The Golden State Killer. The Unabomber. Ted Bundy. You’re probably familiar with these serial killers. But in the mid-1970s, another monster terrorized San Francisco’s gay community. He was coined “The Doodler,” and he may have been responsible for as many victims as the Zodiac Killer, yet you’ve probably never heard of him. Plagued by a complicated investigation, a frightened public, and the hesitation of many to come forward, the case went cold, and a killer walked free. Nearly 50 years later, a renewed hunt for a forgotten serial killer seeks to change that.
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1. The Coldest Case in San Francisco
You’ve probably heard of the Zodiac Killer but not The Doodler. Why not? Between 1974 and ‘75 he killed at least 5 gay men in San Francisco and got away with it. But ever since, the case has been mostly overlooked. Until now. SFPD re-opened the case in 2018, with investigator Dan Cunningham at the helm. Meanwhile, award-winning reporter and host Kevin Fagan starts an investigation of his own. He starts by looking into The Doodler’s first known victim - Gerald Cavanagh.
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2. Murder, Mistrust, and the SFPD
The Doodler’s second known victim is an up-and-coming San Francisco drag queen named Jae Stevens. In the present, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kevin Fagan recruits private investigator and former Chronicle colleague Mike Taylor to help him track down some of Stevens’ friends and family. Through Jae’s story, we learn how the contentious relationship between police and the gay community complicates the original investigation.
3. The Zebra Diversion
Kevin and Mike dig deeper into the lives of the first three Doodler victims, and a clear pattern begins to emerge around the method and location of these deaths: brutal stabbings in remote hookup spots. Did SFPD see that pattern in the ‘70s? Or was it lost amid the crime wave sweeping across the city at the time? They look into the infamous Zebra killings of 1973 and ‘74.
4. Gilford and Sanders
More than a year after the murder of Gerald Cavanagh, the SFPD finally assigns a dedicated team of investigators to The Doodler case. Turns out Rotea Gilford and Earl Sanders, the first Black homicide investigators in the SFPD, are perfectly suited for the job. Around this time, The Doodler claims his fourth victim - a nurse named Fredrick Capin. Now, Kevin and Mike try to learn what they can about the circumstances around his death.
5. An Actor and a Diplomat Walk into a Bar
At the end of 1975, The Doodler murders Harald Gullberg, the fifth and final suspected fatality that investigators have tied to this case. The Doodler’s sixth victim actually survives a brutal knife attack. Investigating today, Kevin is desperate to talk to an eyewitness, but investigator Dan Cunningham says the man wants to put the events of 1975 behind him. Private investigator Mike Taylor looks into rumors that this surviving victim may have been a Swedish diplomat, and some new leads emerge.
6. A Sketch for the Street Cops
In the Fall of 1975, a composite sketch of The Doodler is published in the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Sentinel, and tips begin to roll in. Street cops are on high alert for anyone matching the description. Inspectors Rotea Gilford and Earl Sanders round up several suspects for interrogation. Kevin and Mike uncover more details about a psychiatrist and secretary who claim their patient is The Doodler.
Was given the heads up about this podcast from a coworker. Amazing what was going on in San Francisco in the 1970s. RIP uncle Earl.
I hate the “woke” part of this podcast. I’m done!
I think it’s pretty crazy to say how important it is for stories like these to be told, and how they’ve been ignored, and then put all episodes save one behind a paywall. It really makes me think that the most important thing ISN’T the story and solving this case.