SFPD again raises reward for 'Doodler' serial killer

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023
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The original 1975 sketch of the "Doodler" suspect, left, was updated in 2023 using age progression to show what the man might look like today. Illustration: Courtesy SFPD
The original 1975 sketch of the "Doodler" suspect, left, was updated in 2023 using age progression to show what the man might look like today. Illustration: Courtesy SFPD

The San Francisco Police Department has once again raised the reward amount in an effort to solve one of the most infamous cold cases involving the killing of gay men.

Police have increased the reward for information leading to the identification, apprehension, and conviction of the serial homicide suspect known as the "Doodler" to $250,000. The reward had been raised last year from $100,000 to $200,000 as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

The Doodler is suspected of killing at least six gay men in San Francisco between January 1974 and September 1975. He may have killed as many as 16.

A sixth confirmed victim was announced last January, at the time that the reward money was raised: Warren Andrews, a 52-year-old lawyer, was found unconscious after an assault at Lands End on April 27, 1975. He never regained consciousness and died several weeks later.

"In the mid-1970s the San Francisco Police Department investigated several violent assaults of gay white male victims," a January 24 SFPD news release stated. "As a result of the investigation, at least one victim provided information that led to a forensic sketch of the suspect that was developed in 1975. At least one of the victims provided information to police that the suspect said he was a cartoonist and the suspect was doodling while conversing with the victim in a late night diner."

The release came just ahead of January 27, the 49th anniversary of the discovery of the Doodler's first victim, Gerald Earl Cavanagh, a 49-year-old Canadian immigrant whose body was found fully-clothed, lying face-up at Ocean Beach. He had been stabbed and had defensive wounds.

The Doodler's modus operandi was to target gay men in the Castro neighborhood and other places, luring them into sexual encounters then killing them and leaving their bodies in parks and beaches around the city's westside. He is described as Black, about six feet tall, and looked to be between 18 and 25 at the time of the killings.

All of the victims were white gay males. Three were found at Ocean Beach, one at the Spreckels Lake Model Yacht Facility in Golden Gate Park, one at Lincoln Park (best known as the location of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor), and one at Lands End.

At the same time as the Doodler murders, in July 1975, there were two attacks on gay white males within a two-week period at the Fox Plaza apartments, according to the SFPD in a crime bulletin attached to the January 24 release. Though both victims lived on the same floor, they did not know one another.

SFPD homicide inspectors determined at the time that there was a connection between the Doodler murders and the Fox Plaza attacks.

"One of the survivors from the Fox Plaza attacks had met the suspect after the bars closed in July of 1975 at the Truck Stop diner near Market/Church St.," the crime bulletin stated. "The suspect was drawing animal figures on a napkin. The suspect commented to the victim that he was attending art school and was studying to be a cartoonist. The victim believed the suspect to be skillful in drawing as he himself had a background in art."

Then in October of that year the victim — who spent "the most significant amount of time" with the suspect compared to any other known person — provided information that generated a composite sketch of the suspect believed responsible for the Fox Plaza attacks.

"Soon after the initial suspect sketch was released, an anonymous phone call was made by a female to SFPD. This anonymous caller provided police with a name and a vehicle plate of a suspect. This female called twice within 10 days. We are looking to identify this caller. After this caller contacted SFPD it is believed that at least two different people also contacted SFPD providing the same suspect name. We would also want to speak with these individuals. The person named was interviewed by SFPD Homicide in January 1976 and he was considered a strong suspect."

It is this same person, police stated, who "is still the focus of our investigation in 2023. We believe there are other persons who may have survived attacks by this same suspect or may have information regarding this suspect and these attacks," the crime bulletin concluded.

Anyone with information regarding the Doodler is asked to contact cold case investigators Tom Newland at 415-553-1144, Dominic Celaya at 415-553-9856, Daniel Dedet at 415-553-1450, or Daniel Cunningham at 415-553-9515.

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