It was not until 2002. Finally in that year a name from within the legal grapevine of the north Bay Area snuck out regarding a person of interest for being the Sonoma Coed Killer. Details, as they come to us, are thin. Moreover, the initial conduit was not a very good one. We have to assume that Robert Graysmith was accurate in his core recital of what he had heard, which is assuming a lot. Robert Graysmith tailored every bit of information he could get on Bay Area murders to try and implicate The ‘Zodiac’ Killer. Graysmith has been repeatedly exposed for some of the grossest inaccuracy in the cases he has discussed. Some of his sources are little more than gossip, and upon this he tailored interpretation to make the ‘Zodiac’ a viable suspect. In the case of the Sonoma Coed Murders, he tried to repeatedly link Leigh Allen, his ‘Zodiac’ suspect.
After reading his 1986 book Zodiac a woman who retired from the Coroner’s office in Sonoma County wrote to Graysmith. She told him of an auto accident in 1976 involving 41 year old Fred Manalli. He had taught creative writing at Santa Rosa Junior College, Napa Junior College, and even at San Quentin Prison near Larkspur. On August 24, 1976, he had been driving his van from his home west of Santa Rosa in Sebastopol. Highway 12, a 2-lane rural but frequently traveled road, was and remains today the main route between these two historic cities. Suddenly his van veered and hit the oncoming car. In this head-on collision, Fred Manalli had been killed. According to this informant, the sheriffs found drawings in the back of the van of women in sadomasochistic positions, listing them according to their sexual preference. One of them was Kim Wendy Allen. Fred also drew himself as well, in drag, and captioned himself as “Freda.” Manalli kept a lock of hair in his wallet, but it did not match Kim Allen’s. A backpack was also found, though Graysmith did not state that it matched Allen’s. He only said it belong to “one of the victims.”
According to Graysmith, his correspondent believed the evidence was destroyed around 1979.
According to Graysmith yet again (page 261 Zodiac Unmasked) “one investigator” discovered that Freda’s widow/ex-wife found more drawings, showing that “Freda” liked bondage and was involved with other young women.
Eventually we get a source name from Graysmith that corroborates some of this. He spoke with Sgt. Steve Brown, Sonoma Co. Sheriffs. Brown admitted he had a photocopy of a couple of the sketches. Brown is quoted as saying: “He drew Kim and he drew himself as ‘Freda.’ He drew this other girl and those two girls had classes with him.” According to Graysmith, Chief Wayne Dunham of Santa Rosa Police thought that “Freda” had something to do with Allen’s murder. This would seem reasonable. According to Brown, however, we get an insipid insight:
“One investigator thought that the teacher had this sex/slave thing going, whips and chains and all this weird stuff, and he was obsessed with big-breasted women. He probably taught Kim, and when she shows up dead he became really obsessed with her. A weird dude.”
There’s a keen mind at work.
In all honesty, we have to cut Sgt. Brown some slack. He most likely didn’t say it in that manner. It is so illogical, a rational mind above lower primate could not make such a statement. Graysmith often went out of his way to muddy the evidence against anybody but Leigh Allen for most any crime he tried to associate with ‘Zodiac.’
If we are to accept at face value what Sgt. Steve Brown is quoted as saying, then he is implicitly saying that Fred Manalli’s drawings of his students in such sadomasochistic positions is purely from his memory of the students. Therefore the drawings represent fantasies and not reflective of actual moments with them. This would make it quite a coincidence that Kim Allen was killed in a sadomasochistic position.
It is a fact, however, that Sonoma Co. Sheriffs have never made a comment on Fred Manalli. To what should we attribute this? By 1976, 3 years since the last victim had been found, did the average sheriff not know enough details to realize the significance of the discovery? Or did the clues simply leak back to the sheriffs through independent sources? If all the evidence from the van was first in sheriff custody, I would imagine that Brown would have more than just 2 copies of the sketches. It sounds like they only got copies and never had the originals. Brown also said “He probably taught Kim”– which doesn’t sound like he or anybody did an official investigation.
The unnamed retired member of the Sonoma County Coroner’s office had told Graysmith that the detective who cataloged everything from Manalli’s van had said “As long as he’s dead, for his family’s sake, there’s no point in ruining his reputation.” This comment is also unlikely in the context it was given (page 260). Police aren’t too concerned with a citizen’s reputation if there is evidence he was some deranged killer. In Cold Case, if there is much moral evidence against a suspect, but there is no way to prove it, it will still be investigated. It will not be dismissed. It will, however, have to take a backseat to “hot cases.”
“Zodiologists” have, of course, only considered Fred Manalli in terms of being the ‘Zodiac’, quickly dismissing him because he was strong, 6 foot 3 inches and didn’t look anything like the ‘Zodiac’ composites. That’s about as far as it goes.
We can forget ‘Zodiac’, but we cannot forget Manalli. There is no question that the Sonoma County grapevine knew of Manalli as a possible candidate for being the Sonoma Coed Killer. Kim Wendy Allen’s name is directly linked with him, and a sheriff also had a copy of a couple of “Freda’s” S&M sketches. Beyond this, however, they did not seem to venture.
Let’s consider a few intangibles.
In general, Fred Manalli reflects the type that would be trusted by local girls. He was known to be a JC teacher. He was strong, handsome, and in 1972 he was in his late 30s– still in his prime. He had lived in the area for about 10 years at the time of his death in 1976, so about 6 years by the time of the crimes. He was also a poet. We all know what they’re like. You may think that is unforgivably “English” of me, but it is true that poets are aesthetics. They resonate to country places and creeks. He knew the foothills. He also taught at San Quentin, which is accessed along Sir Francis Drake Blvd just from Larkspur, where Kim was working and from where she hitchhiked the day she vanished and was murdered. She had been left off on Bell Avenue in San Rafael. Manalli could have come along and picked her up. She would probably have trusted him.
Pretty Jeannette Kamahele hitched up from Rohnert Park, south of Santa Rosa. The person seen to pick her up at the onramp of Highway 101 may have been innocent enough. The person may have being going north to Highway 12 in Santa Rosa and no further. He may have left her off there. It is along this highway Manalli would have come to work from Sebastopol. He could have picked her up there.
In fact, doing a rough compute of where the victims may have been picked up highlights Santa Rosa proper or south of Santa Rosa. This introduces another disappearance. This is the case of 17 year old Lisa Smith, from Petaluma. She disappeared in March 1971, before any of the others, last seen hitching on Hearn Avenue in Santa Rosa. A young woman using that name later appeared in the Novato hospital with injuries, saying she had escaped a ride and had been beaten. They patched her up and she left. She was never seen again.
At first glance, it sounds as if she escaped the villain we seek– serials are not so efficient when they begin and they make mistakes. But how to explain her disappearance thereafter? Did he find her again? Actually, sadly, rape and attempted rape was not so rare around the area during these times. Many SRJC and Sonoma State coeds were reporting similar incidents while hitchhiking. Both colleges began to organize carpooling and bussing. It is not beyond probability that she met with an attempted rape and survived and then later met the real sadistic fiend that intended to kill his victims.
All we know is that it seems Lisa Smith vanished once again south of Santa Rosa, between Larkspur and Novato. Jeannette Kamahele was south of Santa Rosa, too; Kim Wendy Allen last seen in San Rafael; Carolyn Davis was hitching up from Malibu; and for Jane Doe we have no clue. She wasn’t local.
None of the bodies were ever dropped to the west of Santa Rosa, in the direction of Sebastopol. They were all dropped to the east, in a direction unlikely to suggest a killer from Sebastopol.
Calistoga Road connects with Highway 12, the rural 2-lane road to Sonoma and Napa. It then connects with the others (Mark West Springs, Porter Creek) used by the killer. In turn Mark West Springs Road connects to the north of Santa Rosa and Highway 101. In this northeast area all the bodies were dumped except Allen’s. Lori Kursa was last seen on Calistoga Road.
We are left with only the fringes of a possible image. A handsome, trusted man who picks up his victims, usually to the south of Santa Rosa. He takes them to his lair (ostensibly). He then binds them and prepares them for his sadomasochistic pleasures. He returns to the darkened room dressed as a woman– Freda has arrived. He does not kill them himself, not with his own hands anyway. He won’t soil his hands with that. They die during the act by strangling themselves in the deadly slipknot bondage position he has put them in. Perhaps it is afterward. The slipknot is now too tight. He won’t loosen it. The result is slow torture and strangulation, in a sense self inflicted while Freda calmly watches. Kim Allen strangled to death slowly, for up to 30 minutes.
Was it “Freda”? I don’t know. But it needs to be looked into aggressively if the grapevine has even picked up on a shadow of truth. My experience with cold case crime reveals a different type of predator who goes after average middleclass girls. He is not the crude tavern dreg who hunts prostitutes. These predators aren’t particularly clever nor need they be. They are picking up women who want to be picked up to do business. But your serial fiend who likes to attack nice middleclass people is more sophisticated and calculating. He is picking up young women who aren’t in business. He himself also has a respectable profile he must maintain. This is what we see in the Sonoma Coed Killer.
BTK was respectable enough. Bundy. All clues point to EAR/ONS having a middleclass profile. The same can be said for ‘Zodiac’ and The Phantom. Each attacked the average citizen. The predators who prowl the strip at night to hunt prostitutes have usually been an unsavory kind who can fit on the strip.
Fred Manalli’s name has already been publically referenced long before this. Though his name has been referenced mainly by “wacky” ‘Zodiac’ enthusiasts, the rumor mill, sometimes even official rumor mill, has mentioned some very disconcerting clues. Broadly, he fits a pattern that is applicable. Maybe when it was all put together, the sheriffs really didn’t have enough to get a clear picture to proceed. Maybe they were blind sighted by the standards of the time.
Toronto Police still cringe over their Pollyanna mistake with the Ken and Barbie Killers. They had one half of that gruesome duo (Ken) in front of them. Paul Bernardo hadn’t turned to murder yet. He was still only raping his victims in the Scarborough suburb. Though a person of interest he gave such a good impression of himself that the Toronto detectives did not even bother to test his DNA. It would have revealed him to be the rapist they sought.
A similar attitude may have prevented Sonoma County from proceeding beyond a rationalizing theory about Manalli. Without anything but kinky art, with more in the possession of the widow, what did they have? There was no DNA science in forensics. Three years after the fact Brown only formed the convenient theory of a “weird dude” that “probably” fantasized about Kim, whom he also “probably” had taught.
Frederic Manalli’s guilt or innocence should be pursued. DNA might still exist and he could be ruled out or found guilty 45 years after-the-fact. Something more has to be done than to dismiss him as “weird” because he cross-dressed and drew sketches of a murder victim in sado positions, which reflected how she did die.
In our next post we will look at the clues that indicate a single killer was responsible for the entire spectrum of victims over those 2 years in the very bizarre early 1970s. And, we have to consider clues that indicate it was not Fred Manalli.
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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.