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.
Have a tip? Email email@example.com, call (415) 570-9299, or visit TheDoodlerPod.com.
The Doodler is part of The Binge - a new channel on apple podcasts. Subscribe to The Binge to unlock all episodes of this show, ad-free, right now.
Your subscription also unlocks the entire network of podcasts on The Binge with brand new stories dropping on the first of every month — that’s all episodes, all at once, all ad-free.
Click ‘Subscribe’ at the top of The Doodler show page on Apple Podcasts tor visit GetTheBinge.com to get access wherever you get your podcasts.
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.
Want the rest of the show? Subscribe to The Binge to unlock all episodes of this show, ad-free, right now.
Your subscription also unlocks the entire network of podcasts on The Binge with a brand new story dropping every month - that’s all episodes, all at once, all ad-free.
Click ‘try free’ at the top of The Doodler show page on Apple Podcasts to start your free trial or visit GetTheBinge.com to get access wherever you get your podcasts.
Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
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.
Compelling, informative, & Interesting
Until listening to this podcast I’d never even heard of the “Doodler.” This podcast shed light on the culprit’s horrific crimes both by outlining relevant details and, when possible, giving listeners a deeply personal look at his victims, defining them for who they were, not by what he did to them. Further, the show contextualized what life was like for members of the lgbtq+ community in 1970’s San Francisco, detailing how fear of the police, of arrest, and of being outed by the media made solving these crimes a huge challenge. I’d recommend that anyone interested in True Crime stories and/or lgbtq+ history/issues should give this very well-done podcast a try.
Solid SF Crime Story
Fagan has the cred, and sometimes cynicism and salt, that only comes from decades on the streets of SF writing about the issues that matter. This podcast was both interesting and entertaining, especially for this native son of SF. I was left wanting more and feeling like we had to all pitch in to solve this. There are so many unknowns but developing the character background of the various people involved then and now makes this true crime mystery a binge-worthy podcast. I skipped Starbucks and with the money saved, leaped over the paywall and into this story. Worth it!
I listen to a lot of podcasts and a lot of them are true crime. Most of them don’t have a resolution. I don’t love listening to unsolved cases, but this one made me happy to know a bit more history. It also made me cry in the last three minutes of the last episode. That’s rare.