San Francisco

San Francisco Police Release 1970s ‘Doodler' Serial Killer Sketch

His targets were gay men whom he met at gay clubs and restaurants in the city, police said

San Francisco police released a new sketch Wednesday depicting what a serial killer who targeted gay men in the 1970s might look like now in hopes of getting a break in the cold case.

Known as the "Doodler" or the "Black Doodler," for allegedly sketching the men he targeted, the Doodler is believed responsible for fatally stabbing at least five and as many as 14 gay men in San Francisco between January 1974 and September 1975.

His targets were gay men whom he met at gay clubs and restaurants in the city, police said, and he often had sex with them before attacking them.

At the time, a witness was able to give investigators a description of the attacker, leading to a man being detained in 1976 but never charged.

Police Commander Greg McEachern said police have interviewed the man since returning to the case and he remains a person of interest. His name was not released.

The unsolved case is one of several cold cases, particularly serial crimes, being re-examined after the capture last year of the notorious "Golden State Killer" through DNA analysis, McEachern said. Police have submitted DNA samples from some of the 1970s crime scenes in the Doodler case and were waiting for results from a lab.

Police described the killer as an African-American male, about 5 feet, 11 inches tall with a lanky build who was likely in his early 20s at the time of the attacks.

At a news conference Wednesday, police released a pair of images that showed a 1975 sketch of the man and an "age-progression" showing what he might look like now. They also announced that a reward of $100,000 is being offered for anyone who provides information leading to the killer's arrest.

Police also played an audio recording from a January 24, 1974, phone call reporting the discovery of a man's body along Ocean Beach. Police are seeking information on the identity of the caller, who did not give his name.

Responding officers discovered the body of 50-year-old Gerald Cavanaugh, the first of the killer's five known victims.

After Cavanaugh's, three more bodies were found along the beach. A fifth was discovered in Golden Gate Park.

"In the 1970s, this was gripping the gay community and San Francisco," police Commander Greg McEachern told a news conference, saying authorities were releasing the new sketch in hopes of bringing justice to victims of the "horrendous homicides."

Cleve Jones, a local LGBTQ rights activist, remembers how the string of killings terrified the city's gay community.

"There was terror," Jones said. "[The media was] very reluctant to cover what was going on in the gay community at that time, and when the coverage did occur, it was very lurid and very sensational and not very helpful."

Jones, an associate of the late Supervisor Harvey Milk, said there were victims who survived attacks at the hands of the killer, but they were reluctant to come forward and cooperate with police.

"You have to understand that consenting sexual behavior between adults of the same gender was illegal, in fact, a felony," he said.

An Associated Press story from 1977 quotes police saying they needed testimony from victims in order to charge the suspect. However three survivors, including a "well-known entertainer" and a diplomat, were reluctant to "come out of the closet" to testify against him, the AP reported.

AP interviewed gay rights advocate Harvey Milk at the time about the victims' refusal to testify.

"I can understand their position," Milk said. "I respect the pressure society has put on them."

Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the U.S., was assassinated in 1978.

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