The Original Night Stalker
With nearly three months going by since the East Area Rapist’s last attack, investigators on the case were desperate for any leads in the case. Although sketches existed to elude to the man’s identity, the sketches were only of men in the area whom witnesses described to police as potential suspects. Before the case even had a chance to turn cold, a new boogie man picked up where the East Area Rapist left off and few clues, except for the trail of bodies, would be left in his wake.
Just five days after Christmas, an intruder broke into the condominium of Dr. Robert Offerman. Offerman, along with Debra Alexandra Manning, were found fatally shot in Offerman’s bed. It was clear that Offerman had put up a struggle, as his ligatures had come untied, but he was unsuccessful in restraining the perpetrator. The killer allegedly brought along his white German Shepard – a vital clue in attempts to ascertain the suspect’s identity, since the dog had been missing a toe – and fed the dog some of the leftover Christmas dinner from the victims’ refrigerator. The killer also broke into a nearby vacant home and stole a bicycle, which he later ditched in the street, just north of Offerman’s condo.
In March of 1980 the Smith couple was found bludgeoned to death by a fireplace log within their own home. Like the East Area Rapist and prior Night Stalker murder, the couple had been tied up preceding their death. It was noted by one investigator that the perpetrator had used a diamond knot to tie the victims with drapery cord, leading some to speculate that the killer may have some sort of nautical background, and was nicknamed “The Diamond Knot Killer” in some media reports at the time.
The Harrington’s were the next couple be be found bludgeoned to death within their upscale home in Dana Point, CA. Though it had appeared that the couple had been tied up prior to their murder, there were no ligatures found on the scene and no murder weapon could be identified.
Unlike the series of sexual assaults committed by the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker murders occurred far less frequently. The first three 1980 murders occurred in fairly rapid succession, but the next murder attributed to the Night Stalker wouldn’t occur until February of the following year.
A 28-year-old woman named Manuela Witthuhn had been found bludgeoned to death in her home in Irvine, CA. Like the Harrington murders, the woman showed signs of being tied up before her death, but no murder weapon or ligatures were found at the scene. Several items had been removed from the home, including a television set left in her backyard. Investigators believe this was an attempt by the murderer to make it appear as if her death was the result of a burglary gone bad.
In July of 1981 another couple was found beaten to death in their home. Cheri Domingo had been bludgeoned to death, Gregory Sanchez had been shot, possibly due to a struggle with the killer before he bludgeoned Sanchez. Evidence at the scene showed that the killer had his dog with him during the murders.
After the murder of Domingo and Sanchez it appeared that the killer disappeared for a while. Signs of the killer’s work wouldn’t pop up again until 1986. 18-year-old Janelle Lisa Cruz was found raped and bludgeoned to death within her family’s home while the rest of her family was on vacation in Mexico. A pipe wrench missing from her Step-father’s tools was believed to have been the murder weapon.
The Night Stalker murders and the East Area Rapist attacks wouldn’t be officially connected until 2001, when DNA samples taken from scenes in both cases were able to confirm the crimes were committed by the same individual. Several items of interest were able to be recovered from some of the crime scenes, including a handwritten note and a map of a Goleta, CA neighborhood, but none of these items lead investigators any closer to pinpointing a suspect.
The Killer seemed to bask in the media limelight of his crimes. As soon as his M.O. was mentioned within any news media he would quickly change his methods. He was also known to taunt police in their failure to capture him. On at least one occasion someone made a phone call to local police claiming to be the killer.