Doug Clark: Odd Killer Makes for Terror in LA

Last week’s crime concerned a budding serial killer who supposedly left a message in lipstick begging police to catch him. The press dubbed him the “Lipstick Killer.” This week, we meet Doug Clark, who became infamous as the “Sunset Slayer.” But he didn’t act alone.

Doug Clark

Doug Clark was the son of Franklin Clark, a Naval Intelligence officer. Because of his father’s employment, the family moved a lot during Doug’s boyhood. The elder Clark left the Navy in 1958, but the family continued moving around the world. Doug later claimed to have lived in 47 different countries.

Young Doug attended an exclusive school in Switzerland and Culver Military Academy in Indiana. After graduating from Culver, Clark joined the U.S. Air Force. His postings included bases in Colorado and Ohio.

Douglas Daniel Clark
Douglas Daniel Clark

When he finished his stint in the Air Force, Clark drifted around, landing in the Los Angeles area. He worked sporadically, often as a mechanic or a boiler operator. He abruptly quit a job with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. His subsequent employment at a Jergens soap factory ended with his firing because of chronic absences.

Doug Clark Meets Carol Bundy

Clark liked hanging out in a North Hollywood bar called Little Nashville. It was in that bar that he met Carol Bundy in 1980. Bundy had three failed marriages behind her when Clark latched onto her. Before long, Clark moved in with her.

Little Nashville Club in 1983 (Pintrest)
Little Nashville Club in 1983 (Pintrest)

Not long after moving in with Bundy, Clark began bringing prostitutes home to the apartment they shared for threesomes. From there, he degenerated into taking pornographic pictures of an 11-year-old girl who lived near the couple before escalating into pedophilia.

Carol Mary Bundy
Carol Mary Bundy

In June 1980, Clark came home one night and told Bundy about two young women he picked up on the Sunset Strip. They were stepsisters (and runaways) Cynthia Chandler and Gina Marano. After forcing them to perform sex acts with him, he shot them and dumped their bodies along the Ventura Freeway. Bundy phoned the police. She admitted she knew about the murders but refused to give any clue to Clark’s identity. Instead of turning him in, she became his accomplice.

Gina Marano and Cynthia Chandler were the first victims Clark admitted to Bundy he killed (IMDB)
Gina Marano and Cynthia Chandler were the first victims Clark admitted to Bundy he killed (IMDB)

Doug Clark Keeps Killing

Twelve days after he killed the first two women, Clark struck again. He lured two prostitutes, Karen Jones and Exxie Wilson, into his car, where he fatally shot them. He removed Wilson’s head, then dumped the bodies in plain sight again. Clark took the head home and stored it in the refrigerator. Two days later, he and Bundy put the head in a box and left it in an alleyway.

Murder victims Karen Jones Exxie Wilson (IMDB)
Murder victims Karen Jones Exxie Wilson (IMDB)

Three days after the couple disposed of Wilson’s head, another body was found in some woods in the San Fernando Valley. Police identified the victim as Marnette Comer, a runaway who had been killed three weeks earlier. That made her Clark’s first known victim.

Another body of an unknown young woman was found on August 26, 1980, but never identified. Police attributed this victim also to the serial killer the media had begun calling the Sunset Slayer.

Doug Clark and Carol Bundy Face Justice

One of the headline acts at Little Nashville was an Australian country singer named Jack Murray. Despite Murray being married, he and Bundy had been lovers, and she still attended his shows at the bar. After a performance one night in August 1980, a tipsy Bundy told Murray about her murder spree with Doug Clark. Her confession appalled Murray as it would any normal person, and he intimated he might call the police.

Jack Murray (IMDB)
Jack Murray (IMDB)

Murray’s reaction threw Bundy into a panic. She lured him into his van after a show one night with the promise of sex. Instead, she shot and stabbed him to death, then decapitated him.

Bundy had never been the most stable person. The psychological pressure of participating in murders grew too much for her to bear. She confessed to killing Murray to her coworkers, and they called the police. Her and Clark’s arrests quickly followed.

Carol Bundy, leaving her arraignment in Los Angeles on August 14, 1980 (Huynh/AP)
Carol Bundy, leaving her arraignment in Los Angeles on August 14, 1980 (Huynh/AP)

Prosecutors charged Bundy with two murders and Clark with six. During the trial, he acted as his own defense counsel (always a bad idea!). His defense strategy was to place all the blame on Bundy, but the jury didn’t buy it. He was sentenced to death in 1983.

Douglas Clark mugshot after his arrest on August 12, 1980
Douglas Clark mugshot after his arrest on August 12, 1980

Bundy pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain and drew a sentence of 52 years to life.

Epilogue

Carol Bundy died in prison from heart failure on December 9, 2003, at age 61.

Doug Clark has spent forty years on California’s death row. He’s still there (2023), waiting for a date with the executioner that will probably never come.

Douglas Daniel Clark, C-63000, 2011 prison photo (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)
Douglas Daniel Clark, inmate C-63000, in a 2011 prison photo (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

You can read more about the Sunset Slayer killings in Louise Farr’s 1992 book, The Sunset Murders. The crimes are also the subject of Doug Clark and Carol Bundy: The Horrific True Story Behind the Sunset Strip Slayers, a book in the Real Crime by Real Killers series.

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Lipstick Killer: Murder Spree is a Challenge For Cops

In my last blog, I covered the case of Mollie Olgin and Kristine Chapa. In June 2012, an attacker shot both young women in a Texas park. Only Kristine survived. This week, we learn about the Lipstick Killer, a murderer who terrorized Chicago in 1946.

The Lipstick Killer Strikes

The Lipstick Killer’s first victim was 43-year-old Josephine Ross. She was found dead in her Chicago apartment on June 5, 1945, with multiple stab wounds. In her hand, she clutched some dark hairs. Her assailant didn’t take anything from the apartment. Witnesses reported seeing a dark-complected man running away, but police couldn’t identify him.

Josephine Ross was the first victim
Josephine Ross was the first victim

The next attack occurred on December 10, 1945. The body of Francis Brown was discovered with a knife stuck in her neck. She also had a bullet wound in her head. Again, the intruder didn’t take anything, but he left a message scrawled on the wall in lipstick. It read: “For heavens sake catch me before I kill more I cannot control myself.” The message in lipstick led the press to dub the unknown assailant “The Lipstick Killer.”

The second victim, Frances Brown (findagrave.com)
The second victim, Frances Brown (findagrave.com)

A month later, on January 7, 1946, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan went missing from her first-floor bedroom. She and her parents lived in the tony Edgewater neighborhood north of downtown Chicago, which didn’t see much crime. Suzanne’s father found a note demanding $20,000 for his daughter’s return. A man called the Degnan home several times, insisting the parents pay.

Suzanne Degnan was only six years old when she was abducted and murdered
Suzanne Degnan was only six years old when she was abducted and murdered

Later, an anonymous tip led police to find Suzanne’s remains scattered in several sewers and storm drains. Her autopsy revealed that her killer strangled her shortly after he abducted her. Investigators deduced from the dismemberment of the body that the killer was either a surgeon or a skilled meat cutter.

The "Lipstick Killer" left this message in Frances Brown's apartment (Chicago Police Photo)
The “Lipstick Killer” left this message in Frances Brown’s apartment (Chicago Police Photo)

The Hunt for the Lipstick Killer

Police were under tremendous pressure to catch the Lipstick Killer. They soon arrested Hector Verburgh, 65, a janitor in the Degnan’s building. Cops held Verburgh for 48 hours, subjecting him to the “third degree.” Investigators determined that Verburgh, a Belgian immigrant, couldn’t write English well enough to have written even the crude ransom note. He was released without charges and spent ten days in a hospital recovering. He and his wife later sued the Chicago Police Department and received a $15,000 judgment (almost $230,000 in 2013).

Janitor Hector Verburgh was an initial suspect in the Lipstick Killer case (Chicago Tribune)
Janitor Hector Verburgh was an initial suspect in the Lipstick Killer case (Chicago Tribune)

Another suspect, ex-Marine Sidney Sherman, emerged when police found a handkerchief with a laundry mark “S. SHERMAN” near the abduction scene. Sherman had left his room at the YMCA without checking out and quit his job without picking up his last paycheck. A nationwide manhunt ensued. Sherman surfaced four days later in Toledo, Ohio. He explained that his quick departure was because he eloped with his girlfriend.

Investigators found that the handkerchief belonged to Airman Seymour Sherman of New York City. They cleared him because he was out of the country when Suzanne Degnan was abducted and murdered.

Yet another suspect was Richard Russell Thomas, a nurse who had moved from Chicago to Phoenix, Arizona. He even confessed to killing Suzanne, but police were hot after a new suspect. By then, also, Thomas had recanted his confession.

Police Arrest the Lipstick Killer

On June 26, 1946, cops arrested 17-year-old William George Heirens after they caught him fleeing from a burglary. He quickly moved to the top of the Lipstick Killer suspect list.

Lipstick Killer suspect William Heirens after his arrest (Getty Images)
Lipstick Killer suspect William Heirens after his arrest (Getty Images)

Two psychiatrists administered sodium pentothal, a so-called “truth serum,” to Heirens. They had neither a warrant nor Heirens’s or his parents’ consent. During the questioning, which Heirens later said he couldn’t recall, he allegedly spoke of an alternate personality named “George” who committed the murders. When asked for George’s name, Heirens replied that it was “a murmuring name.” Police quickly translated this to “Murman,” which the press was delighted to claim was a mashup of “Murder Man.”

This interrogation is problematic for three reasons. First, police questioned a drugged Heirens without a legal basis (no consent or warrant). Second, the transcript of the session disappeared in 1952. Third, one of the psychiatrists, Dr. Grinker, said Heirens never implicated himself in any of the killings.

William Heirens in a car seated between Detective Chief Walter Storms (L) and Captain Michael Ahern (R) (Chicago Tribune)
William Heirens in a car seated between Detective Chief Walter Storms (L) and Captain Michael Ahern (R) (Chicago Tribune)

At a subsequent interrogation, Heirens indirectly implicated himself by blaming the killings on “George.” Investigators tried but could not find any such person as “George Murman.” Psychologists explained “George” as an alter ego that Heirens could blame for his antisocial actions.

The Lipstick Killer Cops a Plea

Despite the confession and some physical evidence, convicting Heirens for the three Lipstick Killer murders wouldn’t be a slam dunk. Instead,  State’s Attorney William Tuohy offered Heirens’s lawyers a deal: plead guilty and avoid the electric chair.

On September 4, 1946, with his parents and the victims’ families looking on, William Heirens admitted his guilt on the murder and burglary charges. That night, he tried to hang himself in his cell during the guards’ shift change. He survived.

The following day, September 5, Chief Justice Harold G. Ward sentenced Heirens to three life terms.

Epilogue

William Heirens spent the rest of his life in prison, dying at age 83 on March 12, 2012.

Prison photo of William Heirens, the convicted Lipstick Killer, in his later years
Prison photo of William Heirens, the convicted Lipstick Killer, in his later years

He began claiming his innocence almost as soon as he finished pleading guilty. While it’s common for criminals to deny their guilt, Heirens had some points in his favor. For one, he made his first confession in a drugged state. For another, there were questions about how police handled—and maybe fabricated—evidence. Given the immense pressure on police to solve this case, it’s conceivable that they cut some corners.

Regardless, Heirens stayed in prison.

During his incarceration, Heirens took numerous college courses and set up an entire educational program when he transferred to Vienna Correctional Institution. He also helped other prisoners with their GED diplomas and their legal cases.

Several true crime and serial killer anthologies include the Lipstick Killer case.

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Joseph Christopher: Killer Incites Big Panic in New York

Last week, we met the Lethal Lovers, a pair of nurse’s aides who killed five women in a Michigan nursing home. This week’s case involves murderous attacks around Buffalo, New York, and New York City. Over four months in 1980, Joseph Christopher terrorized those two cities with unprovoked attacks on Black men and boys.

Joseph Christopher

Joseph Christopher’s childhood in Buffalo appeared normal enough. His father was a maintenance worker in the city’s sanitation department, and his mother worked as a registered nurse. From an early age, Nicholas Christopher, Joseph’s father, an avid outdoorsman, taught his son how to shoot and handle weapons.

Joseph enrolled in the automotive mechanics program at Burgard Vocational High School in 1971. He did well in his classes but kept to himself and dropped out in early 1974. Joseph worked a series of odd jobs until one employer fired him for sleeping on the job. Now unemployed, he returned home to live with his parents.

Artist's sketches of the so-called .22 Caliber Killer
Artist’s sketches of the so-called .22 Caliber Killer

Christopher had paranoid schizophrenia. His mental health started slipping in 1978. Two years later, he tried to check himself into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center in September 1980. The staff told him he wasn’t dangerous to himself and others, so they couldn’t admit him. The staff recommended counseling therapy instead.

Joseph Christopher Begins Killing

Two weeks after the psychiatric clinic brushed him off, Joseph Christopher began killing. On September 22, 1980, he killed three Black men and one boy over 36 hours. He used a sawed-off Ruger 10/22 .22 rifle in the attacks, which he hid in a brown paper bag. The weapon earned him the epithet of the “.22 Caliber Killer.”

Joseph Christopher mugshot (Erie Count Sheriff's Department)
Joseph Christopher mugshot (Erie Count Sheriff’s Department)

His subsequent two murders occurred on October 8 and 9, when he bludgeoned two men to death and cut out their hearts. Both men drove taxis; Christopher stuffed their mutilated bodies in their vehicles’ trunks.

On October 10, Christopher struck again. In a Buffalo hospital, he attacked another Black man, 37-year-old Collin Cole. Cole described his attacker as a White man matching the .22 Caliber Killer’s description. He said the attacker snarled a racial slur before trying to strangle him. The timely arrival of a nurse saved Cole’s life. Despite severe damage to his throat, Cole survived.

Six men were dead, but the murders remained unsolved.

 Joseph Christopher Keeps Attacking

In November 1980, Christopher enlisted in the United States Army, stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Granted Christmas leave in mid-December, he headed to Manhattan. On December 22, Joseph attacked six men in twelve hours, killing four. The media dubbed him the “Midtown Slasher” since he stabbed all six men with a knife.

Joseph Christopher under arrest (Buffalo News)
Joseph Christopher under arrest (Buffalo News)

Christopher returned to Buffalo, where he again utilized a knife to attack five Black men between December 29 and January 1, 1981. Two of the men died.

Joseph Christopher Arrested and Convicted

Back on base in Georgia, Christopher attacked a fellow soldier, a Black man, with a paring knife on January 18. The soldier survived, and Christopher found himself in the fort’s stockade. He attempted suicide by cutting himself with a razor during his confinement. After he told a psychiatrist he “had to” kill Blacks, police searched his Buffalo home. The search uncovered evidence linking him to three murders.

A handcuffed Joseph Christopher
A handcuffed Joseph Christopher

Extradited to Buffalo, Christopher pleaded not guilty. He refused assistance from the lawyer his mother hired and represented himself. The jury convicted him, and he received a 60-year sentence. An appeals court overturned the conviction because the judge barred testimony about Christopher’s ability to stand trial.

At a retrial in 1985, the jury again found him guilty on multiple charges. This time, the judge sentenced him to life.

Epilogue

Joseph Christopher died in prison at age 37 on March 1, 1993, from a rare form of male breast cancer. During his imprisonment at the Attica Correctional Facility, he claimed he committed 13 killings.

Attica Correctional Facility, Attica, New York (Wikipedia/Jayu)
Attica Correctional Facility, Attica, New York (Wikipedia/Jayu)

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Lethal Lovers: Sensational Case of Love and Murder

Last week’s case covered the case of Robert Bardo, the obsessive fan who stalked and killed promising young actress Rebecca Schaeffer. This week, we look at the crimes of Gwendolyn Graham and Catherine Wood, dubbed by the press as “The Lethal Lovers.” In 1988, this deadly pair murdered five elderly women in a Michigan nursing home.

Lethal Lovers

Gwendolyn Graham came to Michigan from Texas, while Cathy Wood, a native of Washington state, grew up in Comstock, Michigan. The pair met at the Alpine Manor nursing home in Walker, a suburb of Grand Rapids. At Alpine Manor, Graham worked as a nurse’s aide for the recently divorced Wood. The two soon became friends, and in 1986, they also became lovers.

In January 1987, Graham entered the room of a woman with Alzheimer’s and smothered her with a washcloth. Wood acted as the lookout. Wood later described the murders as part of a “love bond.” Each believed the secret of the murder bound the Lethal Lovers together; neither could leave the other.

The "Lethal Lovers," Gwendolyn Graham (L) and Cathy Wood (R) under arrest
The “Lethal Lovers,” Gwendolyn Graham (L) and Cathy Wood (R) under arrest

Over the next several months, four more residents of Alpine Manor between the ages of 65 and 97 died. None of the deaths appeared to be anything but natural, so authorities didn’t conduct any autopsies.

Lethal Lovers Unmasked

Despite the so-called “love bond,” the Lethal Lovers broke up. Graham began dating another female nurse’s aide and soon moved with her to Texas.

Gwendolyn Graham mugshot (Kent County, MI Sheriff's Department)
Gwendolyn Graham mugshot (Kent County, MI Sheriff’s Department)

Sometime in 1988, Wood told her ex-husband about the murders, and he contacted the police. Walker Police Department detectives conducted extensive interviews with Wood. Over time, she revealed details of the five murders.

Cathy Wood mugshot (Kent County, MI Sheriff's Department)
Cathy Wood mugshot (Kent County, MI Sheriff’s Department)

When the case went to trial, Graham faced five counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Wood negotiated a plea bargain and testified against Graham at trial. She testified Graham dominated their relationship and planned and carried out the murders. She also said Graham took souvenirs from the victims, although police didn’t uncover any evidence to support the claim. Graham’s new girlfriend also testified that Gwendolyn confessed to five killings.

Alpine Manor nursing home at the time of the "Lethal Lovers" murders
Alpine Manor nursing home at the time of the “Lethal Lovers” murders

Based on Wood’s and the new girlfriend’s testimony, a jury convicted Graham of all counts on November 3, 1989. The court gave her five life sentences with no possibility of parole. Cathy Wood pled guilty to one count of second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. She received a sentence of 20 years on each count.

Epilogue

Gwendolyn Graham resides (2022) in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Cathy Wood served her sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Florida. She made eight unsuccessful bids for parole before receiving her release in January 2020.

Several of the victims’ families sued the owners of Alpine Manor for hiring “dangerous and unbalanced employees.” Alpine Manor went out of business, but the facility now houses Sanctuary at Saint Mary’s nursing home.

You can read more about the Lethal Lovers case in Lowell Cauffiel’s 1992 book Forever and Five Days. Cauffiel disputes Wood’s version of the crimes and presents evidence Wood planned the first murder.

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