Close to 6 years ago I started writing about The Doodler. I was in the midst of EAR/ONS, and about 80 pages of Q Files was taken up with the results of trying to put back in place the East Area Rapist’s crimes. Posts about the Doodler were not in depth, nor did I have the time to develop a web section.
The initial source of info on the web was sparse. There were a couple of articles. A clipping from an old newspaper. There was a composite sketch. There was little else. I regurgitated what had been said. The news articles had said that SFPD (at the time) believed the Doodler could have been linked to 14 murders. But. . . no mention of other names, dates, any specifics.
The 5 “usual” victims were and are: Gerald Cavanaugh; Jae Stevens; Klaus Chrissman, Fred Capin; Harald Gullberg.
In addition to not naming the other suspected victims, there was never any elucidating information as to why these 5 victims were believed associated to the same perp.
As more time came my way, I looked more in depth. Well, I looked into it far more in depth. All were stabbed, yes– Gullberg kinda. But I found the names of the other victims. All were stabbed, with a few bludgeonings and a couple of stranglings added for good measure. The other names, those of the 14 others, were all grouped for the most part in Tenderloin and South of Market. Their perp is that of a Jack the Ripper, just switch out Whitechapel and Spitalfields for these dark inner districts of San Francisco.
For this reason I call this perp JACK THE KNIFE. He used a knife. He followed or accompanied his victims to their flat or to a dark alley . . .and he started slashing.
On the face of it, there is little to connect them with those 5 victims asserted to be Doodler victims. You want to kill someone in the urban scene; you want to do it quietly, right? Of course. Knife, noose, bludgeon are how it is done. But this doesn’t mean all are linked.
One of the first things I learned from a contact was that Jae Stevens could no way be linked to the others. He, a celebrated San Francisco gay community entertainer, had been attacked in Golden Gate Park. He stood out in many ways. Harald Gullberg was a 66 year old Swede, and he was found far afield of the other bodies. His body was found near to the 16th hole at Lincoln Heights Golf Course near the Land’s End Trail. The other 3 were found along Ocean Beach off The Great Highway.
These got into the local newspapers, even if just a blurb. They weren’t the sordid Tenderloin killing. Thus they rated some news. Only the gay newspapers were reporting regularly on the others, sometimes just alerts for the community to be aware, a killer was afoot sort of thing. But because these Ocean Beach and Jae Stevens’ murder got in the mainstream newspapers they remained cycled in a limited narrative. Yet there is little reason they should have such a spotlight on them compared to the other murders.
Because of the Ocean Beach murders, The Castro was quickly pulled into the public discourse. As the late 1970s approached, this district at the end of Upper Market was being regarded as significant in the gay scene. It was for gays like the Haight-Ashbury was for hippies. But this isn’t true either.
Polk Street was the center of the gay community in San Francisco, and the bar scene was still in the Tenderloin, on Mason Street and South of Market on 6th Street or Folsom. This is where where JACK THE KNIFE struck. These were vicious stabbings. In one case, he stomped a victim’s testicles until they were pulverized. In another case, a victim was emasculated in one of the most vicious attacks recorded.
Digging into the records for the 5 “usual” victims’ homes explained how The Castro erroneously got highlighted. Cavanaugh lived in the Haight on Belvedere, and Capin actually lived in The Castro. Most likely victims had been reported as having been seen in The Castro, and The Castro’s bars were closer to the beach area (though barely). Very possibly it was because these men were thought to have been murdered during a homosexual tryst the general assumption was they had hooked-up in the Castro.
I not only had to uncover the victims’ names and the circumstances of the crimes, I had to uncover the history. History = context. This meant reading a lot of the old local and often called underground gay newspapers. One historic discovery is relevant here. As early as 1971 The Bay Area Reporter had to warn gays to stop using the Land’s End Trail near The Great Highway as a trysting spot for public sex. SFPD was conducting raids and making periodic sweeps of the area. Further in along the trail Harald Gullberg would turn up murdered 4 years after this warning.
The area was, in fact, a trysting location, as the B.A.R. put it. So was the area along Ocean Beach, just down The Great Highway, where Chrissman, Cavanaugh, and Capin’s slashed bodies had been found.
What I have as yet not discovered is whether these areas were hook-up spots, or if the couples hooked-up at a bar and made it here for their illicit after-hour happy time. Only Gullberg lived in the Leather area, as South of Market was known. This is where the sado and leather bars were. It’s hard to imagine this 66 year old Swedish sailor going to a local bar (he had lived on 6th Street) and then he and a hook-up made an excessively long journey to a discredited trysting location. (They did go fairly far in, so they were avoiding the chance of being caught in a raid.) Cabs, I suppose, were more affordable back then. The area may have been considered more in keeping with the back to nature attitude of 1970s’ culture. Or. . .
A porno hit filmed in San Francisco would come to reflect and direct late night socializing. It was Knights in Black Leather starring a seedy German Brief Adel baron under the stage name of Peter Berlin. He was so popular one of the victims, “Stig Berlin,” was inspired by the name. Among the graphic vignettes, the woods beyond the Golden Gate are highly romanticized as a romp for the young and innocent. Sado is reserved for deep (and convenient) basements, such as those in which Nick Bauman would be killed and his testicles pulverized. Always intermingled with the gay scene is the transvestite scene, drugs and alcohol. We even get an interesting view of South of Market leather at night. The movie will become more relevant later as a reflection of how pick ups were made and how places were used for various “genres” of delight.
All but Leather make up the victims of JACK THE KNIFE. The two Ellis Street victims were known transvestites, and Jae Stevens, though I have my doubts about that case’s association, was the premier local drag performer.
Within the span of the bloodbath– 1974 to late 1975 (with a few outliers in 1976)– there is great consistency in the murders in Tenderloin and South of Market. The victims at Ocean Beach are consistent (though without any transvestites) but they are geographic outliers. The year 1975 was the heaviest in terms of victims.
Also, within this span of time a few attacks occurred in Mid Market, the area of Market Street around Van Ness. Two of these occurred in July 1975 at the Fox Plaza apartments at 1390 Market Street. They happened in apartments on the lower floor. The first victim was a Swedish diplomat, the second a “prominent citizen.” In proximity to these, both in time and space, there was an “attempted” attack on a “nationally known entertainer.” They said the assailant was a lanky black guy. In one case, he had hooked-up with his victim at Burke’s Truck Stop and another supposedly at Nick’s (a deli), both on Market Street. He doodled pictures on napkins or on a sketch pad.
From these 3 incidents there is after-the-fact born The DOODLER or BLACK DOODLER. His identity was not officially uncovered. But later a psychiatrist’s office called SFPD and said he had a young black man for a patient. He looked like the composite sketch. He had confessed to the murders at Ocean Beach. This briefly gave SFPD a suspect. In 1976 the idea of a “Black Doodler” serial killer was born and the name coined for the first time.
But was there really such a serial killer? Was this man who confided in his shrink the actual serial? Was he even the assailant at Fox Plaza? The problem with this suspect is that he admitted (in confidence) that he had killed the victims of publicized murders. Yet the real killer would know of the unpublicized murders in the Tenderloin and South of Market– those I ascribe to JACK THE KNIFE.
The DOODLER, it is said, stopped by 1976 because the police questioned him. But The KNIFE’s M.O. went on until late 1976. In one victim’s flat in The Castro, he left doodles behind.
To have a living DOODLER suspect (the suspect is still alive and lives in the East Bay) juices the search and makes news updates more relevant. But how common is it that a mentally disturbed patient confesses to publicized crimes? Then we must consider there is more than one crime spree. Even if this former shrinker patient is the man who attacked at Fox Plaza, is he JACK THE KNIFE? Is he even the perp who killed at Ocean Beach?
The link appears to be one of induction. Nothing wrong with that! But deduction distills what is known; induction reveals what is hidden. Thus induction must be proved. Deduction does not have to be proved. A few connections induce:
The assailant told the diplomat (before stabbing him in the back) “All you guys are alike”– referring apparently to “queers” or “homos” or “fags” or whatever he thought of them. The shrinker’s patient seemed to hate gays because he was fighting being gay himself. Thus he is the kind to say contemptuously “All you guys are alike.” The second Fox Plaza victim– the “well-known San Franciscan”– was 50 years old. Gerald Cavanaugh was 49 years old. Gullberg, as we know, was 66 years old. The beach slasher struck both old and young. So did the assailant at Fox Plaza.
The KNIFE’s Tenderloin victims tended toward being in their 20s to 30s. He may or may not have been gay.
There could indeed be 2 serials at work. This would become obvious when yet another went to work in 1978. He was called THE CASTRO CLONE KILLER because his victims generally had to look alike. He strangled them in sado. He dumped their bodies at Tunitas Beach. He is far outside the scope of this present inquiry into JACK THE KNIFE and/or DOODLER. But it is yet another example of more than one serial on the prowl in the urban scene around Market Street.
For me, the search has been one of uncovering victims, details, locations, but it has also been one of trying to identify how many killers were involved. Certainly JACK THE KNIFE was real. But was he also the DOODLER?– this lanky black guy who botched 3 successive murder attempts. If so, is the guy who confided in his shrink the same one as this Fox Plaza slasher? He admitted to the publicized Ocean Beach murders. Or, he is not involved at all?
It is time I start introducing the other victims– those of the Tenderloin and South of Market I attribute to JACK THE KNIFE. The next posts will be about them.
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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.