top of page

The (Black) Doodler


A police sketch of the suspect in the Doodler murders on 1974-1975 in San Francisco. THe sketch is a black-and-white picture, front and side profile, of a young black man.

The Doodler, also known as the Black Doodler, is a serial killer responsible for at least six and possibly as many as sixteen murders in San Francisco between 1974 and 1975. A further three victims were known to have survived his attacks. The Doodler got his nickname because of his habit of sketching his victims before stabbing them to death. The Doodler exclusively targeted men, specifically gay men, who he would pick up at gay clubs, bars, and restaurants, before going to a secondary location where he would stab them to death. As of July 2023, the Doodler is still unidentified.



The first confirmed victim of the Doodler was Gerald Earl Cavanaugh., who was 49 at the time of his death. His body was found at 1:57 am on January 27, 1974, at the water's edge on Ocean Beach, San Francisco. Cavanaugh was found fully clothed and lying on his back and had been dead for several hours when he was found. He had been repeatedly stabbed, and defensive wounds on his body indicate that he had been conscious when he had been attacked, and had attempted to fight back against his attacker. He had not been robbed - he had a wallet with approximately $20 inside it and his watch was still on his wrist. Cavanaugh was born in Canada but immigrated to America at some point. He had worked in a mattress factory. He was not immediately identified, and so was known as "John Doe #7" for a short while.



The second confirmed victim of the Doodler was Joseph "Jae" Stevens, who was found dead on June 25, 1974. Stevens was 27 at the time of his death. He was found by Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park by a woman who had been walking in the area. Stevens had worked as a female impersonator and gay comedian at Finocchio's in the city and was said to have been very popular. Stevens had been last seen the previous night, leaving the Cabaret Club in North Beach, and it is believed that he had driven himself, and possibly his killer, to the park where he was killed. He had been stabbed three times and there was blood in his mouth and nose.



The third confirmed victim was Kalus Achim "Claus" Christmann, who was found dead on July 7, 1974. Christmann was 31 at the time of his death. He was a German national who had been working at Michelin in the States and had been married with two children. When he was found, Christmann was wearing a tan leather jacket, "black side zipper ankle boots with brown cuban-heels [sic], a white Italian (Sela) shirt, orange bikini briefs, one blue moonstone ring and one brown cameo ring along with a gold wedding band", as well as having a tube of make-up in his pocket, which led the police to suspect that he had "homosexual propensities". Christmann's body was found at the foot of Lincoln Way, by the beach, by a woman walking her dog. His death was considerably more violent than the previous two victims' - he had been stabbed at least fifteen times and his throat was slashed in three places.


The fourth confirmed victim was Warren Andrews, although he was not formally identified as such until January 2022. Andrews was 52 and a lawyer for the US Postal Service. Andrews was found by a hiker in Land's End, less than two miles from Ocean Beach. He had been beaten with a rock and a tree branch, and although he was found alive, he was unconscious and died seven weeks later without ever regaining consciousness.



The fifth confirmed victim was Frederick Elmer Capin, who was found dead on May 12, 1975. Capin was 32 when he was killed, having been stabbed multiple times. His cause of death was listed as "stab wounds of the aorta and heart" His body was found by a hiker behind a sand dune, between Vicente and Ulloa. There were drag marks in the sand leading to Capin's body, which led investigators to believe that he had been dragged about 20 feet. Capin had served as a medical corpsman in the Navy and had received a medal for "saving four men under fire in the Vietnam War." In his civilian life, he had been a registered nurse.



The last confirmed victim attributed to the Doodler was Harald Gullberg. He was 66, and therefore the Doodler's oldest victim. He was a Swedish-American immigrant and a sailor who had traveled the world before settling in San Francisco. He became a US citizen on August 15, 1955. Because of his age, and the fact that Gullberg was found with his pants unzipped and his underwear missing, some believed that he might not have been one of the Doodler's victims; however, he is still listed as the final confirmed victim of the Doodler. He was found on June 4, 1975, on a Lincoln Park golf course, having been slashed across the throat. He had been dead for at least two weeks when he was found, which made identification difficult at first. He was also reportedly dying of cirrhosis of the liver.


Aside from these six named victims, the Doodler has sometimes been estimated to have claimed between 8-10 additional victims; potentially even more than that if you consider the theory that he might have moved outside of the area at some point and continued killing. The reason why these suggested victims aren't identified is quite tragically simple - there were just so many gay men murdered in the San Francisco area that more murders may have been attributed to him than he actually committed, just because they bore some similarities to the murders of the six confirmed victims, or vice versa. In 1974, there were 129 homicides in San Francisco, and in 1975 there were 131.


As well as the six confirmed and 8-10 suspected murders, there were three men who managed to survive their encounters with the Doodler, and it is from them that we know most of what we do about him. The surviving witnesses described the Doodler as a young black man (this is also where the alternate name of "the Black Doodler" came from, as if we also call the Zodiac "the White Zodiac" or the Son of Sam "the Jewish Son of Sam") aged between 19-25, about six feet tall and slender. His method of gaining his victims' attention was by making rough sketches of them or of animals, then going elsewhere with them before attacking them. Because of this, the police believed him to be of above-average intelligence and possibly an art student - he had informed one of the surviving witnesses that he was studying "commercial art". He was also allegedly suffering from, as the police and the papers so euphemistically said, "mental difficulties involving sex" and "sexual identification problems". Allegedly he told at least one victim, "All you guys are alike," presumably meaning gay men.


The survivors were able to give good enough descriptions of the Doodler that the police were able to produce a sketch of him, and indeed had a suspect in their sights... but they were unable to arrest and charge him because none of the surviving witnesses were willing to testify in court about what had happened to them. To do so would have meant outing themselves as gay, and they weren't willing to do that. As a result, the three survivors have remained anonymous to this day - all we know is that one was a European diplomat; one was a "nationally known" entertainer; and one was allegedly a "well-known San Francisco figure". Of these three, the diplomat's account is the most detailed. The diplomat apparently met the suspect in May 1975, in an Upper Market restaurant where he had been having a "midnight snack". The suspect allegedly asked if the diplomat had any cocaine. They went to the diplomat's apartment in Fox Plaza - where, the diplomat wanted to make clear, no "sexual relations" occurred. When he had his back turned, the suspect stabbed him six times in the back. The only reason the diplomat survived was because the blade of the knife broke off, allowing the diplomat to throw off his attacker, who then fled.


A week and a half later, the suspect allegedly returned to Fox Plaza with another victim and even had him tied up in bed, but when the victim started screaming and neighbours started to bang on the walls, the Doodler fled again. His encounter with the actor also apparently happened around this time as well, but when his knife fell out of his pocket the actor decided to flee from the man.


Remarkably, the identity of the three surviving witnesses has never been leaked, even though many people have tried to uncover them over the years. The entertainer has, of course, garnered the most curiosity, and several names have been put forward, including Johnnie Ray and Rock Hudson, but of course, no one is talking, and most likely never will. At least one of the survivors is afraid that the Doodler is still out there and will come after them again.


It's also important to remember that things were very different for the gay community back in the 1970s. Even in places like San Francisco that might have seemed more welcoming to the LGBT community, homosexuality was actually still illegal until May 1975 (when a law was passed decriminalizing acts of sodomy and oral copulation between consenting adults) or 1976 (when the law actually came into effect). That alone would make victims very unwilling to tell the police what had happened to them. Not to mention the social stigma and destruction of every other part of someone's life if they were outed, willingly or unwillingly - certainly, careers would have been ended by the revelation that they were gay. The police were hardly seen as sympathetic towards the gay community either - aside from reports of entrapment and police brutality against gay men, the general opinion was that gay men "had it coming" because of their "lifestyle". "I guess you could say they are [of] bad moral character," SFPD officer George Eimil once said. Another officer, Captain William O'Connor, stated in October 1975 that gays were "emotionally unstable". This, at least, was retracted after activist Harvey Milk spoke out.


Speaking of Harvey Milk, he stated of the case and of the surviving victims' unwillingness to work with the police: "I understand their position. I respect the position society has put on them." Milk estimated that "20% to 25%" of the 85,000 gay men in San Francisco were in the closet, so to speak.


The police did pursue the suspect they had, as far as they could. They brought the man in for questioning, and while he would allegedly talk freely about the murders, he would stop short of actually admitting to anything (although he did allegedly admit to the killings to a psychiatrist). As of July 2023, this suspect is apparently still alive, but no details are known about them except that they are black and something of an artist.


An age-progressed police sketch of the Doodler suspect. It shows an older-looking bald black man.

The Doodler's case is still open. In 2019, the San Francisco Police Department released a revised police sketch of what the suspect might look like now and offered a $100,000 reward, since increased to $250,000, for information leading to his arrest. They also announced that they were looking into genetic genealogy, after the success in identifying and arresting the Golden State Killer via its usage in 2018.


The Doodler has seemingly flown under the radar, so to speak, within the true crime community for many years - certainly, it seems that it has only been in the last several years that his crimes have been written up and talked about in books, blogs, and podcasts outside of San Francisco. He has, at least so far, been unfortunately lucky in getting away with his crimes because of the homophobic attitudes of the time, which meant that those who survived his attacks had to make a choice between getting justice but destroying their lives, or moving on and keeping their secrets. Hopefully, advances in forensics and investigative techniques might one day name him and bring some level of justice for his victims.


Sources:


Doodler (Wikipedia)

"The Untold Story of the Doodler Murders" (The Awl, via the Wayback Machine)



Comments


bottom of page