My dearest phantom hitchhikers:

Spring is here! You know what goes great with tulips, sunshine, lambs, and bunnies? SERIAL KILLERS! 🎉

The San Francisco Chronicle has a fascinating new multi-media project called The Doodler. It’s part web content, part photo essay, part podcast. Reporter Kevin Fagan covers the story of a serial killer active in the city during the 1970s called The Doodler. The killer preyed on gay men, attacking them at hookup sites like Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. He was never caught. The whole thing is pretty fucking chilling.

San Francisco is now known as a gay mecca, but in the 1970s activists were just starting to get traction for queer folks. Gay establishments were regularly raided by the cops, queer people were beaten and arrested. Gay sex and cross dressing were illegal, and there was a lot of hostility between the community and the authorities. Harvey Milk, our first gay supervisor, was murdered by a former cop who was backed by the rank and file. Homophobic attacks were not unusual, and law enforcement didn’t really seem to care about a man who was targeting gay men.

That said, there was all kinds of chaos and violence in San Francisco in the 1970s. I’ve written about that decade in the US, and this city was as bad as the rest of the country. Between the late sixties and the early eighties, famous murderers like Charles Manson, Jim Jones, The Zodiac Killer, Richard Ramirez, the SLA, and the Zebra Killings’ Angels of Death were operating here. It was a turbulent, violent time. The cops were BUSY.

Fagan does a good job of evoking the undercurrent of hate and distrust in the audio. His descriptions of the cold, dark beach where the victims were found, the sounds of waves and foghorns, and the audio of 911 calls are haunting. His sympathetic reporting and conversations with modern investigators are a foil for the brutality of the 1970’s response. I also love that I can listen to an episode and then dive into the photos on the site. It’s a rich experience.

You should definitely check it out! The production values are great, the episodes are short, and if the headlines are to be believed maybe you can help catch the guy, mmmmkay? I’ve also included a 2014 article from The Awl – an earlier deep dive into this fascinating story.


A collage of images from The San Francisco Chronicle's Doodler project

The San Francisco Chronicle Doodler Project

A view of Ocean Beach, San Francisco in a photo from the 1970s

The Untold Story of the Doodler Murders

Read The Untold Story of the Doodler Murders › by Elon Wright at The Awl