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“ORIGINAL NIGHT STALKER” (10 MURDERS, 50 RAPES, NEVER CAPTURED)

The ‘Original Night Stalker,’ is the nickname for an unidentified serial killer and rapist who murdered ten people in Southern California from 1979 through 1986. His crimes are totally unrelated to Richard Ramirez, a serial killer who was dubbed The Night Stalker. Six murders in Ventura, Dana Point and Irvine, California, have been linked by DNA to this killer and a additional 4 killers fit his MO. According to the A&E Cold Case Files episode that profiled him, the original night stalker is considered one of the worst offenders in California history.

On March 13, 1980, Charlene Smith, 33, and Lyman Smith, 43, were found murdered in their home in Ventura. A log from the fireplace was used to bludgeon the Smiths. Their wrists and ankles were bound with drapery cord and an unusual Chinese knot was used on their wrists.

On August 19, 1980, Keith Harrington, 24, and Patrice Harrington, 27, were found bludgeoned to death in their home in the Niguel Shores gated community in Dana Point. Although there was evidence that the Harringtons were bound at the wrist and ankles, the killer removed the ligatures and the murder weapon from the scene. The Harringtons were married only three months at the time of their deaths. Patrice was a nurse in Irvine, while Keith was a medical student at the University of California, Irvine.

On February 5, 1981, Manuela Witthuhn, 28, was murdered in her home in Irvine. The ligatures and murder weapon were removed from the crime scene. Manuela Witthuhn, a loan officer, was married. Yet, her husband was recuperating from an illness in the hospital, thus leaving alone at the time of the attack. A lamp and crystal curio were removed from her house, presumably by the killer. Also, detectives remarked that Mrs. Witthuhn's television was found in the backyard, which was possibly the killer's attempt to make it appear as a botched robbery.

On May 4, 1986, Janelle Lisa Cruz, 18, was found bludgeoned to death in her Irvine home. Her family was on holiday in Mexico. A pipe wrench was reported missing by Cruz' stepfather and was the probable murder weapon.

An additional four murders in Goleta in 1979 and 1981 are often considered to be the work of the same individual, although there is no DNA link between those crimes and the rest. The perpetrator's modus operandi was to stalk middle-class neighborhoods for victims who lived in single story homes. He sought out women who were alone and couples. He stealthily entered their living space late at night, then took control, probably with a handgun, in a surprise home invasion. All victims were bound with ligatures the criminal brought to the crime scene. Law enforcement theorizes the male victims were killed first by bludgeoning. Female victims were raped before their death by bludgeoning.

In 2001, California law enforcement linked DNA evidence from the Original Night Stalker's crimes to DNA found from Northern California three victims of an unidentified serial rapist dubbed the East Area Rapist. The East Area Rapist raped fifty women in the Sacramento area in the early 70’s. When he entered the home of a couple, before raping the woman, he put dishes on the stomach of the boyfriend; he would be alerted during the course of the rape by rattling dishes if the boyfriend moved.

Citizens called a town meeting to discuss the East Area Rapist. One man stood up and insulted the men who allowed their women to be raped while trying to balance dishes on their stomach.

A few weeks later, this same man’s wife was raped while dishes were placed on his stomach. Police theorize that the East Area Rapist was in attendance at the meeting and singled the man out.

After the 50th rape, the East Area Rapist moved to Southern California where he graduated to murder as reported in the beginning of this story. He’s never been identified or apprehended.