SAN FRANCISCO — A man beaten to death in 1975 has been identified as a possible sixth victim of a largely forgotten serial killer who targeted gay, white men in San Francisco between 1974 and 1976.
The killer is known by police as “the Doodler,” so named because he told a surviving victim he was studying to be a cartoonist, according to San Francisco police officials.
Detectives allege that the killer drew his victims in, literally, with sketches of them he’d draw on cocktail napkins. They believe he then lured the men to secluded areas for sexual hookups. Their slashed and battered bodies were discovered the following morning, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
At the time of the murders, the suspected killer was described as a Black man between 19 and 25 years old with a medium complexion and smooth skin. He was between 5 feet, 11 inches and 6 feet tall and lanky in appearance.
A potential suspect, who remains a person of interest today, is still alive, according to the newspaper. He was last interviewed by police in 2018.
Authorities have previously said the killer is believed to be responsible for at least five murders, but that he could have killed as many as 14 or 15 men. On Thursday, the anniversary of the first murder attributed to him, cold case investigators doubled the reward for his arrest to $200,000.
They also announced that a sixth man has been added to the list of suspected Doodler victims. Attorney Warren Andrews, 52, was beaten to death with a rock and a tree branch.
Andrews was found April 27, 1975, beneath some overhanging brush at Lands End, a park within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Andrews, who lingered for seven weeks before dying of his injuries, was first considered a potential Doodler victim last year, when reporters at The San Francisco Chronicle, with help from cold case detectives, took a fresh look at his case.
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One fact that kept Andrews off the victims list for more than 45 years was the manner in which he was slain. The other five victims were ultimately stabbed to death.
Detectives told the Chronicle last year that they believe the killer may have lost his knife in a struggle with the U.S. Postal Service lawyer, whose family and friends believe he was a closeted gay man.
“I think he probably was (gay),” his sister, Nancy Luebke, told the newspaper. “But back in those days, everybody was in the closet.”
Andrews was found at a known outdoor gay hookup spot not far from where another victim would be found dead weeks later.
“The location, the time period, the victimology … it all makes me think that it might be connected,” Inspector Dan Cunningham, the lead detective on the cold case, told the paper. “I’d be a fool not to consider him as a Doodler victim.”
Cunningham said investigators are hopeful that the case will soon be solved. The detective, who began looking at the unsolved serial case five years ago, has found new evidence from the 1975 Andrews crime scene that is undergoing DNA testing, the Chronicle reported.
“We’ve come a long way in this investigation, and I think we’re closer than ever to solving it,” Cunningham said. “But we just need a bit more information.”
Attacks on the beach
San Francisco was a dangerous place to be a gay man in the 1970s. There were dozens of murders but, unbeknownst to police, there was one man lurking in the bars and nightclubs of the Castro District and the Tenderloin, neighborhoods known for their gay nightlife.
According to police, the fatal attacks attributed to the Doodler began with Gerald Earl Cavanaugh, 49, who was found early Jan. 27, 1974, at the water’s edge on Ocean Beach. The beach lines the Pacific shore adjacent to Golden Gate Park, the Richmond District, and the Sunset District.
“I believe there might be a dead person ... on the beach ... across from Ulloa Street, if you follow the street right down to the water,” a caller told a San Francisco dispatcher, according to the Chronicle.
Cavanaugh, a Canadian immigrant who worked in a mattress factory, was fully clothed and had defensive wounds on his body, indicating he was conscious when he was slain. He was stabbed a total of 16 times, according to CNN.
The Chronicle reported that if Cavanaugh was gay, his Catholic family never knew it. His great-nephew told the newspaper, however, that it was suspected over the years following his death.
“I sort of put two and two together and, well, I have a pretty good idea why he was in San Francisco,” Greg Chin said last year.
Police records obtained by the newspaper indicate that Cavanaugh was suspected by police of having hookups in the restrooms at Ocean Beach, just feet from where he would end up dead.
Five months later, on June 25, 1974, Joseph “Jae” Stevens, 27, was found dead along Spreckels Lake, an artificial reservoir in Golden Gate Park. Stevens, a popular drag queen, was last seen alive during a performance the night before at the Cabaret Club in North Beach.
He also performed in a trio act with his sister, Melissa Stevens Honrath, and a fellow male comedian. They were known as the “Wonder Sisters,” Honrath said.
“He was very talented. Very, very talented. And again, gorgeous,” Honrath told the Chronicle last year. “Oh my, we had such fun together, making up little shows while he was growing up, and then later on, in the clubs. I mean, he was a fantastic actor. And, oh, could he sing.”
Stevens, who was believed to have driven to the park with his killer, was stabbed five times and beaten almost beyond recognition. Honrath was tasked with identifying his body.
According to a coroner’s report, Stevens was found about 10 feet from an area of disturbed brush and a large pool of blood. Drag marks led from the bloodstain to the spot under a tree where his body was found.
Just weeks later, a woman walking her dog on Ocean Beach found the body of German national Klaus Christmann, 31, among the dunes. Christmann, who was last seen alive at a gay nighclub called Bojangles, was found about 200 yards from the intersection of the Great Highway and Lincoln Way, which borders Golden Gate Park.
“The deceased’s pants were unzipped and open,” a coroner’s report stated, according to CNN.
Multiple stab wounds on Christmann’s neck and shoulders indicated the killer had attempted to decapitate him. His body was found just a couple of hundred feet from where Cavanaugh was discovered six months before.
Cunningham recalled the words of San Francisco police Inspector Dave Toschi — who was best known for his work on the unsolved Zodiac murders, which were ongoing in the mid 1970s. Toschi also worked on the initial Doodler investigation.
“He said that was probably the most horrific crime scene he had been to,” Cunningham said of the Christmann scene. “That guy had seen a lot of crimes. He had seen a lot.”
Christmann, who had a wife and two children back home in Germany, was shipped overseas for burial.
Christmann’s daughter told the Chronicle that her father came to the U.S. to “achieve something better for himself and his family.”
“Many people thought that in America, pretty much anything is possible, and you can achieve much more,” she said.
After the first three murders, San Francisco police officials issued a bulletin, CNN reported.
“Victims one and two have homosexual propensities, and due to underclothing and makeup in victim number three’s pocket, he also may have the same propensities,” the bulletin read.
It looked like the same serial killer had targeted all three men. A year passed as homicide detectives tried to solve the murders.
Andrews, the next suspected Doodler victim, was found in April 1975 at Lands End. At the time, however, his murder was not linked to the others.
Just 15 days later, on May 12, 1975, Frederick Elmer Capin, a U.S. Navy veteran who had served in Vietnam, was found dead. His family told the Chronicle that Capin, a medical corpsman in the war, dragged four wounded Marines to safety during a battle.
Friendly fire shattered his lower leg, the newspaper reported.
The 32-year-old registered nurse was found behind a sand dune near the foot of Vincente Street, according to reports.
He died when a stab wound severed his aorta, drenching his body and clothing in blood. Drag marks indicated he had been dragged about 20 feet before his body was left on the side of the Upper Great Highway.
“There was dried blood smeared on the soles of both shoes, on the hands, about the face and upper torso, anterior, lateral and posterior,” a coroner’s report said, according to CNN.
Like Christmann, Capin was last seen alive at Bojangles.
Family members told the Chronicle that Capin had grown weary of San Francisco and had plans to come home to Washington state. He never made it.
“We were going down there (to) visit him in San Francisco,” Capin’s nephew, Marty Johnsen, said. “And (Fred) said, ‘Wait, don’t come down here. It’s getting dangerous down here. I’m gonna go back. I’m going up north and I’m going to relocate to Washington.’
“And then before you know it, my mom got a visit from the police or whatever saying that they’d found Fred and everything else.”
The newspaper reported that it was only after Capin’s murder that police started to suspect they had another serial killer to contend with.
The final suspected Doodler victim was Harald Gullberg, 66, who was found June 4, 1975, near the 16th tee of the Lincoln Park Golf Course at Lands End. At 66, the Swedish sailor was the oldest of the killer’s targets.
He was also the only one who wasn’t found within hours of his death. The coroner estimated that his body had been there for about 10 days before a hiker found it.
If Capin’s death made investigators suspect a serial killer, the murder of Gullberg sealed that suspicion.
From doodles to death
The murders happened in a span of about 18 months, all within 4 miles of one another, CNN reported. The crimes were linked together, in part, because each of the victims suffered multiple stab wounds to the upper chest and back.
Each victim was also killed in a secluded spot used for gay hookups, with the crashing sounds of the Pacific Ocean to muffle screams and sounds of a struggle.
The brutal killings sparked great fear among the gay community. Along with the murders, there were multiple violent assaults of gay white men during that same time frame.
It was in July 1975, a month after Gullberg was killed, that the surviving stabbing victim met the Doodler, according to the Chronicle. The witness, known in the gay community as “the Diplomat,” was approached at the Truck Stop, a late-night diner adjacent to one of the city’s gay bars.
The suspected killer won over his new friend with sketches of animals.
The men went to the Diplomat’s home at the Fox Plaza Apartments, where the Doodler used the restroom. When he came out, he had a knife in hand.
“You guys are all alike,” the attacker said, stabbing the Diplomat six times in the back, the newspaper reported.
“He was trying to get his front and his back, stabbing him,” Cunningham said. “It was consistent with the other injuries that he had done to the other victims.”
The Diplomat was able to throw the Doodler against a wall, at which time the man fled. Investigators believe the victim survived because the blade of the Doodler’s knife broke during the assault.
His comment during the stabbing, however, led authorities to the likely motive: anti-LGBTQ sentiment.
Tangling with the Diplomat was just the first of the Doodler’s mistakes, the Chronicle reported. Days later, he went back to the Fox Plaza, where he talked his way into another man’s apartment on the same floor as the Diplomat.
When he had the man tied up and was ready to stab him, he repeated the line about gay men being “all alike.” The would-be victim’s screams roused neighbors, however, and when they began banging on the walls, the Doodler fled.
He is also suspected of going home with a prominent actor in that same time frame. While at the man’s home, a knife fell out of his coat.
The actor fled.
Detectives thought they had caught some breaks in the case, but because of the anti-gay climate in the 1970s, all three surviving victims refused to testify if the killer was caught. Gay activists, including Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, sympathized with their fear, the Chronicle reported.
Despite their reluctance to go public, the men each gave police similar descriptions of their attacker. From their descriptions, a police sketch artist produced a composite drawing.
The department in 2019 released an age-progression sketch to show what the suspect might look like today.
In October 1975, detectives got the hottest tip they would receive in the initial investigation. A woman told police that a man she knew resembled the sketch of the Doodler, and she provided his name and the license plate number of his car.
A week later, a secretary in a psychiatric office called and said one of her boss’ patients had confessed to killing the three men found on Ocean Beach, according to the newspaper.
The doctor would go on to tell detectives that his patient, who harbored self-hatred over his own homosexual tendencies, had indeed made statements incriminating himself in the murders.
Multiple investigators questioned the man, but he denied being involved in the murders and said his treatment had “cured him” of those tendencies. When Cunningham spoke to him in 2018, however, the man said he’d eventually admitted he was gay.
The cold case detective said last year that the person of interest had traveled for months to a variety of places across the country. Authorities fear he may have killed other men during his journey.
Anyone with information on the Doodler and his crimes is asked to call the San Francisco Police Department 24-hour tip line at 415-575-4444 or text a tip to TIP411 and begin the message with SFPD. Tipsters may remain anonymous.
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