Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Randy Kraft, the Freeway Killer

Death Row

 

Kraft's trial had been the longest (13 months) and most expensive ($10 million) in Orange County history, but the appeals process would drag on even longer—13 years and counting, so far. His initial appeal, claiming that California's gas chamber violated First Amendment religious tenets by forcing a condemned inmate to "actively participate in his own killing" was quickly rejected, but Kraft had other legal tricks up his sleeve.

In 1992, Kraft sued author Dennis McDougal and Warner Books for publishing Angel of Darkness, a study of his case which allegedly smeared Kraft's "good name," unjustly portraying him as a "sick, twisted man" and thereby scuttling his "prospects for future employment." Kraft sought $62 million in damages, and while the lawsuit was dismissed as frivolous in June 1994, it cost McDougal and Warner some $50,000 in legal fees. McDougal retaliated in September 1994—with permission from a state appellate judge—by seeking to recover costs from Kraft, perhaps confiscating the computer Kraft had used to file his lawsuit. "I'm not pursuing this because I think Randy will have a cache of gold doubloons under his mattress," McDougal told reporters. "What concerns me about all this is that a felon—and one who has been convicted of the worst crimes imaginable—can sue anybody they want with impunity, on a regular basis. They clog the courts with phony baloney suits and the state allows them to do it without charging them a dime to file."

Authorities were more concerned about the missing names from Kraft's "scorecard," and with the prospect of unidentified accomplices. Kraft's Huntington Beach "John Doe" victim was finally identified in March 1995, as 18-year-old drifter Kevin Clark Bailey, but 22 more from the death list remain anonymous and undiscovered, while forensic evidence in two cases—the Leras footprints and unidentified semen recovered from Eric Church's corpse—suggest at least one other killer still at large.

Author McDougal thinks he solved a portion of the mystery, years after Kraft's conviction and their years in civil court. In his article published in Beach magazine in January 2000, McDougal recounted his interviews with one Bob Jackson, who allegedly confessed to murdering two hitchhikers with Kraft, one each in Wyoming (1957) and Colorado (1976), then joining Kraft in "several" California murders after 1977. Nicknamed "Twiggy" by Kraft, Jackson assumed the matching notation on Kraft's cryptic list referred to one of their joint homicides. More chilling yet, he told McDougal that the list included only Kraft's "more memorable" slayings, while the total body count stood closer to 100. McDougal reported Jackson's allegations to the Orange County Sheriff's Department and furnished tape recordings of the interviews. Detectives quizzed Jackson and finally persuaded him to enter a mental hospital, but no murder charges were filed. Authorities in Colorado and Wyoming are unable to confirm the slaying of two nameless drifters, almost 30 years ago.

Randy Kraft, meanwhile, filled his time playing bridge on death row. His regular partners included condemned serial killers Lawrence ("Pliers") Bittaker, "Sunset Strip Slayer" Douglas Clark, and "Freeway Killer" William Bonin. Together, the foursome stood convicted of 41 murders; if police speculation is accurate, the true tally stands closer to 100 dead, with Kraft responsible for two-thirds of the total. Bonin left the game short-handed, with his execution on Feb. 23, 1996, but the others live on. Randy Kraft's death sentence was upheld by the California Supreme Court on Aug.11, 2000.

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