Queens and Corpses– The Doodler or No?

I’m in a rather intense phase right now on the historic aspects of my DOODLER investigation while preparing HorrorScope for late Spring publication next year. To say the least I’m saturated with 2 starkly different San Franciscos– the SF of the psychedelic ’60s and the SF of the Swingin’ Seventies.

The DOODLER investigation is turning on very, very interesting discoveries. The “Queer Killings” of the mid 1970s to mid 1980s had a complex background and very often underground nuances that caught the average gay between a strange politics and criminal, predatory elements. San Francisco’s gay community (largely The Castro) was like a lawless boomtown, the result of aggressive confrontations with police that kept them out from harassing nightlife yet at the same time left the community largely vulnerable to a criminal element that realized the community was easy pickings for robbery and murder.

Amidst coroner reports, I am putting back in place the context of the times– very colorful and tumultuous times. I’m not only dealing with about 30 murders, many sadistic, but the hassle of trying to identify a serial killer within the carnage.

“Painted ladies” on Divisidero– Author’s photo.

I don’t deny that there was such a black man who engaged in attacks in Mid Market in the summer of 1975, but this series of events is mild compared to the overall litany of bizarre and aggressive murder. It is also turning out that perhaps The DOODLER is more akin to the 21st century “Smiley Face Killer” theory. It was something false that ended up giving form to otherwise mostly unrelated murders or series of murders.

I say this because my obligatory investigation of the “5 usual” suspects reveals little connection, blatant little connection between them. This being the case, and the fact they are far removed from the compact grouping of 15 other murders in Tenderloin and South of Market, naturally causes me to ask: “what was the motive for releasing these 5 names to the public in 1976?” The answer is not a flattering one, and it is one that SFPD is not responsible for.

As I dig further into the lives of some of the victims, I cannot help but note how poorly even the gay newspapers wrote up their obit. I had assured myself from repeat study of the cafe scene in The Laughing Policeman (1973) that the cameo by the “transvestite”– used to project the unusual flavor of San Francisco 1973– was Jae Stevens. I finally stumbled upon a review in the B.A.R. of the movie that confirmed who the locals appearing in the movie were. . . and indeed that was Jae Stevens.

Joseph “Jae” Stevens on the right.

The cream of drag performers, Stevens stood tall, taller than his 6 feet plus. He had surprised an elite Hollywood gathering by imitating Jean Harlow. The audience was surprised to find this consummate imitator was actually a man. His acts could extend beyond the sooty gay nightclub stages to legitimate cabaret. For his scene in The Laughing Policeman, the director had to put a fake mustache on him, so the purpose of the scene could be fulfilled– otherwise the audience would indeed have thought him a woman. Yet he was a fairly strong man, towering over most others. He didn’t stalk the streets in drag– he was a performer.

After his murder, the gay community was stunned. A memorial T-shirt was designed and sold, bearing his picture in drag.

It was a different world, to say the least. It was Whitechapel and Moulon Rouge put together. It was a world where the law kept itself at a distance and was selectively kept at a distance by the most vociferous of the community.

Although Stevens’ murder was unique in 1974, the murder of drag queens in 1975 would vie in number with the murder of gay men. SFPD, in a rare news blurb, thought perhaps a pimp was killing his queens because two had been stabbed in early Spring 1975 and they lived relatively close to each other. But other “transvestites” were unlikely targets of a pimp.

The double life was somewhat humorously portrayed in the 1976 comedy The Pink Panther Strikes Again, but there was an element of truth in the character of the stuffy and staid Jarvis the butler becoming by night the chanteuse at the gay nightclub “Queen of Hearts.” Some of the drag queens loved their double life. Mainstream in the day, an alter ego at night. The elite were the performers. Like the fight scene with Jarvis, one of the Tenderloin victims had an Army background and put up a hell of a fight. Two were knifed, two others bludgeoned. Such attacks went on beyond 1975, but they were never so concentrated as in this year.

However, Jae Stevens murder is a different matter. He was killed in June 1974, a year before the murders would ramp up. He was also killed in Golden Gate Park, not in the dingy Tenderloin of flickering neon signs. His day had been tumultuous, his car earlier involved in a police encounter. Five stab wounds, he was found by Spreckles Lake.

There were memorial write-ups within gay newspapers, but on the whole he was forgotten quickly, leaving a legacy of cabaret advertisements in old editions of gay newspapers. When in the last decade there were a few articles on the concept of the forgotten DOODLER, his name was merely one of 5 recycled.

On a far more real note than Pink Panther, the owner of The Ramrod was considered crucial in getting The Laughing Policeman made in 1973. Though not a great film, many locals appeared in it. It provides a snapshot of San Francisco gay clubs in 1973, just before the murder spree would begin. Busty O’Shea, Terry Taylor, and above, perhaps, Alan Lloyd, appeared in cameos. The above was filmed in The Frolic Room, which became the Nickelodeon, a bar at 141 Mason where more than a few of the victims would be seen before they were murdered. Nearby bars included Score II, Roadrunner, Blue and Gold, The Trapp.

Commonly, gay men were being killed out of doors. But the pattern with drag queens was indoors. It is unlikely they fell victim to gangs. But gay men . . .?

Gangs– some large, some small– felt certain territories were theirs. They didn’t like gays turning the locations into public trysting spots. The beach along The Great Highway opposite Golden Gate Park was one place. Up at Land’s End there were many hanging out at night. But now across from the Beach Chalet, a well known brewery and restaurant, men were being seen and assumed to be looking for hook-ups. Disdainful murmurs from longtime habitués could be heard: “Why are they coming out here now?”

Attacks against men believed to be gay were occurring here more frequently. This went on for years. The rush of traffic and the sigh of the Pacific Ocean kept the angry calls of “faggots” largely unheard. Cars wouldn’t stop even when men crawled or scampered across the highway, pursued by angry punks with a knife in one hand and a beer can in the other.

It is along here south of the Beach Chalet that Klaus Christmann’s body was found knifed to death from a rage in July 1974, the most dangerous month. Hot summer months brought some of the inner city out here, gangs and those who wanted to enjoy a beer and a fun time at the beach without the sight of gays.

Three Ocean Beach knifings, a derelict old Swedish sailor at Land’s End (whose death was not ruled a homicide), and Jae Stevens’ confused murder make up the litany of supposed DOODLER victims. It is, however, fortunate, that their names and dates of their murders were preserved. They become a necessary gateway to 7 years of murder and over 2 dozen victims.

There are those who would find an investigation and presentation of this crime spree(s) to be unimportant. After all, they would note, the victims are hardly sympathetic. A sympathetic victim, however, is beside the point. Sympathy might juice a journalistic recital. But from an investigative standpoint, it has no value whether deciding if a serial killer was afoot and should be excised from the glut of murders.

Certainly Jack the Ripper’s victims were unsympathetic. That has not stopped a search for the identify of the Ripper, even 140 years later.

But unlike the Ripper murders, it must be established if a serial was truly afoot in San Francisco. It must also be determined how long this serial was afoot. Waves of murders come and go between 1974 and 1981. Five largely unconnected victim names have been cycled in the ether with little justification. They are the tip of the iceberg that lead to a potential Jack the Knife, Clone Killer, and maybe several different killers with their own sordid kinks.

The story has to be told. It is the story of a city and its culture in flux. It is a story of a very tumultuous time. It is the story of a decade in the wake of the counterculture and yet a generation now cynical and without any philosophy other than to sample something new– and this meant the sexual revolution and the late night of the Swingin’ Seventies.

*         *        *

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.

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