I have been promising a post on the clues that support the theory that all the victims in Sonoma County in the early 1970s were the victims of one serial killer rather than two distinctive predators. So let’s look at that in this post.
This serial killer has been called The Sonoma Coed Killer or the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Killer. He was considered active after the death of Kim Wendy Allen in March 1972 and he is suspected to have ceased at an unknown time after 1973. The ambiguity is the result of the fact that one victim was found in 1979 and from the evidence she must have been killed sometime in 1972/73.
Confusion as to whether one or two killers exists is due to the fact that two distinct MOs can be gleaned from the evidence. Earlier in February 1972 two girls, Maureen Sterling and Yvonne Weber, but 12 and 13, had vanished from near Snoopy’s ice rink in downtown Santa Rosa. They were last seen hitching on Guerneville Road. In November of 1972 another 13 year old would be seen “abducted” by at least 3 men on Calistoga Road and later her body would be found cast from the road and down a 60 foot embankment. In December the bodies of the first two missing teens would be found down an embankment off Franz Valley Road. In July 1973 another 14 year old would be found near the previous two victims’ location off Franz Valley Road. All had been nude when dumped.
In this period of time more mature women, those who were 19-23, would disappear or be found in similar circumstances– nude, raped and basically slow tortured via an elaborate way of hogtying them and then using a slip knot on the neck. In essence, they slow-choked themselves to death. Beyond descriptives really, but it was sophisticated. It was estimated that the first victim found like this, Kim Wendy Allen, took 30 minutes to die. For pretty Jeannette Kamahele, the second suspected victim, she would never be found.
The rub is that Kim Allen’s nude body, the official “first,” had been dumped off Enterprise Road about 8 miles southeast of Santa Rosa. The young girl victims– Weber, Sterling, Davis, Kursa, had been dumped to the northeast of Santa Rosa. Only after their deaths (and the locations) achieved notoriety in the press would the case take a turn. Then, in disturbing parallel, those subsequent victims that matched the signature seen in Allen’s murder would be found dumped off Calistoga Road or off Mark West Springs Road. Both locations are in the northeast of Santa Rosa, nowhere near where Allen had been dumped. In the case of the unidentified Jane Doe victim, she had been found quite close to where Lori Kursa’s body had been found in November 1972. (Age estimates for this Jane Doe were older, about 20 years old. This put her in Allen’s and Kamahele’s age category.)
Nevertheless, the signatures of the crimes in these later victims remain quite distinct from those of the signature of the young girls. The signature is that seen in the Allen murder. It is possible that the more brutal and sophisticated murderer of Kim Wendy Allen decided to give himself some cover by dumping his later victims near the other publicized murder sites. But it could be the killer of both types were one and the same killer.
Let’s clarify the two categories. The bold listings indicates those who were found in sadomasochistic positions. The italicized are those victims that were mere girls and not killed in the same sadomasochistic way.
February 1972– Sterling and Weber hitching back home from Snoopy’s Ice Rink.
March 1972– Santa Rosa Junior College coed Kim Wendy Allen was hitchhiking back to Santa Rosa from her job in Larkspur. She never made it. Nude body found off a rural road. She had been bound in a sadomasochistic way.
April 1972– Jeannette Kamahele was hitching up from Rohnert Park, just south of Santa Rosa, to go to class at Santa Rosa Junior College.
November 1972– Lori Lee Kursa hitching on Calistoga Road or abducted.
July 1973 — Carolyn Davis ran away from Anderson, northeast of Santa Rosa, and hitched south. Body found at Weber and Sterling’s body drop location.
December 1973– Therese Walsh hitching to her family home from Malibu to north of Santa Rosa. Later found in Mark West Creek, bound in a sadomasochistic way.
1979– skeleton found having been bound in same sadomasochistic ways. Estimated victim murdered in 1972. Found near where Kursa’s body had been found off Calistoga Road. First suspected to be Kamahele, but dentals prove otherwise.
Despite the variables, one thing is common here: each had a connection with Highway 101 or, in Kursa’s case, a main road off Highway 12, the main rural highway off 101 that heads to Napa. None of the victims, despite their age differences, were kidnapped or picked up in the heart of the town. Even in Kursa’s case this is questionable. When she was last seen on Calistoga Road, the witness described her as being propped up by two men who rushed her between them to a van in which was sitting a driver. She may have already jumped from the van and hurt herself in doing so. Her body would later be found with a broken neck. She seemed to have died from trauma.
As far as prowling, it seems the MO is the same– Highway 101. This sounds like a single prowling MO. The problem is that this is the only highway and this is where anybody seeking hitchhikers is going to look. It is, in fact, the only common MO. This doesn’t mean one killer is involved
Hitchhiking was common back then, all too common. Hitchhiker murders were also far too common, not only of those hitching but of those offering. Stanley Dean Baker is a notorious case.
Other than the fact all were hitchhiking and along Highway 101 we have nothing but differences. We have one group which are 12-14 years old. The cause of death in Sterling and Weber could not be determined, but obviously it was done by someone who could overpower both. Davis, whose body was found close by, had died by massive strychnine poisoning– quite odd. Kursa died of trauma, possibly the result of having tried to escape the speeding van. Her case tells us that more than one person was involved. The distance down the embankment from Franz Valley Road and Calistoga Road where the victims were found tells us either a single killer was very strong and could throw bodies far or that more than one person helped in tossing their bodies. Each of the young girls seems to have died differently than the other.
At a contrast, Allen, Walsh, and Jane Doe, died the same way, and each was about 19 to 23 years old. Kamahele was never found. Each died in a complex way in which they basically choked themselves to death.
Hitch Hike to Hell accentuated the dangers of young women hitch hiking in 1977. It was inspired by the increasing fears in society over the practice. Though an incredibly bad, low budget flick, it did help put an end to the fad.
All victims were found nude. Aside from having been picked up on or around Highway 101, that is the only common link between them.
What shall we then say? With the facts at hand it is hard to see only one hand involved in this. The older teens do not seem to have been killed by a few guys working in tandem. Each was killed in a sophisticated, sadomasochistic way. The young girls were killed in various fashions and possibly their deaths were the result of two or more killers.
But did these disparate killers operate together at times and the leader had his own individual kinks? The driver of the van awaiting the two men rushing Kursa back to it was described as a white guy with an afro. There was a witness who saw Jeannette Kamahele jump into an old pickup on the onramp in Cotati. He described the driver similarly.
There’s always that one other curious link: the killings stopped at the same time. However, from the records of other counties in California, young girls would still vanish while walking along the secluded arboreal roads. The 1970s was a dark time. It was a time that reminded us of something we do not like to believe. Human predators exist. They have territoriality. Like sharks they cruise about. How many missing young girls and women in northern California exist in the records? How many skeletons of unidentified Jane Does still need a name put on them?
Officially the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murderer has gotten away clean, whoever he or they might have been.
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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. “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.