It is perhaps best to refer to The DOODLER not as a serial killer but as a theory. As a theory I believe in The DOODLER. As a fact, I do not. I mentioned in an earlier blog post that DOODLER’s origin isn’t entirely with SFPD. It is time to explore that here.
The theory is rather new, but the concept goes back to 1976. The initial press releases concerning a “Doodler” are tepid, and they involve “maybe.” He is a young black man who knifed or roughed up a couple of victims. Each survived. But, but, he “may be” connected to some other murders. As it developed, there also wasn’t much per se to incite the curiosity of the inquiring mind. Supposedly, it developed, the police knew who he was. Supposedly, again, he stopped killing after they spoke to him and he realized he had been identified. Really? The fuzz couldn’t get a charge to stick, we are led to believe by “received opinion,” because the survivors didn’t want to testify and thereby be outed as “gay.”
We have to look at the scheme of things to see where to dissect fact from fiction and assess the gray area in between. In essence, we have to consider more than the origin of the theory, we have to consider the motive for the theory.
There are a few murders in 1974 that seem to qualify as “homosexual” murders, that is, the victims could be classified as that. Gerald Cavanaugh was slashed in cold January at Ocean Beach; a month later in February Stig Berlin is stabbed to death in his Hyde Street flat; in June celebrated drag performer Jae Stevens is slashed in Golden Gate Park, then a couple of weeks later another brutal slashing at Ocean Beach, this time of Klaus Christmann.
Each was a vicious murder, but that didn’t mean they were connected to the same perp. Police, SFPD in particular, classified homosexual murders as tending to be particularly vicious. If a guy was really carved up, it was likely a homosexual murder. It was the result of homosexual panic or a boyfriend getting even. This is reflected as early as 1968 in the Frank Sinatra movie The Detective. It is repeated in Cruising (1980) and in between there are enough press conference quotes from SFPD (and NYPD) detectives to make it plain where the filmmakers got their info. Thus 4 stabbed men in San Francisco in different circumstances really wouldn’t be too surprising to SFPD and it wouldn’t cause any closer examination to determine a link to a single perpetrator.
Then in 1975 the glut of murders begin. They are in the general area where Stig Berlin was slashed the year before. Spaniards are knocked off first. In February, Rick Gonzales is killed in his Eddy Street apartment, at the Albemarle. Then two cross dressers– Joe Vasquez and Joe Rodrigues– in their respective Ellis Street apartments. Vasquez came from Mexico and Rodriguez from Texas. They live close to each other, in adjoining buildings. The Police announced the culprits may be another transvestite and a white guy– probably the pimp.
Three murders in a couple of months was enough to set off the gay community, and a community meeting was held in April. Yet in May the viciousness is ramped up. It is a summer of savage murders South of Market and a few attacks at Fox Plaza in which the victims survived. A Castro resident, Fred Capin, is also found knifed at Ocean Beach, not far from where Gerald Cavanaugh had been found in January 1974. In September there is a gruesome murder at Fox Plaza. Then in December yet another grisly killing of a cross dresser on Turk Street. In January 1976 yet another Turk Street apartment murder.
Because the survivors at Fox Plaza said their assailant was a young black guy, SFPD begins to look into a black guy who doodled pictures and portraits at the local gay bars or restaurants. The survivors state this is where they connected with him. It is only after this that there appears to be some inquiry to see if there is a similar connection with these other murders.
One detective went to the gay bars at this time to try and sew together the cases. His name was Dave Toschi. He had achieved local fame due to The Zodiac Killer Case in 1969, and he was personally one of the most likeable men on the force. He presents himself as a much needed friend to the gay community during this violent time. There was no reason not to believe him. He was essentially the only one to go to the bars and take notes. We must assume he picked up more information about a black guy known to doodle. Assume.
The DOODLER concept then goes public in 1976, but the concept was presented to us vaguely. I have repeated it a number of times on here. To belabor the point, we are basically told there possibly had been some black guy known now as The DOODLER who might be connected with 14 other murders, names unspecified, over 1974-1975. In retrospect we are given five names of potential victims: they are, of course, Gerald Cavanaugh (January 1974), Jae Stevens (June 1974), Klaus Christmann (July 1974), Fred Capin (May 1975), and Harald Gullberg (May/June 1975). After this, The DOODLER concept rather fizzles away.
From our point of view today, however, there is a problem. A closer look at these cases, for the most part, doesn’t reveal much of a connection except they occurred out-of-doors and in the western districts of San Francisco. In retrospect there seems little reason these 5 were made tokens. Poor Harald Gullberg probably wasn’t even murdered. He certainly wasn’t knifed, and the coroner wasn’t sure if his death was an accident. Why then were these 5 names presented to the public in 1976 and strung to a black guy who had attacked in Mid Market and whose known victims had survived?
Like a compass needle when it finally steadies on its course, all things point to Dave Toschi. These cases did have a connection– he had worked them, one way or another. There is much more that will be presented on Quester Files when I present the entire crime spree and the context of its history. In their way, these blog posts are only synopses. But I cannot avoid touching on key nodal points here in the evolution of The DOODLER theory. A very key point was Dave Toschi’s lust for publicity. Earl Sanders, one of the detective inspectors on the Zebra Killings, put it most politely in The Zebra Murders (2006)
You couldn’t help but like Toschi as a person. He was like a character out of the old Rat Pack, smart, funny, stylish, Italian. But he had a thing about seeing his name in the paper. We all knew it. And no matter how much you might love Dave, if you wanted to play things close to the vest, working with him was a problem. We ended up being teamed a number of times, and on half of the cases it seemed like the press got to the crime scene before we did. I sure as hell didn’t call them. But when I looked to Dave, he’d throw up his hands like ‘Who, me?’ You hate to criticize people unfairly, but unwanted publicity was something that everybody who worked with Dave had to deal with.
There was a “Catch 22” to Toschi’s longing for publicity. It had the potential to destroy him if it could be proved he manipulated it. In 1976, his yen for publicity drove him to extremes, and I fear the creation of the DOODLER concept owes quite a bit to him.
Retrospect requires that we go back and look at the nature of Dave Toschi’s very public downfall from favor. It does bear on our pursuit here. When his exposure for manipulating publicity did happen in 1978, it had a far more resounding effect in the gay community, and we get some vital tidbits of information that help us to understand Toschi’s seminal involvement in creating The DOODLER concept.
Two events overlap in 1976– Toschi was a central real-life figure in a very, very popular fictional series in the Chronicle entitled “Tales of the City” in which he helped hunt a serial killer nicknamed Tinkerbell– get it?– and Toschi also continued to cultivate publicity in the gay newspapers. Of the savage gay murders in 1976, there was a particularly gruesome murder in October. Toschi and Hobart Nelson were the responding detectives. He is quoted in the Bay Area Reporter as declaring it to be “one of the most brutal murders I have ever seen.”
By 1978, he had been the Gay community’s premiere detective friend for 2 years. Although it wasn’t known (at the time) how many of this glut of gay murders he had investigated, he was getting a lion’s share of the positive publicity. He was, after all, very charming. And unlike some of his partners, he didn’t punch informants in the face to get information or sue them when they made a public stink about him not doing his job well. But as no case was getting solved, grumbles of laziness (or hypocrisy) grew louder. When his exposure happened, he left a loud crash in the gay community. Let’s start from the beginning.
Toschi would later insist that he never got such good publicity as he got from Armistead Maupin’s 1976 serial “Tales of the City” in the San Francisco Chronicle. Maupin had contacted SFPD about how to write the detective’s part of it. They put him in touch with the convivial Toschi. Always charming, Toschi impressed Maupin. The series was a hit, and Toschi was written into it as a real life “super-Cop” detective in pursuit of a killer known as . . . once again, Tinkerbell!
Toschi’s involvement in the cold ZODIAC case was something that gave him notoriety. But now with “Tales of the City” his ZODIAC notoriety was considered nothing compared to the response from Maupin’s serial. When Maupin wrote Toschi out of the serial, Toschi wrote fan mail to Maupin. Using the aliases of different women, he wrote 3 or 4 notes asking for Toschi to be brought back. Through the pen of these fictitious female aliases he called himself a “curly hair, adorable” guy, etc.
Unfortunately, Maupin recognized the printing. It matched the printing on the Christmas card Toschi had sent him. He kept the letters and waited.
Two years went by and Maupin’s “Tales of the City” was reaching publication as a book. Maupin’s publicist, a well-known influential gay man, Ken Maley by name, brokered the news story with New West Magazine. He also approached Jim Tedesco, Toschi’s superior, and presented the evidence in April 1978.
The fan mail written by Toschi for himself hit SFPD hard for one reason. The “Zodiac” had supposedly written another letter recently in April, the first in 4 years. Toschi was even named therein. Because of this he was once again at the center of enormous publicity. But Maupin had wondered if Toschi had been writing some of these “Zodiac” letters. When the latest “Zodiac” letter proved to be a fake, everything went south.
Presented with the fake fan mail letters, SFPD demoted Toschi from Homicide to Pawn Shop. Clem D’Amicis, the deputy Chief of SFPD, visited him at home and told him there were ego conflicts because of his publicity seeking. There would have to be a public announcement. Toschi went white.
At the press conference SFPD presented copies of the fan mail on a cork board for all the press to read and photograph. Through the alias pen of invented women admirers, he called himself “a glamour guy,” “a real detective,” “a very smart and good officer” and, of course, “curly-haired and adorable.”
The Chronicle did a series of hit pieces on him (including D’Amicis’ statement of ego conflicts). He denied ever having written a “Zodiac” letter, but he had to admit he wrote those praising fan mail letters trying to get his character back into Maupin’s successful “Tales of the City.” In short, Toschi was ruined.
Robert Graysmith’s attempt to use Maupin’s “Tales of the City” as the template for his book ZODIAC (1986) somewhat restored Toschi’s reputation with the public. (Maupin had called Toschi a “super-cop” and Graysmith parroted this.) In many ways, Toschi’s character in Graysmith’s book is the same as the role he played in “Tales of the City”– the super-cop counseling the amateur as he tries to get the goods on a notorious serial killer.
But Toschi’s reputation was never restored with SFPD and the press, especially the Gay press which he had particularly cultivated during the run of “Tales of the City” and its Tinkerbell serial killer. It now looked like he had only been after publicity, and his lack of results in the real “Gay murders” only re-enforced the grumblings that he hadn’t put effort into it because the victims were gay. I seriously doubt this was the case.
During my investigation of The ‘Zodiac’ Killer, which now culminates in HorrorScope, I came across several inferences that Toschi was actually a lazy detective. I even heard the somewhat humorous (but hard to believe) story that his partner, Bill Armstrong, had to kick him in the backside to get him out to work. To an extent, Toschi was the victim of his publicity. Many of his quotes are repetitious and sound like excuses for not solving a murder. They can reflect laziness, but they can also inspire the belief he was lazy. A favorite excuse can be found both in Graysmith’s 1986 book and in the gay newspapers of 10 years before. He always cautions that if one doesn’t get the lead within 48 hours, the murder will likely go unsolved.
It is not necessary to delve into all of it here, but a few points that surround his downfall are relevant. One, although it is unlikely Toschi wrote that fake “Zodiac” letter it did mention him by name– the only time “Zodiac” ever gave publicity to another person. It also mentioned Herb Caen, San Francisco’s No 1 columnist. Any mention of Caen was sure to get publicity. The prospects of massive publicity may have been enough to beguile Toschi to circumvent the usual orthodox procedure for examining the letter. He didn’t send it to Questioned Documents examiners. He sent it to the postal inspector. This got him a positive confirmation it was from ZODIAC and from there a huge news release. In essence, he threw caution to the wind at the prospects of his name plastered in all the papers.
This is far more likely than that Toschi forged that fake and sensational “Zodiac” letter. The same beguilement over publicity and caution to the wind seem the motive to push for a DOODLER. There are, in fact, many parallels between Toschi’s image in “Zodiana” and in The DOODLER serial, though the latter never came to fruition outside of the Gay community because of his downfall.
As it relates to The ZODIAC, Toschi was always at the center of some legend fostered about him that owes nothing to reality. He wasn’t the inspiration for Steve McQueen’s character Bullit in the 1968 movie of the same name. McQueen had talked to Toschi (then a Vice cop) and was inspired by his casual way of dressing and copied his quick draw holster. But Bullit’s character was entirely McQueen’s creation. He hadn’t been the inspiration for Dirty Harry, and yet that continues to be circulated. He hadn’t been a super-cop. He had only been on Homicide a year when he got the “Zodiac” case, and all the paperwork I have seen supports the continuing assertions that Bill Armstrong, his partner, did most of the investigation.
Within the “Zodiac” fandom, who view the crime spree more or less as a real life comic strip, Toschi is a revered character, akin to Commissioner Gordon in the Batman series. But in real life he seems to have contributed little more than standard investigation. There also remains some reserve about that fake “Zodiac” letter. Its author has never been officially identified. It presents Toschi as a relentless pursuer (“that city pig Toschi is good, but I am better”) when he had had no “Zodiac” publicity for a couple of years to inspire the image of a relentless pursuer. (He was cleared on printing comparisons, but that fake “Z” letter is not handwritten. It is a tracing of ZODIAC’s actual words and letters in authentic letters.)
The same appearance vs substance surrounds Toschi as it relates to The DOODLER. Although Toschi was the detective on only a fraction of these “Gay murders,” George Mendenhall writes in the B.A.R. for July 1978, establishing Toschi as the sole and central figure in the crime spree investigation: “Dave Toschi is well known among Gay journalists, who have considered him a friend. He sought attention and received it, but he was also considered competent in his assignment in attempting to crack the many Gay murders of 1975-1977. He attempted to develop a pattern of crime and widely circulated a sketch of a suspect known as ‘The doodler’ [sic] . . . Toschi was tenacious in his work and spent many hours in Gay bars attempting to find leads.”
Yet Paul-Francis Hartmann writes negatively in the same B.A.R. issue. He is summing up the controversy of Toschi’s exposure. He harks back to a prescient B.A.R article of 18 months prior complaining about Toschi’s lack of results. The rival Gay newspaper The Sentinel, always at odds with the Bay Area Reporter, had castigated that article. “What was a more serious transgression was that the B.A.R. blunderbuss,” recalls Hartmann, “maligned one of the ‘best friends’ the Gay community had in the Halls of Justice: Homicide Inspector Dave Toschi. The cooperation, the hard work, the dedication of this man were legendary. . . His integrity had been insulted, and when apprised of the B.A.R. indiscretion, Toschi said his feelings were hurt. . .” Nevertheless, “The Gay murders continued and Toschi’s batting average didn’t change. . . . Toschi’s excuses of being unable to solve the Gay murders was that nobody in the Gay community would cooperate with homicide [sic]. No one would come forth as a witness (to solve the crime for the bureau). No one would come forth as the killer (which would also solve the case for the bureau).” Hartmann continues, revealing how the publicity solely centered on Toschi: “Gay murders were Toschi’s private preserve — he was working hard — he was above criticism– what more could anyone ask? No one was around to press the victims’ cause.”
Charming, yes, convivial and friendly, personally likeable, he was not the kind of cop whose methods would force information from witnesses. But because of his lust for publicity, he receives undeserved and outsized press in relation to his actual input and relevance to any case. In HorrorScope, I cannot avoid touching on this because his downfall came from a fake “Zodiac” letter that mentioned him personally. But The DOODLER crime spree reveals something far more disturbing than the somewhat harmless appearance of vanity that his fan mail writing conjures and its exposure during a bright moment of renewed “Zodiac” publicity in 1978.
Within the mainstream press, Toschi’s exposure in the summer of 1978 surrounded his vanity and potential for having written the “Zodiac” letter. But far more relevant here, the “Gay journalists” came out and preserve for us how Toschi was the center of a questionably robust investigation of the Gay murders and their connection to “The Doodler.” Hints of laziness do creep out, but most importantly thanks to the gay newspapers, in particular the Bay Area Reporter, we have a few clues that underscore Toschi’s seminal involvement in the creation of The DOODLER concept. A few of his cases gave him a vague connection to a potentially much larger serial killing spree (in appearance), and during “Tales of the City” he continued to push the point with “Gay journalists.” He is the one who visited the bars. Upon this we know his few cases, though hard to connect, are the ones given to the press in 1976.
This is an undeniable fact. This documentation doesn’t underscore the reality of The DOODLER. It is intellectually dishonest to present them as evidence for a serial killer. If not intellectual dishonesty, than it is negligent haste that collated them together. From the fiasco over the exposure of the “Zodiac” letter, presented to the press by Toschi as real, then exposed later as an obvious fake, apparently SFPD didn’t vet their detectives’ sources prior to press release, even though the release is in the name of the department. By juxtaposition, we should be gravely concerned about the same lack of vetting and motive that seems behind the release of the “5 cases of The DOODLER.” We should be concerned whether Toschi wasn’t trying to create a real Tinkerbell by his visits to the bars. What a great cross promotional this would be during the run of “Tales of the City,” the series that was currently making him the center of San Francisco.
It is harsh and personally distasteful to even speculate the above about so personally likeable a man as Dave Toschi was, but the facts above don’t foster a positive interpretation. Laziness and opportunism seem intertwined in the development of The DOODLER case, and laziness especially is testified to today by a sad fact.
We hear that back in late 1975 a psychiatrist turned in a patient, a black guy who looked like the composite. This patient supposedly confessed to the Ocean Beach murders. He was having trouble with his sex identity. Today, SFPD is trying to uncover the identity of the shrink. Was his name Dr. Priest? There was no shrink named that. But SFPD uncovered there was a Dr. Preece. Apparently, the tip merely came by phone in 1975 and no detective bothered to call back, get a clarification on the shrink’s name or a written statement or even visit him in person. The tip was itself just doodled down “Dr. Priest” by a police secretary or cop. Just how much effort was really being spent on the concept of a “BLACK DOODLER” in 1975-1976?
If Dave Toschi was only presenting the appearance to the Gay community that he was at the center of the investigation, then whoever was in charge of the investigation seems quite lazy as well. . .or really didn’t see a much larger connection.
In those two years since the creation of The DOODLER moniker and Toschi’s downfall, though some hideous gay murders continued, there was no attempt to string them together as the result of this shadowy DOODLER perp of July 1975. Maybe there was a real gripe in the department about the whole theory? I don’t know. But Toschi certainly couldn’t release the names of another detective(s)’ victim who didn’t believe his case was related. This would really have caused a blow-out considering the longstanding “ego conflicts” that became public in 1978. We do know the DOODLER case never really coalesced. When a new murder would happen, there was no instinctive rush by the press to assume a link with a villain who really never took form. There was always enough suspicion about bondage, S&M, and some creep from South of Market and the leather bars.
Just really how can we reconcile all that is said today with what was preserved back then? How could The DOODLER have been said to have stopped? How can it be that he supposedly decamped and went to New Orleans? How can it be he was frightened off by an SFPD that didn’t even have the address of the shrink that turned him in? If all this was so, why was Toschi still going to the Gay bars into 1977 trying to make continuing connections to all these new murders and the sketch of The DOODLER? Was it just PR?
In the case of “Tales of the City,” Toschi hid his yen for publicity behind alias fan mail, but his exposure in 1978 sheds light on the creation of the stillborn DOODLER theory. Mixed with the kernels preserved by the gay newspapers, along with the details of the coroner reports, and I can only conclude one thing. Just like writing fan mail to himself, Toschi was trying to get more publicity.
Since Dave Toschi’s assumed motive is speculation, we cannot end on a negative note. He thought that his fan mail stunt was “harmless.” Perhaps if his motive was to get attention to the gay murders, it may have seemed equally harmless that token, unrelated cases were presented as linked to a catchy moniker like The DOODLER. Maybe he felt this was the only way all these cases would get more deserved attention. The human mind’s ability to rationalize is amazing.
But 45 years later, I can see a lot of harm. One new headline has read: “The DOODLER may have a 6th victim.” Really? Where did you get the other five? He may have five victims. He may have six. But you are going to have to find them elsewhere than those 5 presented. Today there are those who are trying to resurrect a concept rather than expose a serial killer. Two dozen murders cry out for examination, and it is time to finally present the details. If there was a DOODLER he can only be found in sifting these other cases, not in amplifying these unexplained “5 usual” cases.
Joseph “Jae” Stevens, a year before his murder, in a cameo in the 1973 movie The Laughing Policeman. Suggestions that cocaine and not sex was a motive for some of the “Doodler” murders must be explored.
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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.