Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Richard Trenton Chase

Hunting the Vampire

Merediths station wagon was found abandoned not far from the murder scene, the keys still in it. There was little hope that the baby was still alive. The police did not know it, but the parking lot where they located the missing car was only about one hundred yards from apartment 15 of the Watt Avenue complex where Richard Trenton Chase lived.

The FBI were already on the case. Robert Ressler and Russ Vorpagel developed a profile of who they were probably looking for. They figured him for a disorganized killer as opposed to an organized one, with some clues pointing toward the possibility of psychosis. He clearly had not planned these crimes and did little to hide or destroy evidence. He left footprints and fingerprints, and had probably walked around in daylight with blood on his clothing. In other words, he gave little thought to the consequences. At the very least, his domicile would be as sloppy as the places he ransacked after he was finished with them, and the fact that the murder scenes were fairly close together meant he might not have a car. In fact, hed taken a car from one house, so he must have walked to that one at least. That meant it was likely that he lived in the vicinity of the crimes. It was also likely that he would kill again, and keep on killing until he was caught. They had to work fast.

They figured him to be a white male in his mid-twenties, thin and undernourished. Evidence of the crimes, they were sure, would be found in his residence, and if he had a vehicle, in there as well. He either would have a history of mental illness or drug use, or both, and he would be something of a loner. They thought he was probably employed at some menial labor or unemployed, given his apparent state of mind, and could be receiving some disability money. He probably lived alone. He might be paranoid.

Many people were questioned around the area and some had seen a white male driving a red station wagon. Although the police artist tried to make a sketch, few of the descriptions were helpful, except for that of a young woman.

Police sketch of Chase
Police sketch of Chase

On the same day that Robert Edwards had chased the intruder away from his home on Burnece Street, Nancy Holden had had an odd encounter. She was shopping in the Town and Country Village shopping center, not far from Watt Avenue and close to the Wallin residence, when she saw a strange man approaching her who appeared to be confused. She tried to avoid him but he directed a question at her.

Were you on the motorcycle when Kurt was killed? he asked.

Nancy was startled. Ten years earlier she had dated a boy named Kurt who had been killed on a motorcycle. It was then that she noticed something vaguely familiar about this interrogator. She asked him who he was and he replied, Rick Chase.

She was astonished. This man before her was nothing like the studious, clean-cut Rick Chase that she had known in high school. She had heard hed gotten into drugs, and looking at him now, she realized those rumors were true. He was grimy and stained, and his agitated manner made her nervous. She talked with him for a few minutes, seeking a way out, and finally got out of the store while he was still paying for something. However, he followed her into the parking lot, intent on getting a ride. She managed to get into her car, roll up the windows, lock the doors, and pull out before he could stop her. She knew shed been rude but she just wanted to get away.

After viewing the police sketch of a disheveled man seen in the neighborhood wearing an orange ski parka, and recalling that Chase wore one that day the same color, she was sure this was the man the police were seeking.

They also got another clue from the gun registration of a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun, sold in December 1977 to a Richard Chase on Watt Avenue. On January 10th, he had purchased ammunition.

Then Dawn Larson, watching the news, recalled her strange neighbor. She had seen a large map of Sacramento on his wall, marked with black ink. However, she was afraid to make an enemy by reporting him.

After hearing from Holden five days after the Wallin murder, the detectives ran a background check on Chase and found a history of mental illness (including his escape from a hospital), a concealed weapons charge, a series of minor drug busts, and his arrest in Nevada. They found his address on Watt Avenue and went out that Saturday afternoon, one day after the triple murder, to check it out.

They learned from the apartment manager that Chases mother paid his rent and that she felt her son was the victim of LSD abuse. Chase refused to let his mother into his apartment.

The detectives knocked repeatedly, but Chase would not open the door. They pretended they were going to leave and then waited. Chase emerged with a box in his arms and made his way toward his car. The detectives apprehended him, but not without a mighty struggle on his part. They noticed he was wearing an orange parka that had dark stains on it and his shoes appeared to be covered in blood. A .22 semiautomatic handgun was taken from him, which also had bloodstains on it. Then they found Dan Merediths wallet in Chases back pocket, along with a pair of latex gloves.

The contents of the box he was carrying also proved interesting: pieces of bloodstained paper and rags. They took him to the police station and tried to get him to confess. He admitted to killing several dogs but stubbornly resisted talking about the murders. While he was in custody, detectives searched his apartment in hopes of finding a clue about the missing baby.

What they found in the putrid-smelling place was disgusting. Nearly everything was bloodstained, including food and drinking glasses. In the kitchen, they found several small pieces of bone, and some dishes in the refrigerator with body parts. One container held human brain tissue. An electric blender was badly stained and smelled of rot. There were three pet collars but no animals to be found. Photographic overlays on human organs from a science book lay on a table, along with newspapers on which ads selling dogs were circled. A calendar showed the inscription Today on the dates of the Wallin and Miroth murders, and chillingly, the same word was written on forty-four more dates yet to come during that year.

Blenders used by Richard Chase to prepare human blood (Robert Ressler's Whoever Fights Monsters)
Blenders used by Richard Chase to
prepare human blood (Robert
Ressler's Whoever Fights Monsters)

The entire place had an ominous feeling, but at least Chase was now in custody.

Richard Chase on night of his arrest.
Richard Chase on
night of his arrest.

 

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