As I mentioned in my introductory post, analysis must come first in Cold Case, not investigation. Let us take a look here at a few clues in the case of the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders or, also called, the Sonoma Coed Killings. The Sonoma Coed Killer was active between 1972 and 1974. At least 7 victims are attributed to him, with a probable 8th victim. However, there is a quiet schism today as to whether the victims were the victims of one killer or two separate killers.
Since this is an analysis of whether there could be 2 unrelated killers, I am not going to go into minutiae here on each case.
The first victim found was Kim Wendy Allen, a Santa Rosa Junior College coed. She was 19 years old. On March 4, 1972, she had been hitchhiking back to the JC from her job in Larkspur, south of San Rafael in the Bay Area. She worked at a grocery there. She was last seen carrying a soy barrel and wearing a metal frame backpack. She hitched a ride to Bell Avenue in San Rafael where she was left off. She must have hitched a ride further north to Santa Rosa. The next day, March 5, 1972, her nude body was found down an embankment off the rural Enterprise Road, southeast of Santa Rosa by about 8 miles.
Examination showed she had been bound at one point with ligatures. She had been strangled to death slowly. It was thought she had been bound in a manner that indicated she had been spread eagle. She may also have been bound in a sadomasochistic way, with her arms bound before her and her legs behind her, connected hogtie fashion by a length of cord with a slipknot around her neck. Thus when struggling she would have slowly strangled herself. It could be determined she was strangled for at least 30 minutes before dying. She may have been raped. There were overt signs of sexual activity, but her bindings suggested sadomasochism.
The 1970s were the “Swingin’ Seventies.” Free and very unusual sex was commonplace. Wife swapping was even being engaged in, which is truly bizarre. As presented, the evidence could suggest this was an accidental death from a kinky night out, and the man panicked and dumped the body.
Nevertheless, adding other clues strongly suggested premeditated torture and murder. In addition, there was no indication Allen ever got back to Santa Rosa. If she had, her backpack and soy barrel should have been found at her residence. It must still be noted, however, that she may have been picked up by someone she knew and accepted a lift to their domicile first. Otherwise she was forcibly led somewhere by a man who had picked her up along Highway 101. Her clothes, distinctive soy barrel and backpack must have been disposed of. The clues and evidence in the Allen case indicate she had been taken somewhere for some time, subjected to binding and perhaps some aspects of sadomasochistic acts. Where? It could be a van or a remote house in the rural areas in Sonoma County. The point is, this wasn’t done in an inconvenient location. Some time was devoted to the binding and “torturing.” If it wasn’t an accidental death, a diabolical and very premeditated mind was responsible.
One month later, April 25, 1972, Jeannette Kamahele, of Hilo Hawaii, was last seen on the Highway 101 onramp at E. Cotati Ave and Old Redwood, south of Santa Rosa in Rohnert Park. She was hitching a ride to Santa Rosa Junior College where she too was a student. A friend saw her jump in an older truck with a custom camper affixed on top. She was 20 years old, pretty. She was never seen again.
Nothing of particularly similar occurrences were known to happen to JC coeds for the rest of the year. Therefore these two incidents– a strange death and a disappearance– were not, at least on the face of it, overtly related.
There had been a very dissimilar disappearance on February 4, one month before Allen would vanish. Yvonne Weber, 13 years old, and Maureen Sterling 12 years old, were last known to have been at the Snoopy’s ice rink in Santa Rosa. There are conflicting stories whether one of their mothers was to pick them up or not at 11 p.m. Possibly, both had been seen on Guernville Road near Snoopy’s, trying to hitch a ride. The two girls vanished. They were classified as “runaways” by Santa Rosa police.
On December 28, 1972, their skeletons would be found off another rural Sonoma County road, Franz Valley Road. This road, however, is northeast of Santa Rosa. Due to the fact only skeletal remains were left, no cause of death could be determined. However, they had been there for quite some time obviously. They had probably been murdered soon after they had vanished. They were found about 60 feet from the road down the embankment heading to the Franz Valley Creek.
Between their disappearance and discovery, there had been another disappearance and recovery. Lori Lee Kursa, only 13 years old, had runaway from home on November 11, 1972, and was staying with friends. A couple of weeks later she vanished. Her body had been found, nude, down an embankment off Calistoga Road, northeast of Santa Rosa, on December 14, 1972. She had apparently died at the scene where she had been dumped, having a number of contusions and even a broken neck. There was no sign of sexual assault or binding.
It must be noted that Calistoga Road heads from the eastern suburbs of Santa Rosa into the Santa Rosa Hills and finally reaches the juncture of two roads. Petrified Forest Road goes to the right and to Calistoga. To the left the road is known as Porter Creek Road. Turning left onto Porter Creek Road and very soon on your right is Franz Valley Road. It was 2.2 miles up Franz Valley Road where Weber and Sterling would soon be found. These 3 were thus grouped along the connected roads northeast of Santa Rosa.
Since Kursa’s death was so at odds with the evidence in Allen’s murder and the assumed circumstances of Weber and Sterling’s deaths, she was only tentatively placed as a victim of what appeared to be a serial killer now afoot in this quiet community.
The next victim proved a surprise, and it confirmed that a serial killer was afoot. The body of Carolyn Davis, 14, was found only 14 feet from where Sterling and Weber had been dumped. Her last known whereabouts were on July 15, 1973. She was found on July 31, 1973. Her body was found, nude, face down, and must have been there for a week. She was from Anderson in Shasta Co. and had run away. But she returned at one point and was last seen by her grandmother in Garberville much further north of Santa Rosa, where she had been dropped off at the bus station. However, she must have hitchhiked south along Highway 101.
It was becoming obvious that the killer used Highway 101 and picked up his victims around there near Santa Rosa. It is the only major highway going north/south along the coastal and scenic California counties.
The cause of death was surprising– massive strychnine poisoning.
Just what was going on here?
Although such a poison could be administered in a van, the victim also might have been taken to a residence. Due to decomposition it could not be determined if the poison had been taken in tablet form or administered by injection. Drug culture used strychnine to mix with certain drugs. The killer may have had quite a knowledge of illicit drugs, aside from access to them.
In a sense this clue in Davis’ case may help to explain how two girls (Weber and Sterling) could be subdued by a single individual– poison. However, circumstantial evidence in Kursa’s case indicated that she had been picked up on Calistoga Road by two men who held her between them, almost rushed through the intersection of Parkhurst Drive, and to a van parked on the north side of Calistoga Road. A man was seated in the driver’s seat. He was a white man with an afro style hairdo– the new fad. They put her in the back. Three men? That’s hard to fathom. It is hard to fathom 3 men would be involved in a serial murder spree.
Nevertheless, Sonoma Co. sheriffs had to consider more than one man or a very strong man. Davis’ body had been thrown from the road down the embankment and over the intervening bushes. There was no damage to them. This was a very strong man or 2 men throwing her. It was, truly, suggestive of the current TV hit Night Stalker, where the super human strength of Janos Skorzeny, a “vampire,” could throw a victim 60 feet, leaving a mystery of a body with no footprints around it.
Certainly the same killer who dumped the Weber and Sterling girls also did-in Davis. It was very gusty returning to the same scene after it had been discovered months before by the law.
But something else was to change now. Bound bodies would turn up in the northeast in these general areas. Their murders would fit the MO in the Allen murder, but they would not be found near where she had been dropped. No other victim would be found near where her body had been dropped.
As it stood in August 1973, after Davis’ discovery, Kim Wendy Allen’s murder was unique. It had been torture, rape and slow strangulation. These other victims, though found nude, had shown no such diabolical acts upon them per se. There was also quite a difference in their ages. These were all young girls, the oldest being 14. Allen was a 19 year old JC coed. Kamahele (20) probably fit the Allen scenario, but she had never been found. The next victims would be around Allen and Kamahele’s ages. They would fit the MO in Allen’s murder, but they would be found nowhere near where her body had been dropped.
The only connection is that it seemed a very strong man was involved. Allen had been thrown down the embankment off Enterprise Road by a fairly strong man to get her body 20 feet down the embankment. He may have slipped in doing so. There was a mark as though made by a leg when he slipped and fell down.
In our next post we will look at these later victims and the clues to suggest that Allen’s killer started dumping his victims near the others to confuse his identity.
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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. “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.