Decades after a cartoonist is believed to have stabbed at least five gay men to death in San Francisco, police on Wednesday released a new sketch of the Doodler serial killer and announced a $100,000 reward in the case.
Police Cmdr. Greg McEachern and Inspector Dan Cunningham displayed the sketch at a press conference and released an audio recording of an unidentified caller who reported the first homicide in 1974.
The Doodler has been linked to a series of homicides along Ocean Beach and near Golden Gate Park between January 1974 and June 1975. The killer earned the moniker after one of two men police say he assaulted in July 1975 saw him drawing caricatures at an all-night diner on Market Street.
The victim also provided police with a description of the suspect that resulted in a sketch being released in 1975. A year later, police detained a person of interest in connection with the case, but he never faced charges.
The case went cold until last April when authorities arrested the suspected Golden State Killer through DNA evidence and new genealogy websites. Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, is believed to have carried out at least 13 killings and dozens of rapes in California in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Golden State Killer arrest prompted Cunningham to reopen all of the Doodler cases “so that we could get closure for the victims and hopefully make an arrest in those cases,” McEachern told reporters.
“Last year when the Golden State Killer was apprehended we went back and looked at all other crimes, especially serial crimes, that were occuring in the past,” McEachern said. “We know in the 1970s this was gripping the gay community and San Francisco.”
Investigators have generated the sketch, re-interviewed the person of interest from 1976 and submitted old DNA evidence from multiple of the homicide cases to the Crime Lab for analysis in the time since. The Crime Lab results are still pending.
But police need the public’s help on several fronts. McEachern said investigators have been unable to identify a psychiatrist who treated a person of interest in the case.
“All we know is that that psychiatrist likely worked in the East Bay and possibly had the last name ‘Priest,’” McEachern said.
They are also hoping someone will recognize the voice of the person who called police to report the first homicide on Jan. 27, 1974. Police released the taped audio of the call in which the caller says there “might be a dead person” on the beach but refuses to give his name.
“I thought I saw somebody lying there,” the caller said. “But I didn’t want to get too close to him because you never know what could happen, okay?”
When asked for his name, the caller said “No, I don’t think that’s necessary. I just wanted to let somebody know maybe he needs help or something. But ugh, I felt it was my duty to report it.”
McEachern said police believe the man is either the suspect or a witness who could have valuable information for investigators.
As for whether police will attempt to use genetic testing to crack the case as in the Golden State Killer investigation, McEachern said they have not decided whether to “go down the rabbit hole.”
The Doodler killer was described at the time as a black man between the ages of 19 and 25, between 5 feet 11 inches tall and 6 feet tall. His victims described him as lanky in appearance with a medium complexion and smooth skin.
Police believe he lived in the Bay Area but only visited San Francisco at night and on the weekend.
Anyone with information is asked to call Cunningham at (415) 553-9515 or the anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444.
This story has been updated to include additional information.