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In the Footsteps of a Killer

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[ 8 ] NEW WORLD

I’ve always been a restless, jittery sleeper, prone to waking with a start. One night I’d fallen asleep after reading the Original Night Stalker police files. The bedroom door creaked open. I heard footsteps in the dark. Without thinking, I grabbed the lamp on my nightstand, leaped from bed, and lunged at the figure in the room. It was my husband. When we discussed the incident later, what was curious to us both is that I didn’t scream. In fact, I didn’t even swing the lamp. I just asked a question: “Who are you?”

It was the only question I had anymore.

The world has changed for the Golden State Killer in ways he could never have predicted. We know from the tennis shoe impressions under windows and how, for example, he knew exactly when one victim would be home alone even though her husband had just changed shifts the day before, that he was a voyeur at a time when physically standing in front of a window was the only way to stalk. But if he’s alive, he’s growing old in a world where every day more and more windows are opening around him—on computers, on smart phones, in DNA labs.

He couldn’t have predicted that one day we’d be able to identify people by a single skin cell or that a quarter of a century after his last known crime, a stranger in Florida—who’s never been to Sacramento and wasn’t born when the rapes began—could painstakingly cycle through a dozen public records aggregators, narrowing down the possibilities, zeroing in on his name.

The Kid’s list reminded me of something he and I had connected over from the beginning. What drew us to this mystery, we both agreed, was that it can be solved. Technology has made that possible. I may not have what it takes to do so, but someone out there does.

I wonder at times if I need to step back. It’s not easy. Several months after our first meeting, Pool tells me he’s decided to retire from the sheriff’s department and pursue a career in the private sector. He will remain on the Golden State Killer investigation, however, describing the case as “my great unfinished business.” He’s not the only veteran cop who refuses to give up. During a family trip to Portland, I took a train trip an hour south to meet Larry Crompton, the man whose book sparked my interest in this case, at a museum café in Salem. He hasn’t actively worked on the investigation since the ’70s, and he retired from the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department in 1998. But the toll the experience took on his life is still evident. “I was supposed to catch him. And I didn’t,” he says. “I have to live with that.”

I think of the tag line from the movie Zodiac: “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer.”

Crompton is dressed in a dark blue cotton shirt and has the stiff, rugged posture of a retired cop turned rancher. He often pauses to find the kindest way to say something. He expended great effort trying to warn his colleagues about the East Area Rapist: that he was going to return and attack the other teenage girl in Walnut Creek (he did), that he’d moved to Southern California and started killing couples (did that, too).

In return for his efforts Crompton endured frustration and heartbreak, though he’s too polite to say that directly. He recalls the damaged  lives of the victims after the attacks, how many of the husbands were riddled with guilt that they didn’t do more to fight back. The two of us sit long enough for a distracted waitress to serve me five iced tea refills. At one point Crompton turns his head and mutters to no one in particular, “I just want to catch him before I die.”

“If he were caught and you got to ask him one question,” I ask, “what would it be?”

He thinks for a beat and smiles mischievously. “Remember me?”

Then, becoming serious, he says, “What’d I miss?”

[ 9 ] STOLEN LIVES

The police files depict in clinical prose the ordinariness of the victims’ lives in the moments before the attacks—a single mom watching the last minutes of The Tonight Show in bed, a teenager sticking a frozen pizza in the oven and setting the timer.

The Golden State Killer was a destroyer of all that was familiar and comforting to his victims. Sex was secondary to instilling terror. It’s no accident that one of his signature threats was “I’ll be gone in the dark.” He wasn’t a mere rapist. He was a phantom who kept his victims perpetually frightened with the threat that he lurked, ligatures in hand, around every corner of their unassuming tract houses.

One victim never went back inside the house where the crime took place. Another rape survivor, victim No. 5, told me she came to despise her house. She had to stop skiing because of her attacker’s ski mask. “And his black tennis shoes,” she said. “I’ll never forget them.” A former nurse, she now volunteers as a rape crisis counselor. “I’ve forgiven him. He was such a heavy burden on me for so long.”

Mad appeared to be his favorite word. Is it still? Or is he no longer the masked intruder working the bedroom screen with a screwdriver but the father in the button-down cardigan checking the locks on his back door?

In “Excitement’s Crave,” the poem he allegedly wrote, the Golden State Killer alludes to going underground. “Sacramento should make an offer. / To make a movie of my life / That will pay for my planned exile.” My bet is he’s enjoying a comfortable exile, leading an unremarkable life among the unsuspecting. A suburban dad passing unnoticed behind the hedge wall.

The other night when I couldn’t sleep again, I opened my laptop, positioning it so as not to wake my husband. I began studying Flickr, scrolling through Goleta Little League team photos from 1978. I couldn’t pull myself away from studying the men in the back rows, the assistant coaches, the young dads, searching their faces for who among them might have been hiding in plain sight, for the everyman with a baseball cap and a twisted glint in his eye.

In the past, when people have asked whether it worries me that the killer may still be out there, I’ve waved dismissively, pointing out that he’d be much older now—62, if I had to guess. “He can’t hurt me,” I say, not realizing that in every sleepless hour, in every minute spent hunting him and not cuddling my daughter, he already has.             

 

This is Michelle McNamara’s first piece for Los Angeles.


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


 

Killer 

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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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