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In the Footsteps of a Killer

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[ 6 ] BACK TO THE BOARD

One of the more compelling online sleuths I’ve met through the message board is a 30-year-old guy from South Florida whom I call the Kid. He has a bachelor’s degree in multimedia studies and, he’s hinted, a somewhat troubled home life. He holds what he vaguely describes as “a McJob,” but the message board is a full-time endeavor. Details matter to him. He’s smart, meticulous, and occasionally brusque. He’s also, in my opinion, the case’s greatest amateur hope. He first got my attention when he made the point that if you trace the linear distance from the Irvine pizza place—where shortly before her murder Janelle Cruz got a cashier job—to her house, and then from her house to Manuela Witthuhn’s house (the Golden State Killer’s other Irvine victim), you get an almost perfect equilateral triangle. It’s not a large area, covering a couple of miles at most. Somewhere in that triangle, the Kid theorized, lived the killer.

“You’re one of my favorite posters,” I wrote the Kid one day, and a correspondence began. Like Deadheads trading concert tapes, he sends me a PDF of the 1983 Orange County telephone directory; I send him a criminal record he’s looking for. We run down information on each other’s favorite suspects.

“Too tall,” I write. The killer was between five feet eight and five feet ten.

“Hirsute,” the Kid comments. (The killer was not.)

We both agree geography is key. There are only so many white males born between, say, 1943 and 1959 who lived or worked in Sacramento, Santa Barbara County, and Orange County from 1976 to 1986. Of those locations, most followers of the case agree that Sacramento, where the killer officially started his crime spree (unless it was indeed Visalia), is the ripest area to mine for clues, beginning with the rapes.

I message the Kid about a possible suspect I’d uncovered. The man has an address history in Sacramento, Goleta, and Orange County. I had found a photo of his car that he’d posted online. The vanity license plate interested me—it alluded to building model aircraft, a hobby that some had speculated the killer might be into. Now in his fifties, the man would be about the right age. I all but had him in handcuffs.

“Haven’t done anything with that name in a while,” the Kid writes back politely. Included in his message is the image of a dour nerd in a sweater vest, my suspect’s sophomore-year picture, which the Kid already had on file. “Not in my top tier,” he writes. I am chastened—and impressed.

While I share the Kid’s passion, I don’t have his skills. He’s an exceptional data miner. By his calculation he’s spent 4,000 hours scouring everything from old directories to yearbooks to online data aggregators in order to compile what he calls “the Master List.” When I first saw the list, its thoroughness left me agape. It is a 118-page document with some 2,000 names and information, including dates of birth, address histories, criminal records, and even photos when available. There’s an index, footnotes. There are notations under some names (“dedicated cycling advocate”) that seem nonsensical unless you know, as we do, far too much about a possibly dead serial killer who was last active when Ronald Reagan was president.

THE RETIRED DETECTIVE Larry Crompton, in his Oregon home, can’t let go of the man he failed to capture

The truth is, even the Kid is a little fuzzy on his motivation. “It’s the unidentified nature of EAR that intrigues me more than anything else,” he writes me. “For no particular noble or tidy reason, I want to know who EAR/ONS is.”

“At some point I’ll have to walk away from all this and move on with my life,” he says. Which is why he opts for the monthly billing cycle rather than the annual service on Ancestry.com.

“I hope to hell I’m not still doing this a year from now,” he had written me—a year and a half ago.

Not everyone admires the board sleuths or their efforts. One agitator came on recently to fume about what he characterized as wanna-be cops with a twisted, pathetic obsession. He accused the board of being populated by untrained meddlers with an unhealthy interest in rape and murder.

“WALTER MITTY DETECTIVE,” he wrote.

By then I was convinced one of the Mittys was probably going to solve this thing.

 

[ 7 ] THE NOTEBOOK

Trails. building. A lake. It looks like a rough map of a planned community; in fact, that’s what Pool and other investigators believe it is.

The notebook pages were collected at the scene of a rape in Danville, in Contra Costa County, in December 1978 by a now-deceased criminalist. The Golden State Killer, who was then known as the East Area Rapist, was definitely the offender. Shoe prints and two independent bloodhounds established his exit route, a trail that led from the victim’s house to some nearby railroad tracks.

The paperwork, which is referred to as “the homework evidence,” was collected at the location where the trail stopped abruptly, indicating the rapist got into a vehicle. Investigators believe he dropped the pages unintentionally, perhaps while rooting around in a bag or opening his car door. They are on standard college-rule paper, three-hole punch, ripped from a notebook but with the spring binding intact. The first page appears to be a homework assignment on General Custer (“General George Armstrong Custer, a man well admired but a man hated very much by many who served him”).

The second page has the feeling of a journal entry or therapy exercise, an angry, resentful screed about the author’s memories of sixth grade. “Mad is the word,” it begins. The author recalls how he got in trouble in school and his teacher made him write sentences over and over again, a humiliating experience. “I never hated anyone as much as I did him,” the author writes of the unnamed teacher.

The third page is the hand-drawn map. Investigators examined the unusual markings on the land area and figured out they represented a change of grade and elevation for drainage purposes. Roofing is also an apparent interest: The two symbols on the bottom right are standard indicators showing left- and right-side elevations of a house, suggesting rooflines.

Further analysis led investigators to believe the mapmaker possibly dabbled in landscape architecture, civil engineering, or land-use planning. They’ve tried unsuccessfully to find the area depicted on the map. Pool believes the drawing resembles Golden State’s preferred attack neighborhood, and that it’s a fantasy.

On the back of the map, amid a series of doodles and girls’ names, is the word punishment scrawled hard in black pen with the letter p written backward. Right above the word punishment, in faint handwriting, are the words “Come from Snelling.” At least that’s what Pool believes. It’s the last name of the man murdered in Visalia.

Pool and fellow investigator Holes are allowing me to publish this piece of evidence for the first time, to accompany this article, in the hopes that it will jog someone’s memory—not unlike what happened when a man recognized his brother’s extreme ideology in a manifesto released to the media by police, which led authorities to the Unabomber.

I need to locate the area represented by the map, analyze the handwriting, and research the references it contains. On the night I review the notebook, I have two thoughts: One, what a promising lead this is for the case. And two, is this ever going to end?


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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