A 2002 Look at the 1941 Mad Killer of Sacramento Case


By E. A. H.

A lot of dead and dying men

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 they did not know, were clubbed in a savage manner and driven to various locations on the Sacramento and American rivers where they were left 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 coverage 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 would have been anywhere from twenty-five to fifty per cent of the entire police force at that time. Suddenly, there was no mention of it. No other odd stories appeared to displace it. That is, until months later, when 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 and American rivers in the summer of 1941. Some appear to have been bludgeoned to death. The cause of death of other victims cannot be fully ascertained due to advanced decomposition. However, the coroner at the time, Hugh P. Jones refused to rule out strangulation as a cause of death, presumably because of the similarities in the sites where the bodies were found and in the lifestyles of those victims who were positively identified. The appearance of the articles began in early September, 1941 and ended abruptly at the end of that month.

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 a few possibilities. One is that more urgent matters came up and that police high 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 more urgent 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 through 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 identities 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, this angle does not seem to have been pursued. Perhaps the person responsible for the slayings relocated. Perhaps, at the dawn of US involvement in WWII, the person or people responsible were pressed into military service and died in action.

Another likely scenario is that the person or persons ended up incarcerated for an unrelated or unconnected offense and either died in custody or was 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 attempts at apprehension by moving across state, county and municipal lines, committing the same offenses undetected for long periods of time. However, these stories 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 is now on trial for committing sexual assaults in uniform. He was under investigation for months prior to being suspended and subsequently charged. At first, this story made the front page. Later articles appeared in the back pages, then to the B section. Now it is as if the assaults never happened. Back in the 1940s, the papers tended to work with the police and ran stories that seemed to echo whatever the reporter was told. Access to crime scenes and cooperation between the police and the press were common. It doesn't seem all that different 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 in Sacramento County based on apparent cause of death. The perpetrator(s) are referred to as "sluggers." The age of one victim is claimed to 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. Later articles point out that the hat brought no leads to the investigation. Both bodies had been, Jones claims, at the locations for over a month. He also says that they were killed at another location and dumped where they were found.

September 2, 1941

The Union reports: John Saunders is found a day after Alfred Reed was found, severely beaten. Saunders was a few yards away from Reed, but was unable to attract the attention of rescue workers as they loaded Reed into an ambulance. Reed died eight days after he was discovered. No mention is made of whether Saunders survived his injuries. Reed was able to tell investigators that he was offered a ride from the West End to his home in Davis but instead was taken to the Gardenland District where he was beaten and left for dead.

The Bee reports: An autopsy will be held on a body found in Verona District. Both Hugh 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 had 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 in 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 that 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 of Ramon Rivas, Tony Ochoa, whom police speculate may have last seen Rivas alive is missing. Ochoa's age is given as 51, Rivas' age, 41. Rivas body "battered" and found in a Natomas Slough. Both men were last seen alive in the West End, where they were well known. Their last place of 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 needed a car for the crimes to be carried out. The Sutter County bodies are 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 the hospital.

September 5, 1941

The Bee reports: Coroner Jones sends clothing from a body found near the Verona District in Sutter County to the State Division of Criminal Identification and Invest- igations for use in identifying the victim. Jones says that this one was strangled, since death by shooting or bludgeoning couldn't be proven due to advanced decomposition. Jones adds that these deaths in Sutter County are likely connected to those three in Sacramento County.

Detective A.J. Soulies is trying to locate Tony Ochoa. Soulies claims that Ochoa was in the police station the previous Saturday telling detectives that not only had he wired Rivas' family about the killing, but that he was to travel to Mexico to tell them in person. Soulies does not think 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: Local police 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 4th. The officers on the trip are Lyons, Spraktes, Ogle and Reese. Sutter County officials now now say that the second Sutter County body has no connection with the Sacramento County killings, saying that a cause of death is unknown.

September 16, 1941 The Union reports: Benjamin A. Lucas has been eliminated as a suspect. Police went to a 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. The victim was about 55, five foot seven, 145 pounds and going bald. This one was found by E.J. Garrison and C.H. Nelson of 3915 14th Ave. Ramon 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 this days later.

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 that he is alive and well in Mexico.

Who weeps for dead nobodies?

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 descent. The ones who are not seem to be nothing but poor white trash. What subscribers to 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 the sort of people readers of the Bee or the Union might hire to do yardwork or who they would avoid being seen near in public. As the author of Barrio Boy, Ernesto Galarza wrote, the people who lived to the East wanted to make money. Those in the West End simply wanted to make a living. Those who scraped by as migrant workers would hardly have occasion to rub shoulders with those 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 course the place is where merchants have set up shop to snare tourist dollars and where young folks into the club/hip hop scene go to see and be seen, hook up and hopefully not become targets of racial profiling. Then, it was where the bars and hookers and drug dealers were. It was where people drank and got into fights. It was a mix of the class of the victims and the more wealthy 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 a mark had drunk enough of his pay as to be gullible enough to go for a ride with a stranger before ridding him of his currency? Was this a series of gay bashings, circa 1941? Not out of the question, but the contemporary news accounts are frustratingly vague about sexual matters.

Even the depictions of the condition of the victims are glossed over. The beatings are described simply as "brutal," the perpetrator as "mad" or "insane". What was it about the condition of the bodies that prompted 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 "brutal" 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 to 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" refused 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," with "oars (whores) on either side." The West End was sought after because of the amounts of payoffs and shakedowns which would have supplemented a police salary considerably.


Old newspapers

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 a string of murders in the 1940s that were never solved. He added that it might make for an interesting story and asked if I was interested. I was. A few years 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 more 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 the stories about the whole gruesome murder. It was a double homicide. A hammer slaying.

Alan Edward Rice was a coke addict who murdered Angelique, age 13 and Laraine Roberts, age 14, who were apparently socializing with Rice, who bashed both girls to death in a cocaine-fueld mania. He did very little to conceal the crime and was arrested, tried and convicted in short order.

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 at articles 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, 1941.

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 victim was being loaded into an ambulance but was unable to alert the crew to his presence.) the reporting proved inferior. The stories lacked the enthusiasm of the Union pieces early in the series. The reason for the difference in coverage and style between the two dailies is that the Union was a morning paper whose sales depended on newstand copies. That is, they employed shocking headlines to pull in readers. They also felt the need to compete with the Bee. This was actually a wasted effort since the Bee was already far ahead of the Union in readership. The Bee was the evening paper and relied on subscriptions for revenue and had no need to use titillating headlines.

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 typical. It mentioned that the retiring cop was going to chase golf balls instead of criminals. Another, from the early 60s, mentioned that the size of the police force had grown ten times since the man began serving in the 1930s to when he left in the 60s. Again, there was no mention of 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 cold case files from the 1960s and 1970s. There was scant information from 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 referring to unsolved homicides. Even if this were true, the rate of solved homicides in the department would have to have been among the highest in the country.

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 information I had and was told that many of the names of police were familiar to him. He even knew some of the folks and those who followed. Most were dead, but he would see what he could learn. He has yet to get back with me.

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, I 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 the West End and the folks who lived there. In 1941, the West End was a way-station for transient laborers who arrived in the off season. Men who worked for the agricultural and timber industries would come to the area when the work was done, rent a room and leave their earnings with local haberdashers, such as Manuel Cohen and Al Andler, who would act as informal banks. That is, these merchants would handle the person's 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 coincidence.

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, rampant 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 closure in 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 JD #5 C.H. Nelson, found JD #5


Sutter County, Yuba City levee, Verona district location of Sutter County John Does

Sacramento County, Gardenland district location of victims John Saunders and Alfred Reed

Sacramento County, Natomas district slough 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