In the Footsteps of a Killer Crime in L.A. - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

In the Footsteps of a Killer

Fifty rapes. Ten murders. Two identities. One man. From 1976 to 1986, one of the most violent serial criminals in American history terrorized communities throughout California. He was little known, never caught, and might still be out there. Now a determined investigator, a retired detective, and a group of online obsessives are on the hunt to track him down

FOOTPRINT OF A KILLER
ON THE RUN The Golden State Killer’s telltale imprint: a size 9 tennis shoe
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[ 1 ] MISSING LINKS

ON A SLEEPLESS NIGHT LAST JULY—one of dozens I’ve powered through during the months I’ve spent tracking him down—I Googled a description of a pair of cuff links he stole in the midst of a home invasion in Stockton in September 1977. At that time the Golden State Killer, as I’ve recently come to call him, hadn’t yet graduated to murder. He was a serial rapist who was attacking women in their bedrooms from Sacramento to San Ramon, targeting those who lived in quiet upper-middle-class suburban neighborhoods. He was young—anywhere from 18 to 30—Caucasian, and athletic, capable of eluding capture by jumping roofs and vaulting tall fences. He frequently wore a ski mask. He had either blue or hazel eyes and, some victims reported, a high-pitched voice. He would rant to his victims about needing money, but he frequently ignored cash, even when it was right in front of him.

But he didn’t leave empty-handed. He took items of personal value from those he had violated: engraved wedding bands, driver’s licenses, souvenir coins. The cuff links he stole in Stockton were a slightly unusual 1950s style and monogrammed with the first initial N. From my research I knew that boys’ names beginning with this letter were rare, appearing only once in the top 100 names of the 1930s and ’40s, when the original owner was likely born. The cuff links were a family heirloom belonging to the victim’s husband; they were distinct looking.

I hit the return key on my laptop, expecting nothing. Then a jolt of recognition: There they were, a single image out of the hundreds loading on my laptop screen, the same style as sketched out in the police file I had acquired, with the same initial. They were going for $8 at a vintage store in a small town in Oregon. I bought them immediately, paying $40 for overnight delivery, and went to wake my husband.

“I think I found him,” I said, a little punchy from lack of sleep. My husband, a professional comedian, didn’t have to ask who “him” was. While we live in Los Feliz with our young daughter, my online life has been taken over by unsolved murders—and with maybe someday solving one of them—on a Web site I launched in 2006 called True Crime Diary. By day I’m a 42-year-old stay-at-home mom with a sensible haircut and Goldfish crackers lining my purse. In the evening, however, I’m something of a DIY detective. I delve into cold cases by scouring the Internet for any digital crumbs authorities may have overlooked, then share my theories with the 8,000 or so mystery buffs who visit my blog regularly. When my family goes to sleep, I start clicking, combing through digitized phone books, school yearbooks, and Google Earth views of crime scenes: a bottomless pit of potential leads for the laptop investigator who now exists in the virtual world.

The Golden State Killer, though, has consumed me the most. In addition to 50 sexual assaults in Northern California, he was responsible for ten sadistic murders in Southern California. Here was a case that spanned a decade and ultimately changed DNA law in the state. Neither the Zodiac Killer, who terrorized San Francisco in the late 1960s and early ’70s, nor the Night Stalker, who had Southern Californians locking their windows in the ’80s, was as active. Yet the Golden State Killer has little recognition; he didn’t even have a catchy name until I coined one. His capture was too low to detect on any law enforcement agency’s list of priorities. If this coldest of cases is to be cracked, it may well be due to the work of citizen sleuths like me (and a handful of homicide detectives) who analyze and theorize, hoping to unearth that one clue that turns all the dead ends into a trail—the one detail that will bring us face-to-face with the psychopath who has occupied so many of our waking hours and our dreams.

 

[ 2 ] THE M.O.

On October 1, 1979, on Queen Ann Lane in Goleta, a town near Santa Barbara, a terrified woman lay facedown in her living room, her wrists tied behind her back, her feet bound at the ankles. Her tennis shorts had been thrown over her head as a blindfold. She could hear him rummaging around in the kitchen. It was 2:20 a.m.

“I’ll kill ’em, I’ll kill ’em, I’ll kill ’em,” he chanted to himself—like, as an investigator would later put it, “a guy pumping himself up for an athletic endeavor.”

The woman managed to remove the bindings from her feet and escaped screaming out the front door; in the chaos her live-in boyfriend, bound in the bedroom, was able to hop into the backyard and roll behind an orange tree, just missing the frantic, searching beam of the intruder’s flashlight. A witness caught a glimpse of the suspect fleeing the scene: a lean man in a Pendleton shirt pedaling furiously away on a stolen silver Nishiki ten-speed.

After that botched attack, none of his victims would survive to describe him. Almost three months later, on the morning of December 30, a half mile south of where the October attack took place, Santa Barbara sheriff’s detectives responded to a call at the condominium of Dr. Robert Offerman. A woman out front was crying. “There are two people dead inside,” she said.

The bodies were in the bedroom. Offerman’s girlfriend, psychologist Debra Alexandria Manning, 35, lay on the right side of the waterbed, nude and bound. Offerman, a 44-year-old osteopath, was on his knees on the floor; in his left hand he clutched a length of white three-strand nylon cord. The killer’s plan seemed to have gone awry. Offerman had been able to break free from his bindings, raising the possibility that the killer might have ordered Manning to tie him up and that she had bound him loosely on purpose.

As detectives processed the crime scene, they stepped around a turkey carcass wrapped in cellophane that had been discarded on the patio. At some point, probably before he shot his victims through the heart and the back of the head, the killer had opened the refrigerator and helped himself to Offerman’s leftover Christmas dinner.

The forensics team noted what appeared to be the intruder’s signatures: the nylon twine, the pry marks on the doors and windows, the tennis shoe impressions. Everything matched the pattern of a man who had become known as the East Area Rapist, or EAR, a cat burglar whose middle-of-the-night assaults paralyzed Sacramento and Contra Costa counties starting in 1976 and ending after a thwarted attack on July 6, 1979. To zero in on a victim he often entered the home beforehand when no one was there, learning the layout, studying family pictures, and memorizing names. Victims received hang-up or disturbing phone calls before and after they were attacked. He disabled porch lights and unlocked windows. He emptied bullets from guns. He hid shoelaces or rope under cushions to use as ligatures. These maneuvers gave him a crucial advantage because when you woke from a deep sleep to the blinding flashlight and ski-masked presence, he was always a stranger to you, but you were not to him.


This feature was originally published in the March 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine

 

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  • 48
  1. Cameron Cloutier posted on 02/27/2013 06:48 AM
    www.ear-ons.com

    Facebook: Help Stop the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker

    Facebook: Bird with a Broken Wing

    A&E Message Board
  2. Anonymous Person posted on 02/27/2013 10:57 AM
    If he was in his 20s during the 70s and 80s, then at this point he'd be in his 50s or 60s. For all you know, he could be dead. Why are so insistent on finding him?
    1. JBoston posted on 02/27/2013 12:01 PM
      @Anonymous Person Because he could be your next door neighbor.
    2. Chad Ford posted on 02/27/2013 12:09 PM
      @Anonymous Person I don't know. Just off the top of my head........maybe because he raped and/or murdered dozens of people and has never been brought to face justice for this?
  3. anonymous posted on 02/27/2013 11:46 AM
    Um, where's the notebook?
  4. Anonymous posted on 02/27/2013 12:42 PM
    Has anyone asked A&E for the IP logs of the forum? Surely there's a high chance he will be looking for himself.
  5. jake posted on 02/27/2013 04:26 PM
    Some detective you are, maybe leave it to the professionals. Left over christmas diner in october?
    1. Miller posted on 02/27/2013 04:42 PM
      @jake Hi Jake, The October date was a failed attempt. The murder happens Dec. 30, which is noted in the fourth paragraph:

      **After that botched attack, none of his victims would survive to describe him. Almost three months later, on the morning of December 30, a half mile south of where the October attack took place, Santa Barbara sheriff’s detectives responded to a call at the condominium of Dr. Robert Offerman. A woman out front was crying. “There are two people dead inside,” she said.**

      Hope that helps clear things up for you.
    2. ant posted on 02/27/2013 05:03 PM
      @jake Some reader you are. Maybe leave the reading to those with reading comprehension skills. The article clearly states,

      "Almost three months later, on the morning of December 30, a half mile south of where the October attack took place, Santa Barbara sheriff’s detectives responded to a call at the condominium of Dr. Robert Offerman."
  6. Username posted on 02/27/2013 08:21 PM
    They've got this guys (1) DNA (2) hand writing (3) shoe size (4) blood type (5) voice (6) race (7) approximate age (8) approximate location based on movements (9) approximate height and (10) a composite that probably resembles him. If he's still kicking they'll catch him - if there's enough publicity.

    PS: Dining with someone you think may have killed 10+ people is a really bad idea. It seems like a recipe for 11.
  7. Ari posted on 02/27/2013 08:27 PM
    A size 9 shoe? Small feet.
  8. niles posted on 02/28/2013 01:21 AM
    Often in these cases, the reason for the lack of capture goes back to plain old incompetence of the original police officers.
  9. FH posted on 02/28/2013 04:30 AM
    Wow, what a great article. Really compelling and beautifully written.

    Got to stop using "psychopath" like it's a synonym for "crazy," though. Psychopaths are sane. They know right from wrong, they just don't care.

    This guy? Crying, jittery, nervous, seeming afraid of confrontation and the weird, "Mummy, mummy, mummy"? Sadist, for sure. Schizophrenic and super manic, maybe? Not psychopath -- they're incapable of regret, don't feel nervousness and sure as hell don't cry about it.

    And Anonymous Person? Ha! Spoken like a total sociopath.
    1. Anon posted on 03/07/2013 05:14 AM
      @FH Yep, I like what you wrote here FH.

      It is absolutely true that a psychopath is sane. Not all of them are murderers, or even criminals.

      In fact they can even act in caring ways if it suits a personal agenda.

      I know such a person. And, yes. It is creepy. Her deceased son had suffered decades with dire medical complications and pain. She wasn't sure if a show of empathy along with the obligatory care would have been beneficial to him when he was alive. She was very matter of fact about it. It was a passing thought.

      This killer was not capable of such detachment. His emotions controlled him.

      I did read one time that most serial killers have at least two factors. Being badly abused by a father or other male authority figure. And some sort of brain injury from a blow or from medical problems. That will practically guarantees some kind of deep emotional distress.
  10. BoogerFree posted on 02/28/2013 06:46 AM
    The article is too long, don't have time to read it, good luck with catching the guy.
    1. ReallyWOW posted on 03/29/2014 07:32 AM
      @BoogerFree With a name like BoogerFree, spend less time picking your nose and read an article regarding a topic that you could make a difference in! Help solve it!
  11. Real New posted on 02/28/2013 12:34 PM
    Seems like it would beneficial to make the notebook public. Someone could pinpoint the handwriting or drawings. Similar to how the caught the Unabomber.
  12. Ronald Pottol posted on 02/28/2013 04:37 PM
    All of that, and the only memorable things are not in the article body? I'd think the notebook pages are the only things besides DNA that will lead to the killer. If they had been widely publicized at the time (say, mail a copy of them to every school in the state), he might have been caught then.
  13. Shawnster posted on 03/01/2013 10:37 AM
    I thought this was a really good article. I got hooked on the search for BTK so I understand Michelle's passion.

    If the police have multitple samples of his DNA, why don't one of the detectives make a request to the court to have "familial DNA searching" done against the national crime database...there has to be a 99% chance one of his relatives is in there for something.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_profiling#Familial_DNA_searching

    This is could get wrapped up pretty quickly.

    Thanks
    Shawn
  14. jim posted on 03/01/2013 12:16 PM
    6 pages to write this garbage? really? I could have given all of this info in less than 1.
  15. JD posted on 03/02/2013 10:02 AM
    So the police held a community meeting in the Sacramento area and about 600 people came. It's reported that a guy stood up and asked how could this be happening if the husbands are home - how could someone do that?

    About a month later that same man was tied up while his wife was sexually assaulted.
    They say the rapist was probably at the meeting.

    So why did the police not get everyone's info at the meeting? Go through all the pictures I who was there and check off the list?

    Is there any video of the meeting? Recordings? Pictures?
  16. Curiouskat posted on 03/04/2013 12:06 AM
    My guess at a profile- high school student from a town near Visalia, honor roll, fit but not an athlete, shy, goes to college at Davis, takes some Native American studies classes along with an engineering or geology class. Graduates, moves to Southern California and lives a comfortable life. Maybe he actually married someone and has a family which lead to the end of his spree.
  17. Intentionally Anonymous posted on 03/05/2013 10:32 AM
    As a child of one of the victims, I grow weary of people like you Ms. McNamara, taking a whack at being a junior detective and exploiting all the victims one-more-time while giving the monster another shot at infamy.

    Many outstanding professionals have spent a lot of time putting this case together and they did it with tremendous regard for the victims and their families. And we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

    Having lived with this for more than 30 years now, may I offer one piece of advice:

    If you are truly a parent who wants to be a good parent, I suggest you spend your time on something more positive and that could create change for good in our community. This stuff is poison, not worthy of anyone's time and the perp deserves to remain a void. The damage is done. Please leave it alone.
    1. Anon2000 posted on 03/05/2013 04:11 PM
      @Intentionally Anonymous Far be it from me to question the honesty of an anonymous internet poster. I'm sure you are who you say you are. However, are you saying you don't want him caught?

      The possibility still exists that he is alive and free. If he's alive and free he's still very dangerous. In good conscience you're willing to take the risk he's out there and thinking about harming people to avoid feeding his big/little ego?

      Your presumption is that the damage IS DONE. It might not be. I'd feed his big/little ego, assuming he's alive, and the egos of people around the case, if it means preventing him from harming someone - assuming he's alive.

      I actually don't understand your logic. In order to feed his ego he has to be alive. If he's alive he needs to be found. If he's dead his ego isn't fed. He doesn't 'gain' anything from the infamy. He's dead.
    2. Belle's Dad posted on 03/14/2013 03:06 AM
      @Intentionally Anonymous I agree with Intentionally Anonymous 100%
  18. JenniferL_6312 posted on 03/08/2013 07:28 PM
    Keep wondering if the 6th grade male teacher might hold a clue.

    If the killer comes from Visalia, would there be an elementary school teacher who taught in a local school there- the killer would have been around eleven I guess-maybe 1965.

    Now you have me going...

    The other thing that stands out is him calling out to his mother in one instance after a crime.

    I read somewhere that serial killers are frequently enmeshed with, and have strange relationships with their dominating mothers, and their fathers are often absent.

    I think he's killing off his mother each time he commits a crime.

    No DNA in anyone's database, not one single speck from any of the crime scenes?

    Really enjoyed the article, riveting. I hope they catch the bastard.
    1. J posted on 03/13/2013 07:51 PM
      @JenniferL_6312 This intrigued me. I agree. Investigate the students registered at school in that time frame and area. Perhaps even teacher lessons that match the date if possible. A shot in the dark is still a shot. You never know....
  19. wonderful posted on 03/10/2013 07:50 PM
    Wonderful writing. Good Luck!
  20. John posted on 03/12/2013 12:32 PM
    I can't help but wonder after seeing the elevator footage on youtube of Elisa Lam at downtown's Cecil Hotel if she could be the victim of a serial killer or a serial killer in the making.
    1. JenniferL_6312 posted on 03/12/2013 09:19 PM
      @John @John- I know this is off topic, but you piqued my curiosity, so I went digging.
      In a 4 minute Youtube video, Elisa Lam is in an elevator, then she peers out into the hallway as if she knows she's being followed or stalked by someone.
      It appears she may be high on something, but clearly she's also afraid.

      In the last frames of the video, the elevator doors open twice onto an empty hallway and Elisa is nowhere in sight.
      I get a very bad feeling from it.
      It gets weirder.
      Lam Elisa is the name of the test for tuberculosis(TB). Elisa Lam died on 2/21/13. There was a tuberculosis outbreak in downtown Los Angeles on 2/25/13, near the Hotel Cecil affecting 4500 people.
      Whoever killed Elisa must be involved in germ warfare, that's my best guess.
      The Lam Elisa/Elisa Lam play on words seems like a sick inside joke.
      Wonder if there is any video surveillance of the front door or hallways around this time frame.
      How did her body get into a water tank? Premeditated for sure.
      And what was she doing in Los Angeles alone?
      Too bad someone here isn't on the trail, journalists like Michelle or Joel are like junkyard dogs.
      This could also be hazardous, but germ warfare usually suggests something really sinister, like CIA.
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