The latest documentary on the Original Night Stalker/East Area Rapist… Still shocks me there’s never been a positive description of the suspect…
Terror in the Night – Part 3
August 19, 1980
It was a warm summers night in the extravagant Orange County, California neighborhood of Laguna Niguel. A young married couple lay asleep peacefully, however that peace was soon to be shattered by the appearance of a phantom laying in wait to commit a crime so heinous and brutal it would shock the entire community. Keith Harrington and his wife, Patrice had both been bound and murdered after suffering repeated blows to the skull while Patrice had also been raped.
Detectives would later surmise that the murderer had entered through a window the couple had left open as they were unable to find any indication of forced entry. From the outset however, investigators could not find a motive for the crime. The Harrington’s had lead a rather quiet life having only been married for a few short months and neither appeared to have any known enemies. Nobody ever imagined that this could be a random crime given the terrifying nature the scene of the crime presented.
The degree of blood splatter was so severe that the comforter was soaked all the way through which had been placed on top of the victims before they were bludgeoned. Perhaps in an attempt to minimize the degree of blood splatter overall, which may have begged the question that has this offender tried this before and let the blood splatter get out of control?
At the time of this offense, the Southern California detectives were completely unaware of the phantom who was the East Area Rapist who had haunted the northern and central parts of the state for years prior. They were unaware of the signature Diamond knot that was used to bind both the victims like his many victims prior. Crime scene photo’s show the offender removed the ligatures upon completion of the assault but left them distributed across the room and with further examination the rapists signature knot can be seen.
Within months after the double murder however, investigators were still without solid leads and it was not long before the Harrington case went cold. But it was not before DNA had been recovered from Patrice and placed in a rape kit which would be used many years later to form a genetic profile of the offender. Yet this was still 1980 and DNA evidence was limited in its application as an investigative tool and was the only real shred of evidence the investigators held.
It would not be until the following year that the offender would strike again as the all too familiar MO of the case would be recorded again in the city of Irvine. However there were some slight differences this time and and it would not be until years after the event that it would be linked to the Harrington case as DNA technology had advanced sufficiently to provide a conclusive link for the investigators.
February 6, 1981 – Irvine, California
Almost a year later and only seventeen miles from the Harrington crime scene, the unimaginable happened again. Manuela Withuhn, 28, lay asleep in the apparent safety of her home in a rather upscale neighborhood. That was until a predator managed to pry his way into her home through a screen door at the rear of the property. He then proceeded into the bedroom and repeated the horrific deeds that had terrorized the state of California for the past five years.
Manuela was disturbed by the sudden intruder, bound and sexually assaulted before being bludgeoned to death. Like the Harrington case, the ligature marks were present on both her arms and ankles. Unlike the Harrington case, the killer appeared to have removed the bindings and murder weapon upon his departure from the scene. All detectives managed to collect from the scene were some wooden matches from the front of the house and down the sideway leading to the backyard.
Before these cases were linked years later through the DNA profile of the offender it was apparent what the authorities were dealing with, a clever and ruthless predator. Detectives managed to lift several footprints from the rear of the Withuhn home that appeared be from a tennis-style shoe. After conducting interviews with the neighbors, police gathered a report from a neighbor from the property directly behind the crime scene which stated that the resident returned home at approximately 11PM to find her dead-bolt unlocked. She believed this to be unusual but as nothing else was disturbed, decided that it was not worth reporting.
May 4, 1986 – Irvine, California
Although unbeknownst to anyone at the time, chronologically this would be the last recorded offense of the man who would go down in history The Original Night Stalker or the East Area Rapist depending on where you come from. To detectives of the day, this was another case of murder albeit extremely brutal. In a big money neighborhood of the city of Irvine that lies only three miles from the Withuhn crime scene five years prior, 18 year old Janelle Cruz lay on her bed and had been bludgeoned to death.
Upon closer examination it would become clear he had also been raped before suffering the same grotesque fate as many of the victims prior. The scene was discovered by a real estate agent who arrived the following evening to preview the home. Friends would later state that Janelle rarely locked doors to the home which provided the offender easy access to the property since no signs of forced entry were ever recorded.
However unlike both the Harrington and Withuhn crimes however, police investigating the crime managed to develop a suspect. A male friend of the victim was the last person to see Janelle alive and lied to investigators about being present before the offender struck. He did note that Janelle kept hearing noises coming from outside her bedroom window as they sat down. Time passed before they heard more suspicious noises, this time coming from the garage that sounded like somebody shutting the main door.
The male friend left with Janelle just before 11PM to return to his own home and a neighbor verified the story as they noted the distinctive muffler sound returning at approximately 11:15PM. The investigators failed to find any evidence to link the friend to the crime and eventually cleared him as a suspect. Therefore the offender they realized, was lying in wait upon Janelle’s returned to the home.
Walking down the hallway towards her room, Janelle was struck from behind with a heavy object and violently dragged into her bedroom where the sexual assault began. Brutalized and raped, Janelle suffered arguably the most brutal assault this offender ever committed. In a shark like frenzy, the offender repeatedly raped Janelle before bludgeoning her so severely that her teeth would not only be found scattered around her body but also in her digestive system.
Like the previous assaults her face was covered while she was bludgeoned to minimize the degree of blood splatter. Despite there being no bindings found at the scene or ligature marks on the body, bruises and scrapes were found on Janelle’s wrists and her bra was dragged down to around her waist. Blades of grass were also found scattered around the body and a Medium-Blue colored lint was found next to the body from material that had been ripped from fabric, possibly to be used as bindings.
Although Detectives of the time were unaware of the East Area Rapist at the time, the tearing of the fabric would later prove to strengthen the links identifying this serial killer as the same man responsible for the approximately fifty cases of rape in the northern parts of California. Police would also speculate that the offender later spent time in the house after the murder as patches of blood would be found throughout the house.
Tennis shoe prints, similar to that of the Withuhn crime scene were also discovered along the east side of the Cruz family home. The investigators were also unable to locate the murder weapon at the scene of the crime but a pipe wrench was reported to be missing from the garage and upon further examination was the offenders likely weapon of choice. One can surmise that the offender removed it from the garage when Janelle and her companion heard the garage door closing earlier in the evening.
This had many of the hallmarks of an East Area Rapist case, but this was before computers, databases and the internet revolutionized the way law enforcement would investigate and combat crime. These crimes would all find their ways into the cold case files with the limited evidence being put into storage. Over a decade later and with advancements in DNA technology, the Orange County Crime Lab conducted testing on the biological evidence recovered from the Harrington, Withuhn and Cruz cases turned the case in a completely new direction.
Orange County California, 1998
In 1981, a staff journalist wrote an article speculating the presence of a serial killer operating in the southern California area entitled. The opening line of the article read: “Is a psychopathic ‘Night Stalker’ murdering Southern California couples in their beds?” Until now all none of the cases could be conclusively linked and the investigators in the respective counties had no leads to go by in developing a suspect.
With the formation of a Cold Case task force known as Countywide Law Enforcement Unsolved Element or simply CLUE in 1997, Detectives reviewing each of these crimes began to give credence to the theory of a Night Stalker operating in their jurisdiction but the proof would not come until the following year. In the Autumn of 1998, a criminalist at the Orange County Crime Lab finally took the biological evidence collected from Harrington, Withuhn and Cruz crime scenes for DNA testing and produced results that would shock those involved with the case.
The theory that a “Night Stalker” was operating in the south of California was finally proven to be true albeit ten years after the fact. Five victims brutally assaulted in their homes by a predator who had moved through California fifteen years prior without the authorities of the day even recognizing the series of murders present. Yet given the heinous nature of the crimes investigators began forming their theories on the case and began examining other cases that they believed might be connected to these crimes and noted the case numbers in the files of each case.
Detectives working with CLUE discovered the case numbers years later scribbled into the files and began examining each of the cases the original investigators considered to potentially be related to the Night Stalker crimes. In doing so they stumbled upon a case that predated even the Harrington case in Ventura, California. After establishing contact with the Venture Police Department, the detectives of CLUE managed to reach the original investigators of the 1980 Smith double murder who shared a horrific story of a crime that would soon bring the Night Stalkers body count to six.
Ventura California – March 13th, 1980
A fast lane couple were Lyman and Charlene Smith who lived a lifestyle many would envy. Their home was located in the hills above Ventura Harbor with a distant ocean view and both led successful careers. Lyman was a prominent lawyer who was waiting to hear the success of his application to be appointed to the California Supreme Court, while his wife Charlene was an interior decorator with a beach front office.
In a tragic turn, the location of her office may have been what drew their murderer to their home. On the afternoon of March 14th, Both would be found beaten to death in their bed by Lyman’s twelve year old son from his first marriage. Blood stains covered the walls and pieces of bark littered the floor with a blood soaked log being the murder weapon sitting at the foot of the bed. Investigators arrived shortly after and were horrified by what greeted them.
Both Lyman and Charlene bound with drapery cord using the suspects signature ‘diamond-knot’ and lying face down on the bed. After further examination it was determined that Charlene had also been raped and Lyman was the first to be killed determined through the analysis of the blood splatter patterns. Police also theorized that the offender may have been in the home before and knew the layout of the home and the bindings could have been pre-tied due to the complex nature of the knot and the disturbed cushions in the living room.
Investigators would later recount the crime scene as being an act of rage stemming from the massive amount of blood splatter in the bedroom. The examiner later determined that Lyman Smith was killed by a single blow to the head but was continually bludgeoned regardless. Just like the other cases in this series, the offender was so excessive in bludgeoning his victims were almost beyond recognition upon their initial discovery.
Conducting the standard procedural neighborhood canvas police began to learn of a prowler who had been reported in the vicinity of the Smith home in the days before and after the homicide from multiple sources. A neighbor reported hearing a suspect in their backyard while another reported having a window screen in their infant sons bedroom and was also missing. The neighbor reported an attempted burglary to the Ventura police after waking to their crying infant in the late hours of the night.
One could only conclude that if they had not woken to their babies cries, the neighbor and his wife may have also fallen victim to the same man responsible for the Smith’s murder. His wife went to check and settle their child at approximately 3:00 AM after hearing a noise coming from his bedroom. But as she reached the room there was no sign of an intruder. When checking the perimeter of their property a few days later the husband discovered the missing screen.
This had all the signs of an East Area Rapist case despite being in a completely new geographic region than the series that gave rise to the moniker for which he had become known. The prowling, the sexual assault, the crime scene possibly prepared ahead of time, the bindings and of course the signature knot used to prepare the bindings. Not only did this MO seem identical to the East Area Rapist before now but also to the recently identified Orange County Night Stalker.
Although a link between this series and the rapist case from the north had yet to be officially established, some of the detectives still working the East Area Rapist case had followed the murders in the southern parts of the state in their own time and were certain that they were dealing with the same madman. The details in each case were so similar yet when they tried to coordinate their investigations many of the Southern California officials brushed off such speculation as mere conjecture. Now it was undeniable.
Linking this series of crimes together sparked even greater levels of speculation about the case. The cold hit generated in the Orange County Crime Lab forced detectives in the South to consider the possibility that this was only the beginning of something much bigger? The precision and brutality demonstrated by the offender caused them to wonder if there were other crimes of this predator that were lying in the files of another department waiting to be discovered. Such a line of enquiry would soon pay off.
This line of enquiry would take investigators back to the year 1979 and the rural town of Goleta, California almost six months before the Smith double murder and nearly a year before the Harrington case. Using the all too famous MO of the Night Stalker, they found an incident that shared many of the same characteristics of the crimes they had already identified. Yet this time there was one important difference, there were witnesses!
Goleta, California – October 1st 1979.
A couple in the rural California town of Goleta were fast asleep in their beds until their peace and tranquility was shattered in the early hours of the morning. An intruder disturbed the couple by waking them with a flashlight and hissing at them to wake up. Waking slowly the victims realized that this wasn’t a dream as the flashlight blinded them and were ordered bound all while being threatened that if they did not comply, they would be killed.
Much like the East Area Rapist before now, the attacker had the female bind the male before he proceeded to tie her up using the signature diamond knot before retying her boyfriend in a similar manner. Again like the rapist he claimed all he wanted was money and proceeded to ransack the kitchen in his search after he was directed by the victims to a purse next to the kitchen sink. When he untied the females legs so she could lead him to the money, he instead laid her down on the living room floor and retied her ankles.
Laying on her back, she could hear what sounded like the intruder masturbating nearby. He returned with a pair of shorts in order blind the female and said he was now going to kill her by slashing her throat. While being overwhelmed by fear the female heard the suspect return to their kitchen whilst repeatedly whispering to himself “I’ll kill ‘em.” She soon heard him heading back down the hallway and began to make a run to the front door only to fall down. Despite being unable to see through the blind fold, she made a second effort and managed to make it into the front yard and scream for help.
That was until she felt a pull on her arm. The suspect pulled her close, placed a knife to her throat and hissed into her ear “I told you to be quiet and not to move.” While being dragged back into the house, the boyfriend was still laying bound hand and foot in bed heard the screams and decided to make his move. Hopping to the screen door at the rear of the house towards the back fence. Unable to break the fence to get it free, the man decided to conceal himself in the bushes adjacent to the fence. Soon noticing the flashlight of the offender searching the yard, he concealed himself behind a tree until the suspect re-entered the house.
Once he was out of sight he began to call for help after noticing the lights in his neighbors home. Meanwhile as the offender moved to return to the female, she had already seized the opportunity to make another dash to the front door. Now there was a man in the backyard and a female in the front yard signaling for help, the offender seemed to realize that he had lost control of the scene. He then grabbed a bicycle and departed the scene.
A neighbor who was also an FBI agent gave chase to the suspect before losing him after he dumped the bicycle and proceeded to run between adjoining properties. A black handled steak knife and the bicycle were later recovered. The bicycle had been taken from a nearby property at between 7pm and midnight on the on the night of the assault. Shoe impressions matching those from the scene were also found at the property where the bicycle was stolen from and matched those at the crime scene.
The detectives who arrived on the scene initially found the female victim still in the front yard screamingly hysterically and the male still concealed in the rear of the property. A description of the attacker profiled him as caucasian, approximately five foot ten inches tall and wearing a ski mask, all the same vague details of an East Area Rapist case. The point of entry to the property was also discovered to be the rear sliding door that was forced open with a screw driver.
Two months later the suspect would strike again in Goleta and his next victims would not be so fortunate…
Goleta, California – December 30th, 1979
In an assault carried out in a manner almost identical to the aborted attempt almost three months prior, The Night Stalker returned to Goleta and took the lives of a well-established physician and his partner. Dr Robert Offerman and Alexandria Manning lay sleeping in the doctor’s condominium when their slumber was interrupted by the stealth-like predator. However this time would be different and police could only speculate as to what occurred during the event.
Upon their arrival at the scene, deputies found both Dr Offerman and Ms Manning naked and deceased in the bedroom of the condominium. The doctor had been the victim of multiple gunshot wounds while Alexandria had a single shot to the back of the head. Offerman still had cord tied around his left wrist which would help investigators paint a portrait of what happened in the early hours of the morning.
Like the prior assault, detectives would theorize that the suspect entered the property through the sliding door at the back of the property and confronted the victims while they slept. Unlike the prior assault it appeared that while the offender was attempting to bind Alexandria, Dr Offerman managed to free himself and in an attempt to confront the suspect was gunned down. There was no evidence found to suggest Ms Manning was sexually assaulted and simply executed.
The same shoe impressions from the earlier Goleta assault were lifted from the backyard and appeared to be that of a star shaped design of an Adidas runner type shoe. Turkey scraps in a plastic bag were also found in the backyard of the property. Police would theorize this was used to feed the dog the offender brought to the crime scene as paw prints were found along side the shoe impressions.
A neighborhood canvas revealed residents hearing gunshots at approximately 3AM and a bicycle that had been stolen during the night. However none had made an effort to contact law enforcement. The property next to the crime scene also showed signs the offender had been inside as similar pry marks were located at the rear sliding door along with a window screen that had been removed and the same shoe impressions in the yard.
Did the killer enter the property before hand as it was for sale and prepare it for his eventual return or use it as a hiding place upon the completion of his assault? The evidence collected from the scene would support both conclusions and in some degree’s differentiate this crime from other’s in the offenders already well established MO. For example, there was no evidence of sexual assault at the scene of the crime. All that could be determined by investigators was that victims may have believed the offender was simply a burglar given jewelry being found stuffed down the side of the bed. When they realized there was more occurring than just a simple burglary, the doctor tried to fight back before being shot repeatedly and his girlfriend was promptly executed afterwards.
Once news of these grizzly deeds reached the detectives back in Sacramento and Contra Costa counties that were still investigating the East Area Rapist cases, they realized the possibility of the prolific rapist and southern-based killer being one in the same. In their attempts to inform the Santa Barbara County law enforcement of their theories and willingness to share the evidence already gathered on the suspect, they were brushed aside. The Sheriff’s Department told them they had nothing similar to their case and refused to cooperate any further.
Despite the many similarities in the MO of the case and characteristics of the offender, the Santa Barbara officers brushed aside possibilities of the offender being the same individual. If it were not for such stonewall tactics on the part of the southern detectives, one can only wonder how differently the case would have unfolded. Would lives have been saved if a link between the two cases were established earlier? Would the offender have even been arrested? Tragically however, there was still another case in Santa Barbara County lying in wait to be attributed to this offender…
Goleta, California – July 27th, 1981
Upon their arrival at the crime scene, the sheriff’s deputies found Gregory Sanchez lying face down in the closet and his girlfriend, Cheri Domingo lying on the bed completely covered by the bedding. Pulling back the sheets revealed yet another horrifying sight, Cheri’s body lying face down on the bed with ligature marks on her wrists and ankles indicating she had been bound with her harms and legs behind her back.
Like the Offerman case, Police would speculate that Sanchez attempted to lunge at the offender only to be shot through the cheek. Although this wound was non-fatal, the more than twenty blunt-force wounds to his head were while Cheri was killed by only a single blow. The story told by the crime scene suggested that after the killer shot Gregory, he fell to the floor and was struck in the face. He later managed to make it back to his feet before being struck again by the suspect and then crawled into the closet and died. The murderer’s weapon of choice was never established. All the police were able to ascertain was that both victims were killed with the same weapon. Upon examining the house, a window in the bathroom was found to be wide open and no signs of forced entry were found. The standard canvas of the neighborhood produced a number of leads, more than many of the other cases had ever provided. Despite hearing a gunshot at approximately 3:30 AM and hearing a scream, neighbors failed to react.
However, multiple witnesses reported prowling in the vicinity of the home on the same night and in days prior to the assault. The subject was described as being between 5’9 and 5’11 with an athletic build, shoulder-length blonde hair and between 25 and 30 years of age. The same tiresome description featured in the case of the East Area Rapist and now the Original Night Stalker. Police were also told stories of the suspect being spotted with a German Shepard from neighbors descriptions. The paw prints were similar to the ones lifted from the Offerman-Manning case only months prior.
Cheri Domingo happened to be house sitting for a friend as the house was coming up for sale. When Police made contact with the agent responsible for the property, they were informed of a gentleman who met the description of the reported prowler. Supposedly the man came in for the open inspection and proceeded to scope the interior of the house while the agent was busy with some other clients. The killers reported point of entry was a window where the screen had been removed which later gave credence to speculation that the man scoping the homes interior was also the murderer.
Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office – July 8th, 2000
Two decades after the Original Night Stalker or East Area Rapist had been attributed to a rape or homicide in their respective counties. Larry Crompton, one of the original investigators from the East Area Rapist case received a call from Criminalist Paul Holes in the Contra Costa County crime lab. Holes had stumbled across a series of files in the archives labelled “E.A.R” and upon opening them stumbled across the case of arguably the most brazen, most prolific serial sex offender of the modern age. Approximately fifty counts of rape all linked by the unquestionably unique modus operandi of the suspect.
He also found that the lab still had the rape kits from multiple East Area Rapist cases and contacted Detective Crompton with the news that they had been able to provide the definitive link between at least three cases. Despite the statute of limitations expiring on the rape case, they were able to provide the original case detectives with their assurance that their original assumptions about the case were correct.
Working with the retired Detective, Holes learned of the Southern California assaults and how the Sherrifs Department in Santa Barbara county failed to cooperate during the original investigation. In taking Crompton’s advice, he contacted the Orange County Crime Lab and in October of the same year managed to conclusively prove to that the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker were actually the same individual!
After countless investigative hours, a prolific serial rapist and a stealth-like serial killer were actually the same man. However there were still more questions than answers. The DNA profile that linked the two cases failed to produce a match in the national database. Despite a break in the case of gigantic proportions, one of the most prolific criminals in the history of the American justice system was still without a face. One interesting piece of evidence came from this inquiry though.
The profile generated on the suspect did not yield a blood type. The majority of any population can be classified as having various blood types such as “A-Positive” or “O-Negative”. The East Area Rapist on the other hand was without such a classification. This placed him in approximately a minority of twenty percent of the overall American Population who are known as “Non-Secretors”.
Those still working the case just had their total suspect pool narrowed to my a gigantic margin but unfortunately still came up empty in unmasking the predator who’s name still struck fear into those who knew him. Now all one can do is speculate Who he is?, What does he do?, and Where is he now? The victim’s deserve closure, their families deserve closure and the communities he victimized deserve closure.
The original investigators assigned to this case deserve to see the reward of all their exhaustive efforts finally realized with the identification and apprehension of the Original Night Stalker. But like any classic cold case, all we are left with is speculation. There a still more questions than answers. After reading the book “Sudden Terror” by Detective Crompton, I learned that out of the numerous counts of rape where both a man and woman were present that only one of the couples remained together after they fell victim to the rapist.
Its been more than twenty years since the Original Night Stalker was attributed to a murder or rape. The most likely scenario is that the man responsible for these heinous assaults is dead or in prison on an unrelated charge. Which raises a more terrifying possibility that he may be released one day and be free to strike again. What happened to the suspect after the murder of Janelle Cruz?. If someone is able to answer that question, we may finally able to unmask this terrifying predator.
Terror in the Night – Part 2
The Rapist Returns – September 6th, 1977
Despite being dormant all summer, Detectives in still spent many hours investigating the case of Sacramento’s sudden terror. The East Area Rapist had not been heard from or linked to a single case for the duration of the summer period. That however would change on the morning of September the 6th, 1977, when the attacker moved into a new neighborhood almost an hour away in Stockton.
Detectives still working the case received a call from the Stockton PD and after going over the preliminary reports they became increasingly convinced they were dealing with the same man. The behavior of the offender eerily mirrored that of the rapist from Sacramento, from waking his victims with a flashlight and holding them at gunpoint with the threats of death to the methods used to bind the victims and the dishes that were placed on the male victims back.
Just like in all of the Sacramento cases also, the victims failed to get a proper description of the offender and reported that he attempted to disguise his voice. The female victim reported that the rapist seemed to have erectile problems and that he may have brought a rubber penis with him, which had also been reported in various assaults in Sacramento county.
There was still lingering speculation that it may be the work of a copycat, however the detectives investigating the case felt as if the MO employed here was too similar for it to be the work of another individual. The attacker had become even more brazen with this latest assault as two young children were present in the home while their parents were assaulted by the rapist.
While canvasing the area, the officers found shoe impressions in the backyard of the victims home and also a few of the adjoining properties that were later identified to be Converse All-Star tennis shoes. Along with the standard reports of barking dogs and strange cars being seen near the area day prior, this was a significant development for law enforcement given the continued lack of evidence left behind at the previous scenes.
While under hypnosis, one of the daughter of the latest victim believed she saw a tattoo that investigators later established to be the Schiltz Beer Bull on the rapist’s arm. Despite leaving a knife behind at the scene also, no finger prints were recovered as the intruder wore gloves at all times. Overall this attack provided authorities with much of the same old information but the tattoo and the sneakers finally gave the investigators something else to move forward with when investigating new suspects.
Almost a month later the East Area Rapist returned to Rancho Cordova, claiming his 24th victims when he assaulted a seventeen year old girl who was at home with her twenty-one year old partner. Just a few days prior to this assault the female victim had undergone an abortion and had been staying with her boyfriend and she had not been feeling well until the rapist struck.
Just like in many of his previous assaults, the victims shotgun that had been kept next to the bed was discovered to be unloaded by the crime scene technicians. The shells were found to be lined up under the bed, most likely by the rapist while the victims were not home. Police had been becoming increasingly concerned as the victim count grew and his behavior deteriorated that the individual responsibly for these attacks had the ability to kill his victims. Now one can only wonder if he would have killed these victims had they had been able to reach for the shotgun as he was already beginning to taunt victims by placing his gun to their heads and cocking it before backing away.
While stealing the belongings of his victims, the attacker began taking photo identification belonging to his female victims and would use it to make harassing phone calls even months after the attacks. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement to trace the phone calls, many victims reported to be continually harassed and while the rapist continued to strike almost at will. One of these calls was captured on a victims answering machine and all it consisted of a growling voice whispering insults and threats of death before hanging up.
Perhaps it was the already deranged offenders way of prolonging the victims terror and prevent them from rebuilding their lives. Reminding them that they were still his hostage and that he was still out there watching them. Eventually all that the police were able to ascertain from these calls was that the rapists behavior was deteriorating and that it may only be a matter of time before he turns to murder to satisfy his sadistic desires.
2/2/1978 – The Maggiore Murders
A young couple were out walking their dog one night in Rancho Cordova, enjoying each others company and the warm weather. Police speculate that all was well until the male victim, Brian Maggiore must have noticed something suspicious about an individual he spotted in the area. As a member of the military police one would assume he felt like he could hold his own against most others and decided to confront the suspicious individual until things took a turn for the worse.
The suspect drew a weapon and aimed it at Brian, forcing he and his wife Katie to flee for their lives down the street. In an attempt to hide from the man who gave chase, they entered the backyard of one of the homes along La Gloria Avenue. The owner of the property looked out his window to see what could possibly be causing such commotion at such a late hour. To his horror all he managed to see was the suspect catch up to Brian and shoot him at point blank range in the chest before continuing the chase for Katie.
Katie made it as far as the adjoining backyard before the suspect caught up to her and shot her in the same way he just shot Brian. While still being watched by occupant of the first house, the suspect calmly exited the scene down the side of the house next door. Another witness emerged from one of the adjoining homes and almost had a confrontation with the suspect who calmly looked at the witness before turning away and fleeing down the street.
Speculation ran wild in the early days of the investigation about the identity of the suspect. Some suggested that the murderer was the East Area Rapist simply by the location of the crime. But it wasn’t until pre-cut bindings that were discovered at the crime scene and the specialist knot tied in them that provided a definitive link to the masked maniac. The bindings featured the signature Diamond-Knot of the man who had already claimed approximately thirty victims and may have just recently graduated to murder.
The Rapist Moves South – 1978
Police worked with the witnesses of the Maggiore Murders on developing a composite sketch of the suspect. Some still had their reservations that this was the work of the man who had been terrorizing the local area for over a year now. However after the new sketch of the Maggiore’s killer was released, the rapist disappeared once again. This time however, with a twist.
Claiming his thirty-second victim on the 14/4/78, a teenage girl. The rapist claimed his last victim in the area that had been his stomping grounds since the beginning of this terrifying series. Similar to other serial offenders such as Ted Bundy, the East Area Rapist had already shown to be a highly mobile offender with his attacks in Stockton. This time however, he would take that characteristic to a whole new level. On the 6/5/78, the suspect struck in northern parts of Modesto.
Normally a place with a small town atmosphere and low crime rates, the man who had terrorized the state’s capital for almost two years made his presence felt when he attacked a married couple while their child slept in the next room. Despite being in another jurisdiction, Sacramento detectives were quick to arrive on the scene and talk to the victim. They informed the local authorities that the MO of the attacker was identical to that of their serial offender and began to share all of their existing information with the local agencies.
Modesto was not the only suburb to fall prey to the deranged assailant. Within months of his arrival, rapes with similar profiles began occurring in other places including Davis, Concord, San Jose, San Ramon and Walnut Creek. Contra Costa County was now experiencing the same terror that the had plagued the Sacramento suburbs for two years and but in some cases it got worse. With each case attributed to the suspect, the fear that the next time he struck the victims may not survive.
The overall demeanor of the rapist continued to become increasingly bizarre. The he would make became increasingly terrifying and the way he would particularly treat the female victims when a man were present suggested his hatred for the gender was only growing with each assault. The psychotic assailant was beginning to add elements of physical torture to this already psychologically torturing experience.
Victims were reportedly gagged after being bound so tight that it cut off the blood circulation. In addition, the rapist was beginning to physically assault his victims whilst being in control of the scene. Investigators would find victims suffering lacerations and bruises along side the rape that was reaching almost forty separate cases over half the state of California.
In many of his cases he was still taking the belongings of his victims at the conclusion of the sexual assault. In his latest cases he had stolen almost fifteen hundred dollars from one victim and the wedding bands from another couple. Amazingly however, all of his victims were fortunate enough to escape with with their lives.
His final attack in this area occurred on the 7/5/79 in the suburb of Danville when he stalked another couple in the late hours of the night. This time was different however. The husband, who along with his wife were aware of the East Area Rapist, had a plan incase he ever attacked their home. Incensed by the thought of a man preparing to their home to rape his wife, jumped out of bed confront the attacker and appeared to catch him off guard.
Rather than carry out his common threat of “blowing their *expletive* heads off”, the rapist seemed stunned by the husbands display of courage as his wife was able to exit the scene. The man reported to police that at as he lay in bed he heard a noise outside his house and realized that a prowler was lurking outside his bedroom window. After looking into a mirror he saw a man placing a dark colored mask over his head and holding what appeared to be shoe laces.
Upon jumping out of bed he proceeded to shout obscenities at the individual. These seem to startle the suspect who seemed to become disorganized. Completely disregarding the possibility that the suspect may be carrying a weapon, the man continued his tirade towards the suspect knowing his wife was out of harms way. The man’s wife had made it to the front of the property to call for assistance and it was not long before neighbor had alerted law enforcement.
The suspect managed to flee before the police arrived who through the use of a sniffer dog picked up on his scent and followed it from the property to where it was lost. However the handler claimed that the dogs behavior would suggest that the scent was only few minutes old. Interviews conducted with witnesses also provided information that helped investigators attribute to the case to the East Area Rapist. A jacket worn by the suspect matched descriptions from other earlier victims.
A neighbor reported hearing a prowler on her porch at approximately 2am before proceeding over the five foot fence onto the property of his intended victims. The man who confronted the prowler also reported seeing the suspect donning his disguise. This begged the question of the rapist becoming so arrogant and confident in his abilities that did he only utilized his veil when he was ready to strike?
This may explain the lack of any kind of weapon being reported by any of the witnesses as the suspect may have placed them aside while covering his face. Back in one of the earlier Rancho Cordova cases a witness noticed a man in a ski mask entering the house opposite her property. This would become just another example of the rapist becoming increasingly brazen, only this time his face was almost seen for the first time.
The Rapist Vanishes Again, or does he? – October 1979
With the onset of October, many of the Contra Costa County officers were expecting the East Area Rapist to strike again. October had been one of his prime periods after a summer of silence. With the exception of the Stockton attack in 77, four victims were claimed in October ’76, three in ’77 and another three in the same month of ’78. They braced themselves for the call of another case matching the all too familiar MO of the offender but nothing came.
Many of the detectives began to feel a level of relief that the offender was no longer harming people in their community. However many felt disappointed that they were never able to apprehend the man who’s victim count that now stood at almost fifty. Almost fifty women had fallen pray to this phantom predator yet there was almost no solid evidence in the case to provide a prime suspect to detectives. Time continued to pass and speculation on the case continued as one of the lead investigators on the case, Detective Larry Compton in Contra Costa continued to work the task force that had been established years prior.
He theorized that the offender had never really stopped committing these crimes but had likely moved to another part of the country as he had already proven to be a mobile offender. It would not be until years later that he would be proven right as cold case investigators managed to link a series of horrific murders and a single attempted murder in Southern California. Through advancements in DNA technology and an MO identical to that of the East Area Rapist. The suspect was about to finally graduate into what investigators had feared for years now, a serial killer…
To be continued…
This was the first composite sketch released by the authorities of the East Area Rapist, one cannot determine how accurate it really is since the rapist was known to always wear a mask and no victims ever seem to manage a good look at him in general but the attacker did appear to vanish for a good period of time after its release.
I have always found crime to be fascinating. Following real-world criminal cases has been my hobby for several years now, in particular following those cases involving serial killers. From the “Son of Sam,” to Ted Bundy, or the unsolved “Zodiac murders,” each spate of serial murders has captivated me. I love the endless speculation around “the unsolved,” as a student of criminology I can’t help but want to try and solve these cases myself. Yet serial killings are gory by nature, it is not something that everyone can handle. Yet, I’ve become desensitized to it all, instead of seeing brutal murder I merely see the facts, details and statistics. I view these heinous crimes through the lens of an amateur criminologist, I separate my emotions from the cases and seek out the cold hard facts. I will watch even the most gruesome documentaries, read graphics books, or horrible articles and not flinch at all. It has become second nature to me, I fear not these crimes, nor the criminals that perpetrate them. Instead I look to understand the crimes, the criminals, and perhaps one day solve a case-gone-cold.
That is not to say I feel no sympathy for the victims and their families. I can’t begin to imagine the pain these people go through and hope that in all cases they see justice served. But one case in particular in which I read an article while in bed trying to get some sleep, my favorite hobby had the opposite effect. A cold case involving one of the most prolific criminals in the history of American Jurisprudence. I laid awake for hours after putting down IPhone in fear and the slightest noise outside my bedroom window would make me instill a greater level of fear despite subconsciously knowing there was nothing outside.
He was known as the East Area Rapist and later the Original Night Stalker as time passed and he went uncaught, which sadly gave him time to escalate as many serial offenders do if they are not caught. He would break into homes and prepare them for when he would return and bound both the female target and her partner if present before committing the sexual assault. Through DNA analysis he was linked to approximately fifty rapes in the Sacramento Area and ten horrific homicides across various locations in Southern California.
The most amazing aspect of this case is to me is that a proper suspect has never been developed. Beyond the unknown offender profile developed by the F.B.I, there is little information into who the assailant is or was. It’s been more than twenty years since this offender was last heard from but memories and victims remain. I firmly believe that anything is possible and therefore there must be somebody or something out there that holds the answer to this terrible mystery, even after all this time.
Due to the extensive nature of this case, I feel it is best that I cover it in multiple parts in order to make it easier to read.
In the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova on a warm summers night a young woman that happened to be home asleep in her bed became the first victim of a masked intruder who would go on to attack numerous other women in the county and its surrounding areas. She awoke from her sleep to find a masked man standing at the end of her bed blinding her with a flash light whilst brandishing a knife. The man never spoke a word, he simply communicated his evil intentions through whispering to his victims. He proceeded to bind his victim before committing the sexual assault using items he took from her closet before he commenced the sexual assault.
The victim was bound so tight that the blood circulation in her body was cut off through the use of a special type of diamond-knot that would later become the offenders signature used to link him to a vast array of other offenses. He would linger in the house even after the sexual assault was complete and the victim would not freed until law enforcement arrived the next morning. This offender would also help himself to other items around the house by rummaging through the victims belongings.
When law enforcement took the victims statement, she reported that she felt she was being watched as a suspicious vehicle was appearing in the neighborhood on a regular basis and every time she would look to take note of the driver he would conceal his appearance. She also reported that she had been receiving mysterious phone calls where upon answering the call the person on the other end of the line would say nothing and simply end the call after a brief moment or two. However she believed that she was just being paranoid and had nothing to worry about. Even on the night of the attack she received one of these mysterious calls and checked all the doors in the house just to be sure they were locked.
Police later discovered that the attacker had entered through a side window as they checked out the crime scene. The only piece of evidence they could really utilize at the time however was that the suspect was caucasian because when he entered the bedroom where the victim was sleeping she caught a glimpse of his bare legs through the blinding flashlight. She also noted he was approximately 5’9 and that his mask fit tightly while having no nose or mouth holes. Sadly that description would continue while his crimes escalated and perfected his craft.
The attacker began breaking into homes prior to his offense to prepare them for his eventual return. Police would find window screens removed, guns unloaded and phone lines cut by the offender before returning during the night. Detectives also theorized that the rapist would surveil his victims before hand in order to gain insight into their movements in order to further ensure the success of his attacks. The crimes intensified to the degree where the presence of a man or other individuals in the house did not deter this attacker. One might suggest that the presence of multiple individuals at the scene would only further the thrill that this offender gained from the experience.
The Crimes Continue
Over the course of the first months of these attacks the East Area Rapist claimed eight victims in the various suburbs surrounding California’s capital. However the seventh and eight victims were both claimed on the same day which prompted law enforcement to finally inform the general public as to what had been going on in their local community. It did not take long for an intense level of panic to grip local communities such as Rancho Cordova, Carmichael and Citrus Heights. Police began warning the local population to ensure that their homes were secure before going to bed each night and urged women not to spend nights alone wherever possible.
Community meetings were held in order inform the community meetings in order to dispel the extensive speculation and rampant rumors that were being generated by the attacks thus far. Up until now the attacks had been somewhat of an urban legend due to the police enforced news blackout. The gossip included bizarre claims such as the attacker cutting off ears, fingers and even the nipples from his victims breasts. However the police had been reluctant to address these rumors previously due to a lack of evidence in each case leaving them with nothing to really relay to the public.
The paranoia amongst the local population was also accompanied by intense anger towards law enforcement stemming from the widespread disbelief that an individual could commit such actions and leave almost no trail. In particular a man stood up at one of the town meetings stood up and claimed that he did not believe these attacks could not be happening the way they were being reported and proclaimed he would be prepared for the rapist had he broke into his house. However within in a month after that specific meeting, that man and his wife became victims of the East Area Rapist.
Many came to wonder if the rapist had been present during the meeting since many serial offenders before him, seemed to follow the media coverage of his crimes and altered his behavior accordingly. When it was disclosed that the all of his previous victims had been alone or had been home without the presence of an adult male to combat the offender, the offender modified his MO. In the Spring of 1977, the offender claimed his first couple in the Orangevale area. The offender woke the female and forced her to wake her partner before bounding them with his signature diamond-knot.
Apart from the sexual assault, the rapist lingered in the house for hours. He would consume food stored in the house while chewing loudly enough to ensure that his victims would hear it. Throughout the night he would return to wear the female victim was lying to further terrorize them and remind them that they were still his hostage. Upon his eventual departure from the scene the victims were left still bound inside their own home under the threat that if he heard any noise from the victims in an attempted to escape then everyone in the house would be killed.
When the authorities arrived the next morning they were shocked to realize that a male had been home while the offender had struck. A canvas of the area also turned up very little just like in all of the previous East Area Rapist cases. However a witness did come forward stating that after being woken her dog bark at approximately 6AM and upon checking what her dog was barking at she took note of a dark colored car leaving the area and reported that it also had a heavy exhaust but failed to see the driver.
However a Police bloodhound picked up the scent of the attacker and managed to follow it three blocks before it lost the scent. This attack however gave credence to the speculation that the offender was a member of the local law enforcement as another neighbor reported noticing what they thought was a police officer near the victims home weeks prior. When questioned about such an encounter, the victim said she had never spoken to a police officer.
As more of the neighbors were questioned, the police were told by a neighbor that their house had been burglarized approximately two months prior. Despite reporting the incident to the authorities, nobody turned up to investigate the incident further. While another neighbor reported chasing a prowler around the same time out of her backyard and over some fences before losing him. All of the neighbors gave the same description of the suspect: 5’9 or 5’10, Athletic Build and between the ages of 25 and 30 years of age. There was no doubt in the minds of the detectives, this was the East Area Rapist.
The Attacker adds a new Signature – 4/15/77
Almost two weeks after the rapist attacked his first couple, the suspect added a new signature to his already twisted MO. The offender broke into a home in the Crestview area of Sacramento and after tying up both of the victims, he stacked a number of dishes on the male victims back and told him that if he heard a rattle in the dishes he would kill his partner. While his partner was being sexually assaulted in another room, the male tried to loosen the bindings in order to give himself some relief from the extreme pressure the rapist had applied in binding him.
Upon hearing the rattle of the dishes, the rapist returned to the room and placed a gun to the victims head whilst providing one final warning that if he heard another rattle of the dishes he would not only kill his partner, but him as well. This providing police with evidence that the offender was not only becoming smarter in his offenses but he was also escalating in the level of violence committed in his crimes.
The Rapist Vanishes – 5/17/77
It was the dawning hours of the 17th of May when the East Area Rapist assaulted a couple in the Del Dayo area of Carmichael, California. This time however, he raised the level of fear in the community exponentially. During the assault, through his trademark clenched teeth whispering, he told the victims to let law enforcement know he could have killed two people that night and that if he didn’t hear that in the press the next day that he would kill two people the following night.
The man lingered in the house for hours, cooking food while conveying the usual taunts and threats of murder if he heard a single noise. After entering through the sliding door at the back of the house, the MO of the event given to police upon their arrival mirrored that of the twenty previous victims to almost every detail. The well documented 5’9 approximation, athletic build, caucasian appearance and occasional stutter in his voice were reported once again.
A week later he struck again, only this time he told his victims that his threat to kill his next two victims if he heard absolutely anything about this latest attack from the media. However by this stage the police patrols in the Sacramento area organized by the task force that had been established to catch this menacing offender. These patrols garnered much media attention and helped in generating various rewards for information leading to an arrest.
However, the best break in the case may have come after the police were finally able to piece together the numerous witness accounts, the Sacramento police were able to release a composite sketch of the suspect. Coupled with the exhaustive police patrols, this was believed to not only have force the suspect out of the local area but the reason for his disappearance all together for the entire summer period.
A Summer of Speculation – Summer 1977
Not a single attack over the period was attributed to the suspect and of course the speculation as to what had happened began. Did someone kill him during an attack? As one could imagine the fear the rapist put into the community lead to huge jump in the demand for security equipment. Gun sales jumped almost thirty percent in some areas and some began to question whether or not the rapist had been killed during a burglary and nobody had made the connection.
It was also suggested by elements of the population and media members that the rapist was a member of law enforcement and that the investigators had been reluctant to make an arrest and allowed him to continue his attacks. This theory was reported in a number of news outlets and gained credibility due to the MO of the perpetrator. The precision of his break-ins, the binding of the victims and how it was widely believed he was stalking the victims before his eventual assault. But this speculation played into the police holding town meetings in order to dispel such gossip.
However the public’s fear and anger aided the rapist in his crime spree. While responding to one of the assaults in Rancho Cordova, a witness reported that she saw a man wearing ski-mask and going around the side of the house across the street but failed to report the sighting as she knew the rapist was in the community. This was arguably the best chance yet the police had to apprehend the suspect but due to the fear instilled in the public, it was lost.
Leads on potential suspects continued to flood authorities but one by one they were eliminated by police. Women would report suspicious vehicles watching their homes but in cases where the police managed to track down the owner of the car, it turned up as a dead end. Reports of prowling had continually occurred since the beginning of the rapist’s crime spree, fueling the paranoia throughout the community.
All the police managed to surmise this far was that the rapist would stalk his victims for a period of times to establish their movements. He would break into homes and prepare to the crime scene and in one case he unloaded a gun in the bedroom of his eventual victims. In many of the cases police would find window screens removed and theorized the rapist would also use this time to study the layout of the house.
Many of the detectives involved in the case grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress they were able to give the communities affected. However this was also the reason for the lack of initial disclosure about the case as the officers investigating the case had no solid information to convey to the public. But as summer progressed, nobody was able to forget about the man who had come to be known as the East Area Rapist.
To be continued…