Top 7 Most Notorious Serial Killers in San Francisco

Did you know that some of history’s most notorious serial killers once lived, died, and committed their grizzly crimes in San Francisco?

The name of the Zodiac Killer has become infamous across the world. Whereas, he is far from the only deranged murdered San Francisco’s residents have had to deal with.

In this article, we will take a look at 7 of the most notorious serial killers in San Francisco’s history. Some of them still haven’t been caught… So watch your back!

7 Most Notorious Serial Killers in San Francisco

1. Zodiac Killer

The Zodiac Killer is the pseudonym of a serial killer who operated in the San Francisco area in the 1970s.

His deeds have been compared to those of the notorious Jack the Ripper himself – and for good reason.

Did you know that he gave himself the name Zodiac in a series of letters he sent to the press back in the 70s?

“I like killing people because it’s so much fun,” read one of the letters.

He demanded that his letters be printed on the front page of Bay Area newspapers… Or he would kill again.

The Zodiac Killer was clearly trying to build a reputation for himself – which makes him one of the creepiest criminals on this list (as if his suspected body count of 37 did not accomplish that already).

His first victims were a young teenage couple who had decided to use “Senior Ditch Day” to go sunbathing.

It turned out that killing couples was Zodiac’s thing. He attacked two more right after this, successfully killing 2 out of 4 of his targets.

While there have been many speculations about his identity, the Zodiac Killer has managed to evade the authorities to this day.

2. The Doodler

The Doodler is believed to have been responsible for no less than 14 deaths in the gay community of San Francisco.

He liked to sketch his victims before the slayings, hence his nickname “The Doodler.”

His first victim, Geral Cavanaugh, was found lying face-up at Ocean Beach, San Francisco.

He died of stab wounds to his front and back – a gruesome and painful death for sure.

Another one of his victims, Joseph “Jay” Stevens, a “female impersonator,” died of similar wounds shortly after. It is believed that they met at a gay club where The Doodler liked to pick up his victims.

The identity of The Doodler was also never discovered.

However, in February of 2019, the authorities released more evidence (a new police sketch and an audio recording) to the public in hopes of finally moving the cold case forward.

3. The Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Killer

The serial killer responsible for the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker murders is credited with at least seven unsolved homicides involving female hitchhikers in the San Francisco area.

His first victims were two 12-year-old girls who disappeared on February 4, 1972.

Their naked bodies were found almost a year later, in December of 1972. The cause of death could not be determined.

The killer continued his murders of young girls for about a year.

One of his last murders was also one of the most horrific.

When the police found the body of 23-year-old Theresa Walsh, they were able to determine that she had been hogtied with clothesline rope, sexually assaulted and finally strangled to death.

As is the case for many killers on this list, his identity has not been discovered.

4. The Golden State Killer

The Golden State Killer is the nickname of the San Francisco serial killer responsible for more than 13 murders, 50 rapes, and over a 100 burglaries total.

He usually tied up his victims with items found around their house. He then proceeded to brutally rape them before killing them.

If the women weren’t home alone, the Golden State Killer would lead them into another room to rape them while their husbands or boyfriends remained face-down on the floor, bound by shoelaces and completely helpless.

His case seemed as unsolvable as the others on this list, but a possible suspect was finally discovered in 2018.

So far, the suspect, named Joseph James DeAngelo, a 72-year-old United States Navy veteran and former police officer, has been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder.

This development prompted the police to reexamine other cold cases on this serial killer list.

5. The Unabomber

When a UC Berkeley professor named Ted Kaczynski came to the realization that modern technology was not for him, he didn’t just move to a recluse cabin in Montana to live like a caveman.

He also decided to start an anti-technology revolution – by mailing bombs to people involved in advancing modern technology.

His first attack was aimed at Buckley Christ, an engineering professor at Northwestern, but ended up injuring officer Terry Marker.

His handmade explosives got more and more lethal as time went on.

High Scrutton, a 38-year-old computer store owner, was the first bombing victim who actually died of his injuries.

The Unabomber was finally apprehended on April 3, 1996, and is currently serving a life sentence in prison.

6. Zebra Killers

The reign of terror caused by a group of African-American murderers, known as the Zebra Killers, started in the early 1970s.

The Zebra Killers actually liked to call themselves Death Angels and, as far as we know, their crimes were racially-motivated.

Between 1973 and 1974, they killed at least 15 people and were implicated for 8 others – but the authorities believe that the body count could have been as high as 73.

How did it all start?

In 1973, the Zebra Killers kidnapped a young couple named Quita and Richard Hague.

They raped Quita and nearly hacked off her head with a machete, then attacked her significant other with the same weapon.

An 81-year-old janitor, a 20-year-old college student… There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to these killings – except, of course, that all of their victims were white.

The Zebra killers were eventually caught with the help of Anthony Harris, their acquittance who admitted to witnessing all of the murders first-hand.

7. Richard Ramirez

Richard Ramirez murdered at least 13 people between 1984 and 1985.

Many of his victims were sexually assaulted and beaten before death.

He also liked to leave Satanic symbols at his crime scenes, which earned him the nickname of “The Night Stalker.”

In June 1984, he raped, then killed, his first victim – a 79-year-old widow.

During his killing spree, he used an incredibly wide variety of weapons to attack his victims.

For example, in 1985, he bludgeoned a widowed grandmother with a lamp, then used a butcher knife from her own kitchen to repeatedly stab her.

Luckily for San Francisco residents, The Night Stalker was arrested and sentenced to death in 1985. He then died in prison in 2013.

Wild SF Experience

The history of San Francisco is bloodier and more terrifying than most people believe.

If tales of ruthless criminals and gruesome murders are your kind of thing, you should check out our Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour.

It will take you through the darkest moments of San Francisco’s history to show you a different side of our charming city.

Ready to discover the dark side of San Francisco?

Book a tour now.