Randy Steven KRAFT
A.K.A.: "Southern California Strangler"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape - Mutilation
Number of victims: 16 +
Date of murders: 1972 - 1983
Date of arrest: May 14, 1983
Date of birth: March 19, 1945
Victims profile: Young men
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on November 29, 1989
On the outside Randy Kraft was a normal fellow, a succesful computer programmer operating in sunny Southern California. On the inside Kraft was a lethal sexual sadist tht may have committed at least as many as fifty or sixty murders.
His killings are believed to have begun in the early 1970's and stretched until his arrest in 1983. His victims were all male, mostly homosexuals, who Kraft would torture and mutilate, sometimes while his victim was still alive. Apparently Kraft had a great deal of problems coming to grips with his own homosexuality, to say the least.
Kraft was arrested when police officers who pulled him over for erratic driving discovered his latest victim dead in the vehicle from a drug overdose. He was subsequently convicted of sixteen counts of murder in November 1989 and sentenced to death.
Unlike many Serial Killers, Kraft has denied involvment to this day and has has shunned the spotlight his crimes placed on him. He has never offered any explanation or shown any interest in clearing any unsolved slayings he may have committed. As a result of his tubborness authorites may never know for sure just how many men Kraft has actually murdered, though because of his extensive traveling it is suspected that the total could be as high as seventy.
On a summer morning in 1983 Orange County officers pulled over a driver for weaving.
The driver, Randy Kraft, got out of his car and began walking to the cruiser in a polite manner. The suspicious officers walked Kraft back to his car and found the body of Terry Gambrel slumped over dead in the passenger's seat. He had be strangled with a belt.
A background check on Kraft revealed a 1966 arrest for lewd conduct in Huntington Beach. In 1967 he had graduated from college with a degree in economics, and then a year in the air force, only to be discharged on grounds related to homosexual behavior. In 1975 he was arrested again for lewd conduct with another man, this time spending 5 days in jail and paying a small fine.
Officers searched Kraft's car and found fourty-seven photos of young men, some nude, and some unconscious, or dead. A breifcase contained a notebook with more than 60 messages in a code.
Searching Krafts home they found photo's of three men whose deaths were still unsolved in Southern California. Robert Loggins had been found dead in September 1980, and photos of his body were found in Krafts' home. Roger De Vaul, and Geoffrey Nelson were last seen in February of 1983, and their bodies were discovered days apart. Photos of the two friends were also found in the house. Fibers from a rug in Kraft's garage matched fibers found on the body of Scott Huges, who was found alongside the Riverside Freeway in April of 1978. Items belonging to a man found dead near Grand Rapids, Michigan were also found in his home. Kraft had worked for a Santa Monica based aerospace firm between June 1980 and January 1983, and had traveled to offices in Oregon and Michigan during times of some unsolved murders in each state.
Prosecutors eventually cracked the code in Krafts notebook. "2 in 1 Hitch" referred to the murders of Nelson and De Vaul. "Marine Carson" referred to Richard Keith, a marine last seen in Carson, California, and whose body was discovered in Laguna Hills in 1978. "Jail Out" referred to a murder he commited hours after being released from jail on June 11, 1978. "Parking Lot" referred to the murder of Keith Crotwell, an eight-year-old boy whose severed head was found by a group of fisherman. His body turned up a while later. Kraft was questioned in this case, and admitted meeting Crotwell in a parking lot the day he vanished. Kraft was considered a "Score-card killer".
In September 1983 the charges against Kraft stood as: sixteen murders, eleven counts of sodomy, nine counts of sexual mutilation, and three counts of robbery.
In January of the next year prosecutors filed written notice of their intent to prove twenty-one additional murders, spanning twelve years, and three states. Kraft was found guilty and given the death sentence. He is currently awaiting execution on death row in San Quentin State Prison in California.
Randy Kraft (16+)
Another in the tradition of California freeway killer. Randy, a graduate of the prestigious Claremont Men's College, liked to pick up young men, especially marines, drug them and strangle them. On May 14, 1983, a highway patrolman stopped Kraft in Mission Viejo for suspected drunk driving and noticed the dead marine sitting next to him. In the car, police also found pictures of several other victims, and a so-called death list with the victims' addresses and other incriminating items.
Prosecutors suspect Kraft killed as many as 45 young men in Southern California, Oregon and Michigan. A soft-spoken former computer programmer, he targeted hitchhikers between 18 and 25 years old. Many were sexually tortured before being strangled with their own belts. One victim's eyes had been burned with a cigarette lighter. Another man's head was found in the waters off the Long Beach Marina. Authorities believe he strangled his victims after drugging and sexually assaulting them, spawning Orange County's longest and costliest murder case.
After a 13-month trial, jurors deliberated two days before sentencing Kraft to death. The trial court judge upheld the penalty, saying the killings and mutilations were beyond comprehension. "I can't imagine doing these things in scientific experiments on a dead person, much less [to] someone alive," said Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin at the time.Randy was known as the "Score-Card Killer," because he kept a coded notebook with a tally of all his kills. Police linked him to sixty-two deaths spanning three states, but only sixteen have been proven conclusively.
Before sentencing, Kraft strongly maintained his innocence. "I have not murdered anyone, and I believe a reasonable review of the record will show that," he told the judge. In his appeal, Kraft argued that his original trial was riddled with more than 20 legal errors. His most serious charge claimed the judge erred in allowing prosecutors to use as evidence the "death list." His attorneys alleged that the list--a sheet of paper bearing 61 cryptic entries that prosecutors called a "score card" of victims--improperly prejudiced the jury against him. But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying the list was relevant to the case.
On August 11, 2000, the California Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in what officials described as an important advance in the effort to execute the notorious serial killer. The justices unanimously rejected Kraft's claims that he received an unfair trial, saying he should die for the decade-long murder spree.
Randy Kraft: The Southern California Strangler
by J. J. Maloney
There are those who call Randy Kraft the "Freeway Killer" and they are wrong. William Bonin, executed at San Quentin in 1996, was the Freeway Killer.
There are police agencies who say the media were wrong to name Bonin the Freeway Killer – that that ‘title’ belonged to Kraft, whose murder spree began before Bonin’s. They too are wrong.
Dennis McDougal’s 1991 book Angel of Darkness touts Kraft’s murders as "…the most heinous murder spree of the century." That is wrong. McDougal’s book is compelling, shocking, detailed, well written and inaccurate.
You cannot discuss the murders Randy Kraft committed without also discussing the Freeway Killer case.
The story began in 1972 when bodies of young men – often Marines – began to be found in Southern California – specifically from the city of Long Beach, through Orange County and into San Diego County. There were several "signatures" to the killings: the victims were frequently burned on their left nipple with an automobile cigarette lighter, some of them had their left testicle cut out while they were alive, some had objects shoved into their rectums (in some cases something on the order of a tree branch, in other cases a single sock). The real link to these cases was the use of drugs, the most common being Valium, ingested with alcohol.
The murders were truly horrific. In one instance the victim’s eyelids were cut off to prevent him from closing his eyes during the torture.
Not every case carried the signatures of all others – which resulted in differences of opinion from one police agency to another as to whether all of the killings were by the same person.
After a rash of killings through 1975, there was only one such murder in 1976 and one in 1977. The news media did not know about these latter two murders, so it was widely believed the series of killings had stopping in 1975.
Then, in 1978, the murders renewed with a vengeance – with 14 murders occurring between Apr. 16, 1978 through Dec. 13, 1979.
On Dec. 6, 1979, Tim Alger, a young police reporter for the Orange County Register wrote a story that a new killing spree had begun. Significantly, although police in earlier years had been willing to divulge details of the murders – such as burned nipples, emasculation, etc. – they had stopped providing any details whatever, other than name, rank and serial number of the victims.
The following paragraph is an example of what Alger was up against: "The investigators refuse to give many details of the murders that may link a single suspect to several – or all – of the killings. They talk of "possibilities" and "possible leads" and, when asked about links between the murders, a detective responded, "That could be. I can’t say one way or another. But it’s always a possibility.""
Alger’s story was a lone voice in the wilderness. The Los Angeles Times ignored the killings, as did the television stations.
On Jan. 10, 1980, the Register hired me as an investigative reporter. It seemed obvious that a major serial killer was at work in Orange County and the surrounding areas, whether or not the police cared to admit it. Marv Olsen, the metro editor, assigned me to work on the story full-time.
Since the police wouldn’t say there was a serial killer at work, I enlisted the aid of Dr. Albert Rosenstein, a forensic psychologist. On March 24, 1980, the Register ran a story that covered the top third of the front page, titled, "’Freeway Killer’ Cruises For Murder."
Olsen had agreed that giving the killer a ‘name’ would make him less abstract to the public. It worked. The radio and television stations jumped on the story, and from that point on the killer was a reality to the public. The only major media outlet to shy away from the story was the Times.
My story contained some of the same types of flaws Alger’s story had contained. Since the police were withholding details of the murders, Dr. Rosenstein had no way of knowing there were two killers working at the same time, but with different M.O.s. And Rosenstein, in an excess of confidence, had insisted on linking the killer to Patton State Hospital – believing the killer had been incarcerated there as a sex offender.
In his book, McDougal lionizes Orange County detective Jim Sidebotham. When the Register ran its "Freeway Killer" story, Sidebotham expressed misgivings about the usefulness of a multi-agency task force, such as had been assembled to catch the Hillside Strangler. Sidebotham argued that, since many of the Freeway Killer victims were unidentified, a multi-agency task force would serve no good purpose. In fact, 10 years after William Bonin was captured, Sidebotham still expressed this view (page 367 del libro).
Yet, as McDougal’s book demonstrates, a closer relationship between the investigating agencies might have uncovered Kraft much sooner. He was arrested in 1975 in connection with one of the murders, but an assistant prosecutor refused to file charges. Also, a number of victims were known to frequent Ripples, a gay bar where Kraft was a well-known customer.
McDougal adopts the view of some in law enforcement that the Register was "irresponsible" in calling Bonin the Freeway Killer, when – they argue – that title belonged to Randy Kraft.
That is untrue. The name "Freeway Killer" was coined to describe the serial killer who was in a killing frenzy in early 1980, and that was William Bonin – who murdered 21 young men between August 1979 and his capture on June 11, 1980. In fact, 48 hours before the Register’s Mar. 16 story broke, two bodies were found, resulting in a bulletin in the middle of the page one story, that read: "Two bodies found at noon Saturday between the lower San Juan Campground and Ortega Highway in Cleveland National Forest may be the 30th and 31st victims of the Freeway Killer. The victims were teenaged boys; both were strangled and one was homosexually molested, according to confidential police sources."
The fact is, long before my story was printed, the police had compiled a 52-inch wall chart, titled, "The Southern California Strangler(s)" – a designation apparently unknown to McDougal more than 10 years after the fact. The Los Angeles Police Department on Jan. 31, 1979 issued the first issue of that chart, before Bonin had killed his first victim. Updated versions were issued on May 1, 1979 and July 20, 1979, also before Bonin began killing.
So Randy Kraft is the Southern California Strangler, and William Bonin is the Freeway Killer.
Bonin did not torture or emasculate his victims, while Kraft is accused of that. The most telling difference, however, was that Bonin would stop his vehicle and dump his victims out, while the Southern California Strangler shoved his victims out of a fast-moving vehicle, often leaving long trails of flesh on the highway.
Kraft, Randy Steven
Shortly after 1 a.m. on May 14, 1983, highway patrol officers in Orange County, California, stopped a weaving motorist suspected of intoxication. The driver Randy Kraft, immediately left his vehicle, all smiles as he approached the cruiser to conduct his business. Growing more suspicious by the moment, officers walked Kraft back to his car, where they found Terry Gambrel, a 25-year-old Marine, slumped dead in the passenger's seat. He had been strangled with a belt, and Kraft was booked on suspicion of murder, held in lieu of $250,000 bail.
A background check on Kraft revealed a 1966 arrest for lewd conduct in Huntington Beach, with charges dismissed. He graduated from college a year later, with a degree in economics, and spent a year in the air force before he was discharged on grounds related to homosexual behavior. In 1975, Kraft was arrested in Long Beach for lewd conduct with another man; on conviction, he spent five days in jail and paid a $125 fine.
The search of Kraft's impounded auto turned up forty-seven color photographs depicting several young men, some of them naked, some apparently unconscious -- or worse. A briefcase in the trunk contained a notebook, filled with more than sixty cryptic messages in some personal code. A tour of Kraft's home uncovered further evidence, convincing the authorities they had a most prolific killer on their hands, Kraft's photographs depicted three young men whose deaths were still unsolved in Southern California. Robert Loggins, a teenaged Marine, had been found dead in September 1980; now, police examined snapshots of his naked body, stretched out on a couch recovered from Kraft's home. Roger De Vaul, age 20, was last seen alive while hitchhiking with a friend, Geoffrey Nelson, on February 12, 1983. Nelson's body was found in Garden Grove that afternoon; De Vaul's had turned up the following day. Eric Church, another chronic hitchhiker, was found dead in Orange County on March 27, 1983.
And the body-count kept growing. Fibers from a rug in Kraft's garage matched those recovered from the corpse of Scott Hughes, 18, discarded beside the Riverside Freeway in April 1978. Personal items recovered from Kraft's home included property stolen from three murder victims in Oregon, plus two items belonging to a man found dead near Grand Rapids, Michigan, in December 1982. Investigators learned that Kraft had worked for a Santa Monica based aerospace firm between June 1980 and January 1983, visiting company offices in Oregon and Michigan at the times of unsolved murders in both states.
As names were added to the list of victims, prosecutors cracked the code in Kraft's notebook. Thus, "2 in 1 Hitch" referred to the double murder of Nelson and De Vaul. "Marine Carson" was a reference to Richard Keith, a young marine last seen in Carson, California, whose strangled body was found in Laguna Hills in June 1978. "Jail Out" described the case of Ronald Young, found stabbed in Irvine, hours after his release from the Orange County jail on June 11, 1978. "Parking Lot" recalled memories of an eight-year-old case, in which Keith Crotwell had vanished on March 26, 1975. Fishermen found his severed head, days later, off the coast of Long Beach, and his skeleton was finally recovered in October. Kraft was briefly questioned in the case, and while he copped to meeting Crotwell in a parking lot the day he vanished, officers did not consider him a suspect in the crime.
Eventually charged with 16 murders -and strongly suspected of 51 others- Kraft delayed his trial itself set a new record for Orange County, dragging on for 13 months, but Kraft was finally convicted on all counts in May 1989.
The penalty phase of his trial took another four months,with the jury recommending death on August 11, and Kraft was formally condemned on November 29. Confined on death row at San Quentin, he whiles away the hours playing bridge with fellow serial killers Douglas Clark, Lawrence Bittaker, and (until his 1996 execution) William Bonin.
Another occasional pastime of Kraft's is frivolous litigation: in 1993 he field a $60 million libel suit against the publisher and author of a book about his case, claiming the volume had unfairly portrayed him as a "sick, twisted man", thereby scuttling his "prospects for future employment! The lawsuit was dismissed by California's Supreme Court in June 1994.
The list went on and on, with each notation matched against another unsolved homicide. A prosecutor working on the case told newsmen, "What we have here is a true score-card killer."
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers
Randy Steven Kraft (born March 19, 1945) is a Californian serial killer convicted of 16 murders and suspected of at least 51 others.
Randy Kraft was born in Long Beach, California, on March 19, 1945. He was the fourth child and the only son of his family, who had relocated from Wyoming before his birth. In 1948 they moved to Westminster, California. He graduated from high school in 1963 and went on to study at Claremont Men's College in Claremont, California.
At Claremont, Kraft joined the ROTC. He demonstrated in support of the Vietnam war and campaigned enthusiastically for conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. The following year he began working as a bartender at a local gay bar. At this time, acquaintances noted his extensive use of Valium to ward off stomach pains and migraine headaches. Kraft earned his bachelor's degree in economics early in 1968. By this time, Kraft's political views had shifted, and he began working for Robert Kennedy's political campaign.
In 1968, Kraft joined the U.S. Air Force. Because of his high marks on aptitude tests and background checks, he was provided with high-security clearances. He was posted to Edwards Air Force Base.
In 1969 Kraft disclosed to his family that he was gay. He was discharged from the Air Force on "medical" grounds that year. Forced out of the military, Kraft resumed his bartending career.
Late in 1971, police found the decomposing body of Wayne Joseph Dukette, a 30-year-old gay bartender, beside Ortega Highway. The coroner placed the date of death around September 20, 1969, but found no obvious signs of foul play. Dukette’s clothing and belongings were never found. Dukette is thought to be Kraft's first victim.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, there were dozens of grisly homicides along the freeways of California, with some victims turning up in the neighboring state of Oregon. The victims were young men and teenaged boys, most of whom were savagely tortured and sexually abused. Some had been burned with a car cigarette lighter, and many had high levels of alcohol and tranquilizers in their blood systems, indicating they were rendered helpless by drink and drugs before they were sadistically abused and killed.
The method of murder varied, with some strangled, some shot in the head, and others simply dying through a combination of torture and being plied with drugs. Quite a number of victims were in the U.S. Military, hitching their way either to or from their bases. Others were teenaged runaways, hitchhikers, or were picked up by the killer in gay bars (many victims frequented Ripples).
Kraft was nearly arrested in 1975. A 19-year-old high school dropout, Keith Daven Crotwell, left Long Beach on March 29, 1975, hitchhiking for southbound rides. Over a month later, Crotwell's severed head was found near the Long Beach Marina. Long Beach was scoured for the car that took Crotwell on his last ride, and it was quickly located. The registration was traced to Randy Steven Kraft. Police questioned Kraft on May 19, 1975.
Kraft admitted taking Crotwell for a ride, saying that they went "just wandering around," but claimed he left Crotwell alive and well at an all-night café. Detectives reportedly wanted to charge Kraft with murder, but L.A. County prosecutors refused, citing the absence of a body or known cause of death. Kraft remained free and continued killing young men for eight more years.
Kraft was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol on May 14, 1983, while driving along the San Diego Freeway in Mission Viejo for driving erratically. Kraft did not wait for the officers to approach the car; he exited the car himself, dumping the contents of a beer bottle onto the pavement while doing so. Officer Michael Sterling met Kraft at the front of his patrol car and observed Kraft's jeans to be unbuttoned. Officer Sterling had Kraft walk to the front of his vehicle to perform a series of field sobrity tests, which he failed. Kraft was then arrested by officer Sterling for driving while intoxicated. Sgt. Michael Howard approached the car and saw a man in the passenger's seat, partially covered by a jacket and with empty beer bottles around his feet. This turned out to be the strangled body of Terry Gambrel, a 25-year-old US Marine, Kraft's last victim.
Other incriminating evidence was found in the car, including alcohol, tranquilizers, and blood not from Gambrel's body. More evidence was found in the house that Kraft shared with his partner. There were clothes and other possessions belonging to young men who had turned up dead at the side of freeways over the last decade, and many photos of victims either unconscious or dead.
Kraft also kept a coded list of 61 cryptic references to his victims, including four double murders, leading to a total of 65 listed victims. At least one of the victims, Terry Gambrel, was not listed because of Kraft's arrest. Investigators maintain that Erich Church was also not listed by Kraft for unknown reasons. Since the list is in code, the possibility exists that Erich Church is listed in a way that investigators cannot recognize, which would lead to a total of 66 listed victims. However, it is largely held that Kraft was responsible for 67 murders, if not more.
Kraft was eventually charged with sixteen homicides. He pleaded not guilty at his trial in 1988, but he was convicted on all counts and sentenced to death on November 29, 1989. The death sentence was upheld by the California Supreme Court on August 11, 2000. He is currently on Death Row at San Quentin prison, where he continues to maintain his innocence.
Of Kraft's suspected 67 victims, 22 bodies remain unrecovered and unidentified.
Certain details surrounding some of Kraft's murders have caused many to suspect that Kraft did not always act alone.
Forensic evidence in two cases point to an accomplice—an extra set of footprints and semen that did not match Kraft's DNA. (During the trial, members of the prosecution admitted privately that they did not charge Kraft in several murders that they were sure he had committed because of these facts.)
Kraft would have had difficulty moving around 200-pound corpses; dumping them from cars alone would also be difficult to do unnoticed.
The snapshots Kraft had of the dead men were processed somewhere, but no developer reported Kraft's morbid images to the police. (Kraft himself had no darkroom expertise or darkroom equipment.)
During the trial the prosecution believed the inconsistencies could be explained away because Kraft had not acted alone in his initial murder spree. His roommate, Jeff Graves, occasionally helped him, according to members of the prosecution team. Graves died of AIDS before police could question him, so the question of Kraft's accomplice was never raised in court.
Angel of Darkness, a book about the Kraft case, about which author Dennis McDougal published an article in Beach magazine in January 2000. McDougal recounted his interviews with Bob Jackson, who reportedly confessed to murdering two hitchhikers with Kraft, one in Wyoming in 1975 and Colorado in 1976. (Authorities in Colorado and Wyoming are unable to confirm these confessions.) Jackson also told McDougal that the list included only Kraft's "more memorable" murders, saying the total body count stood closer to 100. McDougal reported these allegations to the police and provided tape recordings of the interviews. Detectives quizzed Jackson and finally persuaded him to enter a mental hospital, but no murder charges were filed.
Kraft sued McDougal) and publisher of Angel of Darkness (ISBN 0446515388), a book about Kraft's murders and trial, because, Kraft said, it smeared his "good name" and unjustly portrayed him as a "sick, twisted man," which hurt his "prospects for future employment." Kraft sought $62 million in damages. The lawsuit was dismissed as frivolous in June 1994.
After publishing Angel of Darkness, McDougal was contacted by a former Marine from Mission Viejo. McDougal said the Marine "told me he'd hitched a ride from Camp Pendleton to Tustin with Kraft back in 1972 and very nearly became one of his victims. The ex-Marine said Kraft offered him a beer and he drank it, realizing almost too late that the beer had been laced with something a lot more powerful than alcohol. He forced Randy to pull over, stumbled out of Kraft's car in a daze and continued to have nightmares for years afterward about what might have happened if he hadn't been so insistent."
McDougal was also contacted by Jan Oliver, Kraft's college girlfriend. He said of the conversation:
Like the ex-Marine, Oliver was an early guinea pig for Kraft. She remembers him offering her beers during marathon drives through the foothills and back roads of Southern California. Sometimes, she could down two or three beers and it didn't faze her, but there were other instances in which she knew she'd consumed more than lager, as "I'd have no more than three or four sips and it would knock me out!" Years later, following Kraft's arrest, those times she passed out in his car and woke up hours later with a headache came back to her with alarm. She also recalled a few times when Kraft showed up at her door after midnight, years after they had broken up and Kraft had come out of the closet. They remained friends, so she opened her door to him even at odd hours. "He came over once red-faced and hyperventilating," she said. "It was late — maybe one or two in the morning — and he was very agitated, rambling. I never did find out what was upsetting him, although I wouldn't really call it 'upset' so much now, as 'excited.' He seemed very excited." That was sometime in the early 1970s, and Jan Oliver is now convinced that what she witnessed in the front room of her apartment that night was the glassy-eyed transformation of a thrill killer, trying to calm his predatory lust before resuming his day-to-day role as a "normal" human being.
Other "Freeway Killers"
Occasionally, Kraft (sometimes called the Southern California Strangler) is confused with William Bonin. Both have been called "The Freeway Killer," and both murdered young men and often left their victims roadside. However, Bonin did not torture or castrate his victims, as Kraft did. Bonin would stop his vehicle to dump the bodies of his victims, while Kraft shoved his victims out of a fast-moving vehicle, often to gruesome effect. The similarity of the crimes often confused investigators, who were initially surprised that the murders continued after Bonin's arrest.
A third "Freeway Killer", Patrick Kearney, also happened to select young men as victims from the freeways of Southern California during the 1970s.
Randy Steven Kraft
by Michael Newton
Shortly after 1 a.m. on May 14, 1983, two California Highway Patrol officers stopped an apparent drunk driver on the San Diego Freeway, in Mission Viejo, California. Instead of waiting in his car, the motorist stepped out, dumping the contents of a beer bottle onto the pavement as he emerged. His pants fly gaped as he approached the patrol car.
A glance at his driver’s license identified the man as 38-year-old Randy Steven Kraft, of Long Beach. Kraft admitted to drinking but swore he was sober. A field sobriety test proved otherwise, and he was arrested for driving while intoxicated.
So far, the stop seemed like another routine Saturday night DUI arrest in Orange County. Then Sgt. Michael Howard approached Kraft’s car and saw a man slumped in the passenger’s seat, partially covered by a jacket, empty beer bottles scattered around his feet. A folding knife lay in plain sight, on the driver’s seat. Howard knocked on the window but got no response.
Opening the door, he tried in vain to rouse Kraft’s passenger. The man was barefoot, with his pants unzipped and genitals exposed. He had no pulse and his neck was ringed with red marks, as if he had been strangled. Paramedics pronounced the man dead at 1:21 a.m.
Orange County sheriff’s deputies obtained a search warrant for Kraft’s car, scouring the vehicle for evidence. In addition to the beer, they found nine different prescription drugs, including Valium and various painkillers. Beneath the lifeless passenger, the seat cushion was stained with blood, although the dead man had no open wounds. Underneath a floor mat was the most disturbing thing of all: 47 Polaroids of nude young men, who appeared to be unconscious or dead.
A briefcase in the trunk contained a sheet of yellow paper from a legal pad, with 61 cryptic comments neatly printed in two columns. They began with “STABLE” and ended with “WHAT YOU GOT.” Soon, detectives would describe the notes as a coded list of murder victims.
Kraft’s passenger was soon identified as Terry Gambrel, a 25-year-old Marine stationed at the nearby El Toro Marine Air Base. His blood contained high levels of alcohol and the prescription tranquilizer Ativan, one of the medications found in Kraft’s car. Together, the beer and pills might have killed him, but an autopsy confirmed death by ligature strangulation.
Searchers moved on to the home Kraft shared with gay lover Jeffrey Seelig, uncovering a treasure trove of evidence. A couch in the living room was the same one used to pose several of the nude models in Kraft’s Polaroid collection. An old yellow rug in the house appeared to match fibers retrieved from a corpse found in Anaheim, in April 1978.
In Kraft’s garage, police found an odd cache of mismatched belts, chains, shoelaces and clothing. One of the jackets belonged to a Michigan murder victim, slain in December 1982. In days to come, detectives would identify three more California murder victims depicted in Kraft’s Polaroids. His fingerprints would match those found on shards of broken glass at a December, 1975 murder scene.
Kraft was initially charged with just one murder, Terry Gambrel’s, and held in lieu of $250,000 bond. He pled not guilty to the charge on May 16, 1983, but Judge Gary Ryan thought him dangerous enough to triple his bail, effectively confining Kraft until his trial. At a bail reduction hearing one week later, Kraft’s attorney called him “passive, nonviolent and hard-working.”
Prosecutor Bryan Brown responded by charging Kraft with four more murders from early 1983, victims including 18-year-old Geoffrey Nelson, Robert Loggins,19, Rodger DeVaul, 20, and 21-year-old Eric Church. Judge Robert Thomas accepted Kraft’s not guilty plea on those counts and revoked bail entirely. A week later, Kraft was charged with the 1975 torture slaying of 22-year-old Mark Hall.
California was already reeling from “Trash Bag Killer” Patrick Kearney and “Freeway Killer” William , who were linked to 49 murders in 1978 and 1981, respectively. Now, homicide investigators suspected that Randy Kraft might have claimed more victims than Kearney and Bonin combined.
Randy Kraft was born in Long Beach, California on March 19, 1945, the fourth child and only son of parents who had moved to the state from Wyoming four years earlier. As a child, Kraft was accident prone, breaking his collarbone at age one, tumbling down a flight of steps and knocking himself out a year later.
In 1948 the family moved to Westminster, in ultraconservative Orange County. Randy seemed to fit right in, described by high school friends as falling “somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun” on political questions. He played saxophone in the band, graduated in June 1963, and moved on to conservative Claremont College in Pomona, California, that fall, along with a group of dependable friends.
At Claremont, Kraft joined the ROTC, demonstrated in favor of the Vietnam war, and campaigned energetically for right-wing presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. But the following year he began a radical shift, drifting leftward politically and growing longer hair and a moustache. He found part-time employment bartending at a Garden Grove gay bar.
By Kraft’s junior year, rumors about his fondness for bondage had begun to circulate around the Claremont campus. Kraft’s roommate recalls that he “would disappear with regularity, maybe two, three times a week,” reappearing at strange hours. “What he did wasn’t something he wanted you to know about.” Between classes and disappearing acts, Kraft gobbled Valium in a vain attempt to ward off stomach pains and migraine headaches.
Kraft moved off-campus in 1966, sharing digs with a male friend in Huntington Beach, spending much of his free time in gay bars. He was arrested that year for lewd conduct, after propositioning an undercover policeman in Huntington Beach, but he got off with a first-time offender’s warning. At school, Kraft’s devotion to beer and late-night poker games kept him from graduating with the rest of his class in June 1967. Kraft had to repeat a class before he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics, eight months later.
By that time, Kraft had immersed himself in another political campaign, working as hard for Robert Kennedy in 1968 as he had for Goldwater four years earlier. His zeal earned Kraft a personal letter from RFK, and he was crushed when an assassin slew his candidate in June.
Days later, Kraft joined the U.S. Air Force, scoring high on aptitude tests and passing background checks to win a “secret” security clearance. Posted to Edwards Air Force Base, he supervised the painting of test planes.
Kraft’s family was shocked when he “came out” as gay in 1969. So were his Air Force superiors, who discharged him on “medical” grounds that July. Back in civilian life, Kraft resumed his bartending career, shed weight on “a diet of speed and beer,” and plunged full-time into the gay lifestyle. His old friends were amazed, trying to understand when Kraft cryptically told them, “There’s a part of me that you will never know.”
It took another 14 years for them to find out what he meant--and when they did, the truth would chill them to the bone.
Kraft’s erratic behavior continued into the 1970s. One roommate later recalled that “Randy used to go away for a few days, come back and lock himself in his room for a couple more days. He’d go down by the Marine base. He wouldn’t talk about it much, just mumble something about going down and looking for Marines.” Another termed Kraft “a very anal-retentive kind of guy, very uptight and very strict with himself.” Friends said that he had a really volatile temper and that he would “wig out” every so often.
Kraft’s first known victim, in March 1970, was a 13-year-old runaway who met Kraft on the boardwalk in Huntington Beach. Kraft took the boy -- Joseph Alwyn Fancher -- home, plying him with marijuana, pills and wine, showing him photos of men having sex. Fancher was semiconscious when Kraft stripped and sodomized him, resisting just enough to make Kraft threaten his life.
Fleeing the apartment after Kraft went to work, Fancher staggered barefoot to a nearby bar, where patrons called an ambulance. Doctors pumped his stomach at the emergency room, and Fancher led police back to Kraft’s place in search of his shoes. They found the sneakers, along with various illegal drugs and 76 photos of Kraft enjoying sex with various men. But because the search was done without a warrant, police knew their case was doomed and did not make an arrest.
In 1971 Kraft found work at a bottled water plant in Huntington Beach. He drove a forklift by day and cruised gay bars at night, scoring 129 (considered “highly intelligent”) on a job-related IQ test. Kraft enrolled briefly at Long Beach State University, taking education courses with an eye toward a teaching credential, but the urge to party outweighed his scholastic ambition. Classmate Jeff Graves became Kraft’s live-in lover, but Randy still lived up to his name, cruising gay bars for strangers, showing a decided preference for Marines.
On Oct. 5, 1971, police found a man’s nude, decomposing body beside Ortega Highway, in southern Orange County. The body was identified as that of Wayne Joseph Dukette, a 30-year-old gay bartender from Long Beach who had been missing for two weeks. The coroner pegged his date of death around Sept. 20, but found no obvious signs of foul play. Dukette’s clothing and personal effects were never found.
He was the first.
Nearly 15 months elapsed before the next confirmed victim in southern California’s latest murder series was found beside the 405 Freeway in Seal Beach, on the day after Christmas 1972. Edward Daniel Moore was a 20-year-old Marine, last seen alive in his Camp Pendleton barracks on Christmas Eve.
A motorist found him at 1:45 a.m., apparently dumped from a moving car. Moore had been strangled and bludgeoned; there were bite marks on his genitals and one of his own socks was jammed in his rectum.
Six weeks later, on Feb. 6, 1973, a nude “John Doe” was found beside the Terminal Island Freeway, in the Wilmington district of Los Angeles. He was strangled a day or two before he was found, and was about 18 years old. The victim, who has never been identified, had a brown sock stuffed into his anus.
Easter Sunday brought another grim discovery, with another “John Doe” corpse discarded in Huntington Beach. This one was fully dressed except for shoes and socks, but underneath the bloody slacks his genitals were missing. Ligature marks scarred his wrists. Cause of death was a toss-up: blood loss or asphyxiation.
The year’s next victim, another “John Doe,” was dismembered and scattered across two counties: the head in Long Beach; the torso, right leg and both arms in San Pedro; the left leg in Sunset Beach. Bondage marks were evident, and the remains had been refrigerated prior to dumping. The victim’s hands were never found.
Ron Wiebe, a 20-year-old from Fullerton, vanished while bar-hopping on July 28, 1973. His corpse, fully clothed but barefoot, was found two days later, beside the 405 Freeway in Seal Beach. Beaten and strangled, Wiebe had been bound and apparently hung upside-down before he was killed, for torture that included bites on his stomach and penis. One of his own missing socks was found in his rectum.
The body of the year’s last victim, 23-year-old art student Vincent Cruz Mestas, was pulled from a ravine in the San Bernardino Mountains on Dec. 29, 1973. Like Ron Wiebe, he was clothed but barefoot, one of his own socks jammed into his anus. Cruz’s face and head were freshly shaved, and his hands were missing, plastic sandwich bags covered the bloody stumps. A pencil-sized object, never identified, had been forced into his penis prior to death.
The killer apparently took a six-month break before claiming 20-year-old Malcolm Eugene Little on June 1, 1974, leaving his nude body propped against a mesquite tree beside Highway 86, west of the Salton Sea in Imperial County. Little was an unemployed truck driver who had arrived from Alabama to look for work a week before he died. His slayer left the body with its legs spread to emphasize the severed genitals, a mesquite branch rammed six inches into his rectum.
Another U.S. Marine fell prey to the hunter three weeks later. Roger Dickerson, 18, was last seen alive at a bar in San Clemente, when he told friends he had found a ride to Los Angeles for the weekend. He didn’t give them the name of the driver, who apparently sodomized and strangled him, leaving bite marks on Dickerson’s penis and left nipple before he dumped the nude corpse near a Laguna Beach golf course.
Oil field workers in Long Beach found the next victim, on Aug. 3, 1974. Manually strangled and left fully clothed, he was identified as 25-year-old Thomas Paxton Lee, a local waiter and sometime gay hustler last seen alive at a Wilmington bar the previous night.
Nine days later, 23-year-old Gary Wayne Cordova was found, fully clothed but barefoot, beside a highway in southern Orange County. Death was caused by an overdose of alcohol and Valium. Lacking any of the killer’s trademark mutilations, neither victim was initially connected to the murder series.
There were no doubts about James Dale Reeves, though, when Irvine police found his body on Nov. 29, 1974. Nude except for a bloody T-shirt, the gay 19-year-old had gone out cruising on Thanksgiving Day and never returned. His killer left the body with the legs spread, a tree limb four feet long and three inches in diameter protruding from his anus.
Two killers were apparently involved in the December 1974 murder of John Leras, a 17-year-old high school student. The youngest victim so far, Leras had vanished en route to a Long Beach skating rink, anxious to try out the roller skates he had received for Christmas. Some strollers found him floating in the surf off Sunset Beach, with a wooden surveyor’s stake hammered into his rectum. Leras had been strangled while bound, and had alcohol in his system. Two sets of footprints marked the sand where he was carried from a car park to the water.
Shortly after noon on Jan. 17, 1975, construction workers found 21-year-old Craig Victor Jonaites strangled to death near a Long Beach motel on the Pacific Coast Highway. Jonaites was barefoot, but otherwise fully dressed--in fact, he wore two pairs of pants, one over the other.
His killer left nothing else behind.
Spurred by the killer’s accelerating schedule, detectives from several jurisdictions met in Santa Ana on Jan. 24, 1975, to organize a task force. Sheriff’s officers from Orange, Imperial and San Bernardino Counties attended the meeting, as did police representatives from Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seal Beach, Irvine and Huntington Beach.
An FBI profiler from Quantico, Virginia, and a special investigator from the California State Attorney General’s office also joined the gathering, along with several forensic psychologists. Various murders were compared, but none offered any significant leads. Dr. E. Mansell Patterson, from UC Irvine, profiled the slayer as a man who “desires to be masculine but does not feel masculine, gnawing the nipples and genitals of his prey to symbolically make the victim a female.”
The murders continued, unabated.
Keith Daven Crotwell, a 19-year-old high school dropout, left Long Beach on March 29, 1975, thumbing southbound rides, and vanished. On May 8, three boys hunting starfish found his severed head near the Long Beach Marina. Friends scoured Long Beach for the black-and-white Mustang that took Crotwell on his last ride, locating it a few days later. Police traced the registration and questioned owner Randy Kraft on May 19.
Kraft admitted taking Crotwell for a ride, “just wandering around,” but claimed he left the youth alive and well at an all-night café. Detectives wanted to charge Kraft with murder, but L.A. County prosecutors refused, citing the absence of a body or known cause of death.
The near-miss troubled Kraft, who was then employed part-time as a computer operator for a charter flight company at Long Beach Airport. His chronic migraines and stomach pains worsened, compounded by insomnia. A doctor diagnosed him as hypoglycemic, an ailment that Oregon serial killer Jerome Brudos also suffered with. In June 1975, Kraft was arrested for misdemeanor lewd conduct in Cherry Park. Soon after that, his employer downsized and laid Randy off, but his computer experience soon got Kraft a position with a new consulting firm.
Meanwhile, the murders resumed after a 24-week hiatus. Larry Gene Walters, 21, was killed in Los Angeles County on Halloween in 1975. Two months later, on New Year’s Eve, 22-year-old Mark Hall disappeared from a party in San Juan Capistrano. Off-duty policemen found his nude corpse on Jan. 3, 1976, in the Cleveland National Forest, near the Riverside County line.
Nude and bound to a sapling, he had been sodomized and tortured prior to death: his legs slashed with a knife; his eyes, face, chest and genitals burned with a cigarette lighter; a cocktail swizzle stick jammed through his penis with such force that it entered the bladder; his genitals severed and stuffed into his rectum, along with dirt and leaves. Hall’s blood alcohol was seven times the legal limit, probably a fatal dose, but the killer had made sure by packing more leaves and dirt in his throat.
Randy Kraft’s relationship with Jeff Graves began to disintegrate after Kraft’s police trouble in 1975. They had split by year’s end, and Kraft moved in with 19-year-old Jeff Seelig, sharing a Laguna Hills apartment. Around the same time, in early 1976, California’s unknown predator began to claim younger victims.
Though still discarded beside highways, many victims were now stuffed into trash bags, sometimes left in dumpsters and discovered only when the bags tore during pick-up. Nine slayings are confirmed in 1976, perhaps with untold others consigned to dumps, compactors and incinerators.
The year’s first was 13-year-old Oliver Peter Molitor, whose body was found in Manhattan Beach on March 21, 1976. Two and a half weeks later, on April 7, 17-year-old Kenneth Eugene Buchanan was dumped in Inglewood. Larry Armendariz, 14, turned up in Los Angeles on April 19, followed by the Redondo Beach discovery of 13-year-old Michael Craig McGhee on June 11. October’s victim was 16-year-old Randall Lawrence Moore, left in a trash bag along Highway 80, east of El Cajon. Paul Fuchs, 19, vanished from Redondo Beach on Dec. 10 and was never seen again. Other victims were dumped at Borrego Hot Springs and near Calexico, on the Mexican border. Authorities remained baffled, unable to match their handful of meager clues to any known suspect.
California police were distracted in 1977 by the surrender of Patrick Kearney and his subsequent confessions to the “trash bag” murders of 28 young men. Kearney’s victims were typically shot in the head, though, and he balked at claiming victims who were tortured. After a moratorium of sorts, the brutal highway murders resumed following Kearney’s arrival at San Quentin prison, in early 1978.
The year’s first known victim was Scott Michael Hughes, a 19-year-old Marine from Camp Pendleton, found beside the 91 Freeway in Orange, on April 16. Hughes was fully dressed, with the laces missing from his shoes. Beneath his bloodstained slacks, his genitals were mutilated, the left testicle removed. Known to fellow Marines as a “boisterous” doper, Hughes had Valium in his blood, but death resulted from ligature strangulation.
Two months later, on June 10, 23-year-old Roland Young was released from Orange County jail after one of his numerous arrests for public intoxication. He left the lockup at 8:19 p.m., and was next seen at 3:30 a.m. June 11, sprawled dead in an Irvine gutter. Sometime after his release from jail, Young consumed alcohol and Valium. His wrists were bound when a sadist severed his scrotum and part of his penis, then stabbed him four times in the chest and redressed his corpse.
On the day of Young’s funeral, the stalker claimed another Marine, 23-year-old Richard Keith. Keith hitchhiked from Camp Pendleton to Los Angeles to visit his girlfriend, but they quarreled over his thumbing rides and he left at 11 p.m. on June 19, hitching back to the base. An off-duty fireman found his corpse the next morning in southern Orange County. Again, police suspected two killers, one to drive and one to push Keith’s body from their moving car.
Washington native Keith Klingbeil was still alive when a motorist found him on July 6, 1978, sprawled across a northbound lane of I-5 in Mission Viejo. Paramedics arrived on the scene at 3:30 a.m. but they were unable to save him from a massive overdose of liquor and Tylenol. At the autopsy, ligature marks were found on Klingbeil’s ankles, burns from a cigarette lighter surrounding one nipple.
The next to die was Michael Joseph Inderbeiten, a 21-year-old Long Beach truck driver, found on Nov. 18, 1978. Emasculated and sodomized with a large foreign object, eyelids seared with an automobile cigarette lighter, Inderbeiten was dumped 20 feet from the spot where Edward Moore was found in December 1972.
Multiple witnesses observed the next body drop, when Donald Harold Crisel was pushed from a slow-moving vehicle along the 405 Freeway in Irvine, on June 16, 1979, but they could not agree on whether Crisel’s last ride was a car or a van. The young Marine’s corpse, marked by tire tracks, was still warm when police arrived, with ligature brands on the neck and wrists. Death did not come from strangulation or injuries from falling from the vehicle, but from an overdose of booze and painkillers.
More than a dozen male corpses were found along southern California freeways in 1979, the victims ranging in age from 13 to 24. Those police were able to identify included 13-year-old Thomas Lundgren, picked up in Reseda at 11 a.m. on May 28, and dumped in Agoura at 1:30 p.m. Lundgren had been bludgeoned and strangled, stabbed repeatedly, his throat slashed and genitals severed. Seventeen-year-old Marcus Grabbs thumbed his last ride out of Newport Beach, along Pacific Coast Highway, on Aug. 5, 1979; sodomized, stabbed and strangled, he was found at 6:30 the next morning, beside the Ventura Freeway, near the L.A. County line.
Donald Hayden, 15, was last seen alive in Hollywood, at 1 a.m. on Aug. 27, 1979; construction workers found him in Liberty Canyon, sodomized and strangled, left in a dumpster at a new housing project. David Murillo, 17, vanished while hitchhiking along Highway 101 on Sept. 9; two days later, his nude corpse was found on the highway’s shoulder, bludgeoned and strangled, anally raped, rope burns on his ankles.
Throughout Southern California, gay bars began to post warnings for their customers, along with photos seeking information to identify assorted “John Doe” victims. Randy Kraft was one bar-scene habitué who seemed to ignore the threat, unfazed by the ongoing slaughter.
In fact, he seemed to be having the time of his life.
Randy Kraft was doing well enough as a freelance data-processing consultant in July 1979 that he was able to afford a house in Long Beach, sharing quarters with Jeff Seelig. They also traveled widely--to Mexico in August 1978, Lake Tahoe in May 1979, plus an extended East Coast tour from New York City to Key West. Friends recall that both men kept “bizarre hours,” Seelig operating a bakery while Kraft continued his tradition of aimless late-night drives.
By August 1980 Kraft was consulting for Lear Sigler Industries (LSI), with regional offices in Michigan, Oregon and San Diego. Between his normal salary and weekend freelance work, he earned at least $50,000 yearly in 1980 and 1981.
Kraft’s employers described him as a “self-starter,” an “excellent problem-solver,” and “an exceptional employee...[who] deserves exceptional treatment,” but the hard work came at a price. Kraft often subsisted on junk food, aggravating his hypoglycemia and causing attendant chest pains.
In June 1982 he sought counseling with Seelig, their therapist describing Jeff as “defensive and anxious,” with an “insatiable” sex drive, while Randy resented Seelig’s efforts to dominate the relationship. They planned a European vacation to patch up their problems, but neither ever seemed to have the time. Therapy sessions were frequently interrupted by Kraft’s travels for LSI--to Oregon, the San Francisco Bay area, and Michigan.
And wherever Kraft traveled, the murders continued.
Michael Sean O’Fallon, a 17-year-old Colorado native, hoped to “see the world” after high school. He hitchhiked to British Columbia in June 1980 and made it back to Oregon before his luck ran out. His naked corpse was found along I-5, 10 miles from Salem, on July 17, 1980. O’Fallon was hog-tied with shoelaces, a cord knotted around his scrotum. Despite near-fatal levels of alcohol and Valium in his blood, death had been caused by strangulation.
On Sept. 3, 1980, children playing near El Toro Marine Airbase found the corpse of Robert Wyatt Loggins Jr. swaddled in a plastic garbage bag. A 19-year-old Marine who was last seen alive on Aug. 22, Loggins had been dead for two or three days when he was found. Recently confined to barracks for drinking, he had disappeared on his first night of freedom, found with deadly levels of alcohol and antihistamines in his blood. Despite the plastic shroud, police considered his death “accidental” until 1983, when evidence seized from Randy Kraft’s home and car changed their minds.
Michael Duane Cluck, 17, was the first known victim of 1981. Hitchhiking from Seattle to California in April, he made it into Oregon before he accepted a ride with a killer. Dumped along I-5 near Goshen, Cluck had been violently sodomized, then kicked and beaten to death, his thighs and groin marked by fingernail scratches. On the same day his body was found, Randy Kraft visited a nearby hospital for treatment of an injured foot--bruised accidentally, he said, while walking barefoot in his hotel room.
Residents of Echo Park, in Los Angeles, complained to police on July 29 of foul odors emanating from the nearby Hollywood Freeway. Officers investigated and retrieved two corpses from a gully there. One victim, 13-year-old Raymond Davis, had disappeared several weeks earlier while searching for a lost dog. The other, 16-year-old Robert Avila, had been reported missing from Hollywood, sought in vain by psychics his parents employed.
Three weeks later, on Aug. 20, 1981, 17-year-old Christopher Williams was found dead beside a road in the San Bernardino Mountains. Known as a Hollywood hustler, Williams had been doped with two different sedatives before someone stuffed his nostrils with paper, causing him to suffocate.
Kraft’s busy schedule kept him--and police--hopping in 1982. A third Oregon victim, 26-year-old Brian Whitcher, turned up along I-5 near Portland on Nov. 26, drugged with alcohol and Valium, killed by asphyxiation. Dec. 7, Kraft was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for an LSI computer conference.
Cousins Dennis Alt and Chris Schoenborn vanished that night from the bar in Kraft’s hotel, their corpses found together in Plainfield Township two days later. Both were doped with alcohol and Valium, then strangled. Schoenborn was nude, a ballpoint pen from Kraft’s hotel thrust into his bladder through the penis; Alt was fully clothed except for shoes, his shirt pushed up and slacks unzipped to bare his genitals.
By the time Alt and Schoenborn were found, Kraft was back in Oregon and another teenager was dead. On Dec. 9, while Kraft was checking out of his Wilsonville hotel, a motorist found 19-year-old Lance Trenton Taggs beside a nearby road, not far from the site where Brian Whitcher was dumped in November. A former resident of Hawaii, Taggs had come to live with his grandparents in September 1982. Now he was dead, drugged with alcohol and Valium, choked to death on a sock his killer had forced down his throat.
Nine days later, a man collecting cans outside Hubbard, Oregon found the body of 29-year-old Anthony Jose Silveira. Last seen alive on Dec. 3, hitchhiking home from his job, Silveira had consumed liquor and Valium before he was strangled and sodomized with a large foreign object, left with a red plastic toothbrush protruding from his anus.
Oregon police recognized a pattern in the murders and secured information from Southern California, where other victims had been drugged and strangled over the past decade. A computer search of airline records, hotel ledgers and rental car companies was initiated, seeking frequent visitors from California. Randy Kraft’s name would appear 18 times on the final list, but not before he was arrested in Orange County, driving drunk with a corpse in the passenger’s seat.
The California death toll continued to mount in 1983. Eric Church, 21, was found sodomized, bludgeoned and strangled along the 605 Freeway on January 28, semen from his body later matched to Kraft’s blood-type. Mikeal Laine, 24, vanished while hitchhiking through Orange County; Kraft was already in jail before Laine’s skeleton surfaced near Ramona, in 1984.
Eighteen-year-old Geoffrey Nelson and 20-year-old Rodger DeVaul Jr. disappeared together, while bar-hopping on Feb. 11; they were found together near Claremont College, drugged, sodomized and strangled, two days later. Three months and one day later, authorities got their break by accident, with Kraft’s Orange County arrest for killing Terry Gambrel.
The predator was caged, but prosecutors still had years of work ahead before they could be certain he would kill no more.
Randy Kraft’s alleged “death list” consisted to two neatly printed columns, 30 cryptic items on the left side of a yellow legal sheet and 31 on the right. It began with “STABLE” and ended with “WHAT YOU GOT.” Authorities were convinced that the list was a coded “scorecard” of Kraft’s victims, but the document still gave them headaches. Four entries--“2 IN 1 HITCH,” “2 IN 1 BEACH,” “GR2” and “2 IN 1 MKV TO PL”--apparently referred to double murders, raising the body count to 65, but only one of those notations could be translated: “2 IN 1 HITCH” allegedly referred to the murders of Geoffrey Nelson and Rodger DeVaul.
Police finally matched known victims to 45 notes from the list, while maintaining that no entries existed for Erich Church or Terry Gambrel. The final tally: 67 dead, with 22 of those still unrecovered, unidentified.
But was it true?
Some of the “scorecard” entries seemed virtually transparent. “EDM” matched Edward Daniel Moore’s initials, while “JAIL OUT” referred to Roland Young, killed within hours of his release from the Orange County drunk tank. “PORTLAND HAWAII” seemed to fit Lance Taggs, lately returned from the Aloha State to Oregon. “PORTLAND DENVER was Colorado native Michael O’Fallon, likewise killed in Oregon, while “PORTLAND BLOOD” described the battered corpse of Michael Cluck. “SEVENTH STREET” marked the freeway onramp where Ron Wiebe was dumped in 1973, as “EUCLID” named the ramp where Kraft deposited Scott Hughes. “MARINE CARSON” referred to the L.A. suburb where Richard Keith’s girlfriend resided. “PARKING LOT” described Kraft’s fatal rendezvous with Keith Crotwell. “NEW YEAR’S EVE” recalled the disappearance of Mark Hall. “MCHB TATTOO” became Robert Loggins. “WESTMINSTER DATE” marked the disappearance of 15-year-old Jeffrey Bryan Sayre, vanished forever after visiting his Westminster girlfriend on Nov. 24, 1979. “AIRPLANE HILL” fingered a John Doe dumped near Hungington Beach. Don Crisel, discarded in Irvine without his pants, became “MARINE DRUNK OVERNIGHT SHORTS.”
Other notations--“STABLE,” “ANGEL,” “HARI KARI,” “ENGLAND,” “OIL,” “TWIGGY,” “PORTLAND,” “PORTLAND HEAD,” “PORTLAND RESERVE,” “PORTLAND ECK,” and so on--remained unexplained, and Kraft was no help to police, doggedly insisting that the notes referred to various liaisons with gay lovers still alive and well, or to other mundane incidents from his daily life. He was “anal retentive,” after all, prone to obsessive-compulsive behavior. The list was innocent, Kraft said--and so was he.
Police thought otherwise. They had a corpse in Randy’s car, another victim’s jacket stashed in his garage, snapshots of several others hidden in his car, rug fibers lifted from another corpse, Kraft’s fingerprints recovered from a crime scene--and a list that linked the murders, marking Kraft as a prolific trophy hunter.
Now, all prosecutors had to do was make it stick in court.
On Sept. 8, 1983, Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates held a press conference, announcing that his men had “been able to establish Randy Kraft’s propensity, without a doubt, for sexually deviant behavior that goes back to the 1970 period.” Prosecutor Bryan Brown declared he was ready for trial on 16 murder counts, the final tally including victims Don Crisel, Keith Crotwell, Scott Hughes, Michael Inderbeiten, Richard Keith, Edward Moore, Ron Wiebe, Roland Young and “John Doe” from 1973.
Kraft’s preliminary hearing began, after five postponements, on Sept. 27, 1983, and lasted seven weeks. Judge John Ryan barred cameras from his court but rejected a defense bid to exclude spectators. Highway patrol officers described Kraft’s arrest with a corpse in his car, and homicide detectives outlined the evidence linking Kraft to various murders.
Forensic pathologists Walter Fischer and Robert Richards detailed the injuries suffered by specific victims. In closing arguments, Bryan Brown dubbed Kraft “a true scorecard killer,” while attorney Doug Otto claimed Brown had proved nothing. Judge Ryan found the evidence sufficient to hold Kraft for trial.
Doug Otto would not be there when it started, though. In August 1984 he withdrew from the case, put off by Kraft’s insistence on serving as co-counsel. Otto was swiftly replaced and the legal maneuvers dragged on, costing California taxpayers $2 million by April 1986. Eight more murder charges were filed against Kraft, six in Oregon and two in Michigan, but none would ever go to trial.
More than five years after his arrest, on Sept. 26, 1988, Kraft’s trial convened before Judge Donald McCartin. Defense motions to quash all evidence from the 1983 searches were denied, but McCartin barred any reference to victims beyond the 16 named in Orange County charges. Attorney C. Thomas McDonald’s opening statement dismissed the state’s case as “suspicion, innuendo and prosecutorial rhetoric,” while calling Kraft a “homeowner, taxpayer and hard worker, just like many other citizens of our country.” The bottom line: “Mr. Kraft killed no one.”
Prosecutors called more than 157 witnesses and presented 1,052 exhibits to contest that assertion, resting the state’s case on Nov. 30, 1988. Kraft’s defenders relied on a dual strategy of alibis and alternate suspects, with imprisoned serial killers William Bonin and Patrick Kearney chief among the latter.
Closing arguments ended on May 1, 1989, and jurors deliberated for 11 days to reach their final verdict. They acquitted Kraft of sodomizing Rodger DeVaul but convicted him on all 16 murder charges, plus one count each of sodomy (Inderbeiten) and mutilation (for castrating Geoff Nelson).
The separate penalty phase of Kraft’s trial began on June 5. Defense attorneys presented a stack of family photo albums in a bid to humanize their client. Nearly a dozen jailers testified that Kraft had been a model prisoner during his six years behind bars, while former co-workers called him friendly, outgoing and “normal,” one suggesting that society “would lose a very brilliant mind” if Kraft was executed.
Unable to claim innocence after the guilty verdict, Kraft’s lawyers called a psychiatrist to testify that Randy’s violence was “something that he had no control of.” Several ministers opposed to capital punishment also appeared, until Judge McCartin branded their testimony “silly” and “so far afield it’s stupid.”
The state called Joe Fancher, jailed in Orange County after his Colorado parole for auto theft, to describe Kraft’s assault in March 1970, when Fancher was a 13-year-old runaway. Prosecutor Brown reviewed the “scorecard” list, telling jurors, “There’s nothing wrong with him other than that he likes killing for sexual satisfaction.” Jurors agreed and recommended the death penalty on Aug. 11, 1989.
Judge McCartin made it official on Nov. 29, when he sentenced Kraft to die. McCartin noted receipt of several letters from parents of missing children, seeking information as to whether Kraft had killed their sons. “Somewhere down the line,” McCartin suggested, “with response to your legal grounds for appeals, maybe you might give some thought in your waning moments to helping these people out.”
Kraft was thinking, all right, but the only person he seemed to want to help was himself.
Kraft’s trial had been the longest (13 months) and most expensive ($10 million) in Orange County history, but the appeals process would drag on even longer--13 years and counting, so far. His initial appeal, claiming that California’s gas chamber violated First Amendment religious tenets by forcing a condemned inmate to “actively participate in his own killing” was quickly rejected, but Kraft had other legal tricks up his sleeve.
In 1992, Kraft sued author Dennis McDougal and Warner Books for publishing Angel of Darkness, a study of his case which allegedly smeared Kraft’s “good name,” unjustly portraying him as a “sick, twisted man” and thereby scuttling his “prospects for future employment.” Kraft sought $62 million in damages, and while the lawsuit was dismissed as frivolous in June 1994, it cost McDougal and Warner some $50,000 in legal fees. McDougal retaliated in September 1994--with permission from a state appellate judge--by seeking to recover costs from Kraft, perhaps confiscating the computer Kraft had used to file his lawsuit. “I’m not pursuing this because I think Randy will have a cache of gold doubloons under his mattress,” McDougal told reporters. “What concerns me about all this is that a felon--and one who has been convicted of the worst crimes imaginable--can sue anybody they want with impunity, on a regular basis. They clog the courts with phony baloney suits and the state allows them to do it without charging them a dime to file.”
Authorities were more concerned about the missing names from Kraft’s “scorecard,” and with the prospect of unidentified accomplices. Kraft’s Huntington Beach “John Doe” victim was finally identified in March 1995, as 18-year-old drifter Kevin Clark Bailey, but 22 more from the death list remain anonymous and undiscovered, while forensic evidence in two cases--the Leras footprints and unidentified semen recovered from Eric Church’s corpse--suggest at least one other killer still at large.
Author McDougal thinks he solved a portion of the mystery, years after Kraft’s conviction and their years in civil court. In his article published in Beach magazine in January 2000, McDougal recounted his interviews with one Bob Jackson, who allegedly confessed to murdering two hitchhikers with Kraft, one each in Wyoming (1957) and Colorado (1976), then joining Kraft in “several” California murders after 1977. Nicknamed “Twiggy” by Kraft, Jackson assumed the matching notation on Kraft’s cryptic list referred to one of their joint homicides.
More chilling yet, he told McDougal that the list included only Kraft’s “more memorable” slayings, while the total body count stood closer to 100. McDougal reported Jackson’s allegations to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and furnished tape recordings of the interviews.
Detectives quizzed Jackson and finally persuaded him to enter a mental hospital, but no murder charges were filed. Authorities in Colorado and Wyoming are unable to confirm the slaying of two nameless drifters, almost 30 years ago.
Randy Kraft, meanwhile, filled his time playing bridge on death row. His regular partners included condemned serial killers Lawrence (“Pliers”) Bittaker, “Sunset Strip Slayer” Douglas Clark, and “Freeway Killer” William Bonin. Together, the foursome stood convicted of 41 murders; if police speculation is accurate, the true tally stands closer to 100 dead, with Kraft responsible for two-thirds of the total. Bonin left the game short-handed, with his execution on Feb. 23, 1996, but the others live on. Randy Kraft’s death sentence was upheld by the California Supreme Court on Aug.11, 2000.