Life has a peculiar way of impacting people in unforeseen circumstances. Sometimes, blessings can occur in unexpected ways that transcend the course of one’s life. Other times, tragedies happen in ways that can go unexplained and the turmoil can seemingly never overturn into a positive. In this case, the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert was the catalyst that featured both of these scenarios; a yin and yang event that has left many people affected in different forms. This is the story.
Shannan Gilbert was born on Friday, October 24, 1986, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her family lived in New Jersey, where Shannan grew up with her mother, Mari Gilbert and her siblings, Sarra Elizabeth Gilbert, Sherre Gilbert, and Steve Smith. Her intelligence was exceptional and she graduated high school at sixteen-years-old. Afterward, she was taking online college courses at Phoenix University and held several jobs ranging from being a hostess at Applebee’s, a hotel receptionist, and cooking for the elderly in a senior center. Her goal was to save money to relocate to New York to pursue her ambitions of being an actress, singer, and writer. The jobs she undertook wasn’t enough to fund her transition and she decided to temporarily turn her attention to online escorting via Craigslist.
The profession was going as well as expected until Saturday, May 1, 2010, when 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert was accompanied by her escort driver, Michael Pak, to meet up with Joseph Brewer — a new client living in a gated community in Oak Beach, Long Island. They arrived at his residence at approximately 2:00 a.m. Three hours later everything turned into a hectic frenzy that remains unclear to this very day, but the events changed Long Island forever.
Shortly before 5:00 a.m. Shannan called 911. She was repeatedly telling the dispatcher, “They are trying to kill me!” as she fled from Brewer’s home and sprinted toward the closest neighbor, Gustav Coletti. He was in the process of shaving when he was startled by erratic screaming and knocking on his front door. As he frantically went to open the door, Shannan darted inside with utter terror brimming from her face. Out of concern for her wellbeing, Gustav said he was going to notify the police. Those words caused more distraught which prompted her to run away from his home.
Gustav watched her flee and subsequently noticed a black SUV driving slowly down the road. He proceeded to confront the driver, who was Shannan’s escort driver, Michael Pak. He asked what his intentions were and Pak responded, “I’m looking for Shannan.” Gustav — who was oblivious to her occupation — told Pak that he called the police, causing him to drive away from the residential community.
In the midst of the exchange between Gustav and Michael, Shannan had run to the home of Barbara Brennan and hellaciously pounded on the front door for assistance. Fearing for her own safety, Brennan refused to acknowledge the knocking and called her next-door door neighbor, Tom Canning, to alert him to the situation. He quickly looked went outside to check on the commotion, but Shannan had already fled across the street to the home of Dr. Peter Hackett. From this point onward, Shannan was never seen alive again.
Two days after Shannan’s disappearance, her mother Mari Gilbert received an unexpected telephone call from Dr. Peter Hackett. He asked if Shannan was safe and feeling better but Mari hadn’t any knowledge that anything was amiss. She went on to ask how he acquired her phone number and he mentioned that it was policy to have a patient’s contact information. Perplexed by the response, Mari asked why he was distributing medicine in the first place. As the conversation continued, he allegedly stated he ran a halfway-home for women in dire need and explained the events that transpired–providing medication for Shannan to help calm her nerves (the type of medicine is unclear but it’s presumed to be a benzodiazepine).
With Mari and the rest of Shannan’s family learning of her distress and unaware of her whereabouts, they filed a missing person’s report. Mari relayed the information she received from Hackett’s phone call to the investigators and once media coverage began swarming in, Dr. Peter Hackett was bombarded by several reports about the conversation with Mari. He proceeded to deny all allegations of a phone call ever happening on live television. Shortly thereafter, phone records were obtained and released publically, proving Hackett’s deception. He went on to recant his prior statements but remained adamant about never mentioning anything relating to halfway-homes or treating Shannan Gilbert with an unknown substance drug(s).
A massive search for Shannan went underway but the pursuit was fruitless. Seven months later in December 2010, a police officer conducting a routine training exercise with his cadaver dog stumbled upon the skeletal remains of a woman wrapped in a burlap sack. Two days later, three more bodies in burlap sacks were unearthed in the proximity, none of whom were Shannan. They were all online escorts and determined to be murdered by strangulation.
Megan Waterman was the first woman to be properly identified by name. She was a 22-year-old mother from South Portland, Maine. She had been staying in a hotel in Hauppauge, New York when she disappeared on June 6, 2010, after leaving behind her phone and wallet to meet an unknown client that accepted her escorting ad on Craigslist.
Maureen Brainard-Barnes was a 25-year-old single mother from Norwich, Connecticut. She was visiting New York when she disappeared in July 2007.
Amber Lynn Costello was 27-years-old living in North Babylon, New York. She vanished under mysterious circumstances on September 2, 2010, after meeting an unknown client who called and emailed her numerous times offering upwards of $1,500.00 for her company.
Melissa Barthelemy was 24-years-old from Erie County, New York. She disappeared on July 12, 2009, and when her family reported her missing the local authorities refused to initiate a search until several days later when Melissa’s younger sister, Amanda, began receiving nearly a dozen phone calls from Melissa’s cell-phone.
The caller was not Melissa, unfortunately. Instead, it was an unidentified male who taunted and harassed Amanda by saying crude things. In one exchange, the caller professed, “Do you know what your sister is? She’s a whore. I killed her. I know where you live and I can kill you too.”
Throughout the handful of phone calls made to Amanda, the police attempted to triangulate the caller’s location. They managed to pin him to Times Square in Manhattan but the populated area made it impossible to adequately locate the origin.
According to law officials, the subject is a Caucasian male between 20-40 years old. His demeanor is calm, and his manner of speech is elegant. He also seemed to be acute on police tactics — keeping his phone calls under three minutes. This had the police theorizing he could be an active or retired member of law enforcement. Other officials speculated these type of behaviors aren’t unique and could be gleaned from watching television shows such as CSI or NCIS.
Thereafter, the unidentified male never made any subsequent communications with Amanda. However, the police managed to obtain call records that indicated Melissa was in contact with somebody residing in Manorville, New York, but this lead wasn’t considered entirely beneficial at the time.
Richard Dormer — the former police commissioner at Suffolk County — told ABC News that he believes a serial killer is behind the killings due to the location of the bodies and their cause of death. The news made headlines and sent the media and local residents into hysteria.
The search for Shannan Gilbert continued but the task proved difficult because of the harsh, winter weather. The police orchestrated another search for Shannan the following year in March and April that extended to Nassau County. To their horror, six more sets of remains were discovered.
Unlike the first four victims found the previous year, the remains of these victims were partial, indicating dismemberment. Shockingly, one particular set of remains unearthed was linked to a pair of severed legs wrapped in plastic that washed up on the shore of Fire Island in 1996 — a case that baffled original detectives ever since the discovery was made.
Interestingly, one victim was an Asian male that was wearing women’s clothing. Law enforcement searched their database for missing Asian males from Long Island but none were a definitive match. They hypothesized that he was also a sex-worker and could have been mistaken for a woman.
Another set of partial remains uncovered a captivating tale. The body parts were confirmed via DNA to belong to 20-year-old Jessica Taylor, who was last seen in Manhattan near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in July 2003. Three weeks after she disappeared, a woman walking her dog came across a woman’s torso with a tattoo mutilated from the hip, and a pair of legs. Missing from the crime scene were a skull, arms, and hands — of which were found amidst the multitude of other victims.
Approximately 200 yards away from the partial remains of Jessica Taylor was a female child between 18-24 months old wrapped in a blanket. A name was unable to be provided to the authorities so they referred to her as Baby Doe. She was later linked to being the daughter of an unidentified woman dubbed “Peaches” because of a tattoo found on a torso that was located in 1997 at Hempstead Lake State Park.
Two equally horrifying theories arose from these uncoverings; either two killers were disposing of their victims coincidentally in the same proximity or a lone serial killer was responsible and has been active for at least twenty years.
In the span of six months, ten bodies had been located, none of which belonged to Shannan Gilbert — the missing 24-year-old who unintentionally brought forth the chilling discovery. In December 2011, the skeletal remains of Shannan were finally located, less than a half mile away from Dr. Peter Hackett’s backyard — the last place she was reported to be seen.
After a positive identification was confirmed, the Suffolk County Medical Examiner spent four days performing an autopsy. In the meantime, Richard Dormer preemptively announced Shannan’s death was accidental — drowning in the dense marsh she was found in — even though the results weren’t confirmed. What is known is that Shannan suffered from Bipolar disorder and was off her medication at the time of her disappearance. Nevertheless, the premature answer given by Dormer angered surviving family members, and soon after an official ruling on her death was determined to be inconclusive.
The Gilbert family wholeheartedly believed Shannan was met with foul play and hired an attorney, John Ray, who proceeded to employ an independent coroner to get a second opinion on Shannan’s death. The autopsy indicated Shannan could have met with foul play because of the larynx of her hyoid bone being detached; meaning she could have potentially been strangled, yet a definitive conclusion couldn’t be determined.
Due to inconsistent reports and the oddities surrounding Dr. Peter Hackett’s behavior and false statements, Mari Gilbert forthrightly accused Hackett being responsible for her death and alleged murder. In 2012, Mari and Ray filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Hackett, but he wasn’t charged with any wrongdoings. Soon after, he relocated with his family to Florida and is not considered a suspect.
Three years later in 2015 — with a lack of headway in the Long Island Serial Killer case — an escort going by the name of “Leanne,” came forward alongside the Gilbert family’s attorney and told the media a fascinating story.
According to Leanne, she had an unsavory encounter with James Burke — the Chief of Police in Suffolk County’s Police Department — at a house party in Oak Beach one year after Shannan disappeared. During the party, Burke partook in cocaine and alcohol that was freely passed around. He made numerous attempts to seduce her, but after all of her declines, she became very aggressive. He reportedly choked her and forced her to provide oral pleasure, all the while proclaiming she was a “No good whore.” She would go on to attest that more law enforcement members were present and some were actually clientele.
Leanne’s testimony came after the events that unfolded in November 2015, when Burke resigned from the position of Suffolk County’s Police Chief after being served a 46-month federal prison sentence for severely beating Christopher Loeb because he stole a duffel bag full of sex toys and pornography from his SUV. Afterward, he coerced other law enforcement members in his jurisdiction and neighboring counties to cover up his indecencies; a series of misdoings that occurred in a three-year time span.
Additionally, Burke refused the FBI’s assistance when they were brought in to take over the Long Island Serial Killer case. The motive behind his intentions are unknown, but the sheer fact of this decision led many people to presume he had a possible tie-in personally in the serial killing(s) and wanted the evidence to remain buried. Others speculated he wasn’t involved at all and wanted to cover his involvement in solicitation and drugs.
In a macabre turn of events that nobody could have predicted, Shannan’s mother was savagely murdered by her youngest daughter, Sarra, in July 2016, who suffers from schizophrenia. She had stabbed Mari over two-hundred times and used a fire extinguisher to bludgeon her. On August 4, 2017, Sarra was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison.
Throughout all of these tragic tangents involved in some form or another in the Long Island Serial Killer case, a suspect named John Bittrolff emerged from all of the rubble.
Bittrolff was making a living as a carpenter and was an avid hunter living in Manorville, New York. In 1993 and 1994, he murdered two women and is suspected of more. His first victim was Rita Tangredi, a sex worker who was found strangled and bludgeoned to death on November 2, 1993, in Suffolk County. Eighteen days later on November 20, 1993, the body of Sandra Costilla was discovered in North Sea, New York, of whom lived a high-risk lifestyle similar to Rita. Two months later on January 30, 1994, Colleen McNamee, another sex worker, was unearthed in Shirley, New York, and disposed of in the same manner as the previous two women.
The medical examiners were able to obtain male DNA and semen samples but the evidence didn’t point to any one person. It wasn’t until 2013 when Bittrolff’s brother, Timothy, was sent to prison for criminal contempt. As a result, his DNA was taken and placed into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). His DNA shockingly came back as a partial match from one of the murders twenty-years prior and ultimately led back to John, who was subsequently charged in July 2014 for the murder of Rita Tangredi and Colleen McNamee.
Throughout the examination into Bittrolff, investigators were considering him to be a prime suspect in the Gilgo Beach murders — particularly the first four victims who were found strangled and discarded in burlap sacks. It was learned that Rita Tangredi’s daughter was best friends with Melissa Barthelemy — one of the sex workers who was murdered and had call records from an unknown source in Manorville, New York. Likewise, the torso of Jessica Taylor found in 2003 was approximately three miles away from his residence.
As of right now, the inspection is still ongoing, but John Bitrolff was convicted of the second-degree murders of Rita Tangredi and Colleen McNamee by a Suffolk County Jury on July 5, 2017, and on September 12, 2017, he was sentenced to 50-years to life in prison at the age of fifty-one-years old.
It remains to be seen if Bitrolff is the Long Island Serial Killer. The investigation is still culminating all of the evidence. As for Shannan Gilbert, she has never been conclusively tied to being a victim of the notorious serial killer, and the Gilbert family attorney, John Ray, is still striving for answers.
On March 6, 2018, Sanford Berland — a Long Island judge — ordered Suffolk County to release the full 23-minute phone call Shannan placed to 911 shortly before vanishing to Ray. They have until March 19, 2018, to produce the recorded phone call and transcript, where it will be reviewed by the judge, where he will ultimately rule whether or not it should be made available.
Shannan Gilbert’s unsolved case is a fascinating one. It paints a portrait of misconception. It’s important to remember that Shannan, along with her mother, Mari, and the rest of the victims, is human. They are more than escorts. Their lives had value, and they had dreams of wanting to become more. Yet if it wasn’t for Shannan’s tragic disappearance, perhaps none of the victims would have been found and more would pile on. Shannan put into motion a tale of horror and corruptness, but also a story of a caterpillar that’s in its growing stages and ready to become beautiful; a butterfly who flaps its wings and creates justice in a case that was buried in the dust without anyone’s knowledge.
With this post, I am going to analyze interesting details the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department unveiled to the public on February 27, 2018, regarding criminal activity occurring in Rancho Cordova and other East Sacramento towns between 1972-1973.
First and foremost, I’d like to examine what this bombshell news could mean. Since the information isn’t necessarily confirmed to be the work of the East Area Rapist, speculation and theories will be a big proponent of this analysis while remaining grounded in the known facts for the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer case.
This may be overwhelming if you’re a newcomer to the case so let’s start with the basics. The East Area Rapist is a serial rapist and killer who operated in Northern and Southern California for ten years between 1976-1986. For three years he violated fifty women — teenagers, single, married — inside of their homes. In late 1979, he traveled south and turned into a cold-blooded killer. He committed his last murder on May 4, 1986, and vanished into thin air and has remained elusive ever since.
M.O. (modus operandi) and Signature:
Extensive prowling of neighborhoods
Speaking through clenched teeth or a harsh whisper
Waking victims up with a flashlight and gun saying he is only there for food and money, often for his van
Having the female bind the male and then remove her from the bedroom
Stacking dishes on the male’s back and threatening to kill him if he heard them rattle
Forcing the female to masturbate him with her hands bound behind her back
Prank calling or hang-up calls before and after the home invasion and rape
Using shoelaces and cutting towels into strips for binding
Ransacking the home in-between numerous rapes
Eating and drinking food from the victims’ kitchen
Sometimes crying and hyperventilating after raping the women
Stealing odd items that had little value despite items of expensive worth being present (taking coins instead of cash, one earring instead of two, etc)
Physical Description and Characteristics:
Early to mid-twenties (could be in his sixties to seventies as of now)
Blond or brown hair (medium length)
Athletic build and between 160-175 pounds
5’8 – 5’11
Size 9-9.5 shoe
Blue or hazel eyes
Type A blood
Sometimes stuttered and had a high-pitched voice
The first confirmed victim of the East Area Rapist occurred on June 18, 1976. However, there is circumstantial evidence suggesting he may have been active as early as October 21, 1975, when an unknown assailant dressed in camouflaged apparel with a homemade ski mask, and brandishing a large buck knife gained entry to a Rancho Cordova, California home through an unlocked garage with three occupants inside; a mother and her two daughters, ages seven and eighteen.
When he was inside, he cut towels into several strips and proceeded to wake up the oldest daughter, subsequently binding her and threatening to kill her if she screamed. Once she was restrained the perpetrator shifted his attention to the mother and followed the same routine–placing the two women in the same room together. Thereafter, he made his way into the seven-year-old daughter’s bedroom who was still asleep and fastened her hands and ankles and kept her away from her family.
Throughout the course of the night, the mother made numerous pleas with the intruder to leave her family unharmed but she was met with harsh whispers ordering her to be quiet. The mother and oldest daughter were repeatedly beaten and raped. Once he finished, he ransacked the residence — stealing inexpensive jewelry and an assortment of coins before fleeing the home at 6:30 a.m.
The authorities arrived at the crime scene shortly after and took the victims’ statements. They described the assailant to be in his early twenties and 5’7 in height. They also claimed he could have been a black male but couldn’t provide a definitive conclusion because of how dimly lit the home was during the attack.
For approximately a year this assault was considered to be apart of the East Area Rapists’ timeline once he made his presence more apparent in summer of 1976 and the media blackout being lifted the subsequent November. More victim testimonies started piling in and the descriptions of their attacker was that of a Caucasian male. As a result, the October 1975 attack was removed from having any connection to the East Area Rapist.
It wasn’t until a 1977 follow-up interview conducted with the 1975 victims that they recanted their initial statements on their attacker’s ethnicity. They said he could have been a white male. With the inconsistent testimony, the assault was never officially put back in canon with the East Area Rapists’ emergence, but the main consensus amongst the original detectives is that he was responsible.
Aside from this sexual assault, there weren’t many detailed incidents of similar criminal activity available to current detectives predating this crime because the reports were on microfilm. They were recently transferred to digital and Sergeant Paul Belli and other investigators in Sacramento County’s Sheriff’s Department began examining all of the 35,000 plus reports that were filed in 1973 — particularly those that featured similarities to the East Area Rapists’ modus operandi — and are now being presented to the public with the hope of garnishing new leads and tips. With that, let’s look at the latest information revealed by the Cold Case Investigations Unit.
A cat burglar operated in the Rancho Cordova and eastern Sacramento County during 1972 and 1973, striking over 30 times during that time period. His crimes were linked by M.O. and it was recognized by detectives of that time that the crimes were the work of one man. Only one other cat burglary series (albeit brief, and with a different M.O.) was occurring simultaneous to this series. When caught, the suspects in that case said they saw the success the cat burglar of Rancho Cordova was having, and thought it was an easy crime to commit (for them it wasn’t.) A gap occurred at the end of 1972, but by spring of 1973, his offenses began anew and his re-emergence was documented by detectives. His method of operation was to enter a home quietly after the occupants were asleep. The burglar typically exited out a different pre-opened door from his point of entry, and evidence indicated the door was likely opened immediately upon entering the home as an escape route. The front door was frequently the exit point. A commonly hit area was the area between Dolecetto Drive and Malaga Way and near Coloma Road with over a dozen strikes. He also struck other areas of Rancho Cordova, and branched out to Carmichael, Citrus Heights, and other nearby areas. He was known in the reports as “the cat burglar that strikes the Rancho Cordova and East Areas of Sacramento.”
Once inside, the burglar went throughout the home as the occupants slept and took purses and wallets belonging to the victims. Victims included families with children, couples, and single women. Evidence from many of the scenes indicated the burglar had spent extensive time searching the residence, but most of the time items of value outside of the purses and wallets were disregarded. However, the burglar would sometimes take coin collections, silver, or other items including food and alcohol. The burglar also spent considerable time in the bedrooms of the victim(s) as they slept, without disturbing them. The purses/wallets were typically found nearby in an adjacent yard, or on the sidewalk of the residence.
Occasionally they were left elsewhere in groups with other victims’ property from the same night. The only item typically taken from the purse was money, but occasionally small items or identification was also missing. In a few instances, victims awoke as the suspect was in the residence. The suspect would flee the residence out of one of the open doors, sometimes with the victim in pursuit. Additionally, the suspect would frequently strike multiple houses in a single night.
On one occasion, the suspect touched a woman’s breast as she slept, but left when she told him he needed to leave her house. That woman was alone at the time of the attack. In another case, a victim was awakened by a noise in her bedroom. She looked up and saw a man standing near the bedroom door, approximately 8 feet away. She sat up in bed and the suspect pointed a gun at her. The victim said nothing to the suspect, but an odd interaction occurred. The suspect stated “I just took a dollar off your dresser.” The woman told the suspect he should put it back and leave. The suspect complied and returned two dollars to the dresser, despite claiming he had taken only one dollar. He walked down the hallway, but stopped and looked in at the 17-year-old daughter, who then yelled at him to leave. Though the suspect left the residence without further incident, he took a quarter and a nickel from a table near the exit door.
The suspect in this series was seen by several victims and witnesses. Most only observed him briefly and in very low lighting conditions. Descriptions were of a white male in his 20’s, 5’6” to 6’0”, with a slender to average build.
Extensive investigation was conducted in attempts to apprehend this cat burglar, but it does not appear he was ever identified. The areas targeted include Rancho Cordova, Carmichael, Whitney/Mission area, and Citrus Heights. Three of the Citrus Heights cat burglaries were each within a block of one of the two East Area Rapist strikes four years later. The Rancho Cordova strikes were within blocks or closer to the Rancho Cordova EAR attacks. It was also believed the suspect had extensive knowledge of the drainage canals and of the American River Parkway.
Why does this information have valuable importance to the East Area Rapist? The locations are very significant. Rancho Cordova seems to be a vital area for the emergence of this prolific cat burglar. Moreover, he struck residences in Carmichael and Citrus Heights. Not only did he tally up a large number of home invasions, he targeted homes that were in the proximity to future sexual assault victims where the East Area Rapist often frequented between June 18, 1976 – May 17, 1977.
Another intriguing detail is the cat-burglar touching a woman’s breast while she slept. The East Area Rapist hardly ever focused on that region of the body; as if he was uninterested entirely. One of the rare incidents where he focused on the upper-chest was in Walnut Creek, California, on June 2, 1979, when a seventeen-year-old babysitter was raped and had bitten her nipple numerous times. The victim described her assailant to be a slender white male approximately 5’6 tall.
As for the evidence law enforcement has to conclude this cat-burglar had extensive knowledge on drainage canals, the reasons are unclear, but in future events with the East Area Rapist — specifically in the Rancho Cordova area — tracking dogs would often pick up his scent from crime scenes that lead them to canals which were used for making a quick exit. In the targeted locations, there is a significant drainage canal that is easily accessible from each home that was attacked. This trend transcended through several towns he earmarked including Goleta in southern California.
On several occasions, indecent exposures occurred within a couple blocks of the Rancho Cordova cat burglaries, on the same day and in the following days. It is unknown whether these incidents are related to the cat burglaries or if the responsible was a separate offender.
This indecent exposure suspect also struck other areas of Rancho Cordova and Carmichael, on nights where no cat burglaries were reported. These incidents involved a male suspect who would knock on the front window, front door, or sliding glass door of the residence wearing only a t-shirt when a woman or teenage girl was standing near it. It appears based on the timing that he had been watching for a period of time until the desired victim was near the window/door. He was observed by the victim(s), committed lewd acts, and did not leave immediately. He was not observed to be holding anything including pants, and was occasionally chased by males who were also in the home. In one case, the suspect knocked on the front door, stood in front of the victim naked from the waist down, and demanded: “Give me a match.” She screamed, and alerted others in the house, but when they checked outside, the man was gone.
On another occasion, a teenage girl left a party and was walking home on Newton Way in Rancho Cordova at approximately 12:30 a.m. During the walk, she realized a man was following her. She walked faster and the man quickened his pace, but was still a considerable distance away. The girl ran to the home of a stranger and knocked, prompting a middle-aged woman to answer the door. Both parties then observed the man walk to the edge of the driveway, look up at them, and drop his pants to his ankles exposing himself. He stood staring briefly, and The subject then walked from the area on foot. The description of the suspect in the above cases is as follows:
20 to 25 years old
Light brown/reddish brown hair to dark brown hair
5’8” to 6’0”
Thin to average build, 160-170 pounds
I have a hard time believing this Flasher was the East Area Rapist. While the physical description matches, it’s not an uncommon illustration amongst many males in that era. What is notable, however, are where these events transpired and how oftentimes they occurred on the same nights as the cat-burglaries; making it difficult to completely disregard.
There aren’t any details pertaining to the East Area Rapist being bold enough to knock on someone’s front door without a mask on and expose himself as the occupant(s) opened the door. However, there are a handful of incidents that portray his brazenness. A prime example would be his third attack on August 29, 1976, in Rancho Cordova on Malaga Way.
The occupants were a mother and her two daughters ages twelve and fifteen. Their father had recently left for the night shift at his new job. Shortly after 10:30 p.m. the youngest daughter awoke to sounds resonating from the backyard. When she peeked out of her bedroom window she saw a masked individual with gloves on creeping toward her window and attempt to remove the screening. The two locked eyes and she screamed in horror as she quickly ran to her mother’s room.
The mother panicked and quickly ran to her oldest daughter’s room to notify her of the situation but she shrugged it off and continued sleeping. Thereafter, she ran to the kitchen with her youngest clinging to her side and tried calling the authorities on the landline phone. All of a sudden, a loud thud was heard emanating from the youngest daughter’s bedroom. A few seconds later they were confronted by a masked intruder nude from the waist down and armed with a handgun and club.
He immediately blitzed them and the mother attempted to wrestle away his gun. The man retaliated by clubbing her on the head several times until she fell unconscious. He proceeded to force them into the living room where the mother tried resisting the assailant again. She sprinted for the front door and in the process, she was struck again multiple times but managed to break free and scream for help with her youngest daughter following close behind. They hurriedly ran to their neighbor’s home and the oldest daughter met up with her family as she escaped from her bedroom window.
The police were called and they arrived within two minutes. A neighbor living adjacent to the victims told authorities she heard the commotion and glanced out of her window. She claimed to see three women running away while a fourth person wearing a ski mask was pantless and fled across the street to hide behind a set of bushes. Moments later, he stood up and casually walked away into the dark.
It has been theorized the East Area Rapist lived in Rancho Cordova — particularly near his victims — because of him walking away in a calm demeanor without wearing pants of which were never found. This theory can be substantiated if he was the 1972-1973 cat burglar that successfully invaded thirty homes.
Another example showing the perpetrator’s bold demeanor is of him not being deterred from his desired goal. In his seventh attack in Carmichael, California on October 18, 1976, a ten-year-old boy woke up to his dog barking relentlessly. He went to check on his dog and they both went to the kitchen’s sliding glass doors that lead to the backyard. When he let the dog outside, he spotted a man tampering with the kitchen window. The dog darted after the assailant, and he sprinted toward the backyard fence and perched himself atop it until the dog calmed down. The boy immediately ran back inside to alert his sleeping mother and in the process, they heard stampeding footsteps echoing from the hallway to the bedroom, where the intruder pressed onward with his attack.
This level of confidence was built over a period of time as he continued to hone his abilities and escape without being apprehended. If the East Sacramento Flasher was the East Area Rapist — which would mean he successfully outran people chasing him — all of those things culminate into him having the audacity to dive deeper into darker atrocities and still feel in complete control.
The last example would be after his fifteenth attack in Rancho Cordova, California, on March 18, 1977. The media began to point out his cowardliness — mentioning he was only attacking women who were alone, and wouldn’t dare attempt to strike when a male was present — husband, boyfriend, teenager. The East Area Rapist must have kept up with the news coverage because his very next attack was on April 2, 1977, on a couple living in Orangevale, California.
Ultimately, it’s hard to see the connection between the East Sacramento Flasher and the East Area Rapist. Though these crimes were taking place in similar geographical areas, their M.O.’s are vastly different. An argument could be made where — if the two are the same people — the Flasher was relatively young in his criminal maturity. As he got older, he developed a higher level of sexual appetite and was acting on those fantasies in a more upfront way. However, it seems inexplicable that a prolific cat burglar in 1972-1973 would act childishly by putting himself in danger by exposing himself to people when they answered the knock on the front door. It detracts a lot from the methodical nature that was the 1972-1973 cat burglar and the East Area Rapist.
Cordova Meadows Burglar (1973)
A burglar operated in the Cordova Meadows subdivision and nearby area in 1973. He struck at all times of the day and night, including when people were home. It is unknown whether his activities are related to the cat burglaries occurring in the greater Rancho Cordova and East areas of Sacramento that were previously described, but the few descriptions of the suspects are somewhat consistent. These burglaries were occurring at their heaviest in the first half of 1973, and included over 20 burglaries by mid-March. Some of the items taken include coins, piggy banks, jewelry, binoculars, hunting knives (some in scabbards), photographic cameras and movie cameras, two-dollar bills (numerous,) Blue Chip Stamps, handguns, food, alcohol, and prescription medication. Larger items, most electronics, and other items of value were noted to be disregarded by the suspect.
The burglar exhibited numerous quirks both in his behaviors as well as things he chose to steal. On one occasion, the burglar dumped the contents of a bottle of prescription Codeine pills into the sink, but took the empty bottle with him. Among the unusual items stolen by the offender were two sets of two car magnets, which are signs placed on the sides of vehicles typically to advertise a business. Two of the signs taken by the burglar advertised a painting and drywall company owned by the resident, and the other two were for a different business venture, also operated by the victim. Also taken during some of the burglaries were photos of female occupants, including a set of nude photos taken by the model’s husband. Additionally, single earrings were taken from pairs.
Not all of the incidents have all M.O. factors in common, but many are present simultaneously on some of the crime scenes, and some are present on most all of the cases. Geography and links via date and time of occurrence were also considered. Some of the M.O. factors (some quite rare) that frequently crop up in this series include the following:
Entry through a kitchen or sliding glass door.
Opening of a window in a back bedroom and placing of the screen on the bed or inside
Deputies processing the scene noted that, in these instances, the window was as being used as an emergency escape only and was not the point of entry or preferred exit. This escape exit was used on two occasions where the homeowner interrupted the burglary
Unplugging of forced air furnace
Secondary securing of front door by chair, security chain, or other blocking item
Killing of small dogs by blunt force
Heavy ransacking of bedrooms and scattering of clothing articles on floor
Women’s undergarments stacked in other rooms
Ransacking of kitchen
Leaving numerous burnt matches on the floor of the home
In addition, this burglar was responsible for other burglaries of the same type as that suffered by the family of a future EAR victim. The burglary to her home in March 1973 was one of three M.O.-linked burglaries that happened the same day, including one at the residence next door.
In the burglary of the home next door to the future EAR victim, the suspect stole a movie camera, other related equipment, and money from a piggy bank (bank broken by suspect.) The burglary to the future victim was believed to have been a “no loss” burglary, and it occurred at the same residence where she would later be assaulted early in the East Area Rapist series, three years later. This victim also had a single earring stolen from her during the sexual assault incident (1976).
A strange burglary occurred the same night and based on the timing is believed to be the last of the three. This burglary occurred across the river in Carmichael near Mission Ave and El Camino Ave that included the theft of eighty two-dollar bills and silver coins. There was heavy ransacking of the bedrooms, and a small poodle was also killed by the suspect.
In another suspected related burglary two days prior in Rancho Cordova, entry was made through a side kitchen door. The suspect blocked the front door with a barstool, and ransacked the bedrooms heavily with drawers open and clothing scattered on the floor. The suspect took a Ruger, 7 shot .22 caliber revolver, watches, three rings including a ruby “Elks” head ring and an engagement ring, old silver coins and bills, a left handled hunting knife in a scabbard with name “Walt” printed on the scabbard, a single earring, Avon “Model A” yellow after shave lotion, and a broken lamp. Other items of value were left behind.
Hang-up phone calls and odd communications were also present in this series, and were reported by victims in the area. One particular victim, a 17-year-old girl, was living in the 10100 block of La Alegria Drive. She received a suspicious unsigned letter stating:
“I love you.” She then received numerous hang-up phone calls and a final call where a subject with a low, adult male voice, stated: “I love you, this is your last night to live.”
This victim lived next door to the home where the killer of Brian and Katie Maggiore jumped the fence and fell into bushes in his escape from the crime scene on La Alegria Drive five years later.
Out of all the recent information released, this is probably the most significant. There are a few details in the summary above that stand out to me. First of which is the proclivity for Rancho Cordova. Secondly, the modus operandi has many facets of which the East Area Rapist expanded on as he fine-tuned his skills by experience. Third, the stolen items are very common with what the future EAR/ONS would be infatuated with. Here is a comprehensive list of stolen items created by “EchoMint” from the EAR/ONS/GSK ProBoards. I also have created a list of stolen items per home with added context and suspicious vehicles in the area that can be viewed here.
From the list, you can see the glaring similarities between the two offenders and the items they preferred to steal. Additionally, one particular burglary stands out more prominent than the rest. According to the description from the Cordova Meadows Burglar in 1973, he once took:
On one occasion, the burglar dumped the contents of a bottle of prescription Codeine pills into the sink, but took the empty bottle with him.
If you look at attack seventeen committed by the East Area Rapist on April 15, 1977, in Carmichael, California, you will see how similar to a theft the two incidents were. To provide additional context, after the rape he found a bottle of codeine in the victim’s purse that was prescribed by her dentist. He took the pills and discarded the bottle into the kitchen sink. It’s unclear whether or not he actually consumed the pills because he told the victim he was in need of a “fix,” but the following afternoon their neighbor discovered a plastic bag with watered down pills in his backyard.
Overall, there are some slight deviations in the modus operandi. Just because there are similarities doesn’t mean they are the same individual. However, considering the 1973 burglar was focused primarily on stealing — although a sexual component can be attached to it — the method of operation will be different to an extent because the motives vary.
Likewise, the East Area Rapist often gained entry to homes by prying open sliding glass doors or removing window screens. He would occasionally turn off the thermostat inside of the home as well. The theories surrounding that detail have ranged far and wide, but many people believe he did this in order to hear better inside of the home.
Another interesting component of the Cordova Meadows Burglar is how he provided extra security by blocking the pathway or placing something in front of a door to alert him if someone came inside. The East Area Rapist followed the same pattern when he was attacking his victims. Once he began targeting couples, he would take dishes and stack them on the subject’s back and tell them if he heard the appliances rattle he would come back and kill them. Everything these two offenders did was done under the circumstances where they seized control of the entire scenario from beginning to end.
The article also states how a burglary in 1973 happened on El Segundo Drive, and three years later, the occupants — primarily the nineteen-year-old daughter — was a victim of the East Area Rapist. Whether this was a coincidence or something more is interesting. In fact, I have provided an in-depth analysis of these two events. You can read more about those two events by clicking this link.
There are two more characteristics mentioned in the article that I’d like to briefly discuss. The first one is:
Killing of small dogs by blunt force
There aren’t many incidents where animals were killed conclusively by the East Area Rapist, but one explicit account happened mere hours before Dr. Robert Offerman and Dr. Debra Manning were brutally killed by the perpetrator.
A family living on Queen Anne Lane — two minutes from where Offerman and Manning lived on Avenida Pequena — was returning home from a night out when they spotted a stranger inside of their home running into the backyard and jumping a fence leading to Mountain View School. As the homeowners went inside they found their poodle dog had been injured (Some accounts say the dog was murdered while others mention the dog was injured). There were shoe impressions left in their yard and they were soon matched with the prints found at the Offerman and Manning murder scene hours later.
The next characteristic I’d like to bring up is:
Leaving numerous burnt matches on the floor of the home
This may or may not have any significance, but leaving behind burnt matches has its own connections to the East Area Rapist. At the crime scenes of the Goleta murders and the murder of Manuela Witthuhn in Columbus, Irvine, on February 6, 1981, investigators found burnt matches littered throughout the residences. Whether there’s a connection or not is undetermined, and whether or not it has any meaning to when the East Sacramento Flasher said, “Give me a match” is unknown.
Last but not least, we can’t ignore the Visalia Ransacker, who between 1974-1975 was heavily active. His modus operandi and physical description are similar to the Cordova Meadows Burglar and the East Area Rapist. He managed to successfully burglarize upwards of 120 homes. On September 11, 1975, he attempted to abduct sixteen-year-old Beth Snelling, and as her father, Claude Snelling — a professor at the College of Sequoia — went to her aide, he fatally shot him in the stomach and he passed away. Three months later on December 10, 1975, Detective William McGowen encountered the suspect. The assailant shot at him and pierced McGowen’s flashlight. The force caused him to fall down to the ground. The criminal eluded the swarm of police officers and vanished into thin air. Afterward, he never appeared again. Six months later on June 18, 1976, the East Area Rapist made his presence known with a similar modus operandi in Rancho Cordova, California.
Finally, I want to examine the last bit of information released by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department:
Burglary and Assault September 14, 1973
Just before 11:00 a.m. on September 14, 1973, a 28-year-old woman had just put her 18-month-old son down for a nap when she heard a knock on her front door. Assuming it was a religious solicitor, she disregarded it and did not answer. Additionally, she had only a few minutes earlier seen a man in the backyard, prompting her to arm herself with a handgun, although she believed it was just an electrical utility man. He eventually left the area. Within a few minutes, she heard a noise in the rear portion of the home where the bedrooms are located. She went back to check on her son, and when she came to the master bedroom she observed the suspect attempting to break into her house via the master bedroom window. The suspect was removing the screen, and she observed the gate that opened to the school behind her home was open. The suspect, upon seeing the victim, ducked and ran around the side of the house.
The victim secured the residence by checking every door and window. She made sure everything was locked, and put a chain lock in place on the door from the garage to the kitchen. The overhead garage door was open as the victim had been doing laundry in the garage. She called her husband at work and advised him of the incident. A few minutes later, the suspect forced open the door between the garage and kitchen. He also defeated the chain lock by forcing the door open with enough force to pull the nails holding the lock away from the frame base. The victim, still armed, raised the handgun and yelled to the suspect that if he came in she would shoot him. With that, the suspect walked away from the door and out of the garage. The victim called the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department to report what happened.
While the victim waited for the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, she heard the screen door between the garage and kitchen opening and the suspect came through the still broken door rapidly and attacked her. He grabbed her hands and they struggled over the handgun. The suspect forced the gun towards her, but she was able to quickly pull it up. The gun then discharged over her shoulder and the suspect fled out the garage door again and did not return. The victim passed out briefly as she was recovering from a recent surgery and was medically fragile, but she awakened and began writing a description of the suspect as she waited for the Sheriff’s Department. They arrived and a check of the area was conducted, but the suspect wasn’t found. The investigating deputies felt the incident was likely sexually motivated, and noted the persistence of the suspect.
With this Sparda Way incident on September 14, 1973, a composite sketch was created. What’s shocking is how the sketch is practically identical to one (of two) composite sketches created of a prowler and shooter on Ripon Ct. in Sacramento, California, on February 16, 1977. A big thanks to Mike Morford from True Crime Guy Blog that created a side-by-side comparison.
The two sketches are staggering in their resemblance. However, it needs to be reiterated that this doesn’t mean they are the same person. As the article released by SCSD represents, there were at least three people operating in Rancho Cordova between 1972-1973. These three people could be the same person, but as of right now we have to consider them separate individuals. Subsequently, in 1976 the East Area Rapist emerged, thus making four prolific criminals roaming the area.
There is one more offender who was active for four years between 1972-1976. He was dubbed the Early Morning Rapist and attacked thirty-six women (possibly forty-one) who were typically living in apartment buildings — a characteristic that differs drastically from the East Area Rapist. He often ambushed women at knife-point and forced them into lewd acts. The victims described him to be a white male in his mid-twenties to the early thirties, between 5’8-5’9 in height, and approximately 170 pounds with a stocky frame and potbelly.
Many original detectives who worked these cases — particularly Richard Shelby — believe they know the identity of the suspect but didn’t have enough evidence to convict him. In the spring of 1976, the suspect relocated with his family to Montana. The case officially remains unsolved.
In conclusion, we are left with more questions than answers. Were all of these people separate individuals or were they of one man — the elusive East Area Rapist? We don’t know. What this new information does tell us is that criminal activity is very common, especially for the 1970s.
Likewise, despite variations between the modus operandi of all of the possible offenders above, a lot of the believed-to-be unique traits aren’t as distinctive as commonly thought. Delinquents do not want to be caught or identified. If they have the urge to seek out their desires by home invasions and thievery, they are going to make logical decisions to enhance their possibility of escaping.
While this new information does create more questions, it also allows law enforcement to narrow down a point of origin which could lead to a viable suspect that may or may not have been overlooked. Whatever the result may be, new information is always beneficial. The questions may be growing but the net is closing in. Answers are on the way.
On March 7, 1973, a police report was filed regarding a burglary on El Segundo Drive in Rancho Cordova, California. The thief managed to pillage an assortment of coins and other items that weren’t considered valuable.
Why is this interesting?
Three years later on October 9, 1976, the same family — particularly the daughter who was then nineteen-years-old — was viciously violated by the East Area Rapist while her parents were away from home for the evening. Subsequently, he stole her driver’s license and a single earring.
It can only be speculated as to whether or not the burglar from March 7, 1973, was the East Area Rapist or simply a common criminal. However, it’s the details that create a compelling coincidence; especially when the thief had stolen coins and jewelry — a common theme amongst many victims of the notorious rapist years later.
In nearly every attack throughout his ten-year tenure — whether successful or botched — featured clear signs via modus operandi (aside from DNA evidence) that linked the crimes to the offender. With this attack, however, he did something very perplexing all the while following his typical routine so I’d like to reexamine the details available pertaining to the perpetrator’s sixth confirmed victim the night she was sexually assaulted.
Once the suspect gained entry to the residence by removing a window screen from the dining room, he took a rope and went throughout the home tying one end to the bathtub faucet and all of the bedroom door-handles in the hallway other than the victim. This implies he knew precisely where she slept.
The question has to be asked: Why did he do this? This oddity was only portrayed once in his extensive crime spree.
When he entered the victim’s bedroom, he made a few remarks that are interesting given the context of the 1973 burglary, if indeed he was the perpetrator. As he woke her up, he used one hand to clamp her mouth shut as he whispered her name three times, “Heather, Heather, Heather” (this is not her real name, only a pseudonym given by Detective Larry Crompton and author of “Sudden Terror”). Throughout the attack, he mentioned he had dreamt about having sexual interactions with her for a long time, and if she dared to scream he would kill her because he lived down the block from her.
It’s typically believed the East Area Rapist purposefully threw out red-herrings to confuse investigators, whether this was by relaying fallacious information to victims or leaving behind false clues. For the sake of speculation, let’s consider the possibility he spoke some form of truth with this assault because if he was responsible for the burglary three years beforehand, it provides fascinating new outlooks.
First of all, many victims claimed their attacker was anywhere between being in his late teens to the early or mid-twenties. This victim mentioned her attacker could be in this suspected age-range as well. Additionally, she stated she believed he discovered her name from stealing her driver’s license shortly before assaulting her. This is a logical conclusion, but if we assume he was a young offender as women often proclaimed, that could suggest he actually knew her to some degree aside from learning her name from an identification card.
“Heather” was sixteen-years-old when her home had been burglarized in 1973 and nineteen-years-old when violated in 1976 which could indicate he was around her age as well. That assumption transitions to high school. Moreover, even if he was older than her by a few years, he could still have had contact with her to an extent considering the range between freshman and senior students. This could validate another option as to how he knew her name (especially if they shared any classes together) and would provide a reason to believe him when confessed about wanting to have sex with her for a long time.
Furthermore, what if he truly lived down the block from her or on a nearby street at the very least? To be fair, this theory is a stretch but not out of the realm of possibility. To continue with this particular angle, her 1973 and 1976 residence was within a few blocks from the first, third, eighth, and Brian and Katie Maggiore Victims.
Victim #1 lived on Paseo Drive, only one minute away from Victim #6 on El Segundo Drive. Victim #3 lived close by on Malaga Way, and Victim #8 lived on Los Palos Drive. Brian and Katie Maggiore were murdered as they were walking their dog in their Rancho Cordova neighborhood. They walked near Malaga Way, La Gloria Way, and La Alegria Drive.
As far as this theory is concerned, there is an intriguing story that comes attached to it that can be deemed suspicious or just another person trying to insert themselves into a criminal investigation, thanks in large part to the incredible and very talented author and researcher, Kat Winters.
Apparently, the victim had a neighbor in his mid-twenties who had recently moved back in with his parents. His bedroom was situated where he could look out of his window directly into the victim’s, and he would often watch her at night as she got ready for bed.
As law enforcement was tending to the aftermath of the crime scene, the same neighbor unexpectedly visited the investigators. He began to act strangely, even showing up with a bag full of jewelry that he claimed he discovered in parents’ bedroom but he was certain it didn’t belong to them and wanted to notify the police already at the scene.
Additionally, he uninvitedly made his way inside of the home where he proceeded to ask if the victim was okay and also explore various parts of the home. He even went on to show the officers on duty where his bedroom window was located from inside of the victim’s bedroom.
The police finally escorted the neighbor out of the home, but they noted him as being a potential suspect in the crime. Moreover, he matched the description of the East Area Rapist and owned a green Chevy Vega. This was profound because a green 1952 Chevy Vega was reported in Citrus Heights, California, when the perpetrator attacked his fifth victim, Jane Carson Sandler, four days earlier on October 5, 1976 (there is no clarification as to what year the neighbor’s vehicle was).
With law enforcement’s suspicion raised, they decided to keep tabs on the neighbor. According to the author of “Hunting a Psychopath” and Detective Richard Shelby — now retired — he was ruled out because the authorities received a call from dispatch during a stakeout detailing another victim had been assaulted on October 18, 1976.
There is another avenue to explore and that’s the victim’s personal life. According to her statements, she would often frequent Mather Air Force Base to go dancing; a hobby she partook in for years before the assault (I’m not sure if it pre-dated the 1973 burglary). While the theory of the East Area Rapist having military connections is very common, if he was the assailant behind the 1973 and 1976 incidents, that would provide more substantial credence on his statements about fantasizing about her.
In conclusion, what are we to believe? Unfortunately, we can only speculate, create theories or add on to the ones already made available, since there is no pertinent evidence that can pin down a specific answer that would open this case wide open. Sometimes, we are left with coincidences, but maybe one day a coincidence will become more. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Edit and Update — 2/27/2018 – There is a discrepancy between the living locations. I initially believed the victims lived on Dawes Street located one block away from El Segundo Drive. A huge thanks to Mike Morford for clarifying this information for me and the latest information released by the Cold Case Investigations Unit from Sacramento County Sherrif’s Department. This family (victim #6) was not living on Dawes Street in 1973. They were living on El Segundo Drive the entire time. The day of this burglary, two other residences were broken into, one of which was the victim’s neighbor. Additionally, the latest information also details a set of thirty break-ins in the Rancho Cordova area between 1972-1973, but it’s not certain to be the work of the East Area Rapist — however, the suspicion is pointed in his direction.
The East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker operated for ten years in the state of California. There could be more years that we are unaware of, but what we do know is that he frequented at least twenty different towns throughout northern and southern California. However, it’s important to remember that he wasn’t the only criminal at this time; there were several rapists and serial killers who were in the general area overlapping each other.
As such, the ample amount of details we have of incidents happening in the neighborhoods of victims prior to being attacked is substantial. Not everything can be attributed to him, especially when strange coincidences potentially rule him out. For example, the East Area Rapist attacked his forty-fifth victim in Walnut Creek on June 2, 1979. Shortly thereafter, two people were detained for having possible involvement but they were ruled out.
One was an individual who was in the proximity and swerving in-and-out of traffic in a 1978 Cutlass. The police pulled the suspect over on the suspicion he was under the influence of alcohol. When the police spoke to the man, they noticed he matched the attacker’s description given by the victim. She also claimed her offender had a large hunting knife in its sheath during the assault. Coincidentally enough, this man had a knife in its sheath and a pair of gloves in his car, but he was heavily questioned and his alibi was confirmed.
The second incident also happened shortly after the assault occurred. A nearby neighbor called the police to report a peculiar man who was prowling in the area with no pants on. The police managed to locate the male rather quickly. He claimed he was a janitor in Pleasant Hill, California, and he was in the area looking for his missing cat. Inside of his vehicle was a camera and a stash of photographs of women taken in secret with a zoomed lens. The latest picture he took was of a woman at a car wash earlier that evening. After the police escorted him to jail, he was questioned and subsequently let go (although there aren’t any details publically on why he was released).
These two events taking place mere minutes after the victim was attacked is quite astonishing, especially when the proximity of these incidents were very close to one another. This anecdote presents that fact that coincidences happen frequently, and that leads me to the point of this post that I’m trying to convey.
At approximately 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 30, 1978, at Riverside Convalescent Hospital in Sacramento, California, a man approached a young nurse and introduced himself as “Jack from the town of Quincy.” He appeared to be in his early twenties with a medium-sized body frame and between 5’8-5’10 in height. He had neatly trimmed light brown hair and was wearing a blue windbreaker. As he spoke with the nurse, he began relaying uncomfortable information–stating he was upset because he had sexual issues and his father had a girlfriend. He went on to mention being a former patient at a psychiatric ward in Sacramento. Thereafter, he started singing “I’ll Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash, which prompted the nurse to ask him to leave the premises.
Two weeks later on the evening of Monday, April 10, 1978, the same nurse was outside of the hospital building making sure the windows were all secure. Unexpectedly, she was approached from behind by the same man she encountered weeks beforehand. He attempted to bring up his sexual problems again but the nurse was adamant about being busy and unable to speak but offered to make a phone call to set up an appointment with a counselor if he would like. He refused by saying he was already seeking help from a psychiatrist. She kindly asked him to leave and he never returned.
We can’t say with concrete certainty this was the East Area Rapist. However, I’d like to present two reasons — albeit circumstantial and anecdotal — as to why it could possibly be an authentic encounter with the suspect.
The most important reason is the location and timeline of events. For starters, the Riverside Convalescent Hospital was located on Riverside Boulevard in Sacramento, California and the two encounters the nurse had occurred on March 30, 1978, and April 10, 1978. Four days later on April 14, 1978, the East Area Rapist attacked his thirty-first victim living on Casilada Way — only two minutes away from the hospital.
Additionally, suspicious activity started happening in the soon-to-be victim’s neighborhood on April 1, 1978. There is evidence that pinpoints the offender targeting the victim earlier that year in February with prank phone calls, but the unsavory activity increased drastically in the beginning of April.
Furthermore, the innocuous stranger claiming to be “Jack from the town of Quincy” last visited the hospital on the evening of April 10, 1978. The soon-to-be victim reported hearing strange noises emanating from her backyard patio during the night of April 11, 1978. It’s not specified whether this happened late in the early morning hours or the following night that would lead to April 12, 1978.
Regardless, the dates coincide with the young man at the hospital matching the East Area Rapists’ description and his stalking prowess that generally happened in the course of two weeks before an assault. The peculiar activity in the targeted location included residents having their side gate doors left sprawled open overnight, scratching noises on windows, dogs barking hellaciously throughout the night, and a dubious dark-colored 1960 Cadillac seen in the vicinity.
The next reason is psychiatric hospitals. Granted, this is purely conjectural. If we are to believe “Jack from the town of Quincy” was the East Area Rapist, he briefly stated he was a former patient in a psychiatric ward in Sacramento, California. Another incident where a similar statement was made occurred on Friday, January 6, 1978, when a man professing to be the East Side Rapist (this moniker was used for a while until the East Area Rapist moniker dubbed by the Sacramento Bee stuck) called a counseling service.
Caller – Can you help me?
Volunteer – What’s the problem?
Caller – I have a problem. I need help because I don’t want to do this anymore.
Volunteer – Do what?
Caller – Well, I guess I can tell you guys. You’re not tracing this call, are you?
Volunteer – No, we are not tracing any calls.
Caller – I am the East Side Rapist and I feel the urge coming on to do this again. I don’t want to do it, but then I do. Is there anyone there that can help me? I don’t want to hurt these women or their husbands anymore. Are you tracing this call?
Volunteer – We are not tracing this call. Do you want a counselor?
Caller – No. I have been to counseling all my life. I was at Stockton State Hospital. I shouldn’t tell you that. I guess I can trust you guys. Are you tracing this call?
Volunteer – No, we are not tracing this call.
Caller – I believe you are tracing this call.
Throughout the phone call, the unidentified caller would repeatedly change his tone. His attitude shifted from normalcy to violent and angry when he would ask if the phone call was being traced. This was prevalent in the East Area Rapists’ series of attacks where his disdain for the police increased as he spoke about them, while he would sporadically sit in a corner and weep, hyperventilate, and ask forgiveness from his mother after he sexually violated an innocent woman.
Likewise, the investigators followed up on the hospital lead but were unable to obtain information from Stockton State Hospital because they didn’t have the name of the caller; thus, the administrators couldn’t provide any names or results of the patients because it would compromise confidentiality.
While this phone call can be considered a prank by someone else entirely, it transpired during a time where the East Area Rapist was making phone calls to the police and victims in a frenzy — particularly in a period of time where he wasn’t attacking women. His cooling down period was between December 2, 1979 – January 28, 1978. Perhaps there was some form of truth to the statement he made about not wanting to commit crimes anymore but the urge was overpowering him?
When he did return from out of the shadows on January 28, 1978, in Sacramento, California, he attacked two young teenagers. According to the crime scene, he seemed to use a much more volatile approach by kicking in the front door to the home, as if he couldn’t contain his angst and desire more subtly. Moreover, days later on February 2, 1978, the tragic murder of Brian and Katie Maggiore occurred in Rancho Cordova–in a cluster area where many other victims in the town were earmarked.
Afterward, he visited Stockton, California on March 18, 1978, and attacked his thirtieth victim. Following this, the mysterious “Jack from the town of Quincy” paid a visit to Riverside Convalescent Hospital, and the thirty-first victim was subsequently attacked on April 14, 1978, in Sacramento, California. The conversation with the counseling service and the interaction between the nurse featured involvement in counseling and psychiatric wards in Stockton and Sacramento — the two locations where the East Area Rapist targeted his subsequent victims and it would be the last time he operated in these locations.
There are other reasons that could further substantiate my conclusion, however; including the appearance and apparel of the male. The blue windbreaker is what sets this encounter apart because the suspect was often reported wearing a similar jacket during his crimes. Unfortunately, one thing that makes this case exceptionally difficult is the description of the notorious assailant essentially matched the majority of young males in high school and college.
Another likely reason is the stranger indicating he had sexual problems. There is no elaboration on those issues but it’s a well-known fact the East Area Rapist had performance problems ranging from maintaining an erection and climaxing.
In conclusion, these are the reasons why I believe “Jack from the town of Quincy” could be the East Area Rapist. The coincidences are staggering, but this case has many of these stories that turned out not to be the perpetrator. Nonetheless, all of these bits and pieces combined provide a possibility the stranger was the man law enforcement has been pursuing for over forty years.
There is one final intriguing aspect about the man at the Riverside Convalescent Hospital introducing himself as “Jack from the town of Quincy.” It’s possible this name could have been a reference to the television show, “Quincy M.E.” The program centered around Jack Klugman, a coroner who investigated the deaths of people that could have been murdered. The first episode aired on October 3, 1976, and was titled “Go Fight City Hall … to the Death,” and was about the rape and murder of a civil servant. The show ultimately concluded after eight seasons on May 11, 1983.
Speaking of hospitals and false names, there is an interesting story that was recently released to the public. I will be upfront – I am skeptical of this event, but considering it’s relatively new information, I’ll discuss the story provided by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department via the Sacramento Bee newspaper.
At 11:47 a.m. on Tuesday, May 30, 1977, a man matching the description of the East Area entered the American River Hospital in Carmichael, California, that has since been closed. He sought treatment for a shoulder injury. When he filled out forms before seeing a doctor, the information he used was false, including his driver’s license for identification that featured someone else’s photo. It was later discovered to had been stolen in 1975 from Local 18 Warehouseman’s’ Union.
The nursing staff felt uncomfortable by his presence and he wouldn’t give them his name so one of the nurses used her initials — BK (Barbara Kennedy) — to sign the medical form. All of these things seemed suspicious to the employees and they promptly notified law enforcement, but by the time they arrived the patient fled the hospital.
The current investigators on the East Area Rapist case seem to believe this could the infamous serial-rapist. The main reasons why are the description of the man, the stolen identification card, and the shoulder injury which comes with a (kind of) convincing story.
The East Area Rapist attacked his twenty-second victim just two days beforehand on May 28, 1977, in Sacramento, California. After the assault, the offender scaled a fence that led to a precipitous canal. Thereafter, he disappeared for three months during the summer before reemerging on September 6, 1977, in Stockton, California. Due to those details, investigators are under the impression the East Area Rapist may have possibly injured his shoulder when fleeing the crime after the assault; which in turn was the reason for his sudden three-month break.
These are logical deductions and could be very accurate. However, this can only be hypothesized. There is no factual evidence that suggests the offender hurt his shoulder afterward. Furthermore, I’m not sure why this lead wasn’t presented to the general populace much sooner. The detectives who released this information on February 2, 2018, aren’t the same people who were assigned to the case in the 70s, so we can’t make an astute judgment on the original investigators thought process.
However, this information should have been made public as soon as the police learned of it because it was pivotal. It would have propelled the community to be on the lookout for someone they know or have seen with an injured shoulder. The tips the police could have received would have been substantial. Instead, it was released forty years after the fact primarily due to current investigators looking over old files. There aren’t many people who will be able to recall someone with a shoulder injury four decades ago. Moreover, due to the extensive delay, a lot of people — if they had valuable information — could have already passed away, thus causing potential evidence to be cast aside.
Ultimately, this case is very enigmatic and my opinions have fluctuated often throughout researching its historicity. There are days I uphold the belief the offender was young when he began his rape spree — possibly in high school — but other days I think he was a lot older than I initially presumed. Sometimes, I think he could be the notorious ransacker that operated in Visalia, California, and on other days I find it hard to comprehend. I have trouble reconciling these things, and maybe one way to propel this case forward is to let go of preconceived notions and follow the footsteps of Jack Klugman and continue pursuing the truth.
On a brisk Monday afternoon on February 28, 1983, in St. Louis Missouri, two rummagers went looking for scrap metal for their car in the basement of an abandoned apartment building — which has long since been bulldozed — located at 5635 Clemens Avenue. One of the individuals pulled out his lighter to light his cigarette and that’s when they stumbled upon a gruesome sight.
There was an African American girl estimated to be between the ages of eight to eleven and approximately 4’10 – 5’6 in height. She was wearing a blood-stained yellow V-neck sweater with no tags and she was positioned face down with her pants and underwear removed. Her head had been decapitated and mold was growing on her neck. There were two coats of red nail polish on her fingers and her hands were bound by the wrists with red and white nylon rope.
Image Source: Buzzfeed
Image Source: Wikipedia
When homicide detectives Joe Burgoon and Herb Riley arrived at the crime scene they initially thought she could have been a prostitute until they examined the body and realized the victim hadn’t gone through puberty. They determined she was beheaded elsewhere — possibly by a large carving knife because of how cleanly cut her head was removed — due to the lack of blood and was subsequently discarded at a later time. They did find some traces of blood on the side of the walls leading to the basement that indicated she had been carried and her body brushed against it during the process. An autopsy conducted by Mary Case from St. Louis’s Medical Examiner’s Office showed she had been raped and her cause of death was by strangulation three or five days prior to being found.
As for the child’s head, it was never recovered despite an extensive search from Jerry Thomas and Frank Booker. This hindered the investigation because dental examinations couldn’t be provided nor a facial reconstruction through forensic technology programming. The investigators scoured a list of all children at the surrounding schools but everyone was accounted for. They proceeded to look through the database of missing children yet there had been no reports of a young child matching her description being missing, and she was ruled out as being five possible victims of ranging from several states including a Jane Doe from Northampton County, North Carolina.
At one point, detectives sought out assistance from a group of psychics who performed a seance. Herb Riley gave them photos of Jane Doe’s fingerprints, and as they passed the photocopies around they all had the same conclusion; her head would be located on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico and he should immediately contact the Coast Guard. This lead was pursued in-depth but it proved to be a dead end.
Jane Doe’s case quickly turned cold and after ten months of exhausting all possible leads and nobody coming forward to claim her body, she was buried in December of 1983 at Washington Park Cemetary in Berkeley, Missouri.
Ten years later in 1993, investigators mailed her blood-stained sweater and nylon rope that bound her hands to a psychic residing in Florida for further analysis but this was a fruitless endeavor because the evidence was lost in the mail delivery. In 1996, the original homicide detective Herb Riley passed away and Jane Doe’s case was one of two cases he never solved during his tenure with the police department.
Twenty years passed by and in June of 2013, investigators were able to exhume the child’s remains with the hope of gathering new forensic evidence by modern advancements made in science and technology. This task proved difficult because the cemetery she had been buried in was unkempt, appeared long forgotten, her grave was unmarked, and many people were displaced because of insufficient care with the burial records.
With the help of willful volunteers and other various resources, Jane Doe’s remains were unearthed and transported to the St. Louis Medical Examiner’s Office where researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and University of North Texas recalibrated bone sampling and minerals (stable isotope analysis) to attempt to narrow down her native origins based on the water she had drank. The testing revealed she had spent most of her life in one of the numerous southeastern states including Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, and North or South Carolina.
Though new scientific testing provided a glimmer of hope to the child’s case, the police say it’s rather unlikely she will be properly identified unless someone comes forward with vital information. If any light can be shed on this devastating tragedy, it would be the nicknames she was given — “Hope” or “Little Jane Doe” — and her reburial in Calvary Cemetery on West Florissant Rd. in north St. Louis, Missouri, funded by the nonprofit organization, “Garden of Innocents,” where the plot of land is regularly maintained.
Overall, the list of suspects was unfortunately very short. With a lack of evidence from her murder, finding a person of interest was difficult. The authorities suspected a family member may be involved due to no reports of a child being reported missing, but considering they were unable to determine where she was from, that theory was hard to substantiate. However, there was one suspect that caught the eyes of the investigators.
Vernon Brown was born on October 1, 1953. He had a very troubled upbringing and suffered from excessive physical abuse from his grandfather. He dropped out of high school and in 1973 he was convicted of molesting a twelve-year-old girl and subsequently spent four years in an Indiana prison. After his release, nine-year-old Kimberly Campbell disappeared under mysterious circumstances. She was later found raped and strangled in a vacant residence that was owned by Vernon’s grandmother. Though he was considered the prime suspect in the case, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with the crime. In 1985, Vernon relocated to Enright Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri, living under the false name, Thomas Turner, where he was living with his wife and stepchildren.
At approximately 3:00 p.m. on Friday, October 24, 1986, he had just arrived home after picking up his stepchildren from school. Afterward, he sat outside on his front porch watching children walk home after being dropped off from the school bus. That’s when nine-year-old Janet Perkins, a bright young student at Cole Elementary School, was walking to her home a few blocks away, excited for the weekend. Vernon took notice and lured her into his home. His stepchildren saw her come inside and he ordered them into their bedrooms and locked their doors from the outside.
Vernon led Janet down to the basement where he bound her feet and hands by using a wire coat hanger. Moments later, he began to strangle her with a rope. Vernon’s stepchildren could hear her screaming and pleading for her life as her voice echoed through the air vents. Thereafter, he discarded her body and went on about his day as if nothing ever happened.
The following day, the police discovered two trash bags containing Janet’s body in an alley behind his residence. Two days later on Monday, October 27, 1986, the police arrested Brown, and a relative of a neighbor testified on his behalf saying they witnessed Janet enter his home. Throughout questioning him by detectives he confessed to murdering Janet on videotape.
Surprisingly, he admitted to murdering nineteen-year-old Synetta Ford one year beforehand on March 7, 1985. She was found strangled by an electrical cord and stabbed multiple times in an apartment basement where he had worked as a maintenance man. At the time, the authorities arrested him for the murder but he was let go after he gave homicide detectives a false alias.
While he was in prison in Bonne Terre, Tom Carroll — a homicide detective in St. Louis — frequently visited and questioned him about other possible murders he may have committed, particularly about the young Jane Doe found in 1983. Brown never confessed to her or anyone else’s murder. However, detectives believe he could be involved with at least twenty unsolved homicide cases but they don’t have enough tangible evidence to conclusively prove their stance.
On Wednesday, May 18, 2005, at 2:35 a.m. fifty-one-year old Vernon Brown was executed by lethal injection. His last words were, “You’ll see me again. To all my friends, don’t think of me as being gone, but there with you. And to Jazz, who has my heart and love. Peace, love. Vernon Brown.” If he participated in any other murders, he took those secrets to his grave.
Jane Doe’s case has never been solved and is one that haunts the original and current investigators, but as long as her case stays in the light, as her nickname given by the police suggests, there will always be “Hope.”
Jennifer Kesse was born on May 20, 1981. She graduated from Vivian Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida. In 2003, she obtained a degree in the field of financing from the University of Central Florida.
Welcome to part nine of my “The East Area Rapist” series. In this entry, I will be concluding the notorious serial rapists’ attacks that emerged in Northern California in the summer of 1976. Though the story of this elusive criminal will be over, the case itself is far from achieving closure. Continue reading “The East Area Rapist – Part 9”