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.
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.”
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.
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.