South By Northwest– Foreword to D.B. Cooper

Since I now have Bermuda Triangle II off my back, and I await only one bit to finish HorrorScope, I am beginning my next round of books. I have written the foreword to South by Northwest, my investigation and pursuit of D.B. Cooper. A foreword is the first chapter I write in a book and the last I re-write. So this can most certainly change. But here it is as it stands now. I hope it whets your appetite to finally uncover the true identity of the Jesse James of the Jet Age.

South by Northwest, Foreword by Gian J. Quasar

 

Not since the romanticized Old West has a villain been so glorified as D.B. Cooper. There are those who would object immediately to him even being called a criminal or villain. Villain perhaps not, but he certainly committed a high stakes crime, high not only in the dollar amount he extorted but in the risk and daring factor. Criminal this makes him. He may have been a gutsy, even brave criminal but he was a criminal nonetheless.

There is no question that his image is a cool one. He was dressed like a middle age James Bond—dark suit, thin black tie, carried a briefcase, and hid his eyes behind fashionable wrap-around shades. This is the man who claimed he had a bomb in said briefcase and made the air carrier Northwest Orient pay out $200,000.00 under threat he’d blow up the plane and the passengers thereon. As the game unfolded and all waited tensely, he drank a Bourbon. He offered to pay for it. He’d rob a corporation but not the stewardess. She declined. This was the sleek villain threatening to blow up the airplane.

For the antiestablishment movement this in itself carried cache. Add the daredevil image to his calm and cool look and there is little wonder that Cooper soon became glorified as the “Jesse James of the Jet Age.” A strange hero was born: a modern Robin Hood who robbed from a rich corporation to keep it himself.

Cooper’s daring exploit, in fact, has never been equaled, not successfully anyway. There are those copycats who tried to get away with skyjacking an airliner for cash. They displayed the same daring and risk, but each one failed. Copycats obviously have no originality.

But D.B. Cooper did. He succeeded. He was the first. He chose a stormy night. He chose to bailout over the rugged wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Surely these are clues to his character and foreplanning. Put together with every other aspect of his caper and the profile of a careful, premeditative man emerges. It paid off. He remains elusive, not just in terms of never having been brought to justice; his very identity is unknown. This is quite an accomplishment all things considering.

Dan Cooper is just the alias he used to check in at Portland International Airport. He was seen extensively and up close by the stewardesses, of course. His features were unique. A composite was done in detail. Yet no dragnet ever uncovered Dan Cooper’s true identity.

Because skyjacking is a Federal crime, the FBI was in charge. Despite the Bureau’s formidable power of collating and analyzing data, both nationally and internationally, it is a remarkable fact that they never uncovered a missing person who fit his description. There was no missing uncle. No missing brother or brother-in-law. No missing father. No person was reported missing who matched Dan Cooper.

Given their theory this fact is amazing. At the time the FBI wanted to believe that he had “splattered,” that is, after he jumped from the Boeing 727 his chute didn’t open or on that rainy and windswept Thanksgiving Eve night 1971 he was plunged into the jagged, spear-like forests north of Portland and there ended the daredevil skyjacker, clutching his ill-gotten gains. It is a fact that none of the money was ever spent, and the FBI had shrewdly taken down each bill’s serial number. So to them the quest was one to find Dan Cooper’s true identity.

Yet too many clues say he survived. But why hadn’t he spent the filthy lucre?

It is possible to still trace Dan Cooper and uncover his identity. He is not just an alias and a distinctive looking man on a Federal handbill. The clues he left behind make him trackable. He knew the 727. He gave instructions to the captain how to fly it on the getaway trip from Seattle. All these instructions made it possible for him to jump from such a huge airliner in midair. He knew parachutes. He selected one that indicated he had some military experience, though not recent experience. He knew those woods. He could not have been a stranger to Portland. From Portland he had come. No car was found abandoned and traced to a man resembling him. No suitcase had been left in a locker. No motel room guest had failed to show up again. Dan Cooper had left zero trail. Only a man who had returned to his place in society could leave no trail and yet taunt us with all these clues.

Was Cooper an adventurer or was he the desperado the FBI painted him to be? The reader will have to decide after reading this book. One thing is certain: he went to unprecedented lengths to secure his money, and it worked. Something went wrong. The money was not spent. But he got away.

All of these are clues that lead us closer to Dan Cooper.

Various psychological profiles were done on this mysterious man, based on the couple of hours he existed in the limelight and the acts he had committed. The lead FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach preferred to think that Cooper was a down-and-out loser. He hated the glorified image. Cooper was a desperate, uneducated man. Even years after the case was dormant, Himmelsbach would take his own plane and scour the woods north of Portland. It was his own desperate attempt to finally spot the red parachute and find the remains of Dan Cooper. This would remove the hero image. He was a loser unprepared to commit such a crime, and his fate was death in the woods on that dark night.

But agent Himmelsbach never found a trace of Cooper. No one has, alive or dead.

Now it is time that we pick up that trail again and relive that day, a festive Thanksgiving Eve 1971 and then follow every clue to write the aftermath and finally solve the mysterious fate of D.B. Cooper.

*         *          *

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.

Distinctive Obscurity– The Visalia Ransacker After-the-Fact

It is a paradox. How does a villain in such a small town as Visalia crawl back into the shadows, especially after having left a single very distinct image of himself for that one moment he was caught in the light?

He was, supposedly, young, about 25, 5 foot 10 inches tall, stocky at 200 pounds, pale complexion, baby face, high pitched voice, stubby fingers on small hands, and he had small feet. His hair was blonde to sandy, and butched really short on the sides so that it didn’t even touch his ears.

From my recent series of posts, and even from one quite a while ago, I have left the door open that perhaps we do not have the true image of the Ransacker. Villains do stop, but the Ransacker stopping so suddenly is grounds to wonder.  Did he go elsewhere? Or did he really look quite different and simply and easily faded into the background?

Where would this elsewhere be? Visalia PD checked the barbers and ice cream shops over the whole area. No one had recognized Bill McGowen’s composite. Even if this composite wasn’t of the Ransacker, you would think they’d still recognize him.

I would love him to be some villain I am currently after — like NORCAL. But who is to ever know? There is no DNA from the Ransacker. It is even difficult to link him to Claude Snelling’s murder in 1975. Both villains were said to be the same height and proportion and left handed. But Snelling’s killer struck in the wee hours of the morning and had worn a mask. The Ransacker was in bed by midnight usually.

Without a lot of detailed information, it is impossible to even track the Ransacker. People have offered more information, but then they flake. Some that do offer information will not clarify a source, and thus it is not reliable. Some people equate their personal deductions with facts. This goes nowhere.

But we must start from somewhere. Let us accept McGowen’s composite. There’s reason to. As I mentioned above, if this was just another prowler, why didn’t a dragnet identify his unique features? Time and MO has shown us that the Ransacker was actually a lot more cautious than you might imagine. He put some effort into covering his identity. No one wants to go to jail. Thus the very fact a distinctive prowler who shot at a cop could hide from the dragnet is a clue that this distinctive looking prowler was one and the same with the notorious Ransacker, who had committed about 90 robberies and remained obscure.

Yes, the police canvassed the neighborhoods far too long after-the-fact and got responses from neighbors that they had seen such a man in their neighborhoods. But think about that. Had he been that obvious, neighbors would have long been chatting that such a man had been seen and the police would have known about it for at least over a year. We’re talking about 90 robberies. Neighbors hear when a neighbor is robbed. Anybody suspicious in the neighborhood is going to go mentioned in the grapevine. Yet apparently none ever did. Not enough anyway to warrant a composite.

When Visalia PD tried to link the Ransacker with being EAR, this fact must have puzzled and irked Sacramento Sheriffs and PD. You canvased only after-the-fact? A 2 year crime spree and you have no other composite from the residents?

One simply can’t blame Visalia PD for this alone. The residents clearly weren’t speaking out much– else one would imagine that Visalia PD would attempt a composite of the person of interest seen in these neighborhoods. But there is nada. Either gross incompetence is at work in both the community and the police or the Ransacker was a little more careful in his stalking than we realize.

And this we do know after-the-fact. The Ransacker was a prowler. He left footprints all over the neighborhood yards testifying as to how his checked each home and discovered who was not home. How else could he have possibly known? This may have gotten him reclassified as a peeper, but he was actually looking for a house with nobody, not with people to watch.

So for the sake of argument here, let us accept we have a very distinctive Ransacker. He was not only distinctive in a appearance but seemed a little off the beam as well. He has  maintained this double distinction in obscurity. This is a clue. Where does it lead?

*         *          *

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.

Strange Evolution: The Visalia Ransacker

When the news first hit that the “Ransacker” existed it came largely after-the-fact of his crime spree, as I have noted in previous posts. He had been a nuisance to Visalia PD’s anti-burglary boys until the Claude Snelling murder of September 11, 1975. Then he became a suspect because Snelling’s house was on a street within a larger neighborhood of town where the Ransacker had exclusively concentrated over the two years before.  Just 3 months later there would be an encounter between a Visalia PD stakeout man, Bill McGowen, and a man he believed was the Ransacker.  The Ransacker never struck again.

With hindsight the Ransacker underwent a metamorphosis. His profile evolved from childish burglar and house ransacker to a sexual deviant and murderer. It seemed natural that he would evolve into rapist. Thus Visalia  PD had elements that doggedly believed that the Ransacker had become the East Area Rapist of Sacramento. Today, the EAR ranks as the No 1 serial predator in history. The Visalia Ransacker has become his youth and Visalia has been touted as his proving ground.

visalia-ransacker
The creepy Ransacker– if this composite is accurate. He stole some jewelry and a few other items, but mostly stole blue chip stamps. He ate the victims’ ice cream out of their frig and made a mess of their house looking for small items to steal. 

 

This is a bizarre enough evolution, and it shouldn’t strike us as surprising considering the Ransacker seems to have been perpetually evolving in Visalia even without any attempt to link him to the most notorious prowler in history.

It has struck almost all who have considered the Ransacker question that he was never tagged. He struck in a small enough area; if we are to believe McGowen’s composite and description then the Ransacker was very distinctive.

When the Ransacker hit the news he was credited with 85 to 90 burglaries and ransackings. Taking into consideration the neighborhoods where he struck, this is enormous. In 1996, a retro piece was done in the Times Delta, kinda like Luther Heggs’ piece in the Rachel Courier Express in the comedy The Ghost and Mr. Chicken— “the horribleness and awfulness will actually never be forgotten.” In this piece the Ransacker was credited with 120 burglaries and ransackings. This is an outrageous number considering the turf over which he struck.

Ransacker turf

 120 homes robbed and ransacked in this area of town seems so disproportionate you’d think he would have been news before the murder.

After the Snelling murder and then the McGowen shooting in December of 1975, the Ransacker was changed from a mere burglar and turned into a peeper. This allowed them to figure him into being a frustrated sex fiend, potential rapist– his motive for “kidnapping” Claude Snelling’s daughter, Beth– and thence to heartless murderer if interfered with, as Claude Snelling tried to do. To bolster this image, the 1996 article even gave us a new tidbit of information– at times while in his victims’ homes, he took the wife’s lingerie and placed it in a line in the hallway– decidedly  kinky.

Is it? The anti-burglary unit never saw anything so kinky during his crime spree that they considered him a peeper. Neighborhoods weren’t even canvased until after the Snelling and McGowen encounters in late 1975. It is only then that they uncovered prowling reports. Yet an adept burglar must prowl in order to find a home that is empty. If he had struck 85 homes while empty, he must have done a lot of prowling beforehand. It is said that the Ransacker placed cups on doorknobs or plates on the floor to alert him if someone entered the house. This would give him time to flee. Would not clothing placed on the  floor in the hallway cause alarm to the homeowners? It would be the same effect. He would hear their reaction and flee out the bedroom window.

. . .If that is even true that he did that with undees. Again, nothing struck the burglary unit as indicating a kinky prowler. And if he had 85 or 90 home hits well within a 2 year period in a limited area, they sure would have noticed something by then and canvased neighborhoods.

How much is real of what we’ve heard about the Ransacker? How many strikes does he really have?  What is his true profile? Too much contradicts to believe in the Ransacker’s strange evolution.

*         *          *

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.

The Visalia Ransacker’s Turf

So concrete was it to Sacramento Sheriffs in May of 1977 that there was no link between the Visalia Ransacker and The East Area Rapist that they wrote off the whole idea quickly and completely forgot about it. When over a year later in July 1978 the Sacramento Union ran an article about how Visalia believed a link was possible the Sac Sheriffs hit Visalia PD with the kitchen sink. It was over a year now since their last contact. The Sheriffs’ Department couldn’t imagine that those two Visalia detectives were still fomenting some kind of link. They weren’t even homicide detectives, and they were also insisting there was a link with the murder of Claude Snelling in Visalia in September of 1975 and the Ransacker.

Even putting aside the radical difference in both perps’ appearances (based on composites), there were many other things that didn’t match. The Ransacker loved to take blue chip stamps. EAR, though a petty thief as well, was harder core. One time he even took drugs. EAR drank beer, which apparently sometimes he brought with him. The Ransacker preferred ice cream. It was such a repeating trait that the Visalia PD had checked the ice cream parlors. EAR was thought to have shoulder length hair in the beginning (Summer of 76), but the Ransacker had such distinctly short hair, with his hair line above his ears, that the Visalia PD had checked all the barber shops in Tulare and Kings County. By contrast there was something very childlike about the Ransacker whereas EAR was a vicious sexual terrorist.

The East Area Rapist had also struck over a fairly wide area by the Summer of 77. By contrast, the Visalia Ransacker remained in a confined area for about 2 years–1974-1975. College of the Sequoias was the center of his turf. Highway 198 was the northern perimeter, Walnut Avenue was the southern perimeter, and Demaree was the western perimeter, with Mt. Whitney School being the eastern limit.

Ransacker turf

It would seem amazing that the supposedly unique looking Ransacker could operate for 2 years in such an area and not go captured or identified. Sac Sheriffs didn’t have Google Earth back then, but they may have gotten a map of Visalia. This limited turf was not suggestive of EAR. Maybe also they uncovered that Visalia PD put together the profile of the Ransacker after-the-fact; that he had merely been a burglar to them during his crime spree and they hadn’t even canvassed neighborhoods for prowlers. There might have been nothing sexual about his motives. Women hide their jewels in their undees drawers sometimes, and this could explain why lingerie was spread over the master bedroom and the drawers emptied. Sac might have thought that the Ransacker might not have needed to be very good to slip through Visalia PD’s hands.

Sacramento County Sheriffs have a much larger gene pool, so to speak, from which to promote investigators than Visalia Police. At the time Visalia was a town of about 20,000 people. The resulting attitude is unavoidable: Visalia PD were full of rubes. The Sheriff spokesman, Bill Miller, condemned them as publicity seekers and irresponsible.

The controversy aside, there are several clues for us in the Ransacker’s limited area of operation. It was centered on the college and it was accessed by a couple of main thoroughfares that led to and from Highway 198. Given his unique look, and the fact that (to our knowledge) he was never in the dragnet, we can deduce he came to the area along the highway. He was not a local boy necessarily.

visalia-ransacker
Unique short blonde hair, pale skin, baby face, perhaps higher pitched voice, stocky, knock-knee, chunky, short hands, stubby fingers, and small feet.

But there is the fact that no barber recognized the composite. According to the Visalia PD they checked over two large counties.

Where did the Ransacker come from? Did his mama or dad cut his hair? Did he live on one of the farms? Where did he go?

Either the composite is grossly in error or he was on the dragnet list and they didn’t know how to check him off properly. If not that, he moved away quickly and no one seemed to have ever paid attention to him while he lived, well, wherever it had been that he had lived.

Or did a family realize their son was the Ransacker and commit him or send him away?

Before this case can be brought forward it must be fleshed out and much data released. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but if it does it must start with those citizens who went through this and are still with us. They must clarify much information about the Ransacker crimes in their homes.

We have a very general appearance today for his turf. It is centered on the college, and yet he does not seem to have been a student. He limited himself to this part of town. We must develop this in our next post.

*         *          *

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.

Ransacker: Visalia vs Sacramento

On May 18, 1977, at the absolute height of the EAR/ONS panic, the news hit. Fortunately, for Sacramento it hit far away. The Visalia Times Delta issued the story that two detectives were in Sacramento now pursuing the leads that the Ransacker was one and the same with the dreaded EAR.

It was an interesting article that drew highlights over certain similarities between the two crime sprees. It culminated in a comparison of composites.

Visalians were naturally still very interested in the murder of Claude Snelling almost two years before on September 11, 1975. He had been incredibly popular. His murder had shocked the small farm town. It brought to the news the fact that a petty burglar had been working these neighborhoods for a couple of years and using as his signature ransacking of the home. The whole idea there was this careful prowler assaulting middleclass sanctity just to ransack homes really put a sinister light on the Ransacker.

The brief news surge over the Ransacker had came at a strategic time. It came after the Snelling murder, grew larger after a VP stakeout detective, Bill McGowen, got shot on December 10, 1975, trying to confront a prowler in an area they had second-guessed the “Ransacker” would strike. From there the Ransacker had evolved into a sex perv and peeping tom. Logically, the next step would seem to be rapist. But he vanished after that unchancy December 10, 1975, encounter with McGowen.  There were no more Ransacker crimes.

EAR began on June 18, 1976, in Rancho Cordova, east of Sacramento. By May 1977 the EAR was sending the Sacramento area into a panic.

Sacramento Police didn’t see the connection, but they really didn’t have much in the way of the exchange of information. Sac Sheriffs, who had the most cases to deal with, didn’t see the link at all.

An attempted link faded from the news, but for Visalians it registered. Visalia was a small town, and the story just couldn’t die with a long article “Police Seeking To Link Rapist, Snelling Slayer.”

The idea festered for over a year. It finally came to a head and even the Visalia Times Delta had to note in a July 24, 1978, article that “Police Agencies Feud Over Case Similarities.” It wasn’t first page news in Visalia, but 2 days before in it had been in Sacramento.  The problems were such that the Visalia chief of police would attempt to call and talk to the Sheriff of Sacramento County. It was the Sacramento Union‘s front page story that sparked it all. The Union‘s article also indicated there was a rift between the Sac Police and Sac Sheriffs.

Sac Sheriffs had to qualify it had been over a year since they had worked with the two Visalia detectives. This essentially came out of nowhere for them. Bill Miller, the spokesman, recalled that after comparing 9 points of the MO they had discounted 6 of them. They didn’t see any similarity. The suspects didn’t even look remotely identical. Miller condemned the Visalia detectives as “irresponsible.” It got worst. He said he felt they were merely looking for publicity. “It isn’t there.”

The haggis was in the fire for sure.

The Visalia detectives looked bad. But this controversy did an injustice to the amount of time and energy that Visalia PD’s anti-burglary unit had put into the investigation of the “Ransacker.” They went to the mental wards, mystics and “readers.” Because his hair was so short– unusual for the time– they went to every barber shop. Because he ate ice cream out of his victims’ frig’s, they went to the ice cream parlors and showed the composite. They investigated 500 people and thousands of leads. None went anywhere.

However, due to the fact that the Visalia Ransacker case investigation was largely after-the-fact we have to wonder. Were the wrong leads being followed? The composite of the Ransacker was drawn because of only one encounter, one at late night. The Ransacker had merely been classified as a burglar until after Snelling’s murder and then after the December 10, 1975, shootout with McGowen, Visalia PD now took up a different psychological approach to the Ransacker. He was a peeping tom pervert.

But there was really no overt link between “Ransacker” and Snelling’s murder. The best that VP could offer, even as late as 1980, was that both seemed to be left handed and had similar body proportions and height. Aside from that there was much that didn’t fit. The Snelling murder was in the early morning hours. The Ransacker usually struck before midnight. Because two prowlers had been seen on Whitney Lane in the nights before Snelling’s murder, with one described as young and the other one as older, the Ransacker was given an age range between 25-35 years old.

It was clear that the Sac Sheriffs and Sac Police thought that the Visalia detectives were stupid or publicity vultures.

Today, as we seek to revive this old cold case, we are in the wake of these controversies. They mean little to either jurisdiction anymore probably. But the original data was gathered under the auspices of these theories and circumstances.  Not one burglary committed by the Ransacker is within the Statute of Limitations. His link to the Snelling murder is so tenuous that I doubt any DA would pursue a case. He is pursued perhaps because of the then-dominant psychological theory that he will commit other crimes and perhaps he can be sent up for those if captured and identified. Therefore there is potentially a little more than an academic reason to pursue him. . .if he can be identified.

But no one has found the unique, distinctly unique Visalia Ransacker. He was a clever prowler, largely invisible his entire crime spree, given a face only during his last encounter (maybe), and then was given a psychological makeover thereafter. But do we have the right face of the Ransacker?

The only thing that connects the Ransacker with the man that McGowen confronted is that a home was robbed blocks away on Laurel that night that had the Ransacker’s signature. After this it ended. In the tardy police canvas of the neighborhoods where he had struck before, a few homeowners said they had seen a man similar to the composite based on McGowen’s encounter.  . . .But then there were residents on Dollner Street by where McGowen  had his encounter with the suspect on Kaweah, and they too said the prowler they were having trouble with was similar. But someone else was arrested for that by March 1976.

Is more than one person involved in the makeover of the Ransacker? How could someone so unique looking as the Ransacker not be uncovered? It seems hard to believe he was local. He had to be coming to Visalia merely to rob the areas around the College of the Sequoias. This seems to be the only part of town he knew. The police admitted they came across a number of persons who looked like the composite but they were all cleared. Does the composite really reflect the Ransacker or someone else? The perp in the McGowen case could easily be cleared of being the Ransacker. If he was another prowler he could probably give account of himself at a time the Ransacker was known to have struck. That throws out the composite. It applies only to a perp who had nothing to do with the Ransacker crimes. If that is the case, there is no face to the Ransacker.

If that was the Ransacker who shot at McGowen, then we must consider where he went. If he is the Snelling killer we must ponder why he continued his crime spree for a couple of months but then stopped after his encounter with McGowen. Where indeed did he go?

*         *          *

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.

Titillating Tidbits– The Ransacker Makeover

There’s no question that “The Ransacker” was a puzzlement to Visalia Police’s burglary boys, and they were used to home invasion robberies. “Jewel of the Valley,” as this verdant oasis in San Joaquin’s arid valley liked to call itself, it felt it was a little more offset than the rest of the valley’s cities from the crime that dominated the inland cities. But it wasn’t. To locals it was the city of trees amidst the checkerboard of fields. Unfortunately, the rest of California’s center valley cities had little claim to pride. Fresno, Bakersfield, and Stockton were and remain in the USA’s top 10 worst cities for crime. It is Visalia’s pride in its unique distinction that perhaps blinded Visalians to the origins of the Ransacker.

California is two states. Many think this is northern and southern California. As a native Californian I can tell you that is not true. There is coastal California and then the arid inner valley of San Joaquin.  There are the coast cities and the inland cities. Within this division there are a few unique pockets. San Francisco stands distinct in all the world and thinks Los Angeles is superficial and crude. Los Angeles looks down on San Diego as flippant, some loosely organized vacation mecca. San Diego doesn’t care and bills itself as America’s finest city. It thinks Los Angeles is pretentious and San Francisco snobby.

All citizenry has heard of Fresno and Bakersfield, even Stockton if they must. Some of the  other, smaller satellite cities ring a bell– Tulare, Modesto, Merced, and even Visalia, the farm town. Many have heard of Los Banos, which everybody giggles off and then reaffirms that it means “the toilettes.” Everybody agrees. Mojave has some ambiance because it is a desert. Barstow is on the way to Vegas. Sacramento is the capitol, so Californians are reminded of its existence frequently. But outside of Jerry Brown being considered unique, Sacramento held no interest. It is the city of allergies.

Highway 99 connects all the valley’s cities. It’s little tributaries lead to small, cattle ranching towns and an isolated gas station amidst miles of orchards. California has everything– mountains, deserts, coastline, and farmland. It could feed itself, but most Californians don’t really know the San Joaquin Valley . . . except those that live there. It is California’s bread basket. It is to California what the Nile delta was to Egypt. But most just want to sample it on their dining table.

It is a crime infested, rural area.

Visalia was not immune. It was not a suburb of any big city. It stood on its own and had a large college south of Highway 198, which rudely passes through the town and leads to the Sierras.  In a way it is the jewel of the valley, but it was and is not an unassailable jewel.

Visalia had lots of burglary and lots of prowling. Like a light upon a hill it was the only target in the area and it attracted all the nightlife.

Within this crime circuit the “Ransacker” stood out. He needlessly ransacked a house. He robbed very little. He seemed to get in by open windows or doors. He dumped items out of the master bedroom dressers. He stole some jewelry, loose change, emptied piggy banks and had a fondness for blue chip stamps. Drawers were sometime open in the kitchen. He ate ice cream from the victim’s frig. He placed dishes in certain areas so as to alert him the homeowners were arriving. He struck only when the families weren’t home. That took quite a lot of prowling. He seemed to have been active from late 1973 or early 1974 to late 1975.

The Visalia Ransacker, as the rest of us know him, largely remained south of Highway 198 in the neighborhoods on both sides of College of the Sequoias. Given this tight area of turf, he was remarkably successful in eluding the neighbors and the police. Some 90 burglaries are attributed to him over close to 2 years. He was indeed adroit.

What did he look like? Hard to say. He really wasn’t seen, and the police didn’t canvas the neighborhoods, apparently, to get reports of prowlers, until his crime spree was essentially over.

For 2 years the Ransacker was a unique source of irk and wonder amidst the other rap sheets. Burglars were being arrested and sentenced. But the Ransacker crimes continued. Obviously, VP wasn’t getting their man. . . if that’s  what he was. His crimes seemed those of a kid.

After Claude Snelling was murdered on September 11, 1975, at his home on Whitney, right in the heart of Ransacker’s turf, Visalia homicide got involved and the burglary unit told them about this “Ransacker” who remained at large. They wondered if there wasn’t a connection.

This, of course, jacked-up the Ransacker from what appeared to be a kid tearing up homes and taking mostly inconsequential stuff to a stalking murderer and major threat to the community.

The “Ransacker” now became news, and because his crimes continued he remained news, most of which surrounded speculation that he was Snelling’s killer. The burglary guys did a stakeout and finally came across a suspect. He was prowling by houses on the corner of Kaweah and Dollner. A cop, Bill McGowen, confronted him. The perp jumped the backyard fence to the front yard. McGowen jumped up, hands still on top of the fence, and a loud burst blew his flashlight out of his right hand and gun powder got in his right eye. He fell back in shock. The perp scrammed. Another cop came up and thought McGowen dead. He rushed off in pursuit. The police tightened the dragnet and closed in. Nevertheless, the perp got through the narrowing police dragnet and made off.

McGowen and the others were sure this was the Ransacker. Yet McGowen alone had seen him. He was about 200 pounds, knock-knee, sandy hair, very short hair parted on left, about 5 foot 10 inches, wore a camo jacket and dark pants, wore tennis shoes– size 9– so he had small feet. He had a strange, higher pitched voice. A baby face. He seemed around 25 years old. This dufus was the Ransacker. He was a squirrelly guy, but he was obviously a killer at heart.

Put together this jacked-up the image of the Ransacker into an unstoppable deviant; some baby-faced jacket job who liked ransacking houses for very little and didn’t mind shooting if he was interfered with.

Prowlings continued on Dollner Street after this. The Times-Delta followed it now. The residents were looking at the composite based on McGowen’s nighttime encounter. They said the guy they had seen looked like that. One resident had even chased him and grabbed one of his shoes when he loped over a fence. A few months later one of the Boren brothers was arrested for robbery on Dollner. It seems they had caught the Dollner Street  prowler. But Visalia Police was dogmatic that he was not the Ransacker. This means the Ransacker had stopped after his encounter with McGowen in December 1975.

VT-D-2-11-76

Not so . . . it seems.

Thus we have a provocative chain of events. Dollner was a new neighborhood, most of it freshly built. Visalia actually had quite a few prowlers and home robbers. Both Ransacker and another prowler could have independently been in operation on that street. The Ransacker  vanished after December 1975. EAR– who would become the infamous East Area Rapist and later the Original Night Stalker, who would become California’s No. 1  serial predator, began his crime wave in the summer of ’76 in Sacramento’s “east area.” His MO would evolve into using new neighborhoods more than older ones. He had a size 9 and a half shoe. He was about 5 foot 9 inches tall, but lean and agile. He was thought to have a higher pitched voice which he disguised.  He ransacked houses, stole very little, but he was a vicious, uniquely vicious rapist and terrorist.

Ransacker-3-11-76
McGowen alone had seen the shadowy form. The composite is based on his encounter.

 

Some on Visalia’s homicide began to wonder. They inquired of Sacramento’s Police and Sheriffs.  At the height of publicity on EAR, Visalia went public. They thought that the phantom-like EAR began in Visalia and was the aloof and phantom-like Ransacker; that he graduated from peeping tom to rapist. Both Sacramento Police and Sheriffs held unique irk for Visalia PD, and they expressed this equally publically.

The combined result was that the obscure “Ransacker” was jacked-up again to a unique pedigree. He was now the bud that had bloomed into the most evil rapist and home terrorist the state, if not the nation, had ever known. Sacramento said with one loud and not so solemn voice– BS.

In our next post we must delve into the controversy and start to divide bone and marrow.

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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.

Afterimage: The Visalia Ransacker Takes Form

A collation of the information now coming into me is proving disheartening. The image of the Visalia Ransacker seems to be an afterimage. I knew it had come late, but I didn’t know it had come late even with Visalia PD. He took form only after the McGowen shooting in December 1975, and it is this image of which we have an afterimage today.

If the Visalia Times-Delta is correct, the police burglary unit viewed the Ransacker largely as just a burglar. The name “Ransacker” doesn’t even hit the press until after the Snelling murder, at least in what I have preserved before me. After the McGowen shooting, the Times-Delta reported that police canvassed the neighborhoods on both sides of College of the Sequoias and therewith learned about all the old prowler reports. It is then that the Visalia police changed its attitude about the Ransacker. He was no longer viewed primarily as a burglar but as a peeping tom. It is only then that certain clues in the houses were re-interpreted to essentially imply he was a pervert getting his jollies.

These statements tell us a couple of things about the prehistory of the Ransacker, which essentially means his entire crime spree until the Snelling murder of September 1975. The police never canvased the neighborhoods during the robberies and the “peeping tom” clues in the houses simply weren’t that noticeable. Repeatedly the paper tells us that he is believed to have committed 90 robberies. That’s an awful lot for a pattern of perversion in the house not to go noticed even without talking to neighbors and uncovering a pattern of prowling, which they then interpreted after-the-fact as “peeping tommery.”

In reality, the Ransacker would need to be adept at prowling in order to uncover the routines of the homes he intended to invade, rob and ransack. He was obviously good at it. He was never captured.  Why should it have been considered essentially peeping tommery? Essentially because he seldom took things of great value. Well, does that still indicate a peeper? Perhaps.

CSnelling
An incredibly popular professor

 

After the McGowen shooting  on Kaweah Avenue the Times-Delta did some stories. This highlighted the opinions of the residents of nearby Dollner  Street. They had been suffering a number of prowlings in their neighborhood. The descriptions they gave of the prowler matched, according to the newspaper, the composite which was made based on McGowen’s eyewitness encounter.

Combining the prowling episodes and the  events at the Snelling house reclassified the Ransacker as a pervert. Here the masked intruder escorted Beth Snelling out into the backyard. This was now looked upon as an attempted rape. It all seemed to fit.

But it was fitted after-the-fact.

On the night of the McGowen shooting a resident on West Laurel was robbed. This is the only Ransacker crime from which we get a specific view of how the house was ransacked, and there really is nothing that indicates a peeping tom perv on the loose. I think if we add this case to the 85 or more previous to it we can safely say there was nothing too “deviant” in the Ransacker’s MO else Visalia’s burglary squad would have long noted it. The one thing that was evident was the ransacking and thus the burglary boys had given the perp the handle “The Ransacker.”

Since a number of residents on Dollner saw the prowler and matched it with the composite, we can deduce the obvious: he wasn’t wearing a mask while prowling. Yet the Snelling killer was wearing a mask and Beth never saw his face. Was this the same man? Both the McGowen shooter on Kaweah Avenue and the Snelling killer on Whitney Lane were described as the same body proportions, with small feet (apparently), height, weight, and, interestingly, both were said to be left handed.

VR-large2
The Ransacker composite.

 

One can reason that the Ransacker put a mask on here because he fully intended to approach Beth Snelling and knew her family was in there. At all of his other burglaries he invaded empty houses and thus had no need for a mask.

By March 1976 it was being intimated that the Visalia police believed there was a solid link between the Snelling murder and the Ransacker. It was never specified in print. I have now been told that it was ballistics from a gun that the Ransacker had stolen in a previous robbery. The owner told the police that he used to practice in a certain location and there led one of the Visalia detectives who dug out of the ground some bullets and tested them and we must assume there was a ballistics match with the bullets that had killed Claude Snelling.

The problem with assuming this is that the police would openly brag about having pulled off this nice bit of detective work. It was actually a superb bit of ferreting. Yet the truth is they wouldn’t disclose why they believed there was a link. This is cause for worry.

There is no reason not to disclose they had ballistics. It is commonplace, even the norm to do so. But they didn’t. One can argue and say that perhaps they thought the Ransacker had fenced the gun. After all he was a burglar, and thus the same gun used on Snelling didn’t mean the Ransacker had pulled the trigger.

But they had descriptions which, if accurate, indicated the Snelling murderer was the chunky, left handed villain. Why not defend their solid link by saying they had ballistics and the Snelling killer fit the description of the McGowen shooter, whom they believed to be the Ransacker? Still, they didn’t.

From this there can be some conclusions drawn. The barreling of the .38 caliber was probably a common barreling. It would identify a model but not an individual gun. Such was the case in the .22 that ZODIAC had used. The ballistics expert said over 200K had been made of that particular model and even if the actual weapon was in his hands he couldn’t be sure. The barreling was just too common.

WMcGowen
I thought the VR must have been a crack shot to shoot the flashlight out of McGowen’s hand. But he was actually so close the powder burns damaged McGowen’s right eye

It sounds like Visalia police were averaging some odds. A common model .38 had been stolen and a common model .38 had been used in a murder. If not this as the cause for reticence to get specific and declare a solid match through ballistics, then perhaps there was too much wear and tear on the bullets after having been buried for a while. If the bullets weren’t lead or copper they would rust.

 

Snelling’s killer may be the Ransacker, but I don’t think the link was ever solid enough for a DA. After the Ransacker had his encounter with McGowen he never struck again. Yet if he was one and the same as the Snelling murderer, he killed a man and ran away, and still continued to wantonly prowl for months.

In short, we have a tardily drawn image and it is from this image that we have a fuzzy afterimage.

Sacramento and Visalia would get in a heated exchange of words later about whether the Ransacker and EAR/ONS were one and the same. We’ll look at that in our next post. The events on Dollner had given them a final clue.

*         *          *

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.