With the last post Gay Murder Victims of the Ebb, the reader got a taste of the murder cases in late 1977 and into early 1978. According to some commentary in Gay newspapers, it was up until his downfall in the summer of 1978 that SFPD inspector David Toschi went around to the Gay bars and showed the police sketch of the DOODLER. His purpose, apparently, was to see if the patrons and owners had seen such a person in the bars prior to the latest victim being found murdered.
We don’t know the answer, but we can guess considering that SFPD came to affirm the DOODLER wasn’t active past September 1975. In retrospect we’ve heard that supposedly after SFPD learned his identity he was interviewed and this scared him off; he stopped killing and left the city. Why then did Toschi persist? Probably because the DOODLER sketch was the only one that SFPD had in connection with unsolved Gay murders . . . or the legend of the DOODLER interview is rubbish. Either underscores for us how faceless this murderer(s) of Gay men really was. A young black guy wearing a navy watch cap and doodling is what it took to really stand out and merit witness memories. He was so mis-dressed for stalking it is not surprising he stood out.
Was the so-called DOODLER ever really a factor in the vast stats of Gay murders? I would say no. The murders assigned to the DOODLER were all out-of-doors and in the west– a glitch over the span of brutal murders 1974-1975 which were in victims’ flats in Tenderloin and SOMA. When the murders moved west after the Tenderloin vigilante threat to get the perp, the murders were still Tenderloin style– in the victims’ flats. They weren’t those savage stabbings at trysting locations. The legend tells us the DOODLER suspect had gone to New Orleans by this time, and we know from there he couldn’t be committing the new spate of murders.
Cocaine also seemed to be the DOODLER solicitation, not sex. This would seem to fit with the DOODLER’s appearance. He was working eateries and regular joints on Market Street–Burke’s Truck Stop and Nick’s— when he connected with his high-end patrons at Fox Plaza. At such locations, his appearance was regular enough. If he worked Gay bars for a while, it may only have been because Gay men were known to have lots more spending money. And, of course, cocaine was popular in the 1970s. This might better explain the attacks at such a high end residence as Fox Plaza (from which the sketch was made) compared to the seedier locations and apartments where some unknown killer(s) was snuffing out Gay men.
The DOODLER’s M.O. is so ill-defined, it’s hard to fathom how those victims assigned to him came to be categorized under the heading of a DOODLER victim. The only thing that was truly unique about the victims tossed into the DOODLER’s corner was that they occurred out-of-doors in the west. And that may have been the only reason the victims were lumped together. I see no other reason why an old toothless souse, to be frank, like Harold Gullberg was placed on the list of DOODLER victims when the Coroner wasn’t even sure if his death was homicide or accident.
Gullberg’s death, if it was murder, could actually be associated to the same perp who knocked off Warren Andrews (52) in April 1975. Andrews was pandering for a hookup at Land’s End when some pickup or trick clotted him with a rock. Andrews died in hospital in June, apparently never coming out of his coma. Gullberg seems to have been scratched with the end of a branch or something.
The public murders by blade assigned to the DOODLER were savage stabbings. They were at odds with the string of otherwise indoor murders by blade, bludgeon, strangle. Did the DOODLER do the public murders? I really don’t know. Did he do any of the indoor Tenderloin murders? I don’t know.
What we do know is that as the Gay murders moved west in 1976, the same three styles of death– blade, bludgeon, strangle– followed but public murder did not . . . for a while. And this is a vital clue. We must look at the context.
Gay nightlife had steadily been moving west. It was coming to the residential areas, mixed communities that Gays wanted to maintain as mixed communities for safe, normal daytime life. But with increasing immigration, Gay nightlife was coming west and it was coming to . . . daytime. It was visibly promiscuous. Mainstream Gays found they had to shut up and let the established communities and this new Tenderloin style of life fight it out.
It chiefly surrounded Buena Vista Park. It had become the central hookup point now, not Land’s End. At a given time at night there were probably 40 to 50 men making hookups and using the seclusion of the bushes as trysting locations. Not so coincidentally there had been much community controversy about “renovating” the park and reducing the amount of underwood– i.e. get rid of the bushes. Trees and brush desperately needed to be cleaned out. The trees were “diseased,” according to city experts. Community meetings got combative. Gays objected to changing the wooded nature of the hilltop park. To the rest of the community, the Gay objection was viewed as wanting to keep the park a trysting locations.
The problems had gone national in Spring 1980. The sex hookups at the park had rated a segment on CBS’s nationally aired Gay Power, Gay Politics in April. This documentary essentially concentrated on the most sordid aspects of S.F. Gay life. Cameras watched the park for a day, and the viewer was treated to a montage of several men scurrying in and out of the park, hidden in bushes, then dashing away after their arboreal tryst. Afterward local residents were complaining because of what their children were encountering.
Over 1977 through 1981, the murders of Gay men in the west were a carbon in many ways of the Tenderloin murders. As noted, they occurred in the flat of the victim after a hookup or pickup somewhere. Yet now the flats were in communities that surrounded Buena Vista Park. Only one murder in 1977 was suggestive of the Fox Plaza M.O. — young Barry O’Shields’ stabbing in October in his apartment on Carl Street. Yet many such knifings occurred over the span of the decade. The murder in May 1979 by fire poker of Quirinio Paolazzi on distant York Street was followed by his car having been found by Buena Vista Park, the killer having taken it back and dissolving into the night. But within the next full wave of murders 1979-1982 there was an out-of-doors murder similar to the M.O. previously accorded the DOODLER. And this was in Buena Vista Park.
On the night of November 23, 1980, Don Meder walked up from his Fillmore Street address and entered the park at the stairs at the end of Duboce Street. Meder either met his killer here or came with him. Next morning he was found dead. His pants were down to his knees, one arm draped over his back. He had been stabbed several times in the neck.
This only added to the raging controversy about the park. Politics came to obscure the truth: problems were increasing at the park, especially at night. Perhaps reflecting mainstream silence, Gay newspapers avoided editorials but tactfully let the details slip out via letters to the editor. One was to the Sentinel. It was written in May 1980, months before Meder was murdered there. It was titled
Ambush in Buena Vista Park
Please WARN your readers that the Cops
have now taken to walking on foot into the
Hot Spots in Buena Vista Park at 4 AM,
and in the night in general.
I was in the park at 4 AM and the cops
came in with flashlights, and every body
just RAN AWAY! Tell your readers no
body stayed! . . . How ODD, that is no
body stayed but me!
I was the only one who stayed! I just laid
down in the bushes and waited for them to
pass, while every body seemed to be running
for their lives.
Don’t print my name, if you should de-
cide to print this important story, important
because, under the old mayor, the cops
never got out of their cars (I have been
going there for years).
I think the cops would like to get their
hands on me. I made it a point to stay,
and from a secure place I yelled as emotionally as I could:
PIGS. PIGS, SO WE’RE QUEER, SO
WHAT. GOT TO RUN THE FAGGOTTS
OUT OF THE PARK. FUCK CHIEF
SCOTT (sic), FUCK FEINSTEIN AND
ALL HER RUNNING DOGS! I repeated
this several times and they got very angry
and started to yell back with lots and lots
of hate, they wanted to kill me I could
feel it!, but I just kept on shouting!
Tell all your readers we got to fight back,
from hiding where we have a chance. You
would have to have been up there and seen
30 or 40 human beings at 4 AM in the
morning enjoying themselves, and then
seen those cops come in on foot with flash-
lights, and then all the fun stop, and every
body in a most undignified way running
away in terror. Damnit.
I stayed and gave em all the hell I could.
Let’s be like our Mr. Brazhinskey (sic),
the US National Security Advisor. Let’s be
COMBATIVE from the bushes and register
Well, this rant preserves several controversies then on-going. Clearly, Buena Vista had become a mecca for public trysting and police response.
And the Paolazzi murder indicates that it was a central area of deadly pickups back to the apartment of the victim. The same perp in the Paolazzi case was suspected by SFPD to have murdered a man (William Prince) in similar fashion earlier in the year in Tenderloin at his Jones Street apartment, either picked up from the park or one of the local bars.
The controversy would continue to mount because of the latest movie release: Cruising. In this New York based movie, a gay serial killer preys upon other gays. The leather bars are featured and one murder occurs in a park, a park loaded with men, some in leather, moving in and out from the undergrowth.
The mainstream American community was being blasted by a promiscuous, dangerous image of Gay life, and it was this type of Gay life CBS was telling them was trying to gain power and influence.
Months later Meder is murdered in the park in brutal circumstances. Was it a Gay serial killer, the one who had struck in 1974-1975? Was he the image of the twisted killer in Cruising? JACK THE KNIFE? Was it Paolazzi’s killer? Or are there many killers involved?
It is a fact that Buena Vista Park started being scouted by hustlers, even gangs of them. Their object, it appeared, would be to attack and rob Gay men. They were seen lurking in the day. A letter to the editor in the December edition of the B.A.R. is particularly revealing:
Buena Vista Dangers
This letter is the follow-up you requested per our phone conversation of this afternoon regarding the recent murder in Buena Vista Park.
I wrote a letter to the editor and it was published in your November 20 edition. In that letter I talked of being attacked by a robber posing as a cop. I wanted to warn men who use the park not to fall for that line because it means you lower your guard and are not trying to defend yourself when you actually should.
I also wrote that the man I was with (fucking, to be exact) fled without making a sound of warning to the other men in the park that night. This leads me to believe he was working with the robber. If he wasn’t, why on earth didn’t he yell for help? I could have been murdered as was this poor man Sunday night. Was he killed because he let down his guard to a man posing as a cop??? Or was he murdered because the man he was having sex with fled silently into the night and left him with a murderer???
It’s time Gay men started helping each other. United We Stand!
The problems escalated in Buena Vista Park until August 26, 1981, when a homeless man was pulled from his pup tent and set afire. Only a few days before, another Gay man was found murdered in very bizarre circumstances at nearby Corona Heights Park. The murder of Michael Singleterry is another rare example of the public Gay murder. . . but that is for another post.
The point is made here that public murders were returning to San Francisco, but the details were also being covered better; so was the politics of the time, something absent even a short time before in 1974 when the public murders began. Within this next wave of murders, Singleterry’s is particularly disturbing.
The later wave of murders was no different than the Tenderloin and SOMA murders of 1974-1975. No serial killer legend came of it, but was there one afoot? At time was it the same one, and we have become too diverted by the confused concept of the DOODLER to recognize him?
* * *
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.