Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

LA Forensics: Mysterious Confession

a Suspect

Andrew Lancaster didn't seem like a serial killer. He was a 49-year-old World War II veteran who had settled into a quiet life, working mainly as a night watchman and a cab driver. He had recently gotten divorced from his wife of nearly 30 years and had moved from San Pedro up to the Bay Area.

"Mr. Lancaster had never been arrested in his life," Bengtson says. "He didn't even have a parking ticket on file."

On July 15, 1975, L.A. detectives found Lancaster and sat him down for an interview. Had had known any of the dead women? Could he account for his whereabouts on the nights they disappeared? Did he kill Lois Petrie, Cathy Masters, or Ann Fellows?

Carmela Adams as Cathy Masters
Carmela Adams as Cathy Masters

Lancaster denied any involvement in the women's deaths.

Would he be willing to take a polygraph test? the detectives asked.

Sure, Lancaster said.

But when the Harbor homicide cops called for a polygraph machine, Lancaster got cold feet. He said he'd changed his mind and stormed out of the interview.

In 1975, the vaginal swab taken from Lois Petrie's body meant very little to the investigation. DNA matching was unheard of. The best police could hope for was that their suspect and the killer shared one of the eight basic blood types — along with about a zillion other people on the planet.

Without a confession from Lancaster, the detectives had nothing.

"All (they) had to go on was one person's word versus another person's word, which is something you can't solve a case on," Bengtson says.

They were no closer to solving the murder of Lois Petrie than they had been on Christmas Day 1972. Her case, and those of Cathy Masters and Ann Fellows, went back into the cold case file.

They wouldn't come back out again for 27 years.

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