Anybody who follows true crime events knows that there is one thing that is harder than outing a serial killer: that is identifying one in action. For a hot case, if the predator has a particularly distinctive MO, it is much easier. But for a cold case decades after the fact it is almost impossible.
Some cold cases seem very similar, but if a single perp committed them he never moved onto the third victim– the benchmark that then labels him a serial killer. That’s good since it means there wasn’t yet another person fallen victim, but it is really not so reassuring. Maybe he killed a third and fourth . . .and we simply do not know it.
For those who follow cold case, the murder of Barbara Nantais on August 13, 1978, is well known. Her killer had a particularly distinctive MO. He attacked her, a mere 15 year old girl, on the beach at Torrey Pines, San Diego, knocking her boyfriend out first. When he awoke, he found that Nantais had been beaten, strangled, and then one of her breasts severed. Sadly, he couldn’t remember anything. There is no suspect composite.
These were curious circumstances that were replayed 6 years later in the murder of 14 year old Claire Hough at the very same Torrey Pines Beach. This time it was minus the presence of a boyfriend. She went to the beach to sit and think and enjoy the evening of August 23, 1984— yet another August night. The morning of the 24th passersby came by her body. She had been beaten, stabbed, strangled and one of her breasts sliced.
San Diego police think the same perp was involved despite the 6 years that had elapsed. From the similarities in the crimes they have good reason. But did this villain ever kill a third victim? Was he a serial killer? Was he in the military and in San Diego intermittently? I’m not sure if anyone has checked other Navy towns to see if similar murders happened in the interim. Perhaps he was a crazed local, and these are his only two victims. He was a particularly arrogant and vicious villain, and one who didn’t seem to have limited himself to a select territory in which to strike.
There is a less known pair of murders spread over a similar period, also involving “America’s Finest City.” On December 27, 1980, on Wightman Drive, neighbors heard screams. When the police rushed to the scene they found Julia Wilkinson dying. She had been chased into her garage from her home by a young male in his 20s. He must have entered her home, taken her by surprise, and then chased her down and beat her to death with her own hammer.
Apparently, he had been prowling the neighborhood for a few hours prior to the attack. Neighbors had seen him and they gave a good description to the police. A white guy, around 6 feet, shoulder length hair, bushy on top, clean shaven, and wearing a military style jacket. The composite shows he had a long face.
There are a number of similarities to EAR. And this is why some of us know of the attack. Wilkinson also lived on a corner house, the type of house EAR liked to strike, and there was a canal nearby. He wore a military style jacket, which EAR liked to wear, and he killed Wilkinson with a tool in her own house. As ONS that is how he operated. He used a murder weapon already on the property. EAR/ONS struck up and down I-5 in So. Cal, but there is no evidence that he ever ventured as far as San Diego. He never went past the terminus of the LA suburban area at Mission Viejo, north of Camp Pendleton and San Diego.
Was it EAR? I don’t know. But this may be the same suspect wanted in the case of the murder of Kathryn Taylor on October 1, 1985, in Imperial Beach, San Diego’s very beachy and low scale suburb just south of Coronado and Silver Strand Beach. She was murdered in her house on Elm (how, it is not specified on SDSD’s cold case site). Later that day a man had to have her stolen car towed into Bakersfield to have it repaired. He tried to use one of her stolen credit cards. He wasn’t going to wait for it to be fixed. He had a couple of “military style” duffle bags and boarded a bus. On the repair order he left a nearby Richgrove zip code.
Richgrove is a small farm town. It was unlikely he was from there, but he must have had some connection in order to know the little hamlet’s zip code. He disappeared thereafter. The service station employees gave a good description of him. A white guy, in his 20s, long face, 6 foot or better, skinny, and from our perspective today when looking at the composite he looked an awful lot like the suspect in the Wilkinson murder on late 1980. The only difference is he had a haircut.
Were the perps of these two sets of murders serial killers or killers who just left it at two victims and never killed others? Or do these 4 unsolved crimes simply reflect coincidence? There is no composite in the Nantais and Hough murders. Apparently no DNA as well. This is tragic. There is a single composite from the Taylor and Wilkinson murders, and they bear a remarkable similarity.
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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.