Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Killer Prophet


According to the reports the next day in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Pound sealed off the area, called for assistance, and they soon located five bodies.   One had been floating, a news photographer reported, while the others lay at the bottom near one end of the pool.  There was blood on the deck at the edge of the pool and a five-inch stream of blood across the water.  All of the victims were incongruously bound and blindfolded with colorful silk scarves. 

When the police and firefighters pulled the victims out of the water, they were quickly identified by those acquainted with them.   Among the dead were homeowner Victor Ohta, 46; his wife, Virginia, 43; his two sons, Derrick, 12, and Taggert, 11; and his secretary, Dorothy Cadwallader, 38.  Each person, it turned out, had been shot from behind with a small caliber gun.  Yet no shell casings were found around the area.  The bodies were quickly removed.

Derrick Ohta, victim
Derrick Ohta, victim

The burning home was now a homicide scene and would have to be searched carefully for clues.    In the meantime, state arson experts arrived and found clear evidence that the fire had been deliberately set.  The main part of the expensive home, with an estimated worth of $250,000 to $300,000, was gutted, and driving rain during the early morning hours had ruined the crime scene outside.

Virginia Ohta, victim
Virginia Ohta, victim

Sheriff-coroner Doug James had determined that the victims' hands had been bound with scarves found in the home, and Mrs. Ohta had been gagged with one as well.   The autopsy reports indicated that Dr. Ohta had been shot twice in the back and once under the arm with a .38-caliber pistol, while each of the others had suffered a single wound to the back of the neck.  Another gun, a .22, had been used on them.  There was evidence from water present in the lungs that some of the victims might still have been alive when pushed into the pool and had then drowned.  In a news conference, the sheriff indicated that there was likely more than one perpetrator.  He believed the killers had set the fire to attract attention to the murders.

Hoping they did not have a Tate-LaBianca type of assault here, the police searched for scrawled messages and told reporters they had found nothing of the kind.   They also found no evidence of burglary, but until they consulted with relatives of the slain, they could not be certain of that.  When pressed as to whether they had found any messages, Sheriff Doug James simply said, "No comment."  He did issue an appeal to anyone who had seen anything on Rodeo Gulch Road that day or who knew anything about the victims' movements on that afternoon to contact his office. 

Taggart Ohta, victim
Taggart Ohta, victim

It soon came to light that Virginia Ohta's dark green 1968 Oldsmobile station wagon was missing.   An all-points alert had been sent out to patrol officers to be on the lookout for it, but it was clear that the thief-murderer had quite a head start.

Investigators looked around for likely suspects.   Santa Cruz was not far from the hippie capital, Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, from where Manson had drawn his motley crew.  In addition to that, it was an oceanfront beach town that attracted a range of people, including unsavory types.  By the next day, county officials were debating over offering a reward of $25,000 for information about the perpetrator of this crime.  But then things happened fast.


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