Visalia Ransacker Meets NorCal Rapist

How I would love for the title to be true. I have wanted to link the two predators, largely because I don’t want the Visalia Ransacker to slip into the void. He was a bizarre, young man who terrorized with impudence the small California college town of Visalia in 1974-1975. Had it not been for popular attempts to link him to EAR/ONS, the latest True Crime sensation, the bizarre Visalia Ransacker would have faded away.

All of his crimes have long passed the veil of the Statute of Limitations. He is only a suspect in the Claude Snelling murder of 1975, but I don’t know if Visalia could ever get a conviction on anybody and then, if they did, assert successfully that Snelling’s killer was the VR.

It is tragic that someone like this got away, pure and simple, whether he is Snelling’s killer or not.

As I said, he was a young man, actually a chunky young man, who often wore camo fatigues. Some, those who believe they encountered him prowling afore-the-fact, thought he was a little tetched, to put it politely. He talked to someone who wasn’t there. So there’s a reason for even a conservative observer to think there was a problem. Perhaps that really wasn’t him. This fatigue-wearing young man was thought to be VR because on a VR stakeout one night a Visalia detective encountered a prowler. He shined his flashlight on him. He received for his trouble a bullet straight into his flashlight. The VR, if that was him, was a good shot. This detective, McGowen by name, described the man and a sketch was made. It seemed to conform to the few details they already had on the VR, based on what those other witnesses had said of the chunky guy.

The Visalia Ransacker


But it is nevertheless true that the only undisputed visage we have of the Visalia Ransacker is the carnage left in his victim’s homes. He got into their houses at night, while each family member was away, and he ransacked the homes. He stole very little, but he delighted in making a mess, rearranging things and even lining up the women’s undies in certain places.  Exactly. You are right. That kind.

Considering that the Visalia Ransacker had over a 100 victims, at least in terms of houses, we know he was quite adept at prowling and stalking. He never made a mistake. Each house was empty. He would strike more than one house a night. So he learned the movements of quite a few people before the fact. He would strike the same street more than once, even when people were on the alert. This was a small town. Still, no lead led to any viable suspect. He had a deadeye as well, being able to shoot a flashlight out of a cop’s hand.

This doesn’t seem like the discipline of a slightly demented young pervert, but time has shown he was an exception to many rules. For a chunky, half witted villain he was also quite adroit. He hopped fences and ran off and transposed into the darkness with ease. McGowen described his appearance not so flatteringly as wide in the hips and knock-knee– in the parlance of the time, buffalo-butted.

Visalia PD preferred to believe he was Snelling’s murderer, but it seems that he can only be said to be another Twilight Zone villain, unimaginable in the real world, but sadly all too real.  full4

The NorCal Rapist is a taunting, cleverly premeditative villain. He was by last estimates a middleaged rapist. He started in the early 1990s in northern California. He wasn’t prolific. In fact, his attacks were spread over years. He seemed a little tetched too. Sometimes he called to apologize to his victims later. Maybe it’s taunting. Maybe it’s sincere, in the sense of a brief flurry of regret. Maybe he has a screw loose, even beyond the usual loose screw of rapists. But he comes back for more. He is a careful stalker. He learns of his victims before-the-fact. Nobody knows how. Finally he visits them at night in their home. It began in Rohnert Park, California, 1991, and it finally ended in 2006, 10 years ago, in north Sacramento’s Natomas area. Thus he is “NorCal” because he was a traveling rapist over northern California.

I know the locations of only the first and last hits in detail. They are in communities with a direct and major road to the nearest highway, indications he wasn’t local. In between these attacks he had struck far afield, from Vallejo and Martinez in the north Bay Area of San Francisco Bay, to Woodland, Davis, even the college town of Chico. Actually Davis is a college town too. So is Rohnert Park. His first and last strikes are united by the fact that he seems to come from afar and has carefully surveilled potential victims, though, once again, how nobody knows. He gets their phone numbers, addresses, knows before-the-fact their house floorplans and knows, moreover, that their houses are in a good location for easy cruising to and from the highway.

The Visalia Ransacker limited himself to his college town 16 years before the NorCal started. The followed the identical MO. It’s not a unique MO, of course. But it does indicate the perp is careful. VR came into the communities he trashed from a main road. He wanted a quick and easy exit afterward.Identical.

NorCal, as last seen in 2006, possibly while stalking Ivycrest in Natomas.  The Visalia Ransacker of 1975.

NorCal’s weight has fluctuated but he was heavyset, then got leaner, then heavy, heavy, by his last time.

I would love for one to be the other, but age becomes a very great problem. If VR was born in 1956, he could have been 18 or so when he started. But he appeared older to those witnesses that described the chunky buffalo. He could by 2006 have been 50, but NorCal seemed younger to his victims at this time.

Ann Marie Shubert, Sac’s DA, pioneered filing against DNA. She had this done against NorCal’s last strike in 2006. She thus got around the Statute of Limitations. NorCal can still be prosecuted for 2 rapes in Sacramento.

He struck over a 15 year period, and then in 2006 finally quit– fat, middleaged, still taunting. He seems through, though not removed from the long arm of justice.

Could they be the same?  Could the chunky, slightly goofy but hideously premeditative Visalia Ransacker/Snelling murderer, and the taunting, mask-wearing theatrical NorCal Rapist be his older incarnation?

Alas, we need more information. Much more. Both deserve to be caught. After EAR/ONS, both deserve to be rated True Crime’s poster perv– VR as yet another true night stalker, as yet another monomaniac to emerge post antiestablishment and send waves of terror through a small town like Haddonfield; NorCal for being the hypocritical, stalking rapist, performing like the Phantom of the Opera, calling to taunt and terrorize. 3360_jpg

NorCal liked masks. He didn’t just wear them during his attacks. After he used the credit cards of victims, which he stole while lording over their house,  he used them at ATMs, keenly aware of the  surveillance cameras, into which he looked, his face protected by his face-distorting mask. Nine or ten victims fell before this theatrical villain over a 15 year period. He took his time and enjoyed planning each attack silently. Who knows for how long. Despite apologizing afterward, he enjoyed his little hobby immensely. He was The Phantom of the Opera, performing for his captive audience, bound and gagged and double-knotted. On his Halloween 1996 attack in Martinez, he appeared before his victim wearing, yes, indeed, a Halloween mask. What a macabre touch! How long had he planned this attack?  He even intended to dress for the occasion. How long had he walked around amidst the cheer of the crowds of trick-or-treaters hidden behind the ghoulish garb that is the night’s attire? How long did he then wait in a dark car until the street’s quieted? The “Scream” phantom then lumbered silently through yards, jimmied a way in, and there he materialized to create his own Fright Night. “Trick-or-treat,” his devilishly wicked voice, muffled ominously by the mask, declared.

If VR and NorCal are different they are nevertheless united by both being arrogant but skilled prowlers, thieves, stalkers, maybe even a murderer. They are also both within reach today.

*         *          *

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.


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