There probably is nothing like “Hot August Nights” in Dana Point. The cool Pacific blows over the entire southern Los Angeles coast. This was the perfect place to build Niguel Shores. The homes were fairly average middle class, but the location gave the entire area an upscale look and price. “Fashionable” is the word used. The view at the end of one of the streets, Cockleshell Drive, was breathtaking. The corner house here had a gorgeous view of the Pacific on one side and the mountains around San Juan Capistrano on the other.
Cockleshell was only a little tributary off the main road. The community was so large that Niguel Shores Road wended over Pacific Coast Highway to the coast itself. There were more cul de sacs, like little lagoons off the river. It finally stopped near the beach. Everything was gated off. Even the bridge over the Pacific Coast Highway was private. It’s a sprawling, huge area, so large that there is more than one type of community in it. Cockleshell Drive was in one, roughly circular area. A block over from Leeward Drive was the wall, a low stone wall behind the homes on Leeward, and then down a cultivated embankment was Stonehill Drive, one of the major thoroughfares in Dana Point/Laguna Niguel. Definitely not in the community.
The Harrington house was on the corner of Cockleshell and Leeward. Despite the fact that someone could climb the embankment from Stonehill Drive and hop through the yard of the homes there and cross the street, there should have been little worry of an intruder. Who would go to that effort just to try and rob a house? Also, in a gated community with a security guard on it, no one could drive in and out easily.
All of these thoughts are wrong. They do not take into account that there might be a person who wants to feed not their greed but their lust for thrill and power.
On Thursday, August 21, 1980, Roger Harrington, about 62 years old, arrived at the Cockleshell address. He had been invited over for dinner by his daughter-in-law, Patti. Roger owned the home, but he let his son, Keith, and his new wife live there while Keith continued his med studies at Irvine. Patti was a sweet girl. Roger always thought so. But he didn’t know much about her or her past. Keith had had a pretty good relationship with another woman in pre-med school. It was a surprise when they didn’t marry. Keith had decided on UC Irvine, but his girlfriend chose a school back east. The relationship broke up. It was a surprise to the whole family.
Roger felt that Keith, only 24, had fallen for Patti on the rebound. She was over 4 years older than him and, as a nurse, perhaps had been readily handy. This took nothing away from Patti. All knew she was a sweet person. But they had married in only months after they met, and now in August they had been married only since May. They had not known each other even a year.
Roger had the money to buy the new house here in Niguel Shores when the development was being built in 1972. But he didn’t care to live here. It was good for an investment. It was good for the weekends. He preferred to remain living in the Long Beach area where he had his work. His had made his money in security systems. He had reached out from being flat broke in 1962, when Keith, his youngest of 4 sons, was only 7, to having made millions.
Keith and Patti never used the master bedroom in the house. They hadn’t planned to stay long, only until Keith graduated in December. Also, it was Roger’s house, and if he visited for overnight it seemed more appropriate that he should have the master bedroom. Roger had raised his children with a strong sense of family, competitiveness, and drive. He was the patriarch and he gave each son his own middle name of Eli as, ostensibly, a symbol of union. Roger’s father had admired rich men, and perhaps he had instilled ambition and competitiveness in Roger. Roger himself looked much younger than he was. He jogged every morning, worked out, and was very fit. All his sons were strong, athletic men. Keith had a future in baseball, but gave it up for med school. He worked well with everybody, and was thought to be the perfect doctor material.
Roger was used to their schedule. Therefore he was surprised when he found the front door locked. He reached up and used the spare key kept over the door. The house was silent. Dead silent. There were no answers to his “Hello.” He was sure they must have been off somewhere, so he checked the garage. Their cars were still there. Passing through the kitchen he noticed that there were groceries still in the bag. None were perishables, but it was odd. He then went down the hall. The door to the master bedroom was open. But, again surprisingly, the door to the spare bedroom in which they slept was closed.
Roger opened it. He almost closed it right away again when he saw the foot of the bed showed the bed was made but then he noticed there were bodies under it. He went in and pulled the spread down a bit. He was shocked.
Keith was purple. He had clearly been dead for days. He lay face down, his head turned to the left shoulder. There was no blood whatsoever. But he had been hit in the head. Patti was different. She was next to him, on her stomach, her face turned to the left as well. There was blood everywhere. The comforter and pillow had been drenched in it. She had been beaten to death on her head. Both were still in their night clothes.
Roger stumbled out of the house and called the sheriffs. The dispatcher told him to sit in his car and wait.
For years little came out about the Harrington double murder. Mostly, even to this day, what is known has come from Roger Harrington. Roger, of course, didn’t even pull the cover that far down, so he didn’t know if Patti had been sexually assaulted or if they had been bound. She had, in fact, been raped. Both Keith and Patti had been bound with brown macramé cord. But it had been cut and removed. Some of it was on Keith’s lower back. This was odd. Both had been bound with their hands behind their back. Both had been bludgeoned with the bedspread over their heads. Therefore after their assailant murdered them he had taken down the spread, cut their bindings and just let some fall where they would. He then covered them again. Peculiar.
A little piece of brass was found imbedded in Patti’s head, but they never knew with what the couple had been beaten. The murder weapon had been taken. Roger had been putting in a sprinkler system, and there were a number of brass covered metal sprinkler heads easily available in the backyard.
Again, there was no forced entry into the house.
Mystery. Pointless murder. That’s what it remained until 1997. DNA would then confirm that EAR had been responsible. The same faceless night predator who had murdered the Smiths months before and no doubt Offerman/Manning months before that.
Thus the scenario is this: EAR entered the home late at night or early morning. It had probably been on Tuesday, 2 days before (August 19). He surprised them in their beds. He no doubt had Patti tie Keith. He took her to another room and raped her. He took her back, and retied her. He told them to turn their heads to the left. He covered them with the bedspread. He probably stood on the right. He hit Keith once and killed him. Patti perhaps started screaming. One neighbor, whom Roger could not locate, had told another neighbor that she had heard screaming at a certain early hour. He then beat Patti, far beyond what was needed to kill, and silenced her forever.
EAR left without ransacking or stealing anything, not even souvenirs or tokens. He took the bludgeon— whatever it could have been— and left. No dogs were used to trace his scent. One cannot even fathom where he had parked.
Once again, EAR had completely changed his MO. His new MO began with the Smiths. No forced entry. No theft. No ransacking and thus no terrorizing in the old way with his victims. He merely must have awakened them in the same fashion and then took the woman elsewhere to rape her. Now he had added murder. With the Harringtons he added the pointless effort of cutting their bindings, apparently to take them but he didn’t do a great job.
It is not surprising that EAR had changed his MO. He knew murder was worse than rape. He was still getting his thrill but knew he had to cover his trail better. There can be no link between these murders and his identity as EAR. He followed the news. He knew there was newspaper ponder after the Offerman/Manning attack. There were articles mentioning that there was some suspicion by a detective in Sacramento. After the Offerman/Manning murder, he completely altered his MO.
This makes it seem certain that he intended to murder the Smiths. Here it is clear he intended to murder the Harringtons. It wasn’t clear with the Offerman/Manning murder. I suspect EAR toned down his soliloquy here. Maybe he put the “ifs” back in. The Smiths and the Harringtons didn’t get as excited and didn’t fight to get free as the others had. In any case, this was the second couple who did not get free or challenge him.
Leslie D’Ambrosia was given this case along with the other “Night Stalker” murders in order to evaluate a profile for the assailant. He felt that altogether the assailant was perfecting his MO. He was removing the bindings now in order to make these attacks look like a botched burglary. If so, EAR was rather inept at it for leaving some behind. It was also obvious that the woman was beaten far more than necessary and the man, like Lyman Smith, hit only once. Nothing was stolen.
Moreover, there was another bruise on Patrice Harrington. It was “a circular contusion” on her shoulder. D’Ambrosia was told it was consistent with a bite mark. None of this could be promoted as the result of a burglary gone bad unless EAR thought the police were complete idiots.
D’Ambrosia thought that EAR was rather intelligent. But, frankly, I don’t see it. In putting all the EAR cases together it seems more or less as if EAR was learning as he went along, including some very basic things an intelligent villain should have already considered. Beating Lyman and Charlene Smith without first covering them was a bloody mess, and D’Ambrosia suspected that EAR had gotten blood on him. Here at the Harringtons he covers them first. Should it really take bludgeoning in person to convince anybody that this is a messy way to kill? When EAR began in Rancho Cordova, he put a birdbath under the phone line leading into the house from the power pole. He stood on it and tried to cut the wire, but failed. After he gained entrance, he forgot to even cut the phone line. Now in this case here, if EAR was trying to make it look like a burglary gone wrong he failed miserably by dropping the bindings after he cut them off.
EAR was a proficient prowler, but when he became a home breaker and then murderer he learned as he went along and really didn’t anticipate some things that a clever mind would have.
EAR, however, left a clue here at Dana Point. He completely altered his prowling MO as well. There is nothing, repeat nothing, of his tactical MO here. There are no CATs. No canals. No fields or parks. No schools. Nothing. Only in his very first strikes did EAR rely on nothing but his silent stalking. There is one place to park on Stonehill. But it’s awfully exposed, and it would be awkward to walk back with a bludgeon. Ostensibly he would walk down the embankment and throw the sprinkler head into the bushes. He could ride his bike along Niguel Shores to the beach and get over a fence, but I doubt he did that. It’s a distance and what did he do with the bludgeon? Nothing says EAR here. Yet he must have stalked the community silently, struck silently and left without any trace. How did he find it, and what tempted him to come here?
Roger Harrington was sure that someone in Patti’s background had killed them. He thought that perhaps she had stumbled onto a drug deal at the hospital. Perhaps she was home alone and Keith stumbled in and was taken by surprise. Roger even thought that because the bedspread had been pulled up, that the person who murdered them had suddenly regretted it and was ashamed.
Far from being the act of regret, it was the cold, calculated logistic act of reducing splattering. It also gave the finder a shock. For certainly EAR removed the covers again, cut the bindings and then made the bed over them again. It was quite intentional to cover them. He must have delighted himself in imagining the finder pulling the covers down.
No, there was no regret. But was there some contact in the past? How did EAR stalk this area and why? It was so far from his pattern. But, Sandy Cook, had said something. Roger had hired Harry Block, a PI., to look into Patti’s past. Sandy Cook was Patti’s old roommate. When the new relationship with Keith swept Patti off her feet she moved out. The relationship with Sandy had somewhat soured. A reason is not given. But Sandy recalled 2 encounters that Patti had had. One was with a stranger when she put the garbage out. She also had a run-in with a jogger.
Naturally, for those who have followed this case this is quite interesting. We know EAR posed as a jogger when stalking some prospective communities. He wore a jogging outfit and sometimes a black knit watch cap. He especially wore this around apartments.
The trouble is, I don’t know where these incidents occurred. Did Patti tell Sandy of these after she moved with Keith to Cockleshell? Or did this happen when they lived together at some apartment or house? If the latter, how did EAR follow Patti to Cockleshell? If he did, this was quite elaborate stalking to get a single victim.
D’Ambrosia underscored that the women were obviously the ultimate target. The force used to kill them was unnecessary. This was also contrasted with the minimal force used to kill the men. Lyman and Keith had been hit only once. D’Ambrosia thought that they had been killed before the woman was even raped. “Evidence reveals that the male victims were likely eliminated prior to the sexual assault and murder of the female victims. KEITH HARRINGTON was struck in the head with a blunt instrument. A crime scene assessment indicated that scratches and chipped wood on the headboard were likely made when KEITH HARRINGTON was struck in the head. A wood chip was discovered in the bed sheets between PATRICE HARRINGTON’S legs. The location of the wood chip would support the theory that KEITH HARRINGTON was struck first. Because this happened in the HARRINGTON case, it is likely that the offender struck and killed the male victims first in all the cases.”
This would explain why no gags were found and why EAR never feared that the man would call out after he had left the room with the woman or during the aggressive raping. However, D’Ambrosia also was told that there were marks and scratches around the mouth of the victims. They could have been slapped or struck prior to being killed, he speculated. But there is another answer. They may have been gagged and EAR took the gags with him. The marks may have been from the gag.
It is hard to imagine that EAR went through the awakening and binding routine just to kill the man shortly thereafter. He could just have hit the man while he slept and then awakened the woman. Then there is the problem of the woman’s reaction to knowing her man is dead. She might pass out or go into shock. This might not make her any worthy object to terrorize. EAR could have gone back to the bedroom after removing the woman and then hit and killed the man. Thus the woman would not know her spouse had been murdered.
There is the problem of that wood splinter. It really doesn’t support D’Ambrosia’s theory. If Keith Harrington were alone in the bed and covered with the bedspread, how could a wood chip get under the covers and on the sheets? However, if EAR killed them together in the same bed, then when he pulled down the covers to remove their bindings the wood chip, having been on a pillow or the top of the spread, might have come down and fallen between her legs.
Whichever the case, there was both cold, brutal calculation here and some clumsy and ignorant attempts to doctor the scene. EAR was learning his new MO, and enjoying his new thrill.