Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Randy Kraft, the Freeway Killer

Task Force

Spurred by the killer's accelerating schedule, detectives from several jurisdictions met in Santa Ana on Jan. 24, 1975, to organize a task force. Sheriff's officers from Orange, Imperial and San Bernardino Counties attended the meeting, as did police representatives from Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seal Beach, Irvine and Huntington Beach. An FBI profiler from Quantico, Virginia, and a special investigator from the California State Attorney General's office also joined the gathering, along with several forensic psychologists. Various murders were compared, but none offered any significant leads. Dr. E. Mansell Patterson, from UC Irvine, profiled the slayer as a man who "desires to be masculine but does not feel masculine, gnawing the nipples and genitals of his prey to symbolically make the victim a female."

The murders continued, unabated.

Keith Daven Crotwell, a 19-year-old high school dropout, left Long Beach on March 29, 1975, thumbing southbound rides, and vanished. On May 8, three boys hunting starfish found his severed head near the Long Beach Marina. Friends scoured Long Beach for the black-and-white Mustang that took Crotwell on his last ride, locating it a few days later. Police traced the registration and questioned owner Randy Kraft on May 19. Kraft admitted taking Crotwell for a ride, "just wandering around," but claimed he left the youth alive and well at an all-night café. Detectives wanted to charge Kraft with murder, but L.A. County prosecutors refused, citing the absence of a body or known cause of death.

The near-miss troubled Kraft, who was then employed part-time as a computer operator for a charter flight company at Long Beach Airport. His chronic migraines and stomach pains worsened, compounded by insomnia. A doctor diagnosed him as hypoglycemic, an ailment that Oregon serial killer Jerome Brudos also suffered with. In June 1975, Kraft was arrested for misdemeanor lewd conduct in Cherry Park. Soon after that, his employer downsized and laid Randy off, but his computer experience soon got Kraft a position with a new consulting firm.

Meanwhile, the murders resumed after a 24-week hiatus. Larry Gene Walters, 21, was killed in Los Angeles County on Halloween in 1975. Two months later, on New Year's Eve, 22-year-old Mark Hall disappeared from a party in San Juan Capistrano. Off-duty policemen found his nude corpse on Jan. 3, 1976, in the Cleveland National Forest, near the Riverside County line. Nude and bound to a sapling, he had been sodomized and tortured prior to death: his legs slashed with a knife; his eyes, face, chest and genitals burned with a cigarette lighter; a cocktail swizzle stick jammed through his penis with such force that it entered the bladder; his genitals severed and stuffed into his rectum, along with dirt and leaves. Hall's blood alcohol was seven times the legal limit, probably a fatal dose, but the killer had made sure by packing more leaves and dirt in his throat.

Randy Kraft's relationship with Jeff Graves began to disintegrate after Kraft's police trouble in 1975. They had split by year's end, and Kraft moved in with 19-year-old Jeff Seelig, sharing a Laguna Hills apartment. Around the same time, in early 1976, California's unknown predator began to claim younger victims. Though still discarded beside highways, many victims were now stuffed into trash bags, sometimes left in dumpsters and discovered only when the bags tore during pick-up. Nine slayings are confirmed in 1976, perhaps with untold others consigned to dumps, compactors and incinerators.

The year's first was 13-year-old Oliver Peter Molitor, whose body was found in Manhattan Beach on March 21, 1976. Two and a half weeks later, on April 7, 17-year-old Kenneth Eugene Buchanan was dumped in Inglewood. Larry Armendariz, 14, turned up in Los Angeles on April 19, followed by the Redondo Beach discovery of 13-year-old Michael Craig McGhee on June 11. October's victim was 16-year-old Randall Lawrence Moore, left in a trash bag along Highway 80, east of El Cajon. Paul Fuchs, 19, vanished from Redondo Beach on Dec. 10 and was never seen again. Other victims were dumped at Borrego Hot Springs and near Calexico, on the Mexican border. Authorities remained baffled, unable to match their handful of meager clues to any known suspect.

 

 

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