Following a 2021 podcast that shed some new light on the long cold Doodler serial-killer case from the 197os, the SFPD said they were "closer than ever" to solving the case at this time last year. But they are still coming up short in identifying their suspect, or they need more leads, because they've raised the reward money for the fourth year in a row.
The reward is now $250,000 for information in the case, up from $200,000 announced in January 2022. As the Chronicle reports, the SFPD has also released a new and updated, age-adjusted composite sketch of the suspect — an African American man who would now be in his late 60s or early 70s. See that below.
After the SFPD refocused on the case in 2017, they announced a $100,000 reward in 2019. Since then, the podcast helped bring some of the evidence to light that SFPD Detective Dan Cunningham is able to publicly share. And one early lead in the case that has never been able to be followed up on — a phone call from an anonymous woman who called the department twice in 1975, providing a name and license plate of a "person of interest" who has remained a "person of interest" in the case. That person was interviewed by the SFPD at least twice, and apparently is still alive.
According to the SFPD's release, after the release of the first forensic sketch in 1975, "at least two different people also contacted SFPD providing the same suspect name" as the anonymous woman did. But for reasons they aren't making public, they still need some further piece of evidence to elevate this man from the status of suspect.
Cunningham tells the Chronicle, "we have some new potential evidence to test, and there is still some documentation we’re working on getting that could turn the person of interest in this case to a suspect."
January 27th will mark the 49th anniversary of the Doodler's first known murder — the killing of 50-year-old mattress factory worker Gerald Earl Cavanaugh at Ocean Beach. Cavanaugh's body was found on January 27, 1974, in an area known for gay cruising and clandestine sex.
This would be the first murder linked to a young Black male suspect, a profile of whom would later emerge via surviving victims. The Doodler, as he became known, had a pattern of picking up mostly older victims in gay bars in San Francisco, and flirting by way of handing them sketches that he did on cocktail napkins or other paper, complimenting them in the process.
The first couple of killings occurred in anonymous cruising areas, where the suspect might have lured the victims for sex. However he grew bolder, and at least two encounters took place in the Fox Plaza apartments, where he went home with victims. One of those, known in police files as The Diplomat, survived a 1975 attack by the Doodler, and he provided the description that produced the first forensic sketch of the suspect.
As mentioned in the podcast, police continue to hunt down evidence about unsolved killings in the southern U.S. in the late 70s, when they believe the Doodler went on a road trip there and committed more murders.
The Doodler has just six known victims in the Bay Area, the latter of whom was added to the case in 2021 — Warren Andrews, a middle-aged man who fit the profile of the other victims but who was not stabbed. Andrews was found dead of blunt-force trauma at Lands End in April 1975.
Investigators heard from an East Bay psychiatrist in the 1970s who believed that he may have had the Doodler as a patient, and that he began dating a woman, perhaps trying to "fix" his own sexual orientation at the time. The Chronicle's Kevin Fagan identified that psychiatrist as Dr. Howard Preece, who died in 2005.
Cunningham tells the Chronicle, regarding the slowness of solving the case, that cold cases simply take a lot of time. "In a perfect world we would have it all done by the end of the hour, but it’s not like that," Cunningham says. "It’s not like a TV show."