The Doodler: Behind new podcast on killer who terrorised gay men in 70s San Fran

Excl: "I do believe there's a chance the Doodler is still alive" says Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and host Kevin Fagan


Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: The Doodler podcast artwork (incorporating one of the Doodler's sketches, first released in 1975)

From Ted Bundy to Fred and Rose West to Jeffrey Dahmer, serial killers occupy a unique space in the psyche of society. But The Doodler, named as such for sketching men in the gay bars of 1970s San Francisco before stabbing them, is a largely faded figure.

Until now, this is. A thrilling new podcast named The Doodler is asking why, with potentially as many victims as the Zodiac Killer, the man in question has fallen off people's radars.

More to the point, what about his long-forgotten victims?

"They were vulnerable in life, and virtually ignored in death, at a time of awful oppression and fear for LGBTQ people," opines podcast host Kevin Fagan in an email to Attitude.

The Pulitzer Prize-nominated Staff Writer for San Francisco Chronicle says that "bringing some measure of recognition to them and their families, letting them – and our readers and listeners – know that these people need to be remembered and honoured, is a very important part of what we’re doing in this project."

As per the podcast's official synopsis, 'a complicated investigation, a frightened public, and the hesitation of many to come forward' ultimately led to the case going cold - until it reopened in 2018.

But will it be Fagan and his team's exhaustive investigation that sheds the most valuable new light on a nearly-50-year-old massacre? Here, he tells us more.

How many hours a week were you dedicating to the investigation at your peak?

I’ve been working on this story for nearly three years: just occasionally for the first two, then several hours a week from January 2020 to July 2020, and then full time from August 2020 until now, and I’ll still be on it full time until May. During the past eight months, I’d say I’ve averaged about 10 hours a day, six days a week, though it’s probably been more than that. It’s been a passionate effort to try to solve this murder mystery, and to assemble the most completely informative context I can for this story – with my partners in this project, my Chronicle editors, producers of Ugly Duckling Films and Neon Hum Media, and reporting colleague Mike Taylor. 

What do you consider the single most exciting discovery? 

The most emotionally moving part of this project has been finding and connecting with relatives of the five men who were so brutally, mindlessly murdered simply because they were trying to more freely be themselves. [...] Through telling their stories, we also get to tell of the bravery of LGBTQ people a half-century ago who fought for gay liberation and carried on being their authentic selves as much as they could, despite the danger and bigotry of the times.
Do you personally believe The Doodler is still alive?

I do believe there is a chance the Doodler is still alive, but I’m sorry to have to say you’ll have to wait for the podcast series to unfold over the next six episodes  - there are a total of eighth in the weekly series - to find out more. Please stay tuned!

What is your message to potential LGBTQ listeners of the podcast?

My message is that we all – straight and LGBTQ alike - absolutely must remember and examine the oppression and bigotry that LGBTQ people have endured, so we can better combat it in our present and future. We need to also remember and examine the tragedies and courage of this history, for the same reason. I have kept these principles strong in my heart as I work on this project, with the hopes that what we are doing can perhaps help people understand, just a little bit more, the aching need for justice and equality in our world. Yeah, I know that may sound a bit sappy. But I do believe.

For more information about The Doodler, click here.

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