San Francisco police released this updated forensic sketch of the suspected "Doodler" serial killer.

San Francisco Police

San Francisco Police Rekindle 'Doodler' Serial Killer Investigation

The slayings targeted gay men in the 1970's.

Megan Goldsby
February 06, 2019 - 3:49 pm

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS Radio) -- Just before 1:30 a.m. on January 27, 1974, San Francisco police received a 911 call reporting a man lying face down on Ocean Beach. The 911 operator asked for the caller’s name.

“I don’t think that’s necessary. I just wanted to let somebody know. Maybe he needs help or something,” said the caller, according to transcripts of the call released today. “But, ugh, I felt it was my duty to report it.”

The dead man on the beach was Gerald Cavanaugh, a 49-year-old Canadian-American immigrant, who was found stabbed to death. He is believed to be the first victim of an elusive serial killer known as "The Doodler," and police have not ruled out whether the caller who reported finding Cavanaugh's body was the killer himself.

 Now, 45 years after that first slaying, investigators are asking the public for help solving the decades-old cold case of the "Doodler," who may be responsible for up to 14 killings and at least three assaults. San Francisco Police are now offering a $100,000 reward for the identification and prosecution of the suspected serial killer.

Greg McEachern, commander of San Francisco police’s investigative bureau, said during a press conference today that police are seeking help from the public to solve five of those  murders from July 1974 to June 1975, which he described as "horrendous."

“These homicides had occurred in San Francisco at the time were gripping the community and there were many questions about why the victims were targeted and who the suspect may be,” McEachern said. “What made investigators at the time believe that all of those victims were a result of the same suspect was that they had similar injuries, including stab wounds to the upper chest and back.”

Police say the killer targeted gay white men, particularly at Ocean Beach, Lincoln Park, and the Fox Plaza Apartments on Market Street, across from what is now Twitter headquarters.

One of those victims told police that he met the suspect at an all-night diner on Market Street, three blocks down from the Fox apartments. The suspect was drawing caricatures at the time, hence the killer’s nickname. The Doodler allegedly drew pictures of his victims prior to their sexual encounters and death by stabbing.

Through various descriptions provided by people who survived assaults, police were able to get a description of the suspect: a black man with medium complexion and smooth skin, about 19 to 25 years old at the time, between 5-feet 11-inches and six-feet tall.

Police believe the suspect lived in the Bay Area, but outside of San Francisco. He would come into the city at night or on the weekends and meet his potential victims at gay bars, nightclubs and restaurants.

Many victims initially told police that they not interested in cooperating with the investigation in fear of outing themselves as gay. Police said there could be additional victims who survived their attacks, but have yet to come forward.

The Doodler is one of many cold cases being re-examined across the state, after new techniques for analyzing DNA evidence led to the prosecution of a man authorities now believe is the Golden State Killer.


Written by Brian Krans.