when taken by surprise.

June 24/25, 1974

There was little initial reason to make a connection between Cavanaugh and the next victim. Quite a dearth of time had elapsed since late January to the cool summer of 74.  There was another reason. The victim in this case was Jae Stevens, a well known female impersonator at Finnochio’s, far from The Castro in North Beach. He was last seen that night leaving a bar at Montgomery Street. However, his body had been found in the bushes off the walking path at Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park (another account has Stow Lake). He had been stabbed a number of times. Blood in his mouth and nose, so we know he got stabbed in the stomach and lungs.

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Spreckels Lake, Golden Gate Park. Somewhere off the trail, Jae Stevens stabbed body was found.  He was found stabbed front and back, so some kind of resistance took place.

The police, it is said, believed he had driven his killer to the secluded area in the park, off Fulton Street (unless it was Stow Lake). As with all the cases, little is clarified, but I take it Stevens’ car was found parked nearby. This will become a peculiar clue. The body had been found in the morning by a woman who then called to a couple walking their dog. They called the police.

Where had the amorous pick-up occurred? We do not know. We only know Stevens was last seen about as far away in North Beach as possible from where his body was found.

July 7, 1974

The attacks were obviously becoming more frequent. The next victim was Klaus Christmann.  Married, he was from Germany. He had left house and wife and kids and answered the inner call to live in San Francisco.  He was 31 years old. Christmann was also found fully dressed and his throat cut. He had been stabbed about 15 times. He was found at the end of Lincoln Way, so I take this to mean by the sand dunes at Ocean Beach. Dave Toschi, of ZODIAC fame, investigated this case. He considered it the most brutal stabbing he had seen.

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Christmann’s dress had been itemized as: “black side zipper ankle boots with brown cuban-heels, a white Italian (Sela) shirt, orange bikini briefs, one blue moonstone ring and one brown cameo ring along with a gold wedding band.” A tube of makeup was in his pocket. I take it there was no ID, but there may have been. His body was shipped back to Germany.

Notice the pattern?

May 12, 1975

Quite a dearth of time again, but we must remember that we do not know all of the victims of The Doodler. Three near misses are reported, one a diplomat, the other a “nationally known entertainer” and the other a respected local citizen. Their attacks may have occurred in the dearth here or one or more between January (Cavanaugh) and June (Stevens)  1974. The composite above was done in October, so it could be October 1974 that another stabbing occurred.

In any case, all point to the same pattern: The Doodler picked foreigners and out-of-towners. Our man covered his turf. The local prominent citizen may have given a lie when picked up at the bar. He may have said he was from out-of-town. The Doodler didn’t want notoriety. He didn’t want anybody local who had family and friends and would want to push the police about investigating a case. He seemed to have understood The Casto’s mentality. “Fly under radar.”

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The Castro in relation to where those victims mentioned here were found. Golden Gate Pak is bordered by Lincoln Way (on the south side) and Fulton Street (on the north side).

The pattern continues with Fred Capin. He was from Port Angeles, Washington State. His body, fully dressed, was found on Ocean Beach, between Ulloa and Vincente streets, May 12, 1975. He had been drug over the sand for about 20 feet and dumped behind a sand dune. I take this to mean he was stabbed somewhere by the road. A skinny, 6 foot tall guy, he must have planned on a good night out. He was wearing a blue corduroy jacket, “Picasso” shirt (many colors), blue jeans, blue undees, brown socks, brown shoes. Quite coordinated, except for the blood that drenched his shirt and jacket. A maniac had gone at him and ruined his night out.

There is a pattern here at the beach. Sand is hard to run on in order to escape. At 50 years of age, Cavanaugh could not have outrun a youthful attacker. He was found at water’s edge, so it is reported. He may have run toward the hard sand by the surf but still was hopelessly outclassed by his attacker.  Capin may have run toward the road and almost made it, there to be cut down or injured and then drug back behind a dune to be butchered.

I do not think the Beach was idly chosen by The Doodler simply because it was remote. Golden Gate Park, remote at night, was closer. Indeed, so was Buena Vista. I don’t know how many bums I’ve seen in Buena Vista Park I thought were bodies. By contrast, Ocean Beach is fairly far.

June 4, 1975

The pattern continues. A Swedish sailor. Harald Gullberg. He must have been dead for a couple of weeks. He was found off the trail at Lincoln Park Golf Course. I take this to mean off the area on the other side of  The Palace of the Legion of Honor. He was rotting away; maggots covered his face. His zipper was down. If he was a Doodler victim, he must have unzipped himself in preparation for, for, something, but received what The Doodler gave all his victims. He was not a well man, at 66 years of age. But his liver, which was ailing him, didn’t kill him. His throat had been cut.

The pattern The Doodler laid down is fairly clear. All out-of-towners except that one prominent citizen. Our man covered his bases locally. But the pattern helps us to uncover more. And I suspect there are more victims. The newspapers at the time said The Doodler had 14 victims in addition to the 3 near misses. So 17 is quite a number.  The next best step? Check the stats for stabbed homicide victims for 1973-1975 who were out-of-towners or foreigners. They were The Doodler’s type of victim.

Someone with The Doodler’s MO would need to be careful. He was black, 6 foot, wore casual clothes, a Navy watch cap, and carried with him his sketch pad.  That’s not a common sight. He flattered intended victims in the gay bars of The Castro with his cartoons or caricatures of them. I would suspect that The Doodler sketched a number of patrons. He struck up conversations and found the right one– foreign, out-of-town, no local friends. Someone who wouldn’t be missed and someone hard to trace.  Someone who wouldn’t have family locally badgering the press and police to do something about the killing.  I can almost hear the tongue-in-cheek invite at last to come and “view my etchings.” They then left. Someone like this will not go unnoticed for long.

This requires the question– just how local was he?

From Jae Stevens’ murder, we know that The Doodler could walk from the park to his domicile. I suspect he was local. Richmond or Outer Richmond District. Perhaps college at City College. Perhaps High School  at George Washington High. He must have had a car. The reports do not say that the victims had a car parked nearby, and indeed some may not have had a car at all.

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George Washington High and the crowded dwellings typical of Outer Richmond. I had to be there a couple of years ago for another case and snapped some shots.

This makes Jae Stevens’ murder quite curious. Clearly, the killer walked away to some place and that some place must have been nearby, especially if they connected in North Beach or The Castro. Stevens and Harald Gullberg are the only victims  found on the north side of Golden Gate Park at the Outer and Central Richmond District.

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The Richmond District and the probable locations of Gullberg and Stevens’ bodies.

I have been the recipient of a little brainstorming between those who knew the gay community at the time. Aside from learning what “Dinge Queen” means, I have encountered the same suspicions about who the “nationally known entertainer” might have been. They settled on Sal Mineo. He had been performing in P.S. Your Cat is Dead in San Fran and received good reviews. He would have known The Castro.  I have conflicting reports, however, as to how demonstrative he’d be in a bar as regards being famous. Everybody knew he was gay, but that is not the issue. The Doodler would avoid someone famous. There is also disagreement if he was a “Dinge Queen,” as the expression is within the gay community. But that may not have mattered in this case since a handsome, young artistic guy might have been an exception.

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The trails off the golf course near the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

The diplomat was from Europe. He took The Doodler back to his flat (after having met in a dark hole for a late night dinner in Upper Market) and for his gesture got stabbed 6 times.

The prominent San Francisco person probably used an alias the night of the attack and said he was an out-of-towner. This made him the perfect target.

None of them wished to admit they were involved in something like this. The prominent citizen fled San Fran and refused to talk to police. The diplomat went back to Europe. The entertainer back to LA.

It sounds like a creepy MO– to draw a caricature of a person and then stab them, but that is not how it seemed to work. This implies that the doodle was found with the victim. That is not the case as that would identify their killer rather easily. Rather he sketched them in the bars as an intro. I doubt there is any doodle extant of the victims, unless The Doodler kept them.

And he might still be alive. The sketch pad may still exist. Even if he died, if it is still in existence it alone might preserve who all of his victims were. The police were sure they knew who he was, but I doubt they saw the sketch pad. They spoke off and on with him for over a year. But he never admitted to any guilt. Yet he never struck again after the questioning began in late 1975.

As to why he was never charged– It was reported that the police could not get the 3 survivors to testify. But I wonder if there was no arrest and trial because The Doodler could then have started talking about victims. This would be very embarrassing for the survivors, though he doubtless did not know their names.

No point second guessing it right now.

The Doodler has left us a stark MO– and very well may still be alive. He was thought to be around 22 at the time and must have been old enough to go into the bars. In addition to identifying all of his victims, it would seem it is equally paramount to identify The Doodler. The gay paper Sentinel said he was a heterosex. I would think so from the circumstances. But he knew The Castro, the gay village. I said he moved across a broad spectrum of society, but if the out-of-towner and foreigner MO holds up, those prominent citizens he attacked may have led him to believe they were quite obscure, average people.

In any case, we should no longer doodle about this serial killer. At the very least, all his victims must be identified.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dabbling on the Doodler

Very little is known. What is known is not believable, and on top of that it is contradictory. On the surface it sounds like the creepiest MO there is. An artistically talented killer ingratiated himself to his prospective victims, sketched caricatures or cartoons of them, then viciously stabbed them to death.

The backdrop was the San Francisco of the Swingin’ 70s– exotic, obscene, dirty, glamorous. ZODIAC, Dirty Harry and the Zebra murders. Antiestablishment, drugs, urban militants. The nation was in the throes of change. The antiestablishment movement had shocked and disturbed the country. No one knew where it would lead, but it certainly led to San Francisco.  Since 1967 the Haight had become the center for “urban hippies.” By the time of this crime spree,  1974-1975, they were largely dropouts, druggies, and tenderloin rejects.

San Francisco was also undergoing another influx. Just as the Haight somehow became the epicenter for hippies, The Castro became the center of San Francisco’s gay culture. In the 1970s, the influx was noticeable. The culture was also quite different from today. This was the era of pre-AIDS promiscuity. Whether straight or gay, the 70s was a promiscuous time. The Castro was dotted with “bathhouses” and bars, many of them fronts for illicit trade.

There were, perhaps, over 100,000 gays in San Francisco. To be gay was still regarded as to be “one of nature’s mistakes.” Despite the contemporary view (and perhaps even today’s view) that San Francisco was “accepting,” it was not. When a hundred  thousand hippies flooded in the city, San Francisco had no choice but to accept. That didn’t mean that on the whole the city liked the hippies. The same applied to gays. The city had to accept– a lot more quietly than with the much higher profiled hippies– but there were many who didn’t like it. To them The Castro was a twisted red light district peppered with felons.

Now in 1974 the city was accepting, but disgruntled. There were reasons to be disgruntled about many things. It was the gritty urban era. Dissolute, apocalyptic, paranoid, in recession. Weeds were waist high in the sidewalk (in some parts of town). A fresh coat of paint had not been applied to some districts since the 1940s.  Inside “kinky” decorated the bars and bath houses.

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A breath of the 1970s– by City College of San Francisco (Sunnyside). Weeds grow high here. I had to visit the college a few years back to take some pics. I couldn’t resist this 70s throwback look.

At this time a young, skinny black man, would enter gay bars in The Castro and Upper Market and sketch caricatures of some of the patrons. He had enough talent it seemed to draw cartoons well enough to impress those he met. They would then leave the bar.

On the surface that’s it. A casual black guy, so it is said, who looked like any other guy at the time. He wore his Navy watch cap and probably wore bell bottoms.  He was between 19 and 22 (probably older if he was in the bars). He was about 6 foot tall.

What to make of it?  On the surface yet again, not much. However, a number of gay men were being found stabbed to death in Golden Gate Park and by Ocean Beach.

Stabbings aren’t and weren’t rare.

I don’t know what police investigation was done, but I know what is standard procedure. They would try and identify the body. It was said that ID was removed from the bodies though personal belongings remained (rings, money, etc). After this they would figure out lifestyle. Common denominator is next. The victims appeared to be gay. (Most of the bodies were found on a relatively straight line from The Castro– if following Lincoln Way.) Flash some photos in The Castro bars and at least first names or aliases could be learned for those that remained “John Does.”

And indeed by July 1974 gay newspapers, the only ones following this underground crime spree, reported that police believe “Gay haters” were responsible in the stabbings.

But since stabbings were so common, how to say that the man the victims were last seen with was responsible? We don’t even know when the young black man with the sketch pad became a suspect. No mention of the “smiling cartoonist” is made in the Chronicle until January 30, 1976, in a Maitland Zane article “The Gay Killers,”  in which he writes: “Teams of Homicide detectives were also pressing the hunt yesterday for the Tenderloin slasher who mutilates his ‘drag queen’ victims, and for a smiling black cartoonist believed responsible for stabbing six men he picked up in Castro Village gay bars.”

Casro-Market

This Google shows Castro and Market, looking toward 17th Street. Follow this to Stanyan and then you are in the Haight and at Golden Gate Park area. Frederick becomes Lincoln Way just past Kezar Stadium.

The lack of reporting outside of gay papers (the Sentinel, Advocate) has been said to reflect the attitude that such promiscuous gay men deserved their fate and that there was therefore nothing sympathetic to write about. Most likely the answer is because gay murders were becoming frequent, as the article above implied, and the details were so vague in this case.

The MO is hardly complex. Bar pickups are commonplace.  Stabbings equally common. They appear as thug killings. What is distinctive here to trace?

Only one thing. The Doodler may have had a common MO for killing, but he had one of the most distinctive approaches. How long is someone like this– sketch pad and all– going to go unnoticed? Amazingly, it seems for quite a while. The Castro simply wasn’t talking about it. It seems even the killer’s handle “The Doodler” or “Black Doodler” was given to him after-the-fact or, at least, late in the crime spree. Not until January 1976 did  the SF Sentinel headline an article on “Doodler Suspects.”

Naturally, this seems peculiar. But for The Castro and SF in general it was not. Gay men were closeted. Bartenders knew only first names of patrons and these could be aliases. Witnesses didn’t want to be exposed. None wanted to testify. Due to the common MO– stabbing– it would take a lot of links from witnesses to declare that the victim was last seen leaving with this distinctive Doodler. Yet even that would not be enough. There would have to be a more direct link.

. . . And there was. . .

There likely wasn’t much investigation until a couple of prominent citizens were attacked.  According to a newspaper account in 1977, again after-the-fact, the police said they knew who the Doodler was but could not prosecute because they could not get firsthand testimony. This was even in spite of the fact they admitted 3 of the victims had survived the attacks. None wanted to testify. One was a European diplomat, the other a prominent local citizen, and the other a “nationally known” entertainer.

To what extent were these 3 wounded or at least attacked by the Doodler? In the case of the “diplomat,” it was said he was stabbed 6 times, and in his own apartment. This is a knife-wielding maniac. Still his career was in jeopardy. He didn’t want to speak.

The diplomat is also said to have denied that any sexual relations happened, which is probably true. If these 3 “important victims” and those found in parks and at Ocean Beach are also by the Doodler it doesn’t seem sex was the object. He lured gay men to their deaths, to remote places, ostensibly to “make-out,” and started stabbing them instead.  In 1977, in yet another epilogue, the Sentinel declared a “straight man” was to blame for killing the gay men.

If the 5 victims attributed to The Doodler in the newspapers and the 3 “important” but nebulous near misses who survived are indeed all victims of the same serial killer, he moved between a wide range of society’s strata, apparently enabled because all intended victims were flattered by his caricatures of them.

Nevertheless, a lot does not add up. He is successful in dispatching average men in remote “make out” areas, but botches it with 3 prominent intended victims, all ostensibly in natty pads.

Just how many victims did The Doodler have? Yet again if all this is accurate, The Doodler was pretty prolific over that 1974 to 1975 period.  Newspapers declared he had 14 victims at this time in addition to the 3 near kills. Seventeen is a pretty staggering number. It may not be accurate. He may have less or even more. Lack of certainty will always be attributed to the extent to which gay men were found stabbed (or any other class of victim) at these times, and the fact few in The Castro wanted to talk.

The dead obviously did not speak with police. The living did. Thus it seems from the shadows of late night bar Castro patrons and from the survivors we have our image of The Doodler. A composite was issued, the same one that headlines this post.

Apparently this dried up The Doodler’s murder career. Moreover, the police declared they questioned a man whom they believed to be the right one. He never admitted to the crimes, but he fit the description of the skinny, smiling black cartoonist. They spoke with him over a year period, off and on. The “interrogation” seems to have happened over late 1975 and through most of 1976. The Doodler does not appear to have struck during this time or thereafter.

Who was or is this prolific and entrapping serial killer? If he was 22 in 1975, he could still be alive today at 60 years of age.  Black, upper middle class education, former art student.

Map1

This Google screen shot marks the victim locations and the location of The Castro.

Before we pursue this, it is best to consider the MO of the killer blamed for those 5 murders, where names were reported in the press. Five names and body locations have become public.  The locations prove as interesting as the victims. They are not diverse, except for one. None are prestigious and none were found indoors. All were found in a direct line, so to speak, from The Castro district to Ocean Beach, with 2 found around Golden Gate Park, and the other two at Ocean Beach. The fifth was found at the Lincoln Golf Course off the hiking trail.

The 5 names and locations that are public by no means represent a stereotypical victim.

Let’s look at them in the next Doodler post.

 

***

For 25 years 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. “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.

 

 

Reverse Poison — ZODIAC’s Mistake

Exposing the most boastful letter writing villain in history with the poison pen letters he sent. Without a doubt it would be poetic justice. It would cap off not only the entire crime spree but the decades of legend that has given us the mastermind ZODIAC Killer mythos. He is second only now to Jack the Ripper in terms of fame. Indeed, he is often called the American Jack the Ripper. Not because of any similarity in their MO. Quite the opposite. The only similarity is in the amount of fame and popular speculation that has gone with the crime spree. In the annals of true crime, the solution to the identity of Jack the Ripper and The ZODIAC are number one.

Sherwood Morrill
Sherwood Morrill

ZODIAC wrote letters in a time before any fancy way to detect DNA. They had fingerprinting, blood typing and handwriting analysis. And, if possible, if a good clue came in, a way to try and backtrack where the paper was made, sold and to whom. The ZODIAC probably knew this. He might have taken care when licking stamps, though blood grouping is rather a broad target. He never left a fingerprint. The paper was trimmed, so it was hard to trace except as to the pulp.

Despite the assertions of Sherwood Morrill, the leading documents examiner at the time of the crime spree, I must agree with those who say that ZODIAC disguised his printing in the letters. How? I don’t know. He may have written on a slanted surface. He might have been an ambidexter. But the letter to Melvin Belli when compared to the basic ZODIAC letters to the Chronicle show a marked attempt to alter printing. This same type of neat vertical printing begins a couple of other ZODIAC letters to the Chronicle and then ZODIAC devolves into his hasty, slanted scrawl.

The December 1969 letter to Melvin Belli.
The December 1969 letter to Melvin Belli.

At issue here, however, are the final letters of The ZODIAC. The last letter openly declared to be from ZODIAC was on January 24, 1974. It is called the “Exorcist Letter” because he mentions seeing The Exorcist and thinking it the best “saterical comedy.”

Another movie commentary letter, if you like to call it that, was mailed on May 9, 1974. This was regarding the Chronicle advertising the movie Badlands. It was only signed “A Citizen.” In it the writer deplored the glorification of violence. Since this was thought to be from ZODIAC, the letter has been taken as sarcastic.

Morrill had good reasons to believe that ZODIAC didn’t alter his handwriting. The writing on the side of victim Bryan Hartnell’s Karmen Ghia on Knoxville Road overlooking Lake Berryessa is clearly the same writing as on The ZODIAC letters.

Badlands Letter.
Badlands Letter.

However, the movie commentary letters lead into something else. It’s a definite progression. The “Exorcist Letter” leads to the feebly anonymous “Badlands Letter” of a few months later, and then this leads to the peculiar “Red Phantom Letter” of July 1974. It’s another commentary, really a rant. This time on the Count Marco column in the Chronicle. The writing, however, is markedly different than ZODIAC’s.

The author of this letter claims he is writing anonymously under the Red Phantom moniker. Is this ZODIAC or just an upset San Fran Chronicle reader? There are slight similarities between ZODIAC’s style of writing, but on the whole this is quite different. Everything is spelled properly, even down to complex words. The letter “K” is not made with 3 strokes. It is rare to write the letter this way, and ZODIAC’s letters always show a “K” written with 3 rather than the common way of 2 strokes. There is, in fact, little ZODIAC about the Red Phantom Letter, except it is regarded as a ZODIAC letter due to some of the style.

Just how smart was ZODIAC? This has been the subject of debate. Did he think that this letter would or would not be associated with him? It makes a big difference. It would tell us to what extent he tried to hide or not hide his own style of handwriting.

Red Phantom Letter.
Red Phantom Letter.

There are good reasons to think it is from ZODIAC. Months before on February 14, 1974, another letter came into the Chronicle. It was yet another anonymous and pointless comment. This is the “SLA Letter.” It was received only a couple of weeks after “The Exorcist Letter.” This makes it the first letter or note sent from The ZODIAC after his final official missive (The Exorcist Letter) in late January 1974. It is noticeably quite different in some regards than all the others. It is only signed “A friend,” a similar anonymity to “A Citizen” that would end the “Badlands Letter” in the coming May 1974, but it bears a remarkable resemblance to “The Red Phantom” letter in the way it is addressed.

San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco, California.

SLA card.
SLA card. SLA is slightly adjusted with a weak “Y” to convey “slay.”

The ZODIAC’s addresses are abbreviated.

The address on the “Red Phantom Letter” is clearly a more elegant example of the address on the “SLA Letter.” In the “SLA Letter” the C in California and Chronicle is clearly a more carefully made C than those narrow ones in the “Red Phantom Letter.” The SLA Letter also bears “K” written with the common 2 stroke, just like the Red Phantom Letter.

In summary, those letters that are openly from the ZODIAC have addresses on the envelope that are abbreviated. So does the “Badlands Letter” of May 1974 from “A Citizen.” The writing of this letter is quite ZODIAC style. However, the “SLA Letter” and the “Red Phantom Letter” show signs of being written by a different person who had a similar writing style. This is seen most in the “SLA Letter” in February but by July the writing has become most elegant in the “Red Phantom Letter”– the final letter associated with the ZODIAC. In both letters the letter “K” is written with 2 strokes.

Red Phantom envelope.
Red Phantom envelope of July 1974.
SLA card envelope
SLA card envelope some months before in February 1974
Typical style Zodiac address, from
Typical style Zodiac address, from “Badlands Letter” May 1974.

What was ZODIAC up to here? Are the SLA and Red Phantom letters from another writer or is ZODIAC certain his own writing will not be detected?

On the chance ZODIAC did not realize he would be identified as the author of the  “RED PHANTOM LETTER” I hope to match this writing style with that of my suspect. Requests are out, including FOIA, trying to obtain a sample of his writing in his later job with the state.

Like with the EAR/ONS case, the road to DNA is not opened unless one has lots of probable cause.  For both, handwriting may be the quickest way to lift the barrier.

It comes down to how smart was ZODIAC? Did he make a mistake with RED PHANTOM and reveal his actual printing?  He definitely made a mistake at Lake Berryessa in that he wore shoes that could identify him with the Air Force and also walked on ground that could reflect his weight.

SLA propaganda photo showing Patty Hearst ready for combat. A strange time indeed, with strange urban guerilla goals.
SLA propaganda photo showing Patty Hearst ready for combat. A strange time indeed, with strange urban guerilla goals.

The ZODIAC and the writer of the SLA and Red Phantom letters followed current events. The Symbionese Liberation Army was big news at this time. Only 10 days before the SLA Letter was posted they had kidnapped Patty Hearst as a publicity stunt and as a means to leverage the release of their arrested members. The writer of the SLA card was pretty quick off the mark to send in the card and draw attention to the initials. Although the SLA did not use the SLAY abbreviation, the letter writer preferred the morose link.

The ZODIAC’s final letter as “himself” in January indicated “sucide.”  It is certainly true that the character of The ZODIAC Killer as identifying as the ZODIAC died at that time and was never used again. However, the SLA, Badlands, and to a lesser extent the Red Phantom letter continue on his letter writing style.

The SLA and the upheavals of the mid 1970s completely overshadowed The ZODIAC crime spree. His vain claim in January 1974 of having 37 victims was transparent. Only a few days later all would change with the SLA and its vanguard army war– shootouts, bank robberies, and using Patty Hearst– a symbol of the establishment– as a gun toting convert to the revolution. Amidst this blitz of urban guerillas where could the vain boasting of a 1969 killer of lovers’ lane couples fit in?

ZODIAC vanished. But let’s hope he left us a clue in these last letters that will unmask him.

***

For 25 years 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. “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.

The Continuing Case of the Westfield Watcher

Some things have been written and speculated about The Westfield Watcher case since June 2015 when it excited the news waves. I reposted my article from June a few days ago, but let’s take it further here.

There was, of course, a lot of suspicion in Westfield that it was a local crank who was writing the letters or, worse, that the Broadusses themselves, the new owners and object of the sinister letters, cooked this up to get out of their pricey mortgage.

The Gothamist did an article by their roving reporter in which he and his cameraman walked the street (Boulevard) and then went to detectives downtown. They were led quickly out of the conference room. They went to the local blatt, which is basically a revolving gossip door, and heard the town’s suspicions. Such as the Broadusses wanted to get out of their mortgage. The publisher told them that no renovations were ever done on the house. The family never lived there. They’ve had 10 mortgages in the last several years (he flips houses), none near the value of this current mortgage. They house has never been up for sale, with prospective buyers refusing when they hear that a stalker comes with the house.They’re suing the Woods, the previous owners, for 3 times the value of the house, and the paperwork has never been served. No service, no suit. On the whole no one believes there was any letter writer. It is a stunt, in his estimation, to get the lender to quietly call this all off. 1314572841301372074

Next, the roving reporter went to neighbors who heard it was a wacko neighbor kid. Everybody knows it. He’s weird but harmless. The upshot is that it is a dead case.

Interesting sources and speculation. Unfortunately, for the gossip the lawsuit is online and the Broadusses are suing the previous owners, the Woods, for the price of the house and not 3 times the value. Police investigation uncovered that there is female DNA on the letters and it doesn’t match Mrs. Broaduss’. Moreover, the letters were mailed from Kearney in another county of New Jersey, on the way (or from) Jersey City. It doesn’t sound like a neighbor kid is doing this.

The town’s speculation reminds me of the military maxim “strategy is easy, but logistics is difficult.” All these ideas have come easy, but what are the logistics?  A very public stunt like this isn’t the wisest way for a family to go in order to get out of a high mortgage. The letters came in July 2014, soon after they owned the home, warning about not doing renovations– perhaps why none were done. The Broadusses didn’t file suit until a year later. The police have confirmed the letters and the postmark. Why would they write letters to themselves right after owning the house only to wait a year to take action against the previous owners? And who did they get to write those letters? The suit, of course, alleges that the Woods received a letter too and didn’t disclose the house came with a stalker. It’s pretty dicey involving the previous owners’ reputation in such a public manner if this is only a stunt. The Broadusses don’t need to have made service with the paperwork to be in serious trouble for involving the Woods like they have.

It may be a stunt that was never intended to go public, but it is hard to believe that the Broadusses, failing to use the letters to get out of their mortgage, would then publically sue and think this would not escalate.

The Watcher wanted to know who'd have the front bedrooms so he can identify them by name when watching.
The Watcher wanted to know who’d have the front bedrooms so he can identify them by name when watching.

It’s a great plot for a movie. That’s already been noticed by all and sundry. Supposedly Hollywood is interested. Well, such a stunt like this is great for attracting a lucrative offer from Hollywood, but if it is a stunt the Broadusses are in for a surprise. Hollywood attorneys leave no stone unturned in contracts. I’ve been there. When a nonfiction book of mine (Into the Bermuda Triangle) was optioned by Cruise/Wagner I got to see how careful and informed Hollywood is. My book was straight-forward nonfiction so I could breeze through that area of the contract easily. But for some author claiming a nonfiction work and yet who is cheating, well, they’re in for a surprise. Movie contracts require the author of a book being optioned to declare where he fibbed, what characters are composites and with what living people they are composites. Hollywood knows what the publishing business has become. “Nonfiction” as a category doesn’t mean too much anymore. I would suspect that any film producer will want to see the letters, and that the contract will get specific on the circumstances. No film company wants to be taken by surprise financially or by a press that follows everything Hollywood does.

To be fair, however, there are a few peculiar things with the case that don’t indicate a stunt. Kearny, for one. Clearly the one who mailed the letter did so at an easy location to and from Manhattan or Jersey to the New Jersey suburbs. They didn’t want to be traced. They started writing letters soon after the Broadusses owned the house, and they invoked the previous owners. They are bizarre letters that eventually target the kids.

It is indeed a great, dramatic plot. It is similar to When a Stranger Calls, only in this case the Watcher has circumvented progress’ ability to trace phone calls. Instead the Watcher stalks by letter– hard to trace. It’s also not so immediate a way of stalking. Not like a phone call. It shouldn’t have scared the Broadusses so, but then you don’t know how long a wacko will enjoy the fear he’s put in people. He may take a year to do what he wants which, according to the letters, was a blood bath in the basement with the kids’ blood.

It is a suspicious case, yes, but it is also a curious case. Things don’t add up and the local gossip barely scratches the skin of what would have to be involved here whether hoax or genuine.

***

For 25 years 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. “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.

The Strange Case of the Westfield Watcher

(Repost from June 2015).

A lawsuit in New Jersey has apparently revealed a gem in the rough of Americana— a haunted but not so haunted house. Most people would giggle off claims of ghosts. When Phyllis Diller bought a house that she had been told was haunted, she took measures into her own hands. She remarked that the first night she ran around inside in the nude and never had trouble after that. But there’s something different when a living person claims he haunts your house and that it is his right to do so. Ghosts don’t write letters and use local postmarks. This places a real threat behind the “haunting.” There is nothing subjective here.

The Dutch Colonial in Westfield, New Jersey, has all the appearance of what we’ve come to expect from a haunted house. Porch, pediment, old, and a bit of an odd past. It was a house that was, quite strangely, dutifully passed on by everybody whose owned it to the next family for only 1$. The new owners, however, weren’t accorded the tradition. They paid 1.3 Million. It was at last their “dream house.” A house for Derek and Maria Broaddus and their 3 kids. They were going to do a lot of renovation to the 1905 house. But only 3 days after they bought it, they started receiving bizarre and creepy letters from someone who claims he’s the third generation who “watches” the house. He is to protect it and await its “second coming,” as if it is a portal to be used for a significant event yet again in the future. He doesn’t want renovations done, and he’s targeted their children, referring to them as “young blood.”

The case of the Westfield Watcher is now only gaining international news after the new owners sued the previous owners of 657 Boulevard, Westfield, New Jersey, citing that they, that is John and Andrea Wood, did not reveal to them that the house came with a stalker.

In early June 2014 the Broadduses received the first letter. The writer of the letter claimed he was one in a line of family members who “watched” the house. A significant event is coming, as though the house has a life of its own. It “has been in my family for decades. I have been put in charge of watching and waiting for its second coming. My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father in the 1960s. It is now my turn. Why are you here? I will find out.”

The Watcher, as he calls himself, has a practical purpose. He wants the renovations to stop and the family to get out. “Now that they have it to flaunt it, they pay the price. Tsk, tsk, tsk. . .bad move. You don’t want to make 657 Boulevard unhappy.” He doesn’t say outright that he wants them out, but he next threatens the kids. “Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested?” Sacrifice, murder? It’s enough to open a parent’s eyes. He goes on: “Once I know their names I will call them and draw them to me.”  “I asked the Woods to bring me young blood,” he admits.

On June 18 and July 18, 2014, two more letters arrived, each growing more macabre. One implied he would visit the house and even seek the lives of their children in the basement. He now knows their names. He also knows they haven’t moved in yet because of the renovations, but when they do he’ll learn who has the front bedrooms. He can see everybody then.

There is ghostly, haunting overtones to the letters. The house is alive. The house waits to come alive again in some ritual, I suppose. In one instance “The Watcher” even asks “Have they found what is inside the walls?” implying therewith some hidden knowledge of long passed and dark deeds. Bodies? Ritual clues? A portal to hell?

Most likely just a sick mind . . .but it seems an informed sick mind.

The house at 657 Boulevard has an odd past, and The Watcher’s letters seem to dovetail on it. The house has apparently changed hands through several families that, though not overtly connected by heritage, always seem to pass it on for 1 dollar. That’s right. One sawbuck. This seems to indicate a certain custodial care taken for the house. And none of the families it seems could ever do much to renovate the house.

The Woods finally sold on June 2, 2014, to the Broadduses, and according to the Broadduses the Woods supposedly had received at least one letter from the “Watcher” in May just before they sold. Thus, the Broadduses are suing for the price of the house— a whopping 1.3 million, alleging apparently that the Woods knew a stalker came with it and didn’t disclose it.

Naturally, the townspeople are suspicious and so are others. All of it sounds a bit odd. Could it be real estate fraud? Why? The Broadduses shelled out 1.3 Million. Lawsuit is not a quick way to get it back. Also, if the Broadduses are writing bogus letters and inventing The Watcher why would they have sent a letter to the Woods before they even bought the house? There is nothing to be gained. How would the Broadduses even known the strange history of the house?

The police have confirmed the letters are real. Thus we have a real letter writer. He seems to know something of the house’s history. “He” also may be a woman. Female DNA has supposedly been found on one letter and it didn’t match Mrs. Broaddus. It doesn’t seem like fraud. It seems like someone wanted them to stop and wanted them, the Broadduses alone, to be gone.

As someone who grew up in such an old home in a California town— an old English Tudor with a deep basement and a couple of legends about it— I have never lost my love of an old home with lots of personality. But I also know that many in the town were in-the-know about our home’s past. We were the first outside of the original family that had built it. Those who had owned it before were all kin somehow. The legends were passed on to us. We searched for a hidden Samurai Sword, but couldn’t find it. We told people of the legends. Mom and Dad heavily updated the house, and no “Watcher” warned us not to, nor implied we might find something diabolical in the house, though the house had a spooky side to it. The previous owners like what we did. They were beautiful old couple, the Heckendorns. But there were no “nuts” in the other families.

How about in New Jersey? Is there someone who doesn’t want that lovely old and obsolete house changed from the time capsule that it is? He has taken on the form of a ghost on paper and a potential killer in ink.

He has also been careful. The Watcher cannot be uncovered, despite the mayor of Westfield saying the investigation has been intense. The Watcher also knew the names of the previous owners, the Woods, mentioning them by name in the first letter but indicating he did not know the Broadduses’ names. The letters have not been released yet so we do not know how the Watcher addressed the letter, but he doesn’t live too far from Westfield. He also knew the family had not yet moved in.
But he also stopped rather quickly. After his July 18, 2014, letter— over a year ago—  he has been silent. The Broadduses stopped what they were doing, tried to sell, but realized when they disclosed the “Watcher” no one would bite. They truly seem to believe he is some unstable nut who might go through with his threats if they move in.

Apparently someone is involved in a sick joke in Westfield. But what is most curious is that the joke is dependent on knowledge of the house’s history. It’s largely unscathed since the 1920s. It’s been passed on within a tight clique of relatives or friends. If Derek Broaddus has an enemy who is trying to spite him, he knows a lot about that house, the basement, its past, and chose the most “haunting” way to proceed to drive a family out. But only this family. Only the Broadduses.

mailboxThe Watcher also knew renovations were coming. He was awfully quick off his mark, so to speak, to send the first letter, postmarked only 2 days after the sale finalized.

Running away isn’t the answer here. If and when the Broadduses get out of their deal, if the next occupants receive no threatening letters then we know the Broadduses were the objects all along and not someone with a fetish for that house.
One must also ask, why did the letters stop so quickly?

Maybe there is something more here. Maybe someone didn’t want that house altered. Perhaps there is even more to this. This is certainly a case in the raw and deserves being followed here.

Personally, my advice is get a PI and keep the old house. . . but don’t destroy its unique old personality.