1941 Mad Killer of Sacramento Case
A lot of dead and dying
In the summer of 1941,
there was a series of attacks on men who had
been picked up at bars in the West End. They had gone with someone
did not know, were clubbed in a savage manner and driven to various
locations on the Sacramento and American rivers where they were
to die. The earlier cadavers were found weeks after they had died.
Some survived and lived long enough to say that they had been drinking
and were offered a ride home, beaten and dumped. Money did not appear
to be a motive.
For almost the entire
month of September, two local newspapers ran stories
about the "Mad Killer" or "Insane Slayer" and
charted the progress of the
investigation. Suddenly, towards the end of the month, all coverage
stopped. Apart from some certifiably kooky stories and the usual
of the war in Europe, this series of killings seem to be just about
the only story of interest from this time.
At least eight people
were attacked and killed in a period of a few
months. About a dozen policemen were put to work on the case, which
have been anywhere from twenty-five to fifty per cent of the entire
force at that time. Suddenly, there was no mention of it. No other
odd stories appeared to displace it. That is, until months later,
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the war was on. Wouldn't the reading
public have demanded to know what became of this case?
One would think so. One
would be wrong.
Story found buried
According to articles
in both the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Union,
the bodies of migrant laborers began appearing near both the Sacramento
American rivers in the summer of 1941. Some appear to have been
to death. The cause of death of other victims cannot be fully ascertained
to advanced decomposition. However, the coroner at the time, Hugh
refused to rule out strangulation as a cause of death, presumably
the similarities in the sites where the bodies were found and in
of those victims who were positively identified. The appearance
of the articles
began in early September, 1941 and ended abruptly at the end of
There were many hours
and men devoted to solving these homicides in a short
period. The fact that the papers ceased coverage of the case suggests
possibilities. One is that more urgent matters came up and that
command deemed the series of "mad killer" or "slugger"
slayings less important.
However, there is nothing
prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor three months
after the story first appeared in either paper to suggest that a
police matter demanded the efforts of the men assigned to this case.
Another is that the low
social standing of the victims made investigation
into their deaths less than high priority. After much searching
papers from the area from the 1940s, this seems very probable.
Research at the central
branch of the Sacramento Library on the investigating
officers yielded no mention of these slayings. Research into the
of known victims and the one suspect yielded no results. Mention
is made of
a trip by Sacramento police to Oakland in search of leads. Again,
does not seem to have been pursued. Perhaps the person responsible
slayings relocated. Perhaps, at the dawn of US involvement in WWII,
or people responsible were pressed into military service and died
Another likely scenario
is that the person or persons ended up incarcerated
for an unrelated or unconnected offense and either died in custody
later released and relocated to continue his or her brutal pasttime.
Back then, communication
between jurisdictions was not what it is today.
Therefore, it is hardly unlikely that an individual could thwart
apprehension by moving across state, county and municipal lines,
same offenses undetected for long periods of time. However, these
indicate that there was at least some cooperation between counties.
The fact that no one was apprehended and that only one suspect emerged
hardly suggests that this cooperation was effective.
That the newspapers dropped
the ball on such an interesting story is not
new and is done all the time to this day. For example, a policeman
on trial for committing sexual assaults in uniform. He was under
for months prior to being suspended and subsequently charged. At
story made the front page. Later articles appeared in the back pages,
to the B section. Now it is as if the assaults never happened. Back
1940s, the papers tended to work with the police and ran stories
to echo whatever the reporter was told. Access to crime scenes and
between the police and the press were common. It doesn't seem all
today in Sacramento.
Newspaper stories summarized
September 1, 1941
The Bee reports
the discovery of two bodies found in Yuba City. Coroner
Hugh P. Jones makes a connection between these and two bodies found
Sacramento County based on apparent cause of death. The perpetrator(s)
are referred to as "sluggers." The age of one victim is
be about 55. A hat found near this body was purchased at a downtown,
west-end store called "Al's Style Shop, located at 327 K St.
point out that the hat brought no leads to the investigation. Both
had been, Jones claims, at the locations for over a month. He also
that they were killed at another location and dumped where they
September 2, 1941
The Union reports:
John Saunders is found a day after Alfred Reed was found, severely
Saunders was a few yards away from Reed, but was unable to attract
attention of rescue workers as they loaded Reed into an ambulance.
died eight days after he was discovered. No mention is made of whether
Saunders survived his injuries. Reed was able to tell investigators
he was offered a ride from the West End to his home in Davis but
was taken to the Gardenland District where he was beaten and left
The Bee reports:
An autopsy will be held on a body found in Verona District. Both
P. Jones and Sheriff Bert Ulrey believe that the body is a homicide
victim, that he was murdered elsewhere and dumped where he was found.
Identification will be difficult due to advanced decomposition and
the fact that many teeth are missing. Whether or not the person
many teeth when he was alive or if they were knocked out in connection
with his fatal assault is not mentioned.
The Bee Reports:
Detectives Lyons and Spraktes are to assist Sutter County police
searching for the murderer responsible for as many as four assaults,
three of which ended in death. It is believed that both Sacramento
County victims are connected with the Sutter County victims and
all were taken by car to isolated spots, beaten and dumped elsewhere.
Mention is made of the fact that John Saunders' pelvis was broken.
The Union reports:
Another victim, this one found dead, is identified as Ramon Rivas.
Police named in the article: Captain M.W. Lincecum, Sheriff Don
Cox, investigators, Mel Reese and Charles Ogle.
September 3, 1941
The Union reports:
There are now five presumed victims of the Mad Killer. A friend
Rivas, Tony Ochoa, whom police speculate may have last seen Rivas
is missing. Ochoa's age is given as 51, Rivas' age, 41. Rivas body
"battered" and found in a Natomas Slough. Both men were
alive in the West End, where they were well known. Their last place
employment was at a ranch in Clarksburg. They may have arrived in
Sacramento on or about August 23, 1941. Investigators have discarded
any possible connection between Ochoa and the death of Rivas, due
to the fact that Ochoa had no car and the perp almost certainly
a car for the crimes to be carried out. The Sutter County bodies
as yet unidentified and will remain that way. Alfred Reed has died
of his injuries. Hugh P. Jones awaits autopsy results of the two
Sutter County victims. John Saunders is reported to be alive in
September 5, 1941
The Bee reports:
sends clothing from a body found near the Verona District in
Sutter County to the State Division of Criminal Identification and
igations for use in identifying the victim. Jones says that this
strangled, since death by shooting or bludgeoning couldn't be proven
to advanced decomposition. Jones adds that these deaths in Sutter
are likely connected to those three in Sacramento County.
Detective A.J. Soulies is trying to locate Tony Ochoa. Soulies claims
Ochoa was in the police station the previous Saturday telling detectives
that not only had he wired Rivas' family about the killing, but
was to travel to Mexico to tell them in person. Soulies does not
Ochoa is dead.
The Union reports:
Police believe Ochoa to be a victim of the "mad killer."
The hat found
near the second Sutter County victim is not helpful. Also, the autopsy
was inconclusive due to advanced decomposition. Further, Rivas was
last seen in the West End, Sunday evening with two men. The identities
of these men remains unknown.
September 6/7, 1941
The Union reports:
are now conducting investigations in the Bay Area in search
of the "mad killer." So far the body count is four dead
and two seriously
wounded. The police are acting on an anonymous tip from September
The officers on the trip are Lyons, Spraktes, Ogle and Reese. Sutter
officials now now say that the second Sutter County body has no
with the Sacramento County killings, saying that a cause of death
September 16, 1941
The Union reports:
Benjamin A. Lucas has been eliminated as a suspect. Police went
lockup in Turlock where Lucas has been held in connection with the
beating and robbery of H.R. Martinson of 724 8th street.
September 22, 1941
The Union reports:
Body found at Hollister Landing and mile and a half below Hood.
victim was about 55, five foot seven, 145 pounds and going bald.
one was found by E.J. Garrison and C.H. Nelson of 3915 14th Ave.
Rivas and one Frank Reed are named as prior victims.
The parts don't fit
Alfred Reed is referred
to as Frank Reed in the final article.
Sutter County officials
first claim that both bodies found in that county
are connected to the Sacramento County killings only to discount
It is first thought that
Tony Ochoa was responsible for Rivas' death. He
is then thought to be a victim. However, one cop, A.J. Soulies claims
he is alive and well in Mexico.
Who weeps for dead
The more I looked into
this series of killings and attempted killings, the more
pathetic the victims began to appear. Most of them are of Mexican
ones who are not seem to be nothing but poor white trash. What subscribers
the Bee or the Union would really waste much time puzzling over
the fate of
people they would never have over for dinner? The victims were probably
sort of people readers of the Bee or the Union might hire to do
who they would avoid being seen near in public. As the author of
Ernesto Galarza wrote, the people who lived to the East wanted to
Those in the West End simply wanted to make a living. Those who
by as migrant workers would hardly have occasion to rub shoulders
who lived in East Sacramento.
The victims seem to have
one thing in common. They tended to drink. To do
this, they went to what is now known as Old Sacramento. Now, of
place is where merchants have set up shop to snare tourist dollars
young folks into the club/hip hop scene go to see and be seen, hook
hopefully not become targets of racial profiling. Then, it was where
bars and hookers and drug dealers were. It was where people drank
into fights. It was a mix of the class of the victims and the more
who went slumming in search of action.
The victims were killed
by someone for some purpose, to be sure. But what
was the reason? Robbery is unlikely. Why would a thief wait until
mark had drunk enough of his pay as to be gullible enough to go
ride with a stranger before ridding him of his currency? Was this
series of gay bashings, circa 1941? Not out of the question, but
contemporary news accounts are frustratingly vague about sexual
Even the depictions of
the condition of the victims are glossed over.
The beatings are described simply as "brutal," the perpetrator
or "insane". What was it about the condition of the bodies
the use of these adjectives? Was it simply that small-town Sacramento,
which had very few homicides in those days viewed any killing as
"brutal" and any perpetrator "insane"?
After talking with a
local who was in the area at the time, who was also
an avid reader of local news, I found that use of such words as
and "insane" were the way people commonly talked. It was
also very common
for newspapers such as the Union to use such language in headlines
draws more readers. More on this below.
Months before the stories
of the killings appear, a helpful man at
the Sacramento Room of the library gave me a xerox of a Union story
about a phony doctor who was caught with eight quarts of human eye
balls among other body parts in his possession. The "doctor"
to explain how these items got into the trunk of his car. He cited
"professional ethics" as the reason for this refusal.
The story ends
here. No followup. No questions. No nothing.
I guess we will never
know whether the end of the story came about
because of a squeamish reading public, gutless editors, a corrupt
police force obsessed with protecting the tax-paying, land-owning
public to the detriment of the inhabitants of the West End or a
little of each. After speaking with a newspaperman who worked in
the years following these incidents, it appears that a combination
of the above is probably true. The police force was known for
corruption. The West End was a highly-prized beat. In fact at one
time, a cop and his wife leased a set of rooms on lower J street
to a known madam. Lower J Street was known as "rowboat row,"
"oars (whores) on either side." The West End was sought
of the amounts of payoffs and shakedowns which would have supplemented
a police salary considerably.
Several years ago, Scott
Soriano told me about a stack of old editions of
the now-defunct Sacramento Union which had a story series about
of murders in the 1940s that were never solved. He added that it
for an interesting story and asked if I was interested. I was. A
passed before I actually looked at the papers and copied them.
I took my clippings to
the local library and started spooling through the
microfilm only to find that the archives from the Union had little
than the clippings I had xeroxed. No matter how far forward or backward
in 1941 I went, there was no follow up, nothing about what had happened
with the case.
I gave up on it. My girlfriend
had told me about Angelique Diamond, a
friend of hers who had been murdered in 1986.
I then called some law
enforcement personnel and was told that the killer
"got life without." We then went to the library and found
about the whole gruesome murder. It was a double homicide. A hammer
Alan Edward Rice was
a coke addict who murdered Angelique, age 13 and
Laraine Roberts, age 14, who were apparently socializing with Rice,
bashed both girls to death in a cocaine-fueld mania. He did very
to conceal the crime and was arrested, tried and convicted in short
Back to the library
After finding out what
happened to the killer of Angelique Diamond, I guess
I got a boost of confidence. I went back to the library and looked
in The Bee from the same period as the articles in the Union. Essentially,
I looked at all editions of both the Bee and the Union for September,
While the Bee had some
added information (it tagged the killer a "slugger"
and added that one of the victims was yards away from where another
was being loaded into an ambulance but was unable to alert the crew
his presence.) the reporting proved inferior. The stories lacked
of the Union pieces early in the series. The reason for the difference
coverage and style between the two dailies is that the Union was
paper whose sales depended on newstand copies. That is, they employed
shocking headlines to pull in readers. They also felt the need to
with the Bee. This was actually a wasted effort since the Bee was
far ahead of the Union in readership. The Bee was the evening paper
relied on subscriptions for revenue and had no need to use titillating
Later trips to the library
resulted in no findings about the victims or
suspect and precious little about the cops involved, let alone the
unsolved case. What I could find out about the cops were retirement
puff pieces and little else. One such item from the mid-80s was
It mentioned that the retiring cop was going to chase golf balls
of criminals. Another, from the early 60s, mentioned that the size
the police force had grown ten times since the man began serving
the 1930s to when he left in the 60s. Again, there was no mention
the unsolved killings.
Cold case cop
I emailed the Sacramento
City Police department asking advice on who to
see to look at old case files. I was referred to homicide, who referred
me to cold case detective Dick Woods. Detective Woods was very interested.
He was set to retire in mere months and was struggling to organize
case files from the 1960s and 1970s. There was scant information
those decades, so finding primary sources from the 1940s was unlikely.
A local who lived in
the area in the 1940s is very suspicious of the
numbers given by detective Woods. He claims to have read about murders
in the West End on a regular basis. Perhaps Detective Woods was
to unsolved homicides. Even if this were true, the rate of solved
in the department would have to have been among the highest in the
Still, Wood was very
interested. He told me that there were at most one or
two homicides in the area in the 60s and 70s, so a series of killings
in the 1940s should have raised eyebrows. I faxed him all of the
I had and was told that many of the names of police were familiar
him. He even knew some of the folks and those who followed. Most
but he would see what he could learn. He has yet to get back with
If he ever does contact
me with further information, even if only to
confirm that the leads dried up and that the case went unsolved,
will certainly append that information here.
Al's style shop
After conversing with
a source who read the local news on a daily basis
from the 1920s up to now, I found some very interesting facts about
West End and the folks who lived there. In 1941, the West End was
way-station for transient laborers who arrived in the off season.
who worked for the agricultural and timber industries would come
area when the work was done, rent a room and leave their earnings
with local haberdashers, such as Manuel Cohen and Al Andler, who
act as informal banks. That is, these merchants would handle the
money until the next work season.
The hat found near one
of the John Does was from Al's Style Shop. This shop was
owned by Al Andler. There has been no proven connection between
Andler and the
death of any unidentified deceased. Still, it is an interesting
Rowboat row and cops
on the take
I have found out that
the West End was a prized beat for local cops in 1941.
Lower J Street was known as "rowboat row" because of blatant,
prostitution. ("Oars on either side.") This made it easy
pickings for cops on the
take. For the most part, the merchants and transients had no real
recourse, so the
cop on the beat was sitting pretty. In fact, there is a story about
a cop and
his wife who owned "a rooms" which was leased to a well-known
West End madam.
This information goes a long way towards explaining the lack of
the Mad Killer case.
Names of characters
and locations in the mad killer case
Hugh P. Jones, coroner
Bert M. Ulrey, sheriff
James Lyons, detective
Emmett Spraktes, detective
W.A. Thomas, Chief of Detectives, Sacramento
Charles J. Ogle, detective
Mel Reese, detective
M.W. Lincecum, Detective Captain
Don Cox, sheriff
A.J. Soulies, detective
J.E. McVeigh, deputy sheriff
Benjamin A. Lucas
H.R. Martinson, Lucas' robbery/beating victim
Alfred Reed, victim
Ramon Rivas, victim
John Saunders, victim
Tony Ochoa, possible victim
John Doe 1, Sutter County victim
John Doe 2, Sutter County victim
John Doe 3, Sacramento County victim
John Doe 4, Sacramento County victim
John Doe 5, Sacramento County victim
E.J. Garrison, found
C.H. Nelson, found JD #5
Sutter County, Yuba
City levee, Verona district
location of Sutter County John Does
Sacramento County, Gardenland
location of victims John Saunders and Alfred Reed
Sacramento County, Natomas
location of victim Ramon Rivas
Sacramento County, west
end, city of Sacramento
location of last sightings of Sacramento County victims
Al's Style Shop, 327
K street, Sacramento
where 2nd Sutter County John Doe bought hat found near body
724 8th street, home
of H.R. Martinson, Lucas victim
3915 14th Ave, Sacramento,
home of E.J. Garrison and
C.H. Nelson, discoverers of last victim
Hollister Landing, south
of Hood, location of last victim
Sources: The Sacramento
Union, various articles, September 1941;
The Sacramento Bee, various articles, September 1941, April, 1986;
Barrio Boy, Ernesto Galarza, 1971