Monday, 29 June 2015

The Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders PT1

This is one of those cold cases that featured many victims and possible victims, stretching back in a period running from 1971 to 1974.  If it was the same perpetrator for all, as the FBI believes, then he was a very busy boy.  The victims were murdered in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa and San Francisco.  The known victims were all hitchhiking, were dumped near embankments, in creeks or ditches and were all close to major roads.  The first victims were very young girls.  Maureen Sterling & Yvonne Weber were both 12 years of age, attended Herbert Slater Middle School and had gone to the Redwood Empire Ice Arena on February 4th 1972.   The last seen of them was they were hitchhiking on Guerneville Road, north west of Santa Rosa.  They vanished.  Their remains were not discovered until December 28th 1972 by an embankment, two miles north, on Porter Creek Road, off Franz Valley Road.  It was not possible to determine a precise cause of death.

    The next victim was 19 year old Kim Allen, a student at Santa Rosa Junior College.  She was employed at Larkspur Natural Foods in San Rafael.  She accepted a lift from two men, who say they dropped her off at 5.20pm and she was trying to hitchhike the rest of the way to her college. The two men saw her move on to the Bell Avenue entrance to Highway 101.  Kim was found the next day, dumped down an embankment and into a creek on Enterprise Road, in Santa Rosa.  The poor girl had been bound, raped and strangled.  But autopsy revealed that the killer had used a length of cord to kill her but took his time, prolonging her agony and torture.  Semen was recovered, and there were marks on the embankment showing the killer had had to struggle to get her down into the creek.

    The next victim was another very young girl, 13 year old Lori Lee Kursa.  She was attending Lawrence Cook Middle School, when she disappeared whilst out shopping with her mother who reported her missing on November 11th 1972.  She had run away.  She paid a visit to some of her friends around the 20/21st November.  Then she vanished.  Her body was discovered on December 14th, thrown over an embankment and into a ravine that was off Calistoga Road, north east of Rincon Valley in Santa Rosa.  She did not suffer sexual assault but her neck had been broken.  There had been compression and hemorrhage on her spinal cord.  But there was a possible witness to her abduction.  Somebody had reported seeing a girl matching Lori being forced into a van by two men.  The driver was reported as white and having an afro hair style.  This led to two men being suspects but who were later eliminated.  These were Buono and Bianchi.  Bianchi had a very tight curly/afro type hairstyle, leading cops to suspect them.  But no sexual assault?  Their victims were never spared that.

    Yet another young schoolgirl fell victim to the mysterious killer.  This was 14 year old Carolyn Davis.  She was another runaway, hailing from Anderson in Shasta County, running away on February 6th 1973.  She vanished from sight on July 15th after being seen hitchhiking near Highway 101 at Garberville.  She was found on July 31st practically at the same spot that the first victims, Maureen and Yvonne, had been left.  It was determined that she had been thrown from a car.  Cause of death was determined to be poisoning by strychnine. A rather odd way for a sexual predator to kill, but looking at the death of Kim Allen, it could have been another sadistic way of prolonging the agony.

    Theresa Walsh, 23, hailed from Miranda, she fell victim next.  She vanished hitchhiking from Zuma Beach in Malibu to Garberville on December 22nd 1973.  She was found six days later, half submerged in Mark West Creek.  She had been hogtied, had suffered sexual assault and had been strangled.  It was thought that she had been murdered soon after she vanished.  The area had suffered a lot of heavy rain and it was possible that the body could have floated for a couple of miles.

    The last known victim has never been identified.  This Jane Doe skeleton was actually discovered on July 6th 1979, but was thought to have been killer some years before, hence the linking her to this series of deaths.  She was found in a ravine off Castiloga Road.  Initially, it was thought it was Jeanette Kamahele who disappeared in 1972, but dental records of Jeanette showed that it was not her.  Jane Doe was approximately 19 years old, had worn contact lenses, had reddish hair and did have an old injury of a broken rib.

    There are two more possible victims of this killer - indeed if they all were the work of a lone killer.  One is Lisa Smith, 17, from Petaluma.  She was last seen at 7pm on March 16th 1971 when she was hitchhiking on Hearn Avenue in Santa Rosa.  Then on March 29th, the Press Democrat reported that a girl called Lisa Smith had been released from Novato General Hospital after receiving treatment.  She claimed that she had been given a lift by a man who had then beaten her.  This girl then went missing and is now officially "missing."  It is not known if it is the same Lisa Smith.

    Jeanette Kamahele, 20, was a student at Santa Rosa Junior College, who vanished on April 25th 1972, after hitchhiking near the Cotati ramp to Highway 101.  A friend of hers saw her get into a brown chevrolet pick up truck with a home made wooden camper attached.  The driver was a white male with an afro hairstyle, but was never traced.  Jeanette has never been found.  What do we make of all this?  Time for my "trouble stirring guesswork."  If anything, if the same man is responsible, then they were all opportunist kills.  The hitchhiking says all that.  The killer could have spent time cruising the on/off areas for potential victims.  Thumbing a lift was very prevalent amongst young women back then, and if they were very young, well, so what.  When in Rome......  He could have just happened to be in that particular area at the time and said to himself "she`s mine!"  But he varied his kill methods.  Strangulation, torture - the slow strangulation with a cord of Kim Allen and the poisoning of Carolyn.  What is the significance of embankments and small rivers or creeks?  It gave him the opportunity to pull off the main road, dump the body and probably drive back onto the highway and put distance between him and the body.  He is driving in a virtual straight line, not through urban roads and residences.  The reports of a man with an afro, can point to Bianchi, but that was never proven and he and Buono were excluded as suspects.  What do you think?