Police Offer $100K For Leads on 1970s ‘Doodler’ Serial Killer

An unknown psychiatrist in the East Bay could offer more information the killer of the five gay men whose sensational murders gripped San Francisco decades ago.

Police released another sketch of the suspected ‘Doodler’ to account for age progression. (Photo courtesy SFPD)

An unknown psychiatrist in the East Bay, the mystery voice of a potential witness who called in a body at Ocean Beach, and a new sketch of a serial killer known as “The Doodler” could, at last, help solve the homicides of five gay men in the 1970s.

Forty-five years after the first homicide in the Doodler case, San Francisco police offered a hefty $100,000 for information that leads to an arrest and conviction. In a press conference on Wednesday, they also released the audio of a man calling the police to notify a body at Ocean Beach, and a new composite sketch to account for age progression.

Although several other murders of gay men gripped San Francisco at the time, police have conclusively linked five deaths to a man with the same modus operandi. (Originally known by the less P.C. name “The Black Doodler,” The Doodler was so called because he drew caricatures of his victims when he met them.)

The bodies of Gerald Cavanaugh, Joseph ‘Jae’ Stevens, Klaus Christmann, Frederick Capin and Harald Gullberg were found in the area of Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park from between June 1974 to June 1975, all killed in a similar fashion. According to Commander Greg McEachern, each victim had stab wounds to the upper chest and back by a knife. It was a sensational case, compounded by the homophobia of the era, which spurred many people to be discreet about their sexual orientation.

San Francisco Police Commander Greg McEachern and Inspector Dan Cunningham give an update about the “Doodler” cold case on Wednesday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

As investigators of the era continued their work, two gay men were violently attacked in separate incidents within two weeks of each other, in July 1975. Each was attacked at the Fox Plaza Apartments on Market and Polk streets and gave a similar physical description. One of the victims had similar injuries after being stabbed with a knife.

One of the victims also told police that he had met the suspect at an all-night diner a couple blocks south on Market Street. The man had been drawing caricatures, matching talk among the gay community that the homicide victims had met someone engaged in the same activity.

Investigators believe the same suspect is behind at least five homicides and the two assaults. SFPD denied in June that a connection had been made, but McEachern said they have been linked since the case began in the 1970s.

A person of interest was detained in 1976 in connection the assault cases but was not charged. Investigators again interviewed that same individual in the past year but are now seeking a psychiatrist who possibly treated him. They know only that the psychiatrist is male, likely worked in the East Bay, and that his surname may be “Priest.”

Police are also seeking the man who called dispatch about a dead body at Ocean Beach in January 1974. In newly released audio, the man said he saw someone lying on the beach across from Ulloa Street but didn’t feel it necessary to provide his name.

“Yes, I believe there might be a dead person,” the man first said to the operator, 45 years ago. “I just wanted to let somebody know, maybe he needs help or something. I felt it was my duty to report it.”

Not providing a name means the caller could potentially be a suspect, but he could also provide valuable information as a witness, policy say.

San Francisco began taking another look at serial crimes in the past after a suspect the Golden State Killer was detained in April. He was identified through a DNA match from a public genealogy site and McEachern said the same could happen for the Doodler, if investigators go down that path. However, they are still testing DNA from the 1970s and await new results.

To provide relevant information that could assist the case, contact Inspector Dan Cunningham at 415-553-9515 or the SFPD anonymous tip line at 415-575-4444. You may also text ‘SFPD’ to TIP411 and remain anonymous.

View Comments