Dead Man Riding, A Maniac's Mistake and A Shocking True Crime Story
May 14, 1983: It’s 1:10 a.m. Officer Michael Sterling and Sgt. Mike Howard are halfway through their shift, patrolling the streets of Mission Viejo in their California Highway Patrol squad car.
After yesterday’s warm spring day, the temps are comfortable now. The forecast calls for drizzle later this morning, but so far, the weather’s perfect.
It’s been a slow night for Sterling and Howard. Unusual for a Friday night/Saturday morning shift.
Only one DUI bust so far, a guy driving drunk southbound on the San Diego Freeway near El Toro.
Now, Sterling — the taller of the pair, with thick black hair on top and a Charles Bronson thick black mustache over his lip — and Howard, clean-shaven, at the age of 37, twelve years older than his partner, are cruising north on Interstate 5, in Mission Viejo.
Traffic’s light, as usual, this time of the morning.
So, Howard and Sterling have no trouble spotting a Toyota Celica that’s weaving in the right lane.
It’s not a question of someone driving too fast.
The problem is the car’s going off on to the shoulder, then bouncing into the next lane.
“He’s got to be either drunk or sleepy,” Sterling, a three-year CHP veteran says.
Howard, who’s clocked twelve years on the force, agrees and they follow the Toyota for nearly a mile before lighting up their patrol car.
The Celica driver doesn’t try to get away.
He pulls over as smoothly as someone have trouble keeping his car between the white lines can, and parks on the shoulder.
As Sterling and Howard approach the Celica, Sterling on the left, Howard on the right; the driver empties a beer bottle on the pavement and walks toward the officers.
Sterling puts out a hand to stop the driver, a guy who looks to be in his late 30s, and walks him back to the front of the Celica.
Talks to the driver for a bit, then checks his license. Guy’s named “Randy Steven Kraft,” and is 38 years of age. Lives in Long Beach, California.
Howard continues walking toward the Toyota on the passenger side of the vehicle.
He’s got his right hand on the butt of his gun, already unfastening the holster strap. Someone’s sitting in the front seat, man or woman, he can’t tell, but they aren’t moving.
As Sterling administers a field sobriety test to the driver — who fails miserably — Howard taps on the Toyota’s passenger window and uses his flashlight to look around inside the vehicle.
The man, who looks to be in his twenties, is slumped forward. A jacket covers his lap.
Empty Moosehead beer bottles, several dead soldiers, are laying at the guy’s feet. There’s an open prescription bottle with pills on the floorboard, too.
Meanwhile, Sterling handcuffs the drunk driver before stashing him in the back seat and informing him he’s under arrest for driving under the influence.
Then he walks back to the Toyota, to join Sgt. Howard.
By now, Howard’s tried just about everything he can, from outside the vehicle, to get the passenger to move.
After failing to get a single response, Sterling opens the door and reaches in to shake the guy’s arm.
It’s cold. The arm is ice cold.
Howard moves the jacket laying over the guy’s lap. Oh for christ’s sake. The guy’s jeans are open, his cock and balls are hanging out.
Oh fuck, thinks Howard. This is more than a drunk-driving stop. A lot fucking more.
Howard grasps the man’s cold wrist. Nothing. No pulse. But he sees welt marks on the man’s wrist. He quickly checks the other arm. Wicked red strips on that wrist, too.
Howard puts two fingers on the side of the man’s neck. Again, nothing. No sign of life. But Howard sees a ligature mark around the guy’s neck. This man’s been strangled, the officer decides.
Sterling verifies they’ve got a dead body in the front seat. Immediately they call the sheriff’s office and paramedics.
And yeah, the sarge agrees, this is a hell of a lot more than just another drunk driving arrest.
After the Toyota’s towed to forensics, and Kraft is deposited in the county jail, CHP detectives start working the case.
The dead man riding is identified as a 25-year-old Marine, Terry Lee Gambrel.
Inside the Celica, under the rear seat, investigators find a belt, which matches the bruising around the victim’s neck. They also find more booze, tranquilizers, a variety of prescription drugs, and stimulants.
Here’s something else:
The Toyota’s passenger seat and carpet are soaked with blood.
Gambrel’s blood? Nope. He doesn’t have a wound on his body.
Detectives rip up the bloodstained carpet and find an envelope of photos, more than fifty snapshots, all of young men — most of them naked — in various sexual positions.
And get this, notes one of the cops, all of the guys in these photos look like they are asleep. Or, maybe, they’re dead.
Detectives pop the trunk and are amazed to discover a ring binder containing a handwritten list of sixty-one coded entries.
Yeah. This is a lot more than just another drunk driving arrest.
By Thursday, CHP detectives realize they’ve captured a serial killer who’s been murdering young boys and men, since 1970. Most of the homicides occurred in California. But some were committed in Oregon, and at least two in the town of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Randy Kraft, thanks to that loose-leaf binder in his car, which ranked his victims, would become known as the Scorecard Killer.
Sometimes he was also referred to as, the Freeway Killer and/or the Southern California Stranger.
In what became Orange County’s most expensive trial, as of August 1989, Kraft would be convicted of sixteen counts of murder, one count of sodomy, and one count of emasculation.
But that is probably just the tip of this horrendous iceberg of death and depravity.
Investigators believe he may have committed as many as fifty-one other rapes and murders, all of which included various means of torture.
Torture? Yeah. Like burning the victims with the Toyota’s cigarette lighter. That kind of torture. Sometimes he jammed foreign objects into their rectums.
He did that to a 17-year-old high school student. The boy was found on Sunset Beach in California with something sticking out of his anus.
So, there was that kind of torture too.
He mutilated some of the boys and young men who became his victims and emasculated many of them.
The jury decided Kraft should die for his crimes. He got the death penalty.
But Kraft’s still alive on death row inside San Quentin, as of this writing, a man who’ll turn 78 in March 2023, still claiming he is innocent.
Before you rejoice over this killer being brought to justice, remember, Randy Kraft’s reign of horror ended only because this homicidal, sadistic maniac made the mistake of giving his last victim a ride in his Toyota, early one Saturday morning in California.
Carol Bundy was looking for love. She’d been through three husbands, two boyfriends — and then she found Doug Clark. He was perfect. Handsome, spoke French, and he was a sexual athlete.
In June 1980, Carol and Doug started killing prostitutes on Sunset Strip.
Carol just wanted love. How far would she go to keep the man of her dreams? What if she got as hooked on murder and mayhem, and, sex and killing as he was? Would Carol ever be able to stop?
Sexual Killing: A Shocking True Crime Story by Rod Kackley, a compelling, emotional tale of two stone-cold Sunset Strip serial killers and how the LAPD finally brought their summer of killing to an end in the hot, bloody summer of 1980.