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

Crime Comments



ON THE RUN The Golden State Killer’s telltale imprint: a size 9 tennis shoe


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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  • Cameron Cloutier

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

    Facebook: Bird with a Broken Wing

    A&E Message Board

  • Anonymous Person

    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?

    • JBoston

      Because he could be your next door neighbor.

      • anon

        He was not your next door neighbor/soccer Dad and I would be highly surprised if anyone who is in California law enforcement or the FBI even considers that a remote possibility. This is a ploy for hits.

        • KLW

          Really? You’re ridiculous.

          For example, see: BTK.

    • Chad Ford

      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?

    • GSKHunt

      Really?? If you’re not just trolling then what kind of unbelievable question is that? 10 murders are just academic now, is that it? Wow.

    • Ktexas

      @anon/Anonymous Person: You know, that sounds just like something a killer himself would say when he finds someone is too close for his comfort to sniffing him out.

    • No One

      I don’t think he was in his 20s.. I think he started in his late teens to be honest.. so late 40s/50s

  • anonymous

    Um, where’s the notebook?

  • Anonymous

    Has anyone asked A&E for the IP logs of the forum? Surely there’s a high chance he will be looking for himself.

  • jake

    Some detective you are, maybe leave it to the professionals. Left over christmas diner in october?

    • Miller

      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.

    • ant

      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.”

    • Anon Your Mom

      The leftover Christmas dinner was from a December 30th attack, not the October attack. This is pretty obvious if you, I don’t know, bothered to use a modicum of reading comprehension. It is especially ironic, considering your “detective” comment.

    • lucia

      there are so many glaring omissions and errors in this article, it is quite remarkable that any magazine decided to accept it. really – did we need to hear how hard it is for this woman? and does she really believe her 15 minutes of fame are going to come by coming up with a new name for a sadist? one that actually draws us far away from his identity? he was a night stalker. connect the dots.

  • Dan

    “Come from Snelling.”

    “Snelling” is also a tiny town about halfway between Visalia and Sacramento, to the easy of Highway 99, of course.

  • Jack Handy

    They’ve got his writing, shoe size, DNA, blood type, voice, where he was living at various points in time and a composite that might resemble him. This guy, assuming he’s still kicking, can be caught.

    PS: Going out for dinner with someone you think may have murdered 1o people seems like a fundamentally bad idea.

  • Username

    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.

  • Ari

    A size 9 shoe? Small feet.

  • niles

    Often in these cases, the reason for the lack of capture goes back to plain old incompetence of the original police officers.

  • FH

    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.

    • Anon

      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.

  • BoogerFree

    The article is too long, don’t have time to read it, good luck with catching the guy.

    • ReallyWOW

      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!

  • Real New

    Seems like it would beneficial to make the notebook public. Someone could pinpoint the handwriting or drawings. Similar to how the caught the Unabomber.

  • Ronald Pottol

    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.

    • T Boss

      Yes and one must wonder if is prints are on the notebook pages. 😉

  • Shawnster

    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.


  • jim

    6 pages to write this garbage? really? I could have given all of this info in less than 1.

  • JD

    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?

  • Curiouskat

    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.

    • T Boss

      Found a girl that didn’t mind his baby penis and turned over a new leaf.

  • Intentionally Anonymous

    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.

    • Anon2000

      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.

    • Belle’s Dad

      I agree with Intentionally Anonymous 100%

    • black bubble

      There is a very kind of salacious tone to people talking about rape and murder, and that come on, to go to the NSFW article struck me the wrong way. It is exploitative of the victims.

      That said, Id like to see an article about the survivors and their families. Those are the people I most concerned about. There are so many, and they just get swept aside as victims. I think theyre lives are more important.

    • H.Ever

      Sorry for your loss, but what a bizarre response to people caring about catching a homicidal maniac.

  • JenniferL_6312

    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.

    • J

      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….

      • JenniferL_6312

        Right, class photos around this time, and any male teachers teaching elementary school 6th grade level since this would narrow the search a little.

        There are a number of elementary schools in the Visalia area however.

        Also, look for a boy who had a discipline problem both in and out of the classroom.
        I think Michelle made mention of a rash of crimes, maybe vandalisms or burglaries in the Visalia area at a later time frame, maybe the same kid, age progressed.

        The Visalia police might even have apprehended this man and have him on record somewhere, in their database.
        Serial killers often start out committing lesser crimes first, and then progress to more serious ones.

        Somebody know him.

  • wonderful

    Wonderful writing. Good Luck!

  • John

    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.

    • JenniferL_6312

      @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.

      • T Boss

        I am in possession of Elisa’s Autopsy Report. Trust me when I say that her death is likely accidental with a possible contributing factor of mental health issues (specifically bipolar disorder). No CIA, no homicide, no cover ups.

  • Catch the EAR/ONS

    The people of Northern Cal have been scared by this scum bag for decades. Known as the EAR/ONS not the golden state killer (something the author created, not sure why she felt the name to change his name and add to the confusion).
    The following website has been in existence for many years.
    It’s got a good case summary and photos of attack sites. While I am glad that the author has found a new “hobby”, I applaud her efforts to bring renewed attention to this case.
    The common assumption is that he is dead since there has been no positive DNA matches.

    • Ripley

      Does anyone know if the Sacramento police ever show the “General Custer” homework assignment to local college history professors who may have remembered reading the essay/paper written by one of their male students. If not, I would consider that an incompetent lapse on the part of the Sacramento PD.

  • Fly

    Why is she calling him The Golden State Killer??? His name has been EAR/ONS (East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker) for over 30 years. She’s acting like she discovered him or something.

    • Todd Gearou

      That’s exactly what I said!

  • A C P

    You say…………Two identities. One man.

    Please explain what “two identities” means.

    Thank you so much!

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  • cally trask

    I think it’s cute that you’re trying to coin a new name for the perpetrator, but his name is the East Area Rapist or the “Original Night Stalker”, ONS. Quit confusing people just because you desire to put your stamp on this cool case. Give me a break. Another crime solver already started an excellent website for ONS. Another man also started one for Zodiac. Anyone interested should definitely check them out. Thank you for writing about it nonetheless. ps. Alot of cold cases go cold because of initial screw-ups by law enforcement in investigation follow-up or because of the justice system sending dangerous felons back out on the street to restart their whole endless cycle.

  • sacramento

    I was 5 years old in 1977 living in Orangevale,Ca-about 15 miles East of Sacramento. The East Area Rapist (as he’s known in Sacramento) attacked a house three blocks from where I lived. Two other attacks occured within a mile of my home. I’ll never forget seeing my father adding an extra deadbolt to each door and making 1/2″ x 1/2″ wooden squares to place in all the window jams. The Visalia school teacher theory is a bit of a reach. The majority of the rapes (especially from 76-77) occured in East Sacramento. We had two Air Force Bases open during that time and it’s more likely he was military. Both bases were in the Eastern part of town, a stones through from many attacks. Great article but not crazy about adding another name. People in Sacramento will only remember him as the East Area Rapist.

  • NH

    I’d suggest trying to find schools where he might have attended, and/or teachers and classmates he may have had. Maybe the 6th grade teacher he wrote about in the notebook. Anyone who remembers a troubled classmate, etc. Even looking through the lists of students at some schools in certain areas, cross-checking them against suspect lists.

  • terry wood

    Yes… he is still alive. I have alot of personnel info on this guy but the fbi and most other law enforcement threw this in the trash. The two detectives working the case were the ones that linked the ear, golita murders the original night stalker off of my 7305information. He has alot more murders under his belt then most noted. Maybe one day they will get off their embarrassing lazy asses and arrest him…till then …. he will never stop.

  • Don L. Jordan

    I agree with one commenter that they should within a certain time frame interview 6th grade visalia students documenting any unusual negative interactions between student and teacher like the cancelled trip that was mentioned or teachers if that is feasible noting the age factor. Document contractors in Sacramento that did work in Southern California in the mid and late 70s. Document contractors employees or subs that could have been that height. Apparently the heat was on in Visalia is why he migrated to Sacramento to continue his crime wave. He had to have a way to make a living apparently it was in the trades area. Look up sole proprietorship contractors in Sacramento and document that. The more documentation the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place. This case is the hallmark reason for all males to be dna’d it has had a dramatic effect on rape crime and why crime has gone down in general. A lot of people were looking for a bright shiny object with the zodiac is why they had the wrong suspect. The Zodiac was Larry Cane someone who was low key and everywhere he went a body turned up. Why the light bulb never went on regarding that issue I’ll never know.

  • buddy

    Why hasn’t a survey been conducted of the names/identify of male 6th grade teachers in northern California in and around the time the killer would have been in the 6th grade. You could then gather a list of male students and see where that leads?

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  • robbydelaware

    I guess i’ll do a little Walter Mitty myself. The article says, “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.”

    Who says Snelling is the name of the man? Snelling is smack down in the middle of California – right in the middle between Visalia and Sacramento.

    At the time Snelling was close to Castle AFB, which was a major SAC base during the Cold War. The Snelling/Hornitos/Merced Falls/Mariposa area was, if I remember the stories I heard growing up, home to a lot of retired military, bikers, survivalists, etc.

    “Come from Snelling” doesn’t necessarily convey that he’s talking about the man he killed.

    • T Boss

      Good point!