The Chronicle is getting in on the zeitgeist of true crime podcasts and stories, and revisiting a horrific case that, in the Chronicle's trashier days in the 1970s, was mostly just tabloid headline fodder — and the SFPD never bothered to solve it.
It's the case of The Doodler, also at the time called The Black Doodler — a serial killer who was African American (a rarity among American serial killers, generally), and who killed at least five gay men in the mid-1970s after picking them up in SF bars and doing quick sketches or doodles of them as a form of flirtation. He was said to be between the ages of 19 and 25, and between January 1974 and September 1975 he murdered as many as 16 people and assaulted several others, and then vanished.
The dead were found stabbed multiple times, near gay cruising spots, like out near the Ocean and near Spreckels Lake.
The SFPD has said they had a prime suspect based on accounts from surviving victims, however they couldn't bring him to justice because those survivors wouldn't testify publicly for fear of outing themselves. Reportedly, one was a politician and one was an entertainer.
The case remains open and cold, and there was some action on it in 2018, with the SFPD announcing it was reexamining evidence and considering genealogical DNA searches — and in 2019 they announced a new $100,000 reward for information to help solve the case.
It's unclear if the Chronicle's new Doodler podcast, launched this week will reveal anything in the investigation since the reward offer when out. Episodes are being released weekly, and a text version of Episode 1 mostly just provides profiles of two of the Doodler's victims, Gerald Earl Cavanaugh, and drag performer Jae Stevens. But SFPD homicide cold case investigator Dan Cunningham is participating, and this could get interesting.
Also, the Chronicle spoke to retired SF DA's office investigator Ron Huberman, who was the first openly gay investigator working fr the SF DA, and he admits that the case likely went unsolved "because, first of all, the police didn’t — to be honest with you — care." This harkens back to the SFPD's ugly history with the city's LGBTQ community, and The Doodler case is just one piece of that — although the department did have its hands full in the 70s, and they never solved the Zodiac killings either.
The first two episodes of The Doodler podcast are now live, with five more to come.
If you have a tip in the Doodler case, the Chronicle is asking for it. You can email [email protected], or call (415) 570-9299.
Top image: The SFPD's original forensic sketch of the Doodler in 1975, and an age-enhanced sketch of what he might look like today done in 2018.