The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of The Doodler, a San Francisco serial killer from the mid-1970s who targeted gay men, was doubled Thursday by the SFPD as they say they are "closer than ever" to solving the case.
Interest in the Doodler murders rose in 2021 after the release of an eight-episode podcast by Chronicle journalist Kevin Fagan. And Fagan's investigative efforts followed a re-prioritizing of the cold case murders by the SFPD in 2019, when they announced a new $100,000 reward in the case.
Now, due in part to the attention that the podcast generated, detectives say they have new evidence and new leads, and they've upped the reward to $200,000 in the hope that the public might provide the final piece they need to get a conviction. The announcement comes just as today, January 27, marks the 48th anniversary of the first known Doodler murder.
Mattress factory worker Gerald Earl Cavanaugh was killed at the age of 50, his body found on Ocean Beach on January 27, 1974, near an area known for gay cruising and clandestine sex. Four other victims were linked to the Doodler case, all killed between 1974 and 1975, and now detectives say there was a sixth victim.
All the victims were found in remote areas of the city that were known hookup spots, and the Doodler got his nickname because he apparently lured victims by doing sketches of them in gay bars — and he was a reportedly very good artist. One would-be victim who survived a Doodler murder attempt, known only as "The Diplomat," was an exception in that he had the Doodler up to his apartment at Fox Plaza. The Diplomat met The Doodler at a late-night gay diner, and his description of the man who approached him and gave him a sketch was what gave investigators the Doodler nickname.
The Doodler was reportedly a young and attractive Black man in his early 20s, which would make him around 65 or 70 today.
Fagan and Cunningham talked about the sixth likely Doodler victim on the Chronicle's podcast last year. His name was Warren Andrews, and he fits the profile and circumstance of the other suspected Doodler victims with one exception — he wasn't stabbed, but died of blunt-force trauma to the head, having been beaten with a rock and a tree branch. He ended up dying of his injuries seven weeks after he was found gravely injured near Lands End in April 1975, and he was found very close to where another Doodler victim was found weeks later.
As Fagan reports in the Chronicle, Cunningham is now fully convinced that Andrews was killed by the Doodler — with the theory now being that the Doodler dropped his knife off a nearby cliff in a struggle with Andrews, and had to revert to other means to try to kill him. Also, the connection to the case has been confirmed by family members who say they believe Andrews was gay and closeted.
The SFPD apparently has evidence in the Andrews case that is being tested for DNA.
Cunningham also said in the podcast that he has interviewed a man who remains a person of interest in the case, and who was considered a suspect in the 1970s investigations. The man, who is now living as an openly man in the East Bay, was originally linked to the case after he allegedly admitted to some or all of the killings while talking to an East Bay psychiatrist. He submitted to giving a DNA sample to Cunningham sometime in the last few years.
And Fagan reports that more leads have come about with regard to unsolved killings in the American South and on the East Coast that could be linked to the Doodler as well — no theory has been offered as to why the killings stopped so abruptly in 1975, though the person of interest did apparently tell the psychiatrist that he had begun dating a woman.
"We’ve come a long way in this investigation, and I think we’re closer than ever to solving it — but we just need a bit more information," Cunningham tells the Chronicle.
Hopefully, someone has that information and might want that $200,000 reward.
Anyone with information is asked to call San Francisco police at 415-575-4444.