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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.