Hide your kids if you see Cookie Monster coming at you near the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk — he is not the cute and kindly Sesame Street character he appears to be.
The unhinged guy who used to dress in an Elmo costume in New York and San Francisco has apparently traded that getup for Cookie Monster, and as KRON4 reports, he's "sporadically appeared" near the Santa Cruz over the last several weeks. While he may not be breaking any laws, he is basically doing an aggressive hustle to make cash, letting kids and adults pose for pictures with him but then trying to get paid for it, sometimes resulting in an angry meltdown.
Longtime SFist readers will recall, circa 2012 to 2014, the terror campaign of Evil Elmo, a plushie Fisherman's Wharf character in an off-brand Elmo costume who bilked tourists out of money for photos with him — and got very, very angry when they refused to pay. His real name is reportedly Dan Sandler and he hails from Oregon originally, but he's gone by Adam Sandler as well.
Sandler, who is now around 59 years old and is no relation to the famous actor, started making money this way in New York City, where he became fodder for the local tabloids after screaming antisemitic epithets at people in Times Square. He first appeared at Fisherman's Wharf in 2012, then was caught up in some legal trouble in New York — he was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail in 2013 for threatening to blackmail the Girl Scouts of New York, for whom he had done some temp work, trying to tie them to a "rape camp" in Cambodia — and then was back in San Francisco in 2014.
A cellphone video below, shot at Fisherman's Wharf around the summer of 2014, shows a typical exchange in which Evil Elmo is seen screaming at a family on a corner while children cry nearby, saying "You're a liar!" and "Call the fucking police!"
The great Stanley Roberts, who used to do a series on KRON4 called "People Behaving Badly," tracked Elmo/Sandler down near Stern Grove in 2014, where he appeared to be living in a van.
And also in 2014, the Chronicle's Vivian Ho interviewed him, and Sandler went off on some conspiracy rant about financier Michael Milken, and claimed he was antisemitic and was Jewish himself — just that the only Jew he hated was Milken. Sandler said he was just trying to make a living and people "telling lies" about him. (A guy on Muni around that same time also allegedly heard Sandler, with the Elmo costume in a bag beside him, ranting about Fisherman's Wharf being "Jew Town".)
It's not clear where he's been all this time — possibly Los Angeles? — but he's back! And he's working the boardwalk in Santa Cruz with some regularity. He's been cited for aggressive panhandling in the past — and he may have grabbed a kid near Fisherman's Wharf once, leading to an arrest — but the Santa Cruz cops don't appear to be doing anything like that so far, and he's apparently been mostly behaving himself.
"We are getting calls from people who say he is 'creepy,'" says Santa Cruz Police Department spokesperson Joyce Blaschke, speaking to KRON4. "Based on his history, we advise the public to not engage with this individual. Steer clear from him."
The New York Post is gladly covering the story of Sandler's return, and so is the UK Daily Mail. And, it should be noted, the Cookie Monster costume dates to before the pandemic — the LA Times reported that Sandler was out wearing it and hustling tourists around 2016. As one local business owner told the paper at the time, "I don’t think he belongs out on the street … no one wants to hear the Cookie Monster say he’s going to kill their family."
Still possibly living out of a maroon van at the time, Sandler was regularly posted outside the Los Angeles Zoo in a designated "free-speech zone," and the zoo received dozens of complaints about him — including one saying that he discouraged people from shopping in the zoo's gift store because it was Muslim-owned.
Top image via MistralWinds/Twitter