1975 police sketch of the suspect
|Other names||The Black Doodler|
|Victims||5-14 dead, 3 survived|
Span of crimes
|January 1974–September 1975|
The Doodler, also known as the Black Doodler, is an unidentified serial killer believed responsible for 14 murders and three assaults of men in the gay community of San Francisco, California, between January 1974 and September 1975. The nickname was given due to the perpetrator's habit of sketching his victims prior to their sexual encounters and slayings by stabbing. The perpetrator met his victims at gay nightclubs, bars and restaurants.
It is believed that the Doodler killed up to 14 people. A consistent method used in several of the killings was stabbing the victims in the front and back of their bodies. Police theorized that the victims had all died after meeting with the suspect near the locations where their bodies were recovered. Police initially believed there could have been as many as three different perpetrators during early stages of the investigation.
Gerald Earl Cavanaugh, a Canadian-American immigrant, is believed to be the Doodler's first victim. He was 49 at the time of his slaying, which had occurred by stabbing. Cavanaugh's fully clothed body was located on January 24, 1974, lying face-up on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California, in the early hours of the morning. He had died hours before. He was determined to have been conscious at the time he was killed and had attempted to resist his killer because he had self-defense wounds. He initially remained unidentified, being temporarily known as "John Doe #7" by the medical examiner. He was a single man with few details about his personal life.
Joseph "Jae" Stevens
Joseph Stevens, best known by the nickname "Jae," was discovered by a woman walking along Spreckels Lake, located in San Francisco on June 25, 1974. Stevens was 27 and had died shortly before his body was found; he had been witnessed at a club the previous day. He was employed as a "female impersonator" and comedian. Officers suspected that Stevens was alive at the time he had been at Spreckels Lake, possibly transporting himself to the area with his killer.
Klaus Christmann, a German-American immigrant, was discovered by a woman walking her dog on July 7, 1974. His death had been somewhat more violent than the previous murders because he had considerably more stab wounds than Stevens and had been slashed in the throat several times. The body was fully clothed. Christmann, unlike the previous victims, was married and had children. The fact that he had a "make-up tube" on his person when he died suggested to police he may have been a closeted gay man.
He remained unidentified briefly while police were investigating the cases, which they had believed were related after the third murder. He was buried in his native country.
Frederick Elmer Capin, aged 32, was discovered on May 12, 1975 in San Francisco. He had been stabbed, like the other victims, dying from strikes to his aorta. It is believed his body had been moved approximately 20 feet as disturbances in the nearby sand indicated. Capin was identified through fingerprints when these were matched to those taken "by the state" due to his occupation as a nurse. He also had served in the United States Navy, earning medals while serving in the Vietnam War.
Harald Gullberg, aged 66, was a Swedish-American immigrant who was discovered on June 4, 1975 in a decomposed state about two weeks after his death in Lincoln Park. He remains slightly inconsistent with the other homicides because he was far older than the others, his underwear had been taken by his killer and his pants were unzipped. Gullberg is believed to be the final victim of the Doodler. While he remained unidentified, he was known as "John Doe #81."
Police questioned a young man as a murder suspect in the case but could not proceed with criminal charges because the three surviving victims did not want to "out" themselves by testifying against him in court. Among the stabbing survivors were a "well-known entertainer" and a diplomat. The suspect cooperated with police during his interview but he never admitted guilt for the murders and attacks. Officers stated that they strongly believed that the man in question was responsible for the crimes, but he was never tried or convicted because of the survivors' refusals to appear in court. To date, the suspect never has been named publicly or apprehended; very little information is available about the crimes.
Two other potential suspects arose in 1977 after a pair of men from Redondo Beach and Riverside, California were questioned after their arrests under suspicion of murders with similar circumstances, approximately 28 that occurred after "homosexual encounters."
As of May 2018, the case is open and ongoing in the San Francisco Police Department. Recent successes using DNA technology developed in the decades since the crimes have led police to re-examine evidence in the case.
In February 2019, police offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer and released a revised sketch showing what he could look like four decades later.
At the time, activist Harvey Milk publicly expressed empathy for the victims who refused to speak with police, stating "I understand their position. I respect the pressure society has put on them." Milk elaborated that the three men likely feared damaging relationships with family and in the workforce, citing that he believed only "20% to 25%" of the 85,000 gay men in San Francisco were open about their sexualities.
On February 19th 2019, it was announced on Deadline Hollywood that the San Francisco ‘Doodler’ killer would be the subject of a TV drama series written by Ryan J. Brown and produced by UK film company Ugly Duckling Films.
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Police are asking for help in the identification of this 25 year old man that was found on Ocean Beach on July 7.
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We’re still putting together all the various pieces in the Doodler case to see where it’s at.
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- Wiseman, Andreas (19 February 2019. "San Francisco ‘Doodler’ Killer Subject Of Crime Series From UK Outfit Ugly Duckling Films." Deadline.com. Retrieved 7 March 2019.