Today we take this illustrious train to the land of Rice A Roni, the Golden Gate Bridge and those son of bitch basketball Warriors...San Francisco, California. Considered the cultural, commercial, and financial center of Northern California. San Francisco is the 16th most populous city in the United States, and the fourth most populous in California, with 881,549 residents as of 2019.
Between January 1974 and September 1975, the LGBTQ community of the Castro District and surrounding city of San Francisco were terrorized by yet, another serial murderer. Still trembling in fear from the previous horrors of the Zodiac killer, tentatively responsible for over 30 deaths and the Zebra murders, which were a string of racially motivated murders committed by a small group of black Muslims that took the lives of at least 15 people. Needless to say, citizens of the area were locking their doors and looking over their shoulders, knowing that evil could be behind every corner or hiding in every shadow.
The gay community already faced plenty of unfortunate danger without the added prospect of being targeted by a fucking serial killer. Even in the comparatively welcoming environment of the city’s Castro neighborhood, being outed in the mid-1970s meant risking stigmatization, injury, and even death, owing to antigay sentiments prevalent across the United States. (Harvey Milk’s election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was four years away. If you’re unaware, Harvey Milk was an American politician and the first openly gay elected official in the history of California who was assassinated on November 27th, 1978 along with Mayor George Mascone by a piece of shit former San Francisco board of supervisors member who I won’t mention his name because fuck that guy! He did commit suicide in 1985 after serving only 5 years in prison. Dickhead.)
Fear of such repercussions led three men who survived encounters with the Doodler to refuse to cooperate with police. One, reportedly, was a European diplomat (according to the Chronicle, he was stabbed six times before fleeing). Published reports about survivors also mention a “nationally known” entertainer and an individual who quickly skipped town and declined further contact with law enforcement. Four decades later, the identities of these men still remain unknown.
While the Doodler is thought to have been active between January 1974 and June 1975, there has been some confusion over his total number of victims. In 1976, reporter Maitland Zane made blunt reference to the number of unsolved homicides of gay men at the time—17 had occurred in 1975 alone—in an article for the San Francisco Chronicle titled “The Gay Killers.” Owing to this tragically large number, some reports have suggested that the Doodler’s true body count may be as high as 14.
In the five cases officially tied to the Doodler, the victims died from numerous stab wounds. Each body was found in a park or by the beach. Following the discovery of the Doodler’s fifth victim, Harald Gullberg, in June 1975, the killings seemed to stop.
During the mid-1970s, the overall homicide rate in San Francisco was more than double what it is today. In 1974, there were 129 homicides in the city. The following year, there were 132. Needless to say, the SFPD’s homicide detectives were busy, and the Doodler wasn’t even the only serial killer on their radar. At the time of Cavanaugh’s death, the city was enduring the infamous Zebra murders, and arrests were still three months from being carried out.
A murderer that would draw a sketch or doodle of men in order to entice them to lower their guard, was seemingly hunting homosexual men from the area. This prolific killer ended the lives of 5 confirmed men with up to 14 potential deaths under their belt, in total. All of the victims were found within 4 miles of one another and all within 18 months.
So who was the Doodler, aka The Black Doodler? No one knows for sure and may never. This is what makes this story one of the most horrific.
January 27th, 1974
On the morning of January 27, 1974, at approximately 1:25 a.m., police dispatch received a phone call reporting the discovery of a corpse at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach.
“I believe there might be a dead person,” the caller said in a calm, male-sounding voice before declining to give their name and hanging up.
When officers arrived on the scene 30 minutes later, they found the body of 50-year-old Gerald Cavanaugh. He’d been stabbed 16 times.
Over the course of the next year and a half, five victims—all white gay men—would be linked to the serial killer dubbed the Doodler. Despite its childish quality, the Doodler’s nickname is a haunting reference to the killer’s reported fondness for sketching cartoons of the men he’d meet at bars in San Francisco’s Castro district, then lure somewhere more remote with the promise of sex.
June 25th 1974
A woman walking by Spreckles Lake happened upon the body of 27 year old female impersonator and local area comedian, Joseph “Jae” Stevens. Stevens worked at Finnochios, a club and bar that was started as a speakeasy in 1929 and was located on Stockton Street. Authorities believe that Stevens had possibly driven his killer to the lake area and one report claims that the murder had taken the car to flee crime scene, only to crash the vehicle into the side of a house, forcing the them to abscond from the accident by foot. Stevens was stabbed 5 times and was presumably dragged roughly ten feet into the brush.
July 7th, 1974
Walking her dog “Moondance” around the foot of Lincoln Bay at Ocean Beach, Tauba Weiss noticed what seemed to be the lifeless body of a man, 31 year old Claus A. Christmann, a German citizen who had worked for the tire company Michelin. Christmann was married with children, though they did not accompany him to America. When his body was found, he was wearing a tan leather jacket, heeled ankle boots, a white Italian shirt and orange bikini briefs, with his pants unzipped and pockets emptied, other than a single tube of makeup. He was left wearing three rings on his hands, including a gold wedding band. Christmann was stabbed at least 15 times with three of the wounds slashing his throat. The coroner report states that it was “ In a manner which seemed as though the assailant had attempted to decapitate the deceased.” Inspector David Toschi, a 20 year veteran of the department, described to the Sentinel, that the murder was “one of the most vicious stabbings he has ever seen. (Toschi also investigated the Zodiac murders, which are also still unsolved.)
May 12th, 1975
Nearly a year after the murder of Claus Christmann, the body of 32 year old registered nurse and former Navy medical corpsman in the Vietnam War, Frederick Elmer Capin, was found. His corpse was discovered by a hiker, walking by a sand dune, not far from a highway that runs parallel to Ocean Beach. Capin was a tall, thin man approximately 6 foot tall and at 148 pounds. The coroner's report states that he had been stabbed in the aorta and heart and that he had blood smeared on his shoes, hands and torso. It was also noted that there were marks in the sand leading to the body that “indicating that he had been dragged approximately 20 feet.” Notably, Capin had received a commendation medal for saving four men under fire while serving in Vietnam.
June 4th, 1975
While hiking by the Lincoln Park Golf course, the body of 66 year old Swedish immigrant, Harald Gullberg was found ten yards from a nearby trail. Gullberg was a sailor who had travelled to numerous harbors, including Boston, Puerto Vita, Cuba, Shanghai, Melbourne, San Luis Obispo, Yokohama and Liverpool, according to immigration records. When the body was found, Gullberg’s pants were unzipped and he was not wearing undergarments. Some speculate they were taken by the killer. He had been slashed across the throat and due to bug activity, the coroner indicated that the body had been deceased for approximately 2 weeks. This was the oldest and assumably, the Doodler’s last victim.
In the time around the murders, three men had come forward claiming that they too had been assaulted by the supposed Doodler. Reports claim that one of these men was a “well known entertainer”, with speculations of news outlets pointing to actor Richard Chamberlain, singer and pianist Johnnie Ray and actor Rock Hudson although police have confirmed that it was, in fact, NOT Rock Hudson and that the entertainer is indeed still alive. Of the three, Chamberlain would be the only surviving person. Due to the victims understandably wanting to keep their sexuality private, none of the men would come forward, publicly, nor assist the police in their investigation. LGBTQ rights activist and politician Harvey Milk had defended their refusals by saying “I understand their position. I respect the pressure society has put on them.”
5 months after Harald Gullberg’s body was found, the San Francisco Police Department released a sketch composite of an african/american male between the ages of 19 and 22 standing between 5’10” and 6 foot tall, with a slim build, wearing a Navy style watch cap.
The profile of the man was of a quiet man, possibly an art student, from an upper middle class background.
In Jan 1976, a man had been arrested at a Tenderloin District bar after a patron had called the police claiming that a man was inside that matched the composite and he was offering to draw sketches of other patrons. New reports claimed that when the police arrived and arrested him, that he was carrying a butcher knife and a sketch pad. Police questioned him, however they did not have evidence and without the assistance of the witnesses they could not prosecute him. He was booked for carrying a concealed weapon and, after he attacked homicide inspectors during an interrogation, charged with aggravated assault.
Police came under fire because the community didn’t think that they were helping.
As Gay sex was illegal until Jan of 1976 which lead to complete mistrust of the police department
In the last few years the case has had a resurgence. Police are looking at it with fresh eyes and have been able to locate the European diplomate, however they cannot find the entertainer
DNA has been submitted – no word in results yet
In Feb 2019 police offered a $100,000 reward in info that leads to the identification and prosecution of the killer
They have also released an age progression composite sketch of what the man would likely look like today.
They are also looking for a man who called into dispatch about one of the bodies found. Here is the audio from that phone call.
Police think that the killer may have been seeing a psychiatrist in the East Bay area with the name Priest and are currently seeking information about that doctor as well.
Anyone with information can call the San Francisco police at 1-415-575-4444.