Democratization of sleuthing, thanks to the Internet, has brought more than inexperience to the real life genre of true crime. Web surfing and keyboards have placed the eager citizen on a direct line to the FBI, District Attorneys, and official cold case investigators. It is not just a direct line, it is a line that caries spontaneous and often unrefined thoughts on a case and suspect. Social media helps to reinforce stereotypes and false impressions. They take on a life of their own and they continue to get recycled and become true. The spontaneous, as the word implies, aren’t the type to have been tempered by protracted and careful research. The web launches forth their ideas to us all instantly.
The social media influence is particularly strong today in the East Area Rapist case, so relevant that I wanted to title this post EAR/ONS and The Russian Meddling because social media is the conduit enforcing a particular image to EAR. But let’s stick with the purpose here, which frankly is to caution everybody on the false impression that EAR was young and blond and therewith the numerous sketches of such a young man seen in a neighborhood before-the-fact represent the actual perp. As such becoming excited over an old yearbook photo that shows a young blond guy with a slight resemblance to an old police sketch is no grounds for believing he is the best suspect for the notorious EAR merely by looks, age, and then by elaborate spinning in a mill of suspicion.
The East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Night Predator was never seen in perpetration except once at a difficult angle, face distorted by a balaclava pulled back, and then only recalled through hypnosis. The collective testimony of victims is divided between a man in his early 20s to one in his mid 30s. In perpetration his hair was seen only twice– it was dark brown for the most part. In perpetration his nose was described as Roman (though a tight stocking was over his face), his neck as short, his eyes as hazel, brown, once as blue. His height varied but he was below 6 foot.
Surely because all this is so slim one has to take it cautiously. There is no one description that clinches this phantom’s features. There is no single sketch that is the gold standard. If you wish to truly investigate and temper yourself as a true investigator, you must draw a picture of the perp from the clues, not a single clue, a single surmise, a single and unsubstantiated image.
The purpose here is to discourage people from browsing Classmates with its thousands of old yearbooks and picking someone based merely on their old senior photo resemblance to a sketch attributed to EAR. Again, EAR was never seen and there is no real justification to believe he was young. (He may have been, and indeed I have dipped as low as 16 in the suspicion meter, but I was able to eliminate them all and the one I couldn’t was eliminated via DNA.)
The upshot is that unless you have more than a superficial resemblance you have no justification for suspecting some teen from 40 years ago. Such pictures can be powerful, but they must be tempered by investigation. One of my POIs’ senior picture was especially “creepy,” to more than just me and a few cops. As I continued my investigation it became clear that the guy could have been in a position to pull off the crime spree. I had to visit his old neighborhood with a retired police chaplain and speak with his old neighbors. Needless to say he was weird. It was only then, with the submission of a full dossier, that official investigators looked into him more deeply.
It is a fascinating story I’d love to talk about in detail, but he is a living person and due to other factors not very likely anymore to be EAR/ONS– though in general he could be made to excite a lot of interest on the web. He is, sadly, just one of thousands who easily creep out a person. If everyone who had been suspected of being EAR had a frenzied week devoted to them on social media the audience would quickly realize how many can be made to fit and as a result there is little reason to get too dogmatic or excited over another young blond guy.
But remember, it is the process of elimination, not the process of proclamation. A few get out on the web and excite a lot of interest, but measured within the POI list of thousands there is nothing particularly worthy of proclamation about them.
I have forwarded about a dozen people to the FBI, who wanted to turn in their own POI. I have submitted 3 of my own to a DA’s office special cold case unit. I know that about 6 to 7 hundred POIs have been DNA tested. There has been between 6 to 7 thousand POIs. A superficial resemblance isn’t uncommon. It is no excuse to get excited and think one now has to have EAR by the tail. And remember it may be a superficial likeness to a sketch of bogus. If you have a POI, fine. Confide in a few, seek the help of some others, but the process must largely play on behind closed doors.
In the next post I will address why I had to go public once with the initials of a dead POI, without pictures but with a detailed thesis.
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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.