Case File #0106
The Black Doodler
The San Francisco Serial Murder Case
"The city had become nightmarishly dangerous for gay men"
In January 1974, the body of an unidentified man was found with numerous stab wounds, lying face-up on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California. It would be the first such murder attributed to a serial killer who was active until September 1975, and is believed by some to have claimed upwards of fourteen victims. The suspect would cruise gay bars, clubs and restaurants looking for intended victims, sometimes approaching men after drawing their likeness. The men were then led to secluded areas for a brief sexual encounter, after which the killer would stab and slash his victims to death. In the early stages of the investigation it was suspected there were as many as three different perpetrators who selected their victims from different areas of the city, however it soon became apparent the police were looking for a single suspect. The newspapers referred to the killer as the Doodler, because of his curious habit of sketching his victims before murdering them. Three survivors came forward with information, but refused to help the investigation further for fear of their sexual orientation becoming public knowledge. As a result, the case remains unsolved and the Doodler has never been publicly identified.
During the 1950's, large numbers of American families began moving out of the Castro District, known simply as the Castro, a neighbourhood in Eureka Valley in San Francisco, and relocated to the suburbs in what became known as the "White flight". This left much of the real estate in the area open for sale, which became much sought after by gay purchasers. By 1963 the first gay bar was opened in the neighbourhood, called the "Missouri Mule", which helped transform the Castro into a mecca for gay men who sought a refuge from the drug-ridden and violent atmosphere of the neighbouring Haight-Ashbury district. By the 1970's, the gay community had transformed the working-class area, creating an fashionable and upscale urban centre where many gay men moved, some from the prominent gay neighbourhood of Polk Gulch. It would be in this community, amongst the homosexual night clubs and restaurants, that the Black Doodler would select his victims.
The Murder of Gerald Cavanaugh (27 January 1974)

At 1:57am on 27 January 1974, police received an anonymous call reporting that the body of a man was found at the water’s edge on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. "I believe there might be a dead person, but I didn't want to get too close to him because you never know what could happen", the caller told the dispatcher. Responding officers located the fully-clothed body of a man, who was in the early stages of rigor mortis and laying in the supine position. In his pocket was found $21.12 and he was wearing a Timex wristwatch.
The autopsy found the victim, who was five-foot-eight and 220 pounds and wearing a jacket, pants and a t-shirt, had died from numerous stab wounds, and displayed defensive wounds to his left hand, indicating he had attempted to fight off his attacker. The victim was initially unknown and temporarily referred to as John Doe #07 by the medical examiner, but was later identified as 49-year-old Gerald Earl Cavanaugh, a Canadian-American immigrant. Born in Canada on 2 March 1923, he lived in San Francisco and had worked in a mattress factory, was Catholic, and had never married. A photograph was published in the Sentinel after his death which showed him as a balding middle-aged Caucasian.

Gerald Cavanaugh

The Murder of Joseph "Jae" Stevens (25 June 1974)

Five months later, on 25 June 1974, an unidentified woman located another body at Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park. The woman called her friend Warner Jepson, an avant-garde composer, who in turn notified police of the discovery. The body was that of 27-year-old Joseph "Jae" Stevens, who had been stabbed between three and five times in his chest and back. He was found by officers lying in some bushes with blood in his mouth and nose, and it was believe he had died shortly before his body was discovered. Because of the remote location, it was suspected that Stevens himself had driven the killer to the park where he was then murdered.
During the investigation, detectives learned Stevens was last seen the previous night leaving the Cabaret Club located on Montgomery Street in the North Beach neighbourhood. Stevens was born in Texas, and became a popular female impersonator, first appearing on the stage eight years previously as the summer replacement at Finocchio's, the old-time club that had been established during the 1930's. When he first appeared, Stevens created a sensation, being referred to as "a stunning impersonator". In the preceding years he moved away from impersonating beautiful women and concentrated his talents on gay comedy.

Jae Stevens

The Murder of Klaus Christmann (7 July 1974)

The next murder occurred the following month, when on 7 July a body was discovered at the foot of Lincoln Way by the beach. The body has been found by Tauba Wiess who was out walking her dog. Wiess ran after the dog once it started running towards something and later explained, "I knew something was wrong. I saw a man laying there and he wasn’t moving. I knew he was dead". She immediately returned home and contacted the police. The Sentinel newspaper reported how Inspector Dave Toschi, who was also working the infamous Zodiac Killer case, attended the scene and would later describe the murder as one of the most vicious stabbings he had ever seen. In what must have been a frenzied attack, his throat had been slashed in three places and he was stabbed at least fifteen times.
The victim was wearing a tan leather jacket, a white Italian shirt, orange bikini briefs and black side zipper ankle boots with brown cuban-heels. He was also wearing one blue moonstone ring and one brown cameo ring along with a gold wedding band. Although briefly unidentified, the victim was found to be 31-year-old Klaus Christmann, a German national who worked as an employee of Michelin, had been staying with his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Booker Williams, and had been in the city for three months. He was last seen alive at Bojangles. Unlike previous victims, Christmann was married with kids, however according to a Homicide Division information bulletin, he was found with a make-up tube in his pocket, which suggested "homosexual propensities", meaning he was possibly a closeted homosexual. His body was returned to Bamberg, Germany for burial.

Klaus Christmann

The sentiment towards homosexual practices was relatively hostile, even amongst the San Francisco police department. Two officers, William Gay and Cornelius Lucy would both be suspected of assault after dragging Lawrence Candler from his car after a minor traffic incident and beating him so badly he suffered brain damage. Because Candler refused to file a formal complaint, neither officer was charged with the beating. A San Francisco jury would eventually award Candler $264,500 to settle the case.
During the investigation it was revealed officers Lucy and Gay employed creative but less than orthodox forms of entrapment when attempting to arrest gay men for solicitation. The Advocate described how officer Gay would, "drive slowly through Golden Gate Park in a pickup truck and stop near a strolling male. Then he would stretch out… and show a bulging ‘basket’ in his tight Levis." When the target made an advance, Officer Gay would make the arrest.
The Investigation (June 1974-Early 1975)

During the initial investigation, detectives noticed similarities to other murders which had occurred around the city, but which were attributed to at least three different offenders. The first was known as the "Tenderloin Slasher" who had an obvious hatred for and mutilated his 'drag queen' victims from the Tenderloin neighbourhood of downtown San Francisco, claiming five by early 1976. The second targeted the patrons of the more bizarre sadomasochistic venues within the gay community. These clubs were known as 'leather bars', and had names such as "Fe-Be's", "Folsom Prison" and "The Ramrod", and although the patrons of these establishments were not cross-dressers, they were involved in the S&M scene which was relatively new by 1974.
The killer picked up six of his victims from these establishments, often accompanying them back to their own homes where they were brutally cut, slashed and stabbed to death. However, they were not mutilated as the transvestite victims had been by the Tenderloin Slasher. The death of one of these victims was reported in the local newspapers, that of George Gilbert, a wealthy and high-profile San Francisco attorney who was found hacked to death in his expensive apartment.
The third was known as the "Doodler", or "Black Doodler", and police suspected he was a young African American who approached his homosexual victims in clubs and restaurants, often sketching them as a ruse to engage in conversation. When the victim left with the Doodler, they would go to a secluded area and engage in sexual activity. From survivor witness statements, the suspect would become enraged after the sexual intimacy had ended, attacking the victim with a knife and stabbing them repeatedly. It was strongly believed by detectives that there was no connection between these three murder series, with each killer targeting a specific and different type of victim. However as the investigation progressed, many came to suspect they were in fact looking for one single suspect for all the murders.
Before 1974, the Castro had become a refuge for gay men to find acceptance amongst one another, and Ron Huberman, who became the first openly gay investigator at the San Francisco's district attorney's office, described how, "A clarion call went out in the underground network that San Francisco was the place to be". It was the several years since Harvey Milk opened up his Castro Camera Shop in 1973, and was a time of pre-AIDS awareness, when the bathhouse and nightlcub scenes were a buzz of activity.
However, by the beginning of 1975 the murders continued at an alarming rate. On 2 May 1975, 29-year-old Nick "Granny Goose" Bauman was found dead in his South of Market basement with his skull fractured. Rotea Gilford who was assigned to the case described how his scrotum looked "like someone had stomped them into nothing." Although not linked to the other murders, Bauman's was the 21st unsolved murder of Gay men in the city within the previous eighteen months.
The Murder of Frederick Capin (12 May 1975)

The Doodler left another victim on 12 May 1975, found by a hiker behind a sand dune between Vicente and Ulloa Streets. This time the victim's identification was made easier because his fingerprints were on file. He was 32-year-old Frederick Elmer Capin, a registered nurse and medical corpsman in the Navy who had been the recipient of a medal of commendation for saving four men whilst under fire during the Vietnam War. At the time of his death, Capin was described by the coroner as six-feet-tall, 148 pounds and wearing a blue corduroy jacket and multi-coloured “Picasso” shirt, both of which were blood soaked, as well as blue jeans, brown shoes and blue shorts.
The cause of death was determined as, "stab wounds of the aorta and heart". At the scene, detectives noticed marks in the sand leading to Capin's body, meaning he had been dragged approximately twenty feet by the killer to where he was found. Capin had a sister who lived in Port Angeles, Washington, and he was, at the time of his death, living with his grandparents while attending school.
Later that same month, in May 1975, the Doodler left another of his three known survivors. The victim was described as a European Diplomat assigned to the United States, and his identity has never been released to the public. He would later come forward in 1976, along with two other survivors of the Doodler and give statements to police about their encounters. The Chronicle would report on the incident concerning the Diplomat, and how he met a man in an Upper Market restaurant, "where he was having a midnight snack".
The man asked the Diplomat if he had any cocaine, and they went back to the Diplomat's apartment, where the man stabbed him six times. He denied he’d had "sexual relations" with the suspect. Anyone who had encounters with a suspicious individual was encouraged to come forward. "I’d sure like to talk with anybody who’s been attacked, and I’d really like to emphasise that the information we are receiving will be kept confidential.", Inspector Frank McCoy told the Sentinel. The police department had been flooded with tips, but still received no solid evidence linking anyone to the murders.
The Murder of Harald Gullberg (4 June 1975)

The last murder attributed to the Doodler was discovered on 4 June 1975, when a John Doe was found by a hiker on a Lincoln Park golf course, ten yards off the trail. The victim had been found almost hidden in an "igloo-like cove of brush near the 16th hole", and had been slashed across the neck. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the decomposing body had been there for approximately two weeks, and maggots and fly larvae were found on his face, and his trousers were found to be unzipped and he was wearing no undergarments.
A positive identification was made and the victim was identified as 66-year-old Harald Gullberg, a Swedish national and sailor by profession with tattoos on both arms. Gullberg became a naturalised citizen on 15 August 1955 and had according to immigration records he stopped at numerous harbours between June 1930 and July 1940, including Liverpool, Shanghai, Melbourne, Cuba, Puerto Vita, San Luis Obispo, Yokohama and Boston. At the time of his death he was in poor health and the pathologist's report indicates Gullberg suffered from portal cirrhosis.
In November 1975, five months after Gullberg's murder, the SFPD released a composite drawing of the suspect based on the survivor witness statements. He was described as black, between 19 and 22-years-old, between 5’10" and 6" tall, slim and would frequently wear "a Navy-type watch cap." Police added that the suspect would, "frequent bars and restaurants in the Upper Market and Castro areas." Despite no definite suspect, rumours began to circulate. The owner of publisher of the Sentinel, Charles Lee Morris told the Chronicle about an incident in which a Los Angeles man had an alleged encounter with the Doodler. He was picked up by a young black man resembling the composite, but before they had sex he changed his mind and made his excuses when a knife fell out of the man's coat.

SF Chronicle Article (13/11/75)

By January 1976, the the number of victims stood at 17, with 14 confirmed deaths and 3 survivors. That same month, Maitland Zane wrote a two page article about the murders, using the headline, "The Gay Killers", and commented how, "the city had become nightmarishly dangerous for gay men". Several press accounts mention three surviving witnesses who made reports to police in 1976. Besides the European Diplomat attacked in May 1975, two others came forward with details of a similar encounter. One described how he met his attacker in a late night diner, who had been drawing caricatures on a piece of paper.
The second unidentified witness was an entertainer of some type, who was described by police as "nationally known", whilst the third was described by the Sentinel as, "a well known San Francisco figure". This last man left the city after giving his statement to police and refused to answer letters or telephone calls. Although these three men provided police with a detailed description of their attacker, they refused to press charges. The witnesses were reluctant to cooperate with the police, who believed they did not want to be exposed publicly as homosexuals.
However, the statements did lead police to a "person of interest" who was reportedly questioned of multiple occasions in 1976 and 1977. Police believed the suspect was of above average intelligence with an upper middle-class education, with a quiet and serious personality. Because of his propensity for sketching his victims, it was quite possible he was an art student, given how he'd told a witness he was "studying commercial art". It was also suspected he might have a history of mental difficulties involving sex. The Chronicle wrote how the killer told his surviving victims, "all you guys are alike". One newspaper of the time reported the suspect had, "sexual identification problems", and was apparently undergoing psychiatric treatment as an out-patient.

The Doodler Composite Sketch

One man who resembled the composite sketch was arrested after he entered a Tenderloin bar and offered to sketch the patrons. Along with the book of sketches he was found to be carrying a butcher knife. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and also aggravated assault after the attacked a homicide detectives during an interrogation. But he was one of the many suspects who were investigated. Dozens more were questioned over the unsolved murder spree, and at least one was considered the prime suspect.
By July 1977, the man had been under investigation for over a year and was questioned at length and reportedly "spoke freely" with detectives, but declined to confess to the murders. The man's psychiatrist reportedly told officers that he had admitted during a session to committing the murders. But without the testimony of surviving victims, police could not bring charges against the man. Frustrated police officials, who were convinced they had the right suspect, eventually had to release him.

Harvey Milk

Two other men from Redondo Beach and Riverside, California were considered suspects in 1977, and were questioned after their arrests. They were suspected of involvement in approximately 28 similar murders which occurred after homosexual encounters. Almost three and a half years after the killings began, Gay rights advocate Harvey Milk was asked about the case and the unwillingness of the surviving victims to come forward. Milk replied, "I can understand their position. I respect the pressure society has put on them, they have to stay in the closet". Four months later he would be elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors with 30% of the vote. After this, mention of the Black Doodler began to fade from the media and very few publications made mention of the phantom killer. He was mentioned in Armistead Maupin's Tales of City in 1978 as, "the Doodler, a sinister black man who sat at the bar and sketched your face... before taking you home to murder you."

2018 Revised Sketch

With advances in DNA technology and forensic science, the case was reopened by the San Francisco Police Department in May 2018, primarily after the success in apprehending a suspect in the Golden State Serial Murder case. That investigation comprised the Visalia Ransacker burglaries, the East Area rapes and the Original Night Stalker murders, all believed committed by a single individual who's ancestral DNA was obtained through the website GEDmatch. Investigators then searched through distant relatives of the DNA profile until they identified a potential suspect as the source of the DNA left at the crimes scenes. This led to an arrest on 24 April 2018 of 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo.
Police Inspector Cunningham told a press conference he had interviewed the witness known as "the Diplomat" and obtained "promising new information", however he was unable to locate the identity of the entertainer. Later that same month, in February 2019, the SFPD offered a $100,000 for information that led to the arrest of the killer and also released a revised composite sketch of what the suspect would look like four decades after the crimes were committed, hoping someone would be able to provide information that would lead to the arrest of the Doodler.

Written by Nucleus