“I picked every lock, turned off every alarm, found every hiding place.”
The year, 1979, the town, Danville in Southern California, the American Golden State. During the early morning hours of a hot night in July, a silent figure stalked across a quiet street near Thornhill Road. As he reached a condominium, the man climbed up to the second floor and forced his way into the home of a young sleeping couple. At around 4:00am, the owner was woken by a light rustling sound, and as he looked up he saw a shadowy figure in the doorway donning a ski mask. As he jumped out of bed he came face to face with the prowler, who was wearing a dark blue vinyl jacket, ski-mask, and was holding shoelaces which dangled from his gloved hands. In that moment the owner made a decision that would no doubt save the lives of himself and his sleeping wife. He immediately began screaming obscenities at the masked man, “who the fuck do you think you are!?” he shouted, “what the fuck are you doing here!?”. As he stepped forward, the masked man took a step backward.
While the husband continued to scream and intimidate the would-be intruder, his wife was awoken by the confrontation. This incident happened during the height of a series of rapes that had occurred in Northern California, that had received much publicity in the press and caused terror amongst the residential communities. The home owner and his wife had prepared for just such an occasion and had rehearsed exactly what they would do. The husband stood between the masked man and his wife, giving her the opportunity to run downstairs. Unsure if the prowler had a weapon, the husband followed and soon they were both running out through the sliding glass doors at the back of the house. The wife immediately began screaming for help and a neighbour called the Sheriff’s department. Unbeknown to the Danville couple, they had just narrowly escaped becoming victims of the East Area Rapist, a vicious serial offender responsible for upwards of fifty attacks.
What authorities did not know at the time, was that the East Area Rapist would very soon progress into a serial murderer, committing as many as ten murders throughout Southern California. This type of offender was perpetrating what is known as a home invasion, which is quite possibly one of the most terrifying experiences for a family or individual living alone to experience. This sub-type of burglary, known as a cat burglary or hot prowl burglary, is classified as a home invasion in which an offender unlawfully breaks and enters into a building or residence while the occupants are inside. There are several reasons why such a crime is committed, with the primary intents being theft, robbery, assault, as well as more serious crimes including sexual assault, murder or kidnapping. These type of crimes are considered extremely dangerous by law enforcement, because of the potential for violent confrontations between the occupant and the offender.
The thrill of committing a crime while the occupants of a house are present and sleeping can be a factor in why some offenders commit a home invasion. Others will actively enter the residence at night when the owner is present in order to facilitate a larger agenda, with the invasion merely a means to end. Serial rapists will often choose to commit their crimes at night, so they can take victims by surprise as they are sleeping and disorientated, making it much harder to put up resistance. The circumstances of a night-time home invasion are also used by serial killers, who will enter the residence of a prospective victim, then proceed to attack and murder the home owner or orchestrate a kidnapping. This is usually undertaken by high IQ killers, Such as Ted Bundy, who remove the victim from the home and take them to an isolated spot, so as to minimize the risk of leaving incriminating evidence at the scene.
Home Invasion Serial Burglars
On December 20, 1969, the FBI arrested a criminal on their Ten Most Wanted Fugitive list. 41-year-old Francis “Frank” Leroy Hohimer was apprehended in Greenwich, Connecticut, thanks to a tip-off from a citizen. Having previously spent 11 years in prison, Hohimer was released and soon began a career as a cat burglar working on behalf of the Chicago Outfit. Under the tutelage of Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio, Hohimer was part of a group of cat burglars who operated in Chicago’s upscale Gold Coast district. Hohimer and the other thieves specialized in stealing rare gems and jewellery, which were fenced to Outfit-controlled jewellery stores and wholesalers. After his arrest, Hohimer began to write his life-story about his time as a burglar, which was published on January 1, 1975, and called The Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar. The book described the rules which Hohimer lived by in order to evade capture, as well as the inner workings of the Chicago Outfit, and how they operated their trade in stolen gems and jewellery.
His 1975 tell-all book would eventually become the inspiration for the 1981 neo-Noir movie Thief, written and directed by Michael Mann, starring James Caan as the titular thief who specializes in safecracking, while also attempting to escape his life of crime. Hohimer would act as an on site advisor for the film, which drew heavily from his memoirs. In his book Hohimer touches on the unsolved murder of Valerie Percy, a crime for which he would eventually be named a suspect. Percy had been murdered in her bedroom at the family home in Kenilworth, Illinois, near Chicago, in September 1966. After several years as a cold case, the crime made headlines again in 1973 when the Chicago Sun-Times published a series of stories that un-masked the reputed killer as a 46-year-old housebreaker named Frank Hohimer. At the time Hohimer was serving a 30-year-sentence for his role in a series burglaries committed in Denver and Indianapolis. His name was put forward by his own brother, who said Hohimer had confessed to the crime.
Casper the Friendly Burglar
There have been, however, more prolific burglars than Hohimer, such as the still unidentified individual active in Northridge, Los Angeles, Southern California during the mid-1970’s. ‘Casper’ was the nickname given by law enforcement for a prolific hot prowl burglar who committed upwards of 100 burglaries from 1976-77. He often gained access to homes by forcing open sliding doors and windows, and whenever confronted by a dog, he always managed to pacify them somehow. He would then wander around the house looking for cash, often going into bedrooms while the home owners were sleeping and take any money left lying around. Investigators believe that Casper was aware of the publicity surrounding his crimes, and began playing cat and mouse games with them, and started taunting them by leaving items taken from earlier burglaries at homes he later prowled.
From the few eye-witnesses who caught a glimpse of Casper, he was described as roughly 20-years-of-age, 5ft 9in tall and 155 lbs. The burglaries would usually occur between the hours of 23:00-05:00am, and sometimes several properties were hit during a single night. Although he was committing hot prowl burglaries, Casper was never violent, and on the rare occasions a resident woke up and saw him, he would calmly walk out of the house. Spotted only twice by law enforcement, he vaulted backyard fences quickly and with ease, leading detectives to believed he was athletic, especially after he managed to put considerable distance between himself and the pursuing officers. Senior investigators suspected that Casper prowled more for the fun of it that for the money he stole, and one was quoted as saying that if he stopped tomorrow, “I guess we’d never find him”. Coincidentally, he was never apprehended.
Jack MacLean… Superthief
On October 1, 1983, another tell-all book was released by Berkley Pup Group publishers by the unknown author Jack MacLean. The book, titled “Secrets of a Superthief”, was written by a former burglar who wanted to expose the profession in which he claimed to have been the greatest. On the front of the dust jacket are the words, “They said I was the best, the one the police called Superthief. Before I went straight I picked every lock, turned off every alarm, found every hiding place. I know how burglars get inside… and what keeps them out. If you’re smart, you’ll pay attention to what I have to say.” The first-time author was John “Jack” Arthur MacLean, a prolific former burglar who committed a series of robberies along the East Coast in Southern Florida from 1976 until possibly 1981, just several years before he penned his life story.
In Secrets of a Superthief, MacLean claims to have committed as many as 2,000 burglaries during the 1970’s, which netted him upwards of over $100 million, including a jewellery heist from which he stole $1 million worth of jewels from the Fort Lauderdale mansion of an heiress of the Johnson and Johnson pharmaceutical empire. At the time he was committing home invasions, MacLean was also suspected of having committed more than just burglaries. His criminal record reveals that rape charges in 1981 in Miami and Boca Raton were dismissed because of faulty evidence. After completing a prison sentence for an early 1990’s sex offence, his DNA was taken in 2005 and he was linked to two cold case rapes, one in February 1976, the other in February 1978. Investigators believe that MacLean is responsible for as many as 400 rapes and sexual assaults, and was the serial offender known as the “Gentle Rapist”.
Some rapists such as McLean, and serial killers like Ted Bundy, will often begin their criminal careers as burglars, before progressing to serial rape or murder as they gain more experience and confidence, their fantasies become more violent, and they seek to escalate that need to satisfy their sexual desires. The Visalia Ransacker began committing a series of burglaries in March 1974, and was suspected of over 100 home invasion burglaries in the Visalia area alone. He would gain entry to the property, often targeting several in one day, and rifled through the owner’s possessions. His calling card was scattering women’s underclothes, arranging them in specific ways. He would only ever steal low-value items, while ignoring bank notes and higher-value items. He would often rearrange or display items in the house, and would steal many different items from home, including cash and rare coins, blue chip stamps, jewellery and most alarmingly, firearms, which were used in many future crimes.
Despite his apparent young age offered by eye-witnesses, the Visalia Ransacker was a adept burglar, something which was evident in his modus operandi. He would scale fences and only ever moved through an established route such as parks and walkways, he would attempt to open multiple points of entry, and left numerous points of escape in the event of him being spotted by the home owner. Something he would later use in his sexual attacks, the Ransacker used warning items such as plates and dishes against doors and always wore gloves. His crimes eventually culminated in the attempted kidnapping of a young girl, resulting in the death of her father at the hands of the prowler. By December 1975, after an altercation with a police detective on stakeout on West Kaweah Avenue, the prowler was never heard from again, and had relocated to the East Area of Sacramento, where he evolved into a prolific rapist responsible for many crimes.
Home Invasion Serial Rapists
East Area Rapist
In June 1976, the East Rapist began a reign of terror against the residents of Sacramento, San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties amongst others, and was believed responsible for as many as fifty rapes until the July 1979 aborted Danville attack. Described as white, pale complexion, aged between 25-30-years-old, of medium build with dark hair, he initially targeted lone young women and teenagers, often tying them up to gain control. After it was reported by the press that the rapist exclusively targeted lone women, he began attacking couples, and would tie up the male and place dishes on his back so if they moved he would be alerted while raping the female. Despite police stakeouts and eye-witness descriptions, detectives were unable to apprehend the suspect. He would often contact his victims months after the attacks, even when they had changed their numbers. The EAR was also fond of contacting law enforcement and taunting them over their inability to catch him, such as the call placed on December 2, 1977, in which he said “You’re never gonna catch me, East Area Rapist you dumb fuckers I’m gonna fuck again tonight. Careful!.”
The forty-seventh attack attributed to the East Area Rapist occurred in June 1979, in Walnut Creek, when a 13-year-old girl was tied up and raped while her parents were home. During that particular attack, the victim recalled how the brazen sex attacker had worn shorts. By September 1979, no further attack were reported in Sacramento or the surrounding areas, and it appeared that the rapist had been scared off by his experience at Danville. Unbeknown to investigators, he had relocated to Southern California and began casing properties in Goleta. There on the evening of October 1, 1979, EAR attacked a couple on Queen Ann Lane. In a similar situation to the Danville encounter, the victims had experienced several instances of a prowler and fought back, escaping their bindings and calling for help. After this, the rapist made a decision to murder his future victims in order to remain free. The East Area Rapist became a serial murderer the police would eventually nickname, the Original Night Stalker.
Other criminals who operated at around the same as the Visalia Ransacker and the East Area Rapist, such as the Exeter Ransacker, Cordova Meadows Burglar and the East Sacramento Flasher, are all believed to have been the same individual. Criminals are known to change their modus operandi, such as the Australian sex criminal known as “Mr. Cruel“, a sinister kidnapper who invaded the homes of suburban Melbourne families and kidnapped their young children from the safety of their beds. Originally known as the Hampton Rapist, then as “Mr. Cool”, named by detectives due to the meticulous and calculated fashion with which he committed his crimes, before a journalist referred to him as “Mr. Cruel“, a name soon adopted by most within the media. Starting in February 1985, the perpetrator entered the homes of his victims, who ranged in age from teenagers to a 48-year-old women, then bound and gagged them before committing the act of rape.
By December 1988, Mr. Cruel changed his modus operandi, and focus exclusively on teenaged victims. Perhaps bolstered by the fact that he eluded capture, the serial rapist decided to kidnap his next victim. Entering the family home armed with a knife and small handgun, the masked intruder awoke the girls sleeping parents and bound and gagged them. He then rummaged through the house and stole several valuables and a small amount of money, before turning his attention to their 10-year-old daughter. After cutting the phones lines, he took the girl out of the home and subjected her to a horrendous eighteen hour ordeal, before finally releasing her. Mr. Cruel subjected another young girl to a similar ordeal in July 1990, when Nicolas Lynas was taken. Although she took was later released, another young girl, thirteen-year-old Karmein Chan would never return home. It was suspected she saw her attacker’s face and he murdered her to prevent his capture.
Beast of Jersey
In the United Kingdom, during the 1960’s and 1970’s, a terrifying sex criminal stalked the Channel Island of Jersey, preying on women and young children and launching sickening attacks in their own homes. Known as the Beast of Jersey, this rapist would break into residential homes at night wearing a rubber mask and nail-studded wristlets, instilling fear in his young victims through his grotesque appearance, before vanishing into the night. Much like Mr. Cruel, the Beast of Jersey began attacking different victims, before focusing entirely on children. Detectives believed he was very careful about how he selected his victims, bringing with him everything he would need to subdue them. Often he entered the bedroom through the window, before proceeding silently and fast, shining a light to wake his sleeping victims and then binding and blindfolding them so they couldn’t identify him. The Beast would affect an Irish accent in order to disguise his voice.
After a two years absence, the Beast returned to attack a young boy using his all too familiar method. After another attack he vanished again until July 1964, claiming several mother victims. The Beast stopped his attacks once more when the police investigation intensified, and in 1966 they received an anonymous letter that ended with the words, “Just to see if you can catch me.” Once more the serial rapist vanished and was not heard from again until August 1970, the longest period between his crimes. When a young boy was awakened by an intruder and attacked, he gave police a description of the horrific mask the prowler was wearing, which had black spiky hair which sprouted from the top of his head. Police would end up questioning over 30,000 people, a significant number of the Islands residents, but it would be pure luck that two Jersey policemen would stumble upon the bogeyman who had been responsible for such heinous crimes.
While the Beast of Jersey targeted young children, another serial sex offender chose his victims from the other end of the age demographic. The Night Stalker committed a series of burglaries, rapes and sexual assaults in the South East of London from October 1992 to May 2009. Originally known as “Minstead Man”, the rapist would seek out lone elderly women and was meticulous in the planning of his crimes. It is believed that he kept his victims under surveillance for some time before striking, and would never break into a property occupied by anyone other than lone elderly residents. His method of entry involved using tools from the victims own shed or garden to remove the window beading, then ripped out the telephone wires either before or after gaining entry. Once inside he approached his sleeping by shining a flashlight in their faces and demanding sex, often spending several hours in the victims homes. The Minstead rapist was known to be forensically aware as he never left any fingerprints at the crime scenes.
Victims of his attacks would describe “Minstead Man” as gentle and perversely tender, sometimes kissing his victims on the cheek, and on more than one occasion he was shamed by a victim into leaving without committing a sexual assault. Despite these moments of civility, he could also be capable of extreme violence, causing injuries to some rape victims. Sometimes he burgled the homes he entered, however this was never his primary motive. Towards the latter half of his crime spree, the Minstead Man became known by the British press as the Night Stalker. Responsible for over 100 offences against elderly women, the Night Stalker was eventually identified through DNA as Delroy Grant. His attacks were similar in nature to those of another offender, known as the Stockwell Strangler, who also preyed on the elderly, however this serial rapist murdered his victims inside their own residences and care homes.
Home Invasion Serial Killers
In early-January 1974, a young woman was attacked in her home by an intruder, who had viciously assaulted and left her for dead. Later that same month a second victim was kidnapped from her basement bedroom in Washington state. The remains of Lynda Ann Healy were later found in a thick wooded area on Taylor Mountain in March 1975, along with those of several other women who had disappeared in 1974. These were some of the first victims of the serial killer Ted Bundy, who was suspected of murdering upwards of 30 or more women from 1974 to 1975. Throughout most of his adult life Bundy was a prolific shoplifter, to the extent that it bordered on kleptomania. He began his sex crimes also a peeping tom, then started to stalk women, and finally in early 1974, he acted on his sexual fantasies. As he progressed into a fully fledged serial killer, Bundy changed his modus operandi in ways that suited his impulses. Sometimes he would enter the home of a victim, such as Healy, other times he spotted a woman he wanted while driving, and pulled over to abduct his unsuspecting victim.
But mostly he would employ a ruse whereby he would wear a cast over one arm and attempt to solicit help from passing sorority girls. He would always do this at night, and bludgeon them over the head with a crowbar when they knelt down to retrieve his dropped college books. When he was first arrested in August 1975, police found the tools of his trade in the trunk of his Volkswagen Bug. A black duffle bag that contained a crowbar, flashlight, a ski-mask, a pair of gloves, rope, a pair of handcuffs, wire, a screwdriver, an ice pick, strips of cloth, large green plastic bags and a pantyhose mask. These were the items he used when entering a victims home, or when he abducted women off the street. When he escaped for a second time in December 1977, he made his way to Florida where in January 1978, he perpetrated a mass murder home invasion at a sorority house, bludgeoning five young women as they slept, two of whom died from their gruesome injuries.
Another serial killer emerged in January 1974, one that would strike fear into the community of Wichita, Kansas for decades. When the three older children of the Otero family returned home from school, they found that someone had entered the family home on North Edgemoor Street and murdered their parents and two siblings. Police found a horrific scene inside the house. The intruder had bound Joseph Otero and his wife Julie, and strangled them to death. The same had been done to the youngest child, 9-year-old Joseph Otero II, who had been suffocated with a plastic bag. Upon searching the rest of the house officers found the body of 11-year-old Josephine, hanging by her neck from a sewer pipe. The killer had spent some considerable time inside the home, and it was later revealed that each victim had been strangled to the point of death, then revived so the intruder could repeat the act of strangulation again and again.
This sadistic killer sent police letters in which he referred to himself as the BTK Strangler, which stood for Bind, Torture, Kill. More murders were committed, mostly against lone females, who were strangled inside their own homes after BTK gained access. He would bring with him the items he used to tie up and strangle his unsuspecting victims. In one incident in April 1979, BTK broke into the home of a 63-year-old woman and hid inside her closet waiting for his prey to return home. When he failed to show, he left and later sent a poem to the woman asking her “Oh, Anna Why Didn’t You Appear?”. The terrified woman promptly left the state. After this BTK vanished, and many armchair sleuths and detectives believed he might have been jailed for others crimes or was dead. Little did investigators know that BTK continued to murder, and resurfaced in 2004, stating his intention to continue killing. In his letters to police, BTK claimed that a mysterious “Factor X” compelled him to bind, torture and kill his victims.
In August 1985, as a young man walked past a bus terminal and entered a store in Los Angeles, he noticed something on the front pages of a newspaper rack and promptly fled in terror. As old women nearby began calling him “el matador!” he began running across the freeway and attempted to carjack a woman, but was chased away by bystanders. Eventually a large group of people pursued the young man as he hopped fences and tried desperately to escape, until he was subdued and surrounded. When police arrived the young man shouted for them to save him and he was taken into custody. The Night Stalker had been captured. Richard Ramirez committed a series of brutal home invasions, where he would terrorize the owners, committing burglary, sexual assaults, and horrific murders. Ramirez carried out particularly vicious murders, slashing the throat of one victim so deeply that she was nearly decapitated, while another victim had her eyes cut out by the enraged killer when she escaped her bonds.
Described by eye-witnesses as curly-haired with bulging eyes and wide-spaced rotting teeth, the Night Stalker was a Satanist who drew pentagrams on the blood-spattered walls of his crime scenes and made some surviving victims “swear to Satan” that they were not hiding valuables from him as he ransacked their homes. He frequently burglarized his victims homes, and searched for money and items while they were bound. He would often target the homes of young families, during which he instantly killed the sleeping male with a shot to the head, then tied up and raped the female, and afterwards would say “tell them the Night Stalker was here.” His victims aged in range from young to women in their 80’s, and would use a variety of methods to kill, from stabbing to bludgeoning to shooting. Ramirez terrorized the San Gabriel Valley from April 1984 to August 1985, when he was finally captured.
Original Night Stalker
Several years before Richard Ramirez began terrorizing the inhabitants of the San Gabriel Valley, the Original Night Stalker was invading the homes of couples and lone women in Southern California, to rape and murder the inhabitants. This prolific criminal began committing crimes as the Visalia Ransacker, before emerging in Sacramento as the East Area Rapist (EAR) and then finally moving South where he started to murder his victims after several unsuccessful encounters in which the victims escaped. A similar series of crimes in Orange County where women were bludgeoned by a killer known as the Bedroom Basher were believed to be connected, but later revealed to be committed by a separate home invasion serial killer. The Original Night Stalker (ONS) claimed his first known victims in Goleta in December 1979, when he entered the home of a couple who were tied up and murdered. Police theorized that at some point the man escaped his bindings and lunged at the intruder, who shot him dead, before turning the gun on the female victim.
After this, the killer would bludgeon his victims to death, so as not to alert sleeping neighbours to his crimes. In some instances he brought with him a white German Shepherd, presumably to control the home owners, but primarily he murdered the sleeping male and then proceeded to rape and murder the female victim. Ligatures used by the killer were considered by investigators to be unique, and he was initially nicknamed the “Diamond Knot Killer”. After this, the killer began to remove the bindings from the crime scenes, so as not to leave any physical evidence behind. From July 1981, the killer vanished, committing no more murders for several years until 1986. It was suspected he may have been killed in the commission of a crime, however in October 1982, a victim of the EAR was contacted by telephone by the perpetrator, who told her “Hi, its me again, remember me?…” It would be several more decades until both crimes sprees were linked to a single person, one of the most prolific criminals in American history.