Justice for the victims of "The Doodler" serial killer

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From January 1974 to September 1975, The Doodler hunted the Castro's gay community in San Francisco. He'd approach them by sketching them in bars and offering to do more elaborate drawings elsewhere. It was a pickup line that hooked people. It worked. He was a young, handsome and an articulate artist. Once they were alone, the men were stabbed and their bodies were dumped in parks and secluded cruising areas.

The Doodler has been credited with fourteen victims, but that number presupposes that he stopped after he disappeared, which we now know serial killers do not do. Anyone in law enforcement that researchers talk to instinctively seem to minimize the number of victims. Regardless of how informed they are to the facts of the case, the default mindset is to obscure the truth through revisionary history. Victim's names were blacked out and withheld from the media in the 1970's. They were made invisible and mute instantly upon death. Unless we speak up for them they will remain that way. Police don't want to own up to knowingly having let a serial killer walk free to continue his career of murder.

When the killings began, it had only been months since psychiatry had stopped classifying homosexuals as being mentally ill. The gay community was still in its infancy and was considered part of the culture's underbelly. It was believed that "Fags" got what they deserved, and keeping track of their deaths, dysfunction and disease was a waste of time and resources. Those detectives looked at the Doodler and his victims in the same way police look at murder among drug dealers, prostitutes or the homeless today. Who cared? That was the prevailing attitude.

Who were the victims? We know a handful of their names, but the shared commonality among them is that they were all queer. They were drag queens and gay men. They were simply written off. No one stepped forward to pursue justice from them, or peace for their loved ones. They were (and still are) disposable people.

And yes, before you even ask, William Friedkin's film "Cruising" was partly based on the case. Ironically, even when gay activists at the time were protesting Friedkin's film they didn't invoke the injustice of the original crimes, or its victim's rights. It didn't suit their cultural agenda, and it wasn't thought to be a fight worth fighting. The whole episode has been lost to gay history and now only survives as a passing reference in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, wherein he makes passing reference to "the Doodler, a sinister black man who sat at the bar and sketched your face . . . before taking you home to murder you."

These forgotten people deserve better, they are us, and they should have had their justice back then, because the cops knew who the Doodler was. Yup, you read that right. They knew. You see, three of his victims survived the attack. They each picked him out of a police lineup and confirmed that he was their assailant. The killer's psychiatrist even came forward to tell investigators that his patient admitted to having committed the brutal slayings during session. Additional, anonymous tips provided the killer's name and the license plate number of the suspect's car. The identified killer had been interviewed at length, for over a year, by the police and "talked freely" about the case with them, just short of confessing. This lead police to tell the press in 1977 that they were "fairly certain" regarding The Doodler's case, but court testimony of the survivors would be needed to identify him.

So what happened?... the closet happened. All three of the surviving victims were closeted and refused to testify. They didn't want to publicly out themselves. Now before you pile a ton of judgement upon those three victims, remember that this was only a year after homosexuality stopped putting people in mental institutions. Coming out was not an option for anyone who did not want their lives demolished. Harvey Milk expressed his thoughts on the cultural atmosphere and the Doodler's surviving victims, saying "I understand their position. I respect the pressure society has put on them." What happened to these three closeted witnesses, and where have they been in all these decades since, is only one of many valid and concerning questions left unanswered by the police.

What we do know is that serial killers don't just take up stamp collecting. They continue. Solving this case could very well open the doors to solving an entire legacy of unsolved murders that were inflicted on the queer community. The name of the killer and all his forgotten victims are right there in the case file waiting for us to demand action.

When investigators approach The San Francisco Police Department they are told "We don't discuss open investigations". Forty years later, that response is absurd and unforgivable. Tell them that it's time they started discussing this case. Tell them that this is not acceptable. Tell them that we want justice and peace for our community. It is time for accountability. If you don't care, who will?

Part of getting the culture to care about injustice and inequality today is in caring enough to get it for our own people who were denied it before us. Be part of that. This is my impassioned request that you care. Please care.

Sign this petition to encourage District Attorney George Gascon and Senator Mark Leno to give the victims of the Doodler names and justice. Its long overdue.