San Francisco police released new information Wednesday in the long-unsolved slayings of five gay men during the 1970s – dubbed “The Doodler” serial murders – and are offering a $100,000 reward in hopes of closing the cold case.
In a plea for tips from the public, police released a new sketch of what the suspect may look like today as well as an audio recording of a call to police dispatch by an unknown man reporting a body along the beach after the first homicide.
It’s one of many cold cases, especially serial crimes, that have gotten renewed interest after the Golden State Killer was arrested last year, police commander Greg McEachern said. Medical and technical advances in DNA forensic work have fueled detectives’ interest in re-opening old case files.
“The interest in this case now is no different than it is for all of our cold cases. We take a look at cases that we believe are solvable and cases that the victims have never had justice,” McEachern told reporters Wednesday.
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Between January 1974 and June 1975, five gay, white men in San Francisco were killed and their bodies found around the Ocean Beach area of the city, McEachern said.
All five victims had similar stab wounds, leading police to believe their murders were connected, McEachern said.
“In the 1970s, this was gripping the gay community, and San Francisco,” McEachern said.
At the time, a number of similar assaults of gay, white men occurred in San Francisco. Two victims attacked at separate times in the same apartment complex gave similar descriptions of their assailant. One victim spoke further with police, giving information that led investigators to believe the two cases were linked to the five homicides, McEachern said.
In 1975, police were able to sketch the suspect based on one of the victim’s description of the man, McEachern said. Police described him as 19-25 years old at the time, black, lanky and around six feet tall. The new sketch released Wednesday is a “age progression” based on the 1975 drawing.
The killer became known as the “Doodler” because when one of the assault victims met him, he was sketching caricatures, McEachern said. Police say they believe the suspect lived in the Bay Area, but not San Francisco, and would come to the city on weekend nights.
In 1976, police detained a suspect who was never charged. McEachern didn’t release his name, but said police have interviewed the man, who is still alive and a person of interest. He wouldn’t say whether the person matches the sketches released.
The Associated Press reported that its coverage of the case in 1977 quoted police saying they needed victim testimony to charge the suspect. A “well-known entertainer” and a diplomat were among three of the survivors who did not want “come out of the closet” by testifying, the AP reported.
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In addition to information about the suspected killer, police also want to find the caller who reported the body along the beach.
“If you are the individual who called in 1974, we would like to speak to you about what you saw,” McEachern said.
The call took place just before 1:30 a.m. on a January morning, according to the audio recording.
“I believe there might be a dead person on the beach,” the man calling is heard saying. “I thought I saw somebody lying there, but I didn’t want to get too close to him because you never know what could happen.”
When the operator asked if the man wanted to give his name, he responds, “No, I don’t think that’s necessary. I just wanted to let somebody know. Maybe he needs help or something. But I felt it was my duty to report it.”
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Police also believe the “Doodler” was seeing a psychiatrist with the last name “Priest,” practicing in the East Bay, and are seeking information about him, McEachern said.
Investigators submitted DNA evidence over the past year and are waiting for further results, McEarchern said. The DNA is in the police’s crime lab, not in an open-source database similar to the one that aided investigators in tracking down and arresting the Golden State Killer.
McEarchern said police have been in contact with the victim’s families and hope to provide them closure.
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