He Doodled Gay Men—and Then Stabbed Them to Death
The riveting new podcast “The Doodler” examines a serial killer who haunted San Francisco in the 1970s, sketching his victims’ faces before slicing and dicing them.
No serial killer has ever had a moniker as underwhelming as the Doodler, which sounds like the name of a clownish Captain Underpants sidekick or a goofy Homer Simpson alter-ego. Nonetheless, the Doodler was no cartoon or laughing matter, killing at least five men—and perhaps as many as 16—in San Francisco between January 1974 and September 1975. Thanks to the particular time and place in which he operated, the Doodler escaped local and national front-page headlines, and to this day he remains at large. As a result, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan’s new podcast The Doodler is not only a look into the past—it’s a work of investigative journalism aimed at uncovering new leads that might lead to the villain’s capture.
Available now, The Doodler is an eight-episode audio affair hosted and reported by the charming Fagan, a 28-year veteran of the San Francisco Chronicle who’s covered everything from the Zodiac killer to the Unabomber, and who states at the outset, “I care about the forgotten and the marginalized people at the heart of this city. And there’s one case, one unsolved case, that still angers me. It confounds me.” That would be the Doodler, a mysterious fiend who terrorized San Francisco in the mid-1970s in and around the Tenderloin, Polk Gulch, and the Castro. His targets were the metro area’s white gay men, whom he apparently met at well-known bars, or at cruising spots, and whom he lured into his clutches with a unique method: he would sit and sketch them beforehand, and then use those drawings as an introductory come-on before stabbing and slashing them 15-20 times with a blade. He was a murderer who used art to ensnare.
According to Fagan, there are two related reasons why the Doodler is not a true-crime legend. First, there was simply a lot of scary stuff going on in San Francisco at the time, thanks to the Zodiac’s slayings and attendant taunting letters to the media, as well as the series of fatal Zebra shootings in which unrelated everyday citizens were targeted, and which were eventually pinned on a group of African American men. The Doodler had competition when it came to sensationalistic homicides, and unlike his compatriots, he didn’t seek the spotlight. He left his victims’ bodies at Ocean Beach or at nearby Spreckels Lake, where they weren’t immediately visible to the public. The Doodler didn’t court cat-and-mouse notoriety, which made him a far less sexy monster on which to report.