In The Footsteps of a Killer: The Writer’s Cut


A shoe impression from the scene of a Golden State Killer attack.


Goleta, December 30, 1979

The bodies were in the bedroom.

On the morning of December 30, 1979, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call at 767 Avenida Pequena, the condominium of osteopathic surgeon Dr. Robert Offerman. Offerman’s good friends William and Joan Oakley had arrived for a scheduled tennis game with him and his new girlfriend, Alexandria Manning, and found a sliding-glass door open at the condo. They stepped inside and called out to Offerman but got no response. William crossed the living room and peered down the hallway toward the bedroom.

There’s a “girl lying on the bed naked,” he reported back to his wife.

“Let’s go,” Joan said, not wanting to interrupt. They began to leave.

But after a few paces, William stopped. Something wasn’t right. Hadn’t he called out to Offerman loudly? He pivoted and returned to the bedroom to take a closer look.

When the deputies arrived, Joan Oakley was standing out front crying.

“There are two people dead inside,” she said.

Debra Alexandria Manning lay on the right side of the waterbed, her head turned to the left, her wrists bound behind her with white nylon twine. Offerman was on his knees at the foot of the bed; he clutched a length of the same twine in his hand. Pry marks indicated the offender used a screwdriver to force his way inside the home, probably in the middle of the night when the couple was asleep. Flashing a gun, he may have suggested he was there to rob them: Two rings belonging to Manning were found hidden between the mattress and bed frame.

The attacker most likely tossed the twine at Manning and demanded she tie up Offerman, which she did, but not tightly. Investigators believe at some point, perhaps after the offender was finished tying Manning’s wrists, Offerman broke free from his bindings in an attempt to fight back.

Neighbors reported that at around 3 a.m. they heard a burst of gunfire, which was followed by a pause and then another shot. Offerman was shot three times in the back and chest. Manning’s single wound was to the upper left back of her head.

The book on Offerman’s nightstand was Your Perfect Right: A Guide to Assertive Behavior by Robert E. Alberti. It was the holidays. A green wreath with red flowers hung on the front door. There was a pine tree in a bucket in the entryway. As authorities processed the crime scene, they stepped around a turkey carcass wrapped in cellophane that had been discarded on the patio. They concluded that at some point the killer had opened the refrigerator and helped himself to Dr. Offerman’s leftover Christmas dinner.

Whoever the killer was, he’d been on a restless hunt that night. Investigators could track the star-shaped pattern from his Adidas tennis shoes as he circled Offerman’s condo. They noted the trampled flowerbed at 769 Avenida Pequana, the vacant condo next door. Inside was evidence of squatting, most notably in the bathroom; a length of nylon twine was left behind.

Reports came in of ransackings and break-ins in the neighborhood in the hours before the murders. When a couple who lived on Windsor Court, a half mile from Offerman’s condo, pulled up to their house at around 10:15 p.m., they spotted a man running through their living room toward the back door. As they came inside they heard him jump the rear fence. A white male in a dark fisherman’s hat and dark jacket was all they could say for sure. He’d brutally punched their poodle in the eye.

This was Goleta, a then unincorporated neighborhood at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, eight miles west of downtown Santa Barbara. The area, close to UC Santa Barbara, wasn’t completely immune from crime, but violence was rare. Serial violence even more so.

In the days after the murders investigators continued to discover pieces of nylon twine dropped in various locations: on a dirt trail alongside San Jose Creek, on a lawn on Queen Ann Lane. They couldn’t be certain when the Queen Ann Lane twine had been left, though; just doors down from there lived a couple who had narrowly escaped Offerman and Manning’s fate just two months before.

NEXT: Excerpt IV: A Method to Murder