The Doodler: the fight to find America’s forgotten serial killer

The Doodler serial killer sketches
A facial composite sketch of The Doodler and an updated version of what he could look like now. Image: Youtube

For the past 48 years, he’s been known only as The Doodler. 

Between January 1974 and September 1975, The Doodler killed at least six and up to 14 men in San Francisco.

Targeting gay men, he got his moniker from his pickup routine- sketching his victims as he sat at the bar. 

In a 2021 article, veteran San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan reflected on the case he had been investigating for three years. 

“He’d pick a guy somewhere at the bar, he’d sit at the table and he’d sketch them,” Fagan said.

“He was a good artist, so then he would walk up to the guy and say like my doodle?”  

It was this move, said Fagan, that the killer would use to lure his victims into sexual encounters before killing them and leaving their bodies on Ocean Beach or in Golden Gate Park. 

Both locations were known gay cruising spots.

The identified victims; Gerald Cavanagh, Joseph ‘Jae’ Stevens, Klaus Christmann, Warren Andrews, Frederick Capin, and Harald Gullbery had stab wounds on both the front and back of their bodies. 

The killer’s pattern of repeatedly stabbing his victims was what police described as “rage killing”. 

The forgotten serial killer

While The Zodiac Killer, The Golden State Killer, The Night Stalker, and the Unabomber all received significant media attention for their crimes in the San Francisco area- the victims of The Doodler were largely ignored by both police and the media.

In The Doodler podcast by Kevin Fagan, Melissa also revealed how she didn’t even know that her brother was the victim of a serial killer until 2017. 

“The police called a couple of times, and they investigated Joe’s boyfriend at the time but other than that they hardly ever called us back,” she said.

“It was just pushed aside, ‘another gay, unworthy person was murdered’”

The police investigation was flawed from the beginning, an inherent mistrust of the SFPD by the gay community meant that potential witnesses were unwilling to cooperate. 

During the Doodler’s killing spree, cops were still arresting people in gay bars and at gay beats for violating sodomy laws.

Gay bashings were so prevalent that activist Harvey Milk started handing out whistles so people could call for help. 

In 2021, gay activist Tom Ammiano spoke to the SF Chronicle about the sentiment of the community in the 1970s.  

“Why go to the police? You’re not going to get any kind of justice. They’ve proven that our lives are not valued,” he said.

‘They have to stay in the closet’

While there are two surviving victims of the serial killer, the two men were not comfortable publicly testifying. 

For the survivors -one a well-known actor and the other a diplomat-, testifying meant being publicly outed, potentially ending their careers. 

Speaking in 1977, Harvey Milk had empathy when asked about the uncooperative survivor witnesses. 

“I can understand their position,” he said. 

“I respect the pressure society has put on them, that they have to stay in the closet.”

However, the two witnesses did help investigators create a facial composite of their attacker. 

They also testified about the Doodler’s artistic skills, one recalling that he said he was a cartoonist. 

Investigators have told Fagan, they believe they know the identity of the Doodler. 

He was brought in in the 1970s, but a lack of DNA technology and eye-witness testimony meant he wasn’t charged. 

He is now aged in his 70s and living in the East Bay area of San Francisco.

To follow Kevin Fagan’s investigation into The Doodler, visit

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Sarah Davison
Sarah Davison

After working in print and radio, Sarah has joined the team at QNews to expand their coverage into South Australia. Sarah has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, and a Masters in Journalism, Media, and Communications. Get in touch:

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

1 Comment

  1. Paul
    14 June 2022

    And we wonder why America is completely fucked up. Seriously!

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