Features - Los Angeles magazine  

In the Footsteps of a Killer



THE INVESTIGATOR Cold case specialist Larry Pool has been tracking the Golden State Killer’s crimes for two decades

“I lived here through the height of it,” the Social Worker says. She was a young mom then and recalls how the terror reached a debilitating peak around rape number 15. An uneasy memory from that period had nagged at her, and she reached out to a detective with the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department to see whether it was all in her mind. It wasn’t. The detective confirmed that before the rapist’s penchant for phoning victims had been publicized, the Social Worker had filed three police reports about an obscene caller, a “stalker” who, she said, “knew everything about me.” She now believes the caller was him.

“It’s a really dark place, thinking about this stuff,” she says while we’re parked on the side of a roundabout, the American River flashing blue in the distance. The Social Worker confides that she felt “spiritually” called upon to help solve the case. “But I’ve learned you’ve got to watch out, to take care of yourself. Or it can consume you.”

Can? Haven’t we spent the last four hours—to say nothing of the last few years—consumed? In the car we swapped leads we’ve pursued. Already I’d dedicated an entire afternoon to tracking down every detail I could about a member of the 1972 Rio Americano High School water polo team, because in the yearbook photo he appeared lean and to have big calves, maybe the same big calves that the Golden State Killer’s earlier victims had identified. The Social Worker once dined with someone she regarded as a potential suspect and then bagged his water bottle to test his DNA.

My own obsession with unsolved murders began on the evening of August 1, 1984, when a neighbor of mine in Oak Park, Illinois, where I grew up, was found murdered. We knew Kathleen Lombardo’s family from our parish church. She was out for a jog when she was dragged into an alley. Neighbors reported seeing a man in a yellow tank top and headband watching Kathleen intently as she jogged. He cut her throat.

Several days after the killing, without telling anyone, I walked the block and a half north from our house to the spot where Kathleen had been attacked. I was 14, a cheerleader in Tretorn sneakers whose crime experience began and ended with Nancy Drew. On the ground I saw pieces of Kathleen’s shattered Walkman. I picked them up. Kathleen Lombardo’s murderer was never caught.

What gripped me that summer before I started high school wasn’t fear or titillation but the specter of that question mark where the killer’s face should be. When you commit murder and remain anonymous, your identity is a wound that lingers on the victim, the neighborhood, and in the worst cases, a nation. For digital sleuths, a killer who remains a question mark holds more menace than a Charles Manson or a Richard Ramirez. However twisted the grins of those killers, however wild the eyes, we can at least stare solidly at them, knowing that evil has a shape and an expression and can be locked behind bars. Until we put a face on a psychopath like the Golden State Killer, he will continue to hold sway over us—he will remain a powerful cipher who triumphs by being just out of reach.



One of the uncomfortable truths about tracking and catching serial killers is, marketing matters. Ever since Jack the Ripper terrorized the slums of 19th-century London, serial killers who thrive on public reaction seem to instinctively know this and sometimes devise their own monikers. The Zodiac Killer, for instance, announced himself in a letter to the editor in the San Francisco Examiner in 1969. David Berkowitz, the Yonkers, New York, postal clerk who murdered six people in their cars at random, came up with his tabloid sobriquet, Son of Sam, in a letter to the New York Police Department, claiming a dog by that name had urged him to kill. Cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, together known as the Hillside Strangler, chillingly described where they disposed of bodies and the method in which they dispatched ten young women around northeast Los Angeles over a four-month period in the late ’70s. Most recently L.A. Weekly crime writer Christine Pelisek used the name Grim Sleeper to describe a man who is believed to be responsible for at least ten murders in South L.A., starting in 1985 with a 13-year break between the final two murders. (A suspect has been arrested, and his list of victims is far from settled.)

A handle that perfectly crystallizes the creepiness, menace, and horror of the perpetrator and what he or she has done can’t help but captivate the public’s imagination. A grisly pathological signature left at crime scenes will have the same effect. Either will put added pressure on politicians and police departments to apprehend the killer as long as he remains at large, even if he retires from murder and mayhem. And it will linger with the popular culture long after the perpetrator has been caught, with tales retold in best-selling books and feature films. But he benefited from not having a name people knew.

The moniker law enforcement bestowed on the Golden State Killer—EAR/ONS—was an unwieldy and forgettable attempt to merge two identities. Sacramento police came up with “East Area Rapist” because the early sexual assaults began in the eastern parts of the city. During a meeting in the late ’90s of several Southern California law enforcement agencies, Larry Pool, an investigator with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and other authorities would realize that this man’s m.o. predated that of Ramirez. The unidentified serial killer they sought was the “Original Night Stalker,” a name that stuck by default, much to Pool’s chagrin. When in 2001, DNA tests showed that the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker were the same person, the killer became EAR/ONS for short.

Google “Son of Sam” and you’ll get more than a million hits. On Amazon you can take your pick of eight books about Berkowitz. By comparison, a Google search of EAR/ONS yields barely more than 11,000 mentions, and one of the top hits on Amazon is Jean Campbell’s Getting Started Stringing Beads, which happens to contain a mention of clip-on earrings. On the same page is Crompton’s sole text on the killer, which I’ve found to be an unvarnished, unfiltered avalanche of case details, full of 1970s political incorrectness and strangely moving in its depiction of one matter-of-fact cop’s rueful regret.

I came up with the name “Golden State Killer” for this article because his numerous crimes spanned California, confounding authorities throughout several jurisdictions. Also, at the very least, this ID is more memorable.

I’ve studied the Golden State Killer’s face, drawn from composite sketches made decades ago, more than my own husband’s. There is no single accurate rendering of him, but a few features—his lantern jaw and prominent nose—are consistent. His hair, hanging over his ears to his collar, seems so ’70s that I can almost hear Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “What’s Your Name.” I know his blood type (A positive, nonsecretor). I know his penis size (conspicuously small). I know that he was built like a runner or a swimmer.

He liked to “bomb” a neighborhood, as one investigator put it, sometimes targeting houses just yards from one another. He was nervous and fidgety yet brazen. Once, he walked away from a crime scene without his pants on, and when a dog chased him into a backyard, he waited patiently until he was sure the dog wouldn’t bite and then reentered the house. He paused in the middle of one rape to go to the kitchen and eat apple pie. Sometimes after he violated someone, the bound, blindfolded victim would later recall hearing him in another room of the house, sobbing. Once, a victim remembered hearing him cry out over and over again: Mummy. Mummy. Mummy. Another woman said he told her that news reports of his crimes “scares my mommy.”

He relished keeping his victims off balance well after the initial attack. He issued incriminating taunts (“I’ll kill you like I did some people in Bakersfield”) and allegedly sent a typewritten poem titled “Excitement’s Crave” to Sacramento news outlets, comparing himself to Jesse James and Son of Sam. He harassed his victims by phone. One brief, whispery threat was recorded by authorities through a tapped phone line: “I’m going to kill you.”

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

    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.


    This is could get wrapped up pretty quickly.

  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.
showing 1-20 of 28 comments · show all comments

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