I have been plunged back into Dirty Harry’s San Francisco in my pursuit of the Black Doodler. He is one of the most unique serial killers in history. He was charming, talented, and his motive hard to figure out. He targeted gays in The Castro. He had the most unique MO imaginable: he drew little caricatures of patrons of the late night bars. Enchanted by his talent, a proposal was made. They left together and that was about it for the patron. In some secluded place in Golden Gate Park or Ocean Beach, or in their pad if they had one, The Doodler would then whip out what was essentially his Norman Bates edition butcher knife and have at them.
A few survived, and from them we get the overall picture of The Doodler and his MO. But not his motive. He must have killed about 8, with three known survivors. The police must have figured out his identity or heavily suspected who it was. It is said that The Doodler stopped because he was identified. But he was never prosecuted because each of the 3 survivors was somebody– a European diplomat, a prominent local citizen, and a “nationally known” entertainer. None would testify.
So much for the recap.
But I have set out on the track of The Doodler. It wasn’t difficult to find his trail. But this has not shed light on evidence or motive.
Context is everything. I have had to delve back into the world of the Castro, 1973-75. A surprising picture emerges.
The first thing I learned is that gay culture is very judgmental and hierarchal in nature, and this culture seems to have arisen from the bar scene. There was no other real meeting place back then. As such, enormous political and social differences just smoldered. Most gays regarded the bar scene as an evil necessity. When online dating became possible with the internet, the bar scene collapsed. The Castro, the center of San Francisco’s gay culture, was once peppered with bars. Today, there is only a fraction.
But back then it was the only place to meet someone who you could be relatively sure was gay. No one wanted to out themselves. Being “in the closet” was the phrase most frequently used for a secret gay man. But, as I said, the bar scene is not the place for most people. And few really wanted to acclimate back then. The “prominent” citizen was well protected because the culture protected its own. The diplomat, if anybody knew he was one, was shielded, as was the “nationally known entertainer.” This same protection extended to every other patron. It wasn’t something overt. It came with the territory. People used fake names, fake backgrounds. It was easy to protect identity.
The culture was also divided into pockets. There were those who likened themselves to ancient Greek culture. Homosexuality was part of their intimate life but like all intimate things it was not meant to be a public matter. They felt themselves not distinct from mainstream culture and politics. There were those who simply tried to dominate the herd, and kinky lust was the prime characteristic. Obviously, the two attitudes did not reside well in proximity.
Some bar names and their double entendres reflected the origins of the scene– Bear Hollow and nearby was The Pipeline. Well, that made perfect sense to some. It is not surprising that the bar scene collapsed with online dating. A small element within gay culture had established a stereotype most within it did not like, nor frankly approve of.
In the 1970s this contentious (though it was smoldering) late night bar scene was the perfect environment for a serial killer to select his victims and still maintain his secret identity. It was underground. Language was inference. Identity was fake. In addition, who would really be a witness to anything that would suggest murder? The victim was seen leaving with a certain other person. That didn’t mean the other patron killed him, did it? It was only after a while that it became obvious that the victims were leaving with the same guy. Moreover, he was black. Being gay was controversial enough. But interracial relations? In a judgmental society no one wanted to be known as a “Dinge Queen.”
This is the society in which The Doodler moved at night. But he does not appear to have moved within it at any other times. You could, in fact, do that. It took being recognized within this culture, which meant the bar scene first, developing your own friends, meeting elsewhere, being within a network of other friends who knew who everybody was. But The Doodler doesn’t seem to have been known. He was talented, convivial: this attracted patrons to him.
There was enough information so that a composite was done by the police. Thus his identity was not immediately known to the community. Yet this still didn’t identify him. Such a poster wasn’t something the bars would hang up to warn patrons. You weren’t going to find it in the post office. It cycled underground like the entire culture did.
The end result is that The Doodler serial crimes came and went. Despite the unique MO and the colorful time in history— Dirty Harry’s San Francisco– he is largely obscure. Even the number of his victims is hard to determine. Brutal death by butcher knife marked his wake. The two extremes of his signature were a nice artsy sketch of the victim beforehand and afterward the end result: the victim butchered in a dark recess in public.
I must admit I am slow following through on The Doodler crimes. Information is scant. It is also hard to follow up on a true crime mystery if the chances are nil that the killer would be brought to book. It seems he would never be prosecuted. As we know, the three survivors refused to testify. I think only one is alive today. His account would be valuable for the sake of putting in the details of the MO– from the moment of contact in the bar to the time he drew out his knife au moment juste. This would serve to confirm that there was nothing sexual in The Doodler’s aim. He attacked them before anything happened. But only one person seems capable of confirming this today. It would provide an enormous clue to the Doodler’s MO.
But in learning of the culture of the time we are left with some valuable leads. We can proceed to uncover just how much The Doodler himself knew of this culture. His list of known victims seem to follow a pattern of progression, and we must look at this in our next Doodler post.
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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 or Q Man. “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.