|Birth name:||Randy Steven Kraft|
|Also known as:||The Freeway Killer
The Score-Card Killer
|Born:||March 19, 1945
Long Beach, California, United States
|Number of victims:||16–67|
|Span of killings:||September 20, 1970 – May 13, 1983|
|Date apprehended:||May 14, 1983|
Randy Steven Kraft (born March 19, 1945) is an American serial killer. He was convicted of 16 murders and is strongly suspected of committing at least 51 others.
Kraft's parents moved to California from Wyoming prior to his birth. He was the fourth child, and the only son, in his family. In 1948, the Kraft family moved to Westminster, California. Kraft was regarded as bright and scholarly at Westminster High School, where he graduated in 1963. After graduation, he attended Claremont Men's College, now Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, California.
At CMC, Kraft joined the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). He demonstrated in support of the Vietnam War and campaigned for conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. The following year he began working as a bartender at a local gay bar. At this time, acquaintances noted his extensive use of Valium to ward off stomach pains and migraines. Kraft earned his bachelor's degree in economics in 1968. By this time, Kraft's political views had shifted to the left, and he began working for Robert Kennedy's political campaign.
In 1968, Kraft joined the U.S. Air Force. Because of his high scores on aptitude tests and background checks, he was provided with high-security clearances. He was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, in Los Angeles County, California. In a job-related intelligence test it was found that Kraft had an I.Q. of 129, which was rated "highly intelligent."
In 1969, Kraft disclosed to his family that he was gay. He was discharged from the Air Force on "medical" grounds the same year. Forced out of the military, Kraft resumed his bartending career.
Late in 1971, police found the decomposing body of Wayne Joseph Dukette, a 30-year-old gay bartender, beside Ortega Highway. The coroner placed the date of death around September 20, 1971, but found no obvious signs of foul play. Dukette’s clothing and belongings were never found. Dukette is thought to be Kraft's first victim.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, there were dozens of grisly homicides along the freeways of California, with some victims turning up in the neighboring state of Oregon. The victims were young men and teenage boys, most of whom were savagely tortured and sexually abused. Some had been burned with a car cigarette lighter, and many had high levels of alcohol and tranquilizers in their blood systems, indicating they were rendered helpless by alcohol and drugs before they were sadistically abused and killed.
The method of murder varied, with some strangled, some shot in the head, and others killed through a combination of torture and drugs. Quite a number of victims were in the military, hitching their way either to or from their bases. Others were teenage runaways, hitchhikers, or were picked up by the killer in gay bars.
Kraft was nearly arrested in 1975. A 19-year-old high school dropout, Keith Daven Crotwell, left Long Beach on March 29, 1975, hitchhiking for southbound rides. Over a month later, Crotwell's severed head was found near the Long Beach Marina. Long Beach was scoured for the car that took Crotwell on his last ride, and it was quickly located. The registration was traced to Randy Steven Kraft. Police questioned Kraft on May 19, 1975. Kraft admitted taking Crotwell for a ride, saying that they went "just wandering around," but claimed he left Crotwell alive at an all-night café. Detectives reportedly wanted to charge Kraft with murder, but L.A. County prosecutors refused, citing the absence of a body or known cause of death.
Kraft was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol on May 14, 1983, while driving along the San Diego Freeway in Mission Viejo. Kraft exited the car himself, dumping the contents of a beer bottle onto the pavement while doing so. Officer Michael Sterling met Kraft at the front of his patrol car and observed Kraft's jeans to be unbuttoned. Officer Sterling had Kraft walk to the front of his vehicle to perform a series of field sobriety tests, which he failed. Kraft was then arrested by Sterling for driving while intoxicated. Sgt. Michael Howard approached the car and saw a man in the passenger's seat, partially covered by a jacket and with empty beer bottles around his feet. This turned out to be the strangled body of Terry Gambrel, a 25-year-old U.S. Marine, Kraft's last victim. Other incriminating evidence was found in the car, including alcohol, tranquilizers, and blood not from Gambrel's body. Officer Sterling and Sgt. Howard then turned Kraft over to the Orange County Sheriffs Department for further investigation. More evidence was found in the house that Kraft shared with his partner. There were clothes and other possessions belonging to young men who had turned up dead at the side of freeways over the last decade, and many photos of victims either unconscious or dead.
Kraft also kept a coded list of 61 cryptic references to his victims, including four double murders, leading to a total of 65 listed victims. At least one of the victims, Terry Gambrel, was not listed because of Kraft's arrest. Investigators maintain that Eric Church was also not listed by Kraft for unknown reasons. Since the list is in code, the possibility exists that Eric Church is listed in a way that investigators cannot recognize, which would lead to a total of 66 listed victims. However, it is largely held that Kraft was responsible for 67 murders, if not more.
Kraft was eventually charged with 16 homicides. He pleaded not guilty at his trial in 1988, but he was convicted on all counts and sentenced to death on November 29, 1989. The death sentence was upheld by the California Supreme Court on August 11, 2000. He is currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
Of Kraft's suspected 67 victims, 22 bodies remain unrecovered and unidentified.
Certain details surrounding some of Kraft's murders have caused many to suspect that Kraft did not always act alone.
During the trial, the prosecution believed the inconsistencies could be explained away because Kraft had not acted alone in his initial murder spree. His roommate, Jeff Graves, occasionally helped him, according to members of the prosecution team. Graves died of AIDS before police could question him, so the question of Kraft's accomplice was never raised in court.
Writer Dennis McDougal authored a book, Angel of Darkness, about the Kraft case. McDougal also published an article about the case in Beach magazine in January 2000. McDougal recounted his interviews with Bob Jackson, who reportedly confessed to murdering two hitchhikers with Kraft, one in Wyoming in 1975 and Colorado in 1976. (Authorities in Colorado and Wyoming are unable to confirm these confessions.) Jackson also told McDougal that the list included only Kraft's "more memorable" murders, saying the total body count stood closer to 100. McDougal reported these allegations to the police and provided tape recordings of the interviews. Detectives quizzed Jackson and finally persuaded him to enter a mental hospital, but no murder charges were filed.
Kraft sued McDougal and the publisher of Angel of Darkness (ISBN 0-446-51538-8), the book about Kraft's murders and trial, because, Kraft said, it smeared his "good name" and unjustly portrayed him as a "sick, twisted man," which hurt his "prospects for future employment." Kraft sought $62 million in damages. The lawsuit was dismissed as frivolous in June 1994.
After publishing Angel of Darkness, McDougal was contacted by a former Marine from Mission Viejo. McDougal said the Marine "told me he'd hitched a ride from Camp Pendleton to Tustin with Kraft back in 1972 and very nearly became one of his victims. The ex-Marine said Kraft offered him a beer and he drank it, realizing almost too late that the beer had been laced with something a lot more powerful than alcohol. He forced Randy to pull over, stumbled out of Kraft's car in a daze and continued to have nightmares for years afterward about what might have happened if he hadn't been so insistent."
McDougal was also contacted by Jan Oliver, Kraft's college girlfriend. He said of the conversation:
Like the ex-Marine, Oliver was an early guinea pig for Kraft. She remembers him offering her beers during marathon drives through the foothills and back roads of Southern California. Sometimes, she could down two or three beers and it didn't faze her, but there were other instances in which she knew she'd consumed more than lager, as "I'd have no more than three or four sips and it would knock me out!" Years later, following Kraft's arrest, those times she passed out in his car and woke up hours later with a headache came back to her with alarm. She also recalled a few times when Kraft showed up at her door after midnight, years after they had broken up and Kraft had come out of the closet. They remained friends, so she opened her door to him even at odd hours. "He came over once red-faced and hyperventilating," she said. "It was late — maybe one or two in the morning — and he was very agitated, rambling. I never did find out what was upsetting him, although I wouldn't really call it 'upset' so much now, as 'excited.' He seemed very excited." That was sometime in the early 1970s, and Jan Oliver is now convinced that what she witnessed in the front room of her apartment that night was the glassy-eyed transformation of a thrill killer, trying to calm his predatory lust before resuming his day-to-day role as a "normal" human being.
Occasionally, Kraft (sometimes called the Southern California Strangler) is confused with William Bonin. Both have been called "The Freeway Killer," and both murdered young men and often left their victims roadside. Bonin would stop his vehicle to dump the bodies of his victims, while Kraft shoved his victims out of a fast-moving vehicle, often to gruesome effect. The similarity of the crimes often confused investigators, who were initially surprised that the murders continued after Bonin's arrest.
A third "Freeway Killer," Patrick Kearney, also happened to select young men as victims from the freeways of Southern California during the 1970s.