The Hitchhiker Murders
Forty-seven years ago today the first two victims of what became known as the Hitchhiker Murders disappeared. Their names were Maureen Sterling and Yvonne Weber. They were both 12 years old and attended Herbert Slater Middle School. They were last seen around 9 PM at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena.
By 1973, a total of seven, unsolved murders took place in the North Bay area of California. They involved female hitchhikers that were found nude and dumped in rural areas where it is believed they were thrown from the road close to steep embankments.
The girls had been hitchhiking on Guerneville Road, and only skeletal remains were recovered 10 months later down a steep embankment. The cause of death could not be determined.
The girls were nude, and were each only wearing one earring, later on establishing a belief that the killer was keeping jewelry as trophies or souvenirs of his killings.
A month to the day of Yvonne and Maureen's disappearance, Kim Allen, age 19 was seen hitchhiking near the entrance to Highway 101. Unlike the first two victims, Kim was found the following day in a creek bed off Enterprise Road in Santa Rosa. She had been raped, she had superficial cuts on her chest and rope burns on her wrists and ankles where she had been hogtied, forcing her to strangle to death slowly over the span of 30 minutes. There was no doubt that she was killed at the hands of a sexual sadist. Once again, the clothing, handbag, and one gold earring were missing.
Semen was found in the body, and markings at the top of the embankment indicate that the perpetrator likely fell or slipped while throwing the body down into the creek bed. Two men who had given her a ride earlier that day were ruled out as suspects after passing a polygraph test.
On November 11, 1972 Lori Kursa was shopping at the U-Save with her mother. She was only 13 years old however it seems she had run away deliberately and was seen on November 20 or 21 in Santa Rosa where she was visiting friends, probably after hitching a ride there, which she was known to do.
On December 14, 1972 in a ravine northeast of Rincon Valley her frozen remains were found, after being thrown at least 30 feet over an embankment She had not been raped and it was estimated she had died about two weeks prior to her body being found. The cause of death was a broken neck and hemorrhage of the spinal cord. She still had wire loops in her ear lobes, but her earrings had been removed.
Later a witness came forward to say that some time at the beginning of December, he had seen a girl fitting Kursa's description being forced in the back of a van. The driver was a Caucasian man with an afro hairstyle.
Carolyn Davis, age 14 was a runaway who also made a habit of hitchhiking. She left her home on February 1973, but was seen by her grandmother who dropped her off on July 15, 1973 outside the Garberville post office. She was seen hitchhiking near the southbound ramp of Highway 101.
Her body was discovered on July 31, just four feet from where the bodies of Sterling and Weber had been found in December 1972. Initially she was unidentified, and her sister who read about the body being found, forwarded her dental records to the police who made the match.
She was killed with strychnine poison about two weeks before being found. It could not be established if she had been raped, and like the other victims it appeared she had been thrown down a hillside right off the road.
Theresa Smith Walsh, age 23, went missing only 3 days before Christmas 1973. She was hitchhiking to Garberville to see her family for the holidays. Within a week her body was found by kayakers in Mark West Creek, where it was partially submerged under a log. This was only less than 100 yard from where Lori Kursa was found
She had been raped and with clothesline rope. Her thumbs had been bound together, then her wrists, who were then tied to her thighs. Her ankles had also been tied up and a length of rope had been tied to the ankle bindings, run up her back, looped about her neck, and pulled snug with her heels against her buttocks. The pain of being cinched up became excruciating; however, stretching her legs to relieve the strain tightened the noose around her throat. As she inevitably tired and relaxed her legs, she slowly and agonizingly throttled herself to death. This same MO was found in several of the victims.
It was estimated she had been dead about a week by the time she was found.
Not all the victims were found right away. On July 2, 1979 skeletal remains were found about 100 yard from where the body of Lori Kursa were found in 1972. Unlike Lori, but like other victims dumped elsewhere she had been hogtied, and one of her arms had been broken. Lengths of cord used in Venetian blinds were found around one ankle bone and then around the neck bones where it had been wound a few times. It was estimated she was a teenager or in her early twenties. She wore contact lenses and had dark red or brown hair and was about 5 feet tall. She has never been identified.
Initially it was thought she was Jeannette Kamahele, but comparison of dental records confirmed she was not/
Jeannette Kamahele was last seen on April 25, 1972, her body has never been found. She was a student at Santa Rosa Junior College, and was seen hitchhiking on the ramp to Highway 101. A friend saw her get into a brown Chevy pickup truck outfitted with a homemade wooden camper and driven by a white, young male with an afro hairstyle. When the Jane Doe was found in 1979 it was hoped it was Jeannette but a comparison of dental records it was not her. Her parents are now deceased but she has a brother who is still hoping to find out what happened to his sister.
Kerry Graham and Francine Trimble were next door neighbors and good friends. They disappeared in mid-December 1978. A friend said they had planned to hitchhike in order to attend a party in Santa Rosa. Seven months later unidentified, skeletal remains were found in Mendocino county about 100 miles northwest of where they were last seen.
The victims were nude and both had been bound with duct tapes. The remains were stuffed inside plastic bags, but since they were buried in shallow graves, animals had scavenged the bodies. Police believed they had been murdered elsewhere and then dumped in the rural area.
Even though 90% of the skeletal remains were recovered forensic evidence initially determined that one victim was male, the other female, and that they were siblings which could account why the remains were not identified for so many years. In 2000 they were exhumed from a cement crypt at the Russian River Cemetery in Ukiah, California. There was doubt cast as to the theory that they were siblings and that one was male. It was not until 2014 when a second exhumation was performed that a better idea was formed as to their likeness and that they were both female. In 2015 with the help of DNA evidence their identity was confirmed
When the identification was confirmed, Francine Trimble's parents were deceased, and Kerry Graham's were still alive and able to find out what happened to their daughter 36 years after her disappearance. Their murder remains unsolved.
In February 1975 the FBI issued a report, where they indicated that 14 murders committed between 1972 and 1974 were the handiwork of the same perpetrator. These were in addition to the six that had already been discovered by 1975. They found connections between the disposal of the bodies and the belief that the killer took souvenirs from his victims. The killer had shifted his hunting ground to the San Francisco area.
On May 29, 1973, Rosa Vasquez, 20, was discovered dead at the entrance to the Golden Gate Park. She had been strangled and her nude body thrown from a nearby road to land under some bushes. She was employed at the Letterman General Hospital on the Presidio as a keypunch operator.
Two weeks later on June 10, Yvonne Quilantang, 15 was found strangled in a vacant lot in the Bayview district. She was 7 months pregnant.
Less than a month later on July 2, 1973, Angela Thomas, 16 was found nude on the playground of Benjamin Franklin Junior High School. She had been smother to death and a locket was recovered near her body. She was originally from Belton, Texas and had only been in the area 3 weeks where she was visiting friends. .
This new killing ground proved to be fertile for this serial killer. On July 12, Nancy Gidley, 24 was staying at a Rodeway Inn where it was believed she was abducted from. Her nude, strangled body was found behind the George Washington High School gymnasium. She had only one fish-shaped gold earring hanging from her ear.
Originally from Idaho, she had served 4 years in the Air Force. She told her family she was going to San Francisco to attend a friend's wedding as the maid of honor and to write for the San Francisco Chronicle, both stories which later on turned out to be false.
Only a few days later Carolyn Davis was abducted and killed as she hitchhiked on Highway 101. It seemed this killer had not totally abandoned the allure of picking up hitchhikers thumbing a ride off Highway 101.
On July 22, 1973, the partially clad body of 23-year-old Nancy Feusi was found by a fisherman in a remote area of Redding. She had been stabbed 29 times in the chest, stomach and arms. She was the mother of five, and had been separated from her husband for seven months. The sheriff believed she had been killed elsewhere and then dumped in the area she had been found in.
In 2011, one of Feusi's five children, Angela Darlene Feusi McAnulty was convicted of torturing, beating and starving to death her 15-year-old daughter Jeanette Marie Maples. She was five years old when her mother Nancy was killed. Nancy Feusi's husband was abusive, often withholding food from the children as a form of punishment, and his daughter Angela ran away from home when she was 16 with a carnival worker.
Throughout the years she became involved in criminal activity and drugs and her children were placed in foster care. After being released from jail her daughter was returned to her, but two sons told the judge they preferred to stay in the foster care system instead of returning to the care of their abusive mother.
McAnulty became the second woman ever sentenced to die in Oregon and the first since the 1984 reinstatement of the death penalty.
The death of all these victims had a ripple effect among their families, not only causing heartbreak but creating human tragedy beyond the point of their murders.
On November 4, 1973, the body of Laura O'Dell, 21 was found in some bushes behind a boathouse at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. She was nude and her hands were tied behind her back. It appeared the cause of death was strangulation or head injuries, she had also been raped. She had been missing for two days.
A month later Theresa Walsh was killed.
According to police, the same man murdered Brenda Merchant, at Marysville, by stabbing her to death on February 1, 1974, She was found in the living room of her apartment, clad only in a nightgown. She had been stabbed more than 30 times, and drowned in a pool of her own blood. Her infant son slept undisturbed in his room, and the only clue the police had was a bloody handprint left on the screen door of the apartment.
The last victim was 14-year-old Donna Braun who was found nude and strangled floating in the Salinas River near Monterey.
Several theories and killers have been proposed throughout the years. There was an occult theory because of the phase of the moon they were killed on or that they were dumped on the east side of the highway and that the killer was familiar with the occult. The Zodiac killer and Ted Bundy were considered as the killers. Neither the theory or the these killers panned out.
One person who's been looked at as the killer and who did have a direct link to one of the victims was Frederic "Fred" Manalli. He was an army veteran and he worked as a creative writing instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College and San Quentin Prison. He was killed in a head on collision when his van veered into oncoming traffic on Highway 12 west of Santa Rosa in August 1976. He was 41 years old.
In those queer twists of fate that sometimes explains why certain killers disappear from the murder map, if he indeed was the murderer, the way he died possibly provided the clue to his secret life as a sadomasochistic pervert.
Sources say that after the accident the sheriff found drawings in the back of the van of women in sadomasochistic positions, listing them according to their sexual preference. One of them was Kim Wendy Allen. who was found dead in 1972. Two other students were also depicted in these drawings.
Fred also drew himself as well, in drag, and captioned himself as “Freda.” Manalli. He kept a lock of hair in his wallet, but it did not match Kim Allen’s. A backpack was also found which was connected to one of the victims. His former wife Suzanne supposedly had found other drawings, where he was depicted as "Freda" and other young women in bondage situations.
Manalli lived in the area during the years of the murders, he was in his 30s, making him strong enough to handle abducting his victims and then dumping their bodies. He presented a clean cut appearance which made it easier for the girls to trust him.
As to why the authorities did not pursue the theory of him being responsible for the murders is still unknown. Perhaps all they had was his reputation as being "weird" and sketches of him dressed as a woman. The connection between the S&M flavor of his drawings and the way some of the victims were found is undeniable though.
The problem is that the actual drawings or even copies of them have never surfaced, and some claim they were destroyed in 1979. The existence of these drawings was only relayed via someone who used to work at the coroner's office during the time Manalli was killed.
Will the truth ever be known? We know there was DNA evidence recovered from some of the victims. Perhaps when least expected as in the case of the Golden State Killer who was captured April 2018, and whose real name is Joseph James DeAngelo, the identity of this murderer will be revealed.
Source - Websleuths
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer