Unsolved: The Doodler Murders (1974 – 1975)

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If you were not from the San Francisco Area in the 70’s the chances of you hearing about this next chance are slim. The Doodler was an active spree killer in the San Francisco Area between 1974 and 1975, the doodler mainly targeted gay men and it was believed that he killed at least 5 people but could have been up to 14 people in a short amount if time, the Doodler was never caught.

On January 27, 1974, was the day that the first body was found, the victims name was Gerald Cavanaugh, 49 years old. Around 2 AM, an unknown individual called the police, they believed it the Doodler himself calling but can not confirm it and the caller refused to give a name, he claimed that he felt it wasn’t that important. Gerald Cavanaugh was found on Ocean Beach stabbed multiple times. There was defensive wounds on his left hand, indicating that he did put up a fight.

5 months later, Joseph Stevens, a second victim was found at Spreckels Lake. Stevens was sometimes known as Jae, a known drag queen or at the time they were called “female impersonator” and just like Gerald Cavanaugh he had been stabbed multiple times.

The 3rd victim, Klaus Christmann was found just like Cavanaugh at Ocean Beach just a few weeks after Joseph Stevens. Christmann had his throat slashed, not once but 3 times, and was stabbed at least 15 times. But this victim was different than Gerald Cavanaugh and Joseph Stevens. Stevens and Cavanaugh were single, but Christmann was married and had children. So why the change up of victims? What made him change?

The 4th victim  was Harald Gullberg, and he was found in Lincoln Park in June of 1975. He was found hidden in some bushes that resembled an igloo and he was to have believed to be dead for at least 2 days before being found.

The 5th victim was Frederick Capin, 32 years old, he had been stabbed multiple times like the other victims but these stab wounds went straight to his aorta. His body was dragged at least 20 feet as there was disturbances in the san nearby. Capin was identified through fingerprints and he was match through the database because he was a nurse.

So the victims? Lets recap,

Gerald Cavanaugh was 49 years old, going bald, and stood 5’ 8’’ and 220 pounds. He was catholic and was never married.

Joseph Stevens was 27 years old, he worked as a female impersonator at a local bar in the summer, he actually moved away from working as a female impersonator sometime in the 70’s and was headed in direction of being a gay comedian.

Klaus Christmann was 31 years old, he was last seen at Bojangles and was found holding a tube of makeup in his pocket, detectives believed he had some homosexual tendencies. He was 6 feet tall and only weighing 180 pounds.

Harald Gulberg was the oldest of the victims coming in at 66 years old and according to the medical examiner and pathologist, he was unhealthy and dying of portal cirrhosis. He was a Swedish sailor.

Frederick Capin was 32 years old, 6 feet tall, and only 148 pounds, he was a medical corpsman for the Navy and received a commendation medal during his time in Vietnam when he saved 4 men while under fire.

So what do these victims all have in common? They had homosexual tendencies….was this a hate crime? Did the Doodler hate gay men? Was he one himself and they rejected him? What was his motive?

At the same time the Doodler murders were going on, there was 2 other attacks on white gay men in the same area. 2 of the victims even lived in the same apartment complex, but they were attacked at different times. There was one victim that did survive the attack and was able to give the police details that lead to the connections between the assaults and the murders.

The sketch that was provided by the surviving victims  said the attacker was to have been a tall slender black man around 6 feet tall, between ages 19-25 years old, they believed he was intelligent and was to have been believed by investigators of the upper-middle class. They said he was quiet with a serious personality. Investigators were told by a witness that he was studying commercial art, was he an art student? Victims also said that the attacker told them, “All you guys are the alike,” meaning gay men?

So how did this case go unsolved for this long? Was it because of the news in 1976 from the APA? (American Psychiatric Association). They declassified homosexuality as a mental illness, gay men were viewed in a less than favorable view and they were believed to have been easy victims for a serial killer. Being “gay” or having “homosexual tendencies” back in the 70’s was not heard of and you were looked down on and even made fun of.

Just like sex workers during the 70’s, gay men were seen as less desirable to the community and was picked easily for murders. So just because it was common for gay men or men to have homosexual tendencies, this was the reason the murder was not solved?

The Doodler was claimed to have been seen at a local club. The killer got the nickname the Doodler because he was spotted many times drawing the people in the club.

At the time, the place to be if you were gay was this very local club, the Castro. It was deemed a safe haven from the rest of he world, well before the AIDS epidemic would soon take over the world. During this time, gay men were also not taken very seriously when they were victims of crimes.

In 1976, police detained a suspect but could not proceed with criminal charges because the 3 surviving victims did not want to make themselves known by testifying in court against him. IT was to have been said that one of the surviving victims was a well known entertainer and diplomat.

The suspect cooperated fully with the police during his interview but he never once admitted guilt for the attacks or the murders. Officers stated that they believed that suspect they had in questioning was responsible for the crimes but because of the survivors refusal to appear in court he was able to walk free. Still to this day, the name of the suspect has not been named publicly and very little information is available to the public about the crimes.

2 other potential suspects came out in 1977 after 2 men from Redondo Beach were arrested in Riverside County, California, and questioned for approximately 28 murders that occurred after “homosexual encounters.”

In 2019, the San Francisco police released new information on these murders and they are offering $100,00 reward in hopes of closing the case.

The police released a new sketch of what the suspect could or may look like today as well as the audio recording of a call to the police from the first victim, Gerald Cavanaugh. The police were hoping since they had gotten renewed interest after the Golden State Killer was arrested in 2018, it would help this unsolved cold case according police commander, Greg McEachern. Medical advances in DNA forensic work have fueled detectives in re-opening all old cold case files.

Let’s hope with the all the medical advances we have today, that these families will finally get some closure and they find out who the killer is or was.