Randy Kraft, the Freeway Killer
Shortly after 1 a.m. on May 14, 1983, two California Highway Patrol officers stopped an apparent drunk driver on the San Diego Freeway, in Mission Viejo, California. Instead of waiting in his car, the motorist stepped out, dumping the contents of a beer bottle onto the pavement as he emerged. His pants fly gaped as he approached the patrol car. A glance at his driver's license identified the man as 38-year-old Randy Steven Kraft, of Long Beach. Kraft admitted to drinking but swore he was sober. A field sobriety test proved otherwise, and he was arrested for driving while intoxicated.
So far, the stop seemed like another routine Saturday night DUI arrest in Orange County. Then Sgt. Michael Howard approached Kraft's car and saw a man slumped in the passenger's seat, partially covered by a jacket, empty beer bottles scattered around his feet. A folding knife lay in plain sight, on the driver's seat. Howard knocked on the window but got no response. Opening the door, he tried in vain to rouse Kraft's passenger. The man was barefoot, with his pants unzipped and genitals exposed. He had no pulse and his neck was ringed with red marks, as if he had been strangled. Paramedics pronounced the man dead at 1:21 a.m.
Orange County sheriff's deputies obtained a search warrant for Kraft's car, scouring the vehicle for evidence. In addition to the beer, they found nine different prescription drugs, including Valium and various painkillers. Beneath the lifeless passenger, the seat cushion was stained with blood, although the dead man had no open wounds. Underneath a floor mat was the most disturbing thing of all: 47 Polaroids of nude young men, who appeared to be unconscious or dead. A briefcase in the trunk contained a sheet of yellow paper from a legal pad, with 61 cryptic comments neatly printed in two columns. They began with "STABLE" and ended with "WHAT YOU GOT." Soon, detectives would describe the notes as a coded list of murder victims.
Kraft's passenger was soon identified as Terry Gambrel, a 25-year-old Marine stationed at the nearby El Toro Marine Air Base. His blood contained high levels of alcohol and the prescription tranquilizer Ativan, one of the medications found in Kraft's car. Together, the beer and pills might have killed him, but an autopsy confirmed death by ligature strangulation.
Searchers moved on to the home Kraft shared with gay lover Jeffrey Seelig, uncovering a treasure trove of evidence. A couch in the living room was the same one used to pose several of the nude models in Kraft's Polaroid collection. An old yellow rug in the house appeared to match fibers retrieved from a corpse found in Anaheim, in April 1978. In Kraft's garage, police found an odd cache of mismatched belts, chains, shoelaces and clothing. One of the jackets belonged to a Michigan murder victim, slain in December 1982. In days to come, detectives would identify three more California murder victims depicted in Kraft's Polaroids. His fingerprints would match those found on shards of broken glass at a December, 1975 murder scene.
Kraft was initially charged with just one murder, Terry Gambrel's, and held in lieu of $250,000 bond. He pled not guilty to the charge on May 16, 1983, but Judge Gary Ryan thought him dangerous enough to triple his bail, effectively confining Kraft until his trial. At a bail reduction hearing one week later, Kraft's attorney called him "passive, nonviolent and hard-working." Prosecutor Bryan Brown responded by charging Kraft with four more murders from early 1983, victims including 18-year-old Geoffrey Nelson, Robert Loggins,19, Rodger DeVaul, 20, and 21-year-old Eric Church. Judge Robert Thomas accepted Kraft's not guilty plea on those counts and revoked bail entirely. A week later, Kraft was charged with the 1975 torture slaying of 22-year-old Mark Hall.
California was already reeling from "Trash Bag Killer" Patrick Kearney and "Freeway Killer" William Bonin, who were linked to 49 murders in 1978 and 1981, respectively. Now, homicide investigators suspected that Randy Kraft might have claimed more victims than Kearney and Bonin combined.