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True Crime/Cold Case Files     EAR Crime Index

The Case of the East Area Rapist AKA The Original Night Stalker

261 Rape/187 Murder

Victim 7/56

February 6, 1981

Time .......

Columbus

Irvine

Home Alone

East Area Rapist

  He is the real life Michael Myers. He looked like the average teen, except for his morose eyes. Yet he is the No. 1 serial offender in history. He was so careful, he is known only by his DNA. The East Area Rapist, as he was known, struck California communities for 10 years— 1976-1986. Toward the end he became a murderer now known as the Original Night Stalker. He has 50 rapes and 12 murders to his record. Then he vanished. He would be about 58 years old now, living what appears a normal life. These are the files on his crimes.

35 Columbus-angle-icon
Narrative
Witthuhn

Soft footprints padded through Sycamore Park, along its cement walkway, then through a footpath to Fulton. Nobody noticed the shadowy form. It was a cold, dark February. It was also very late, probably close to 11 p.m., and the community was not out and about. It was a relatively new community. A number of the houses were still empty.

     The shadowy form walked quietly along the street and up through the side yard of a second-story house. It was an empty house. The shadowy form already knew this. He found a way in, leaving no trace, and waited.

     This shadowy form never (or seldom) struck two story homes, such as the one he now lurked in. He was after no one and nothing in the empty house. Rather he used it to peep at the neighbor behind it on Columbus.

   Manuela Witthuhn was young, blonde, attractive. She was foreign, having been born in Germany.  She had married an American of German descent named David Witthuhn. They lived in this modest, 1500 square foot home on Columbus in this new area of Irvine, one of the many suburbs that together collectively create that asphalt jungle of greater Los Angeles. Her parents, Horst and Ruth Rohrbeck, lived nearby.

     Manuela had an innocent character. She hadn’t entirely gotten used to America, though she had been here since a young age. Germany, Europe in general, is safer, more relaxed. America had been in a grip of a long lasting crime wave that had escalated in the 1970s. There were few of my generation in California who had not heard our grandparents and parents lament that we have to lock our doors now, that we have to be careful of car jackers, sky jackers, poison Halloween candy, obscene phone callers, peeping toms and, of course, serial killers and rapists.

     Manuela’s husband was in the hospital with a viral infection. Being alone, Manuela did not feel entirely comfortable, but it was time to adjust to 1981 and Los Angeles. When her father offered to bring over his German Shepherd, Manuela said no. However, strangely, she felt safer sleeping in bed in a sleeping bag. This she unrolled on her side of the bed and prepared to retire for the night.

     The Witthuhn house was single story— small, but nice. It had a little half-atrium at its center onto which two sliding glass doors opened, from the kitchen and from a bedroom.

     The owner of the house on Fulton had come home, none-the-wiser that someone had been in her home. The only clue was that the dead bolt on the door was not engaged. She always shot the dead bolt.

     The shadow had moved from the house behind Manuela’s into the side yard of the house next door. From here he could watch the lights through the drawn drapes. The shadow waited. The lights went out in Manuela’s house. He crept around to the backyard and then pried open a sliding glass door with a screw driver. Manuela should have had the dog with her. It may have saved her life, though this shadow didn’t mind beating to death a dog.

     Now he jumped on her on her bed, put the screwdriver or knife to her neck, and threatened her if she screamed. The end result of all this would be discovered in the morning.

     David could not reach his wife, so he called her parents. Manuela’s mother Ruth went to check. She found her daughter in her sleeping bag, dead, beaten to death.

Investigation

  The investigation uncovered some unusual clues. In the broadest sense of the term there was an attempt to make it look like a burglar had broken in and robbed the house, killing the victim when discovered. The television set had been carried to the back fence and placed against it. A couple of items of little value had been taken whereas other things of value had not been. Investigators asked the obvious first question. Had Manuela awakened and this disturbed the burglar causing him to flee?

     Impossible. Who flees with the bedroom TV and then leaves it against a tall fence? Besides, it was clear Manuela had been bound— ligature bruise marks had been found on wrists and on one ankle. But the ligatures had disappeared. This certainly didn’t seem a robbery gone wrong and a panicky burglar. He had bound her with something and then took the ligatures with him again.

     Manuela had also been raped, and raped quite aggressively. She had a bruise on her buttocks that looked like someone had punched her there. Marks or scratches were about her mouth. Had she been slapped or had she been gagged? There was no gag about.

     In fact, the police weren’t fooled at all. It was intentional murder poorly covered up. They began to suspect her husband. Despite being in the hospital, was he in cahoots with somebody? Until DNA finally linked this crime to those of The Night Predator/EAR around 2000, David Witthuhn was a favored suspect. He was grateful to finally be vindicated, but sadly he died shortly thereafter.

Geography 

Irvine-Dana-icon
Arrow-Irvine-context-icon Canal-context-icon
Trabuco-I-5-icon
canal-icon
Columbus-close-icon
Columbus-overview-angle-icon
Columbus-Irvine-icon Columbus-Eastwood-Irvine3-icon
Columbus-Eastwood-Irvine-icon
Columbus-Eastwood-Irvine-park-icon Columbus-Eastwood-Irvine-park2-icon
Walking path-icon
Sycamore Park-Fulton Walkway-icon
Sycamore Park-Fulton Walkway-From Edison-closer-icon
Fulton-icon
Columbus-Williams-icon
Blue Gum-Columbus-icon
Blue Gum Park-Choate-icon
Blue Gum Park-icon
Sycamore-Trabuco-icon
Carver-Sycamore Park-icon Trabuco-canal-2-icon
Trabuco-canal-3-icon

ANALYSIS

Because “Night Stalker” (the term used by the jurisdictions in So. Cal long before the Press gave Richard Ramirez the moniker) only struck couples, there was some question whether the same killer involved in the Offerman/Manning, Smiths and Harrington murders was involved here in the Witthuhn case. When DNA analysis was finally possible, not only was the Witthuhn murder linked to “Night Stalker” (now called Original Night Stalker) DNA all the murders were linked together with EAR DNA. Thus northern California’s notorious sexual terrorist had yet another victim added to his rap sheet. However, by the time all these links were confirmed, The EAR and ONS cases were long dead cold cases, the Witthuhn Case almost 19 years old.

     Much theorizing had been built up that has to be revised.

   For instance, later analysis of the crime spree said that Irvine and Ventura were comfort zones for the perpetrator. The criminal analyst, Leslie D’Ambrosia, however, wasn’t told much. She wasn’t told anything about the double murder of Offerman-Manning in Goleta. Nor was she told of the prior attempt at rape on Queen Ann Lane in the same Goleta area and the perp’s similar MO to EAR. D’Ambrosia thought that the Smith murders were first. As a result D’Ambrosia thought that Irvine and Ventura must have been comfort zones for the predator, believing that a serial starts closest to where he lives. Not being aware of any possible links with EAR, she hadn’t been aware of the tactical proximity of CATs, canals, parks and schools as used by EAR in his stalking MO. Had she known of EAR’s long standing crime spree and his calculated use of tactical allies, she no doubt would have seen that EAR didn’t know either Ventura or Irvine well.

     Something else brought EAR to Irvine. There is a major canal nearby on the main road (Trabuco), but it offers no advantage in stalking Columbus. There is also a small one about a mile away from Columbus. This canal has the only scenic walking trail in the area paralleling it. This area is a mirror of EAR’s Contra Costa crime zones. And it is to this area near Encina Street that he would return in 1986 to murder his last victim

     But what brought EAR here in the first place? It’s north of Dana Point. Was EAR returning after prowling Dana Point one day and did he get off the off ramp here to prowl around, finding quickly that it fit his MO nicely? This area is very near the main off ramp from 5 onto Trabuco. That was EAR’s MO. Stick close to the highways.

Blue Gum-aerial-icon

  At the end of Columbus is another park, Blue Gum. It is a small version of Del Campo. Several communities open off of it, making it quite a hub. EAR must have spent the better part of weeks scouting the general area until he chose his victim.

   The analysis also deduced the perpetrator was quite intelligent and was trying to cover up his intentional murder by making it look like a burglary gone wrong. He knew murder was a serious crime and he didn’t want any link made with this case and the Smith and Harrington murders. This is why he removed the ligatures. Perhaps. There was certainly more of an attempt here to make it look like a burglary than at the Harringtons and Smiths. But it is obvious the victim had been tied. Only trifles were stolen. It didn’t fool the police that the murder wasn’t intentional.

     If those were EAR’s motives, his actions here were really a very poor attempt at making it look like a burglary. He was progressing over what he had staged at the Smith/Harrington murders, as D’Ambrosia noted. But his progress seems off and on. He had stolen some of Charlene Smith’s costume jewelry. Nothing, apparently, from the Harringtons, and now the items taken here were trite tokens. Here he took a lamp (possibly the murder weapon) and a rather valueless crystal ball on a wood base. It stood no more than 6 inches tall. The TV was a stupid gesture unless he thought the police would think he used it to step over the fence to escape. But he also stole the tape from the phone answering machine. That was odd.

     When EAR had begun in Rancho Cordova, with Victim 1, he had tried to cut the phone line from the outside, even going to the labor of positioning a wood block under it and then a birdbath on top of the block in order to reach the line coming into the house. When he turned killer by bludgeon, he made a bloody mess (literally) out of the Smith bedroom. After that he covered his next victims with the bedspread to reduce the mess. Both of the above examples showed how he learned as he went. This is average intelligence. Put your hand on the candle when lit and it burns. Don’t do it again. Most everybody learns by experience. There’s nothing insulting about that. But the truly intelligent can think things out and envision the results. EAR could not.

     Therein is the difference in his actual mistakes and in his murder scenes. One can backwork his motives at No 1. One can see how he progressed in reducing mess with his early murders. But with the Witthuhn murder there is only strange inconsistency.  

     As a rapist it was only necessary that he conceal his identify. When he turned murderer and tried to invent an alibi he was inconsistent and shoddy.

     EAR had paid too much attention to Manuela to ever pass this off as a burglary. She had been roughly raped, possibly gagged, trussed up, and then her head beaten with more force than was necessary to kill, and this was done with her head covered so as to reduce mess. Her murder had always been the object.

     Curiously, EAR had bound Manuela’s ankles as well. This meant he intended to leave her alone for a time in the bedroom. We can assume he did this when arranging the house and yard. Only after he killed her did he probably take the tape and slip it in his pocket.  She was bound tight enough to leave marks, but they were lightest on her ankles. EAR always tied the ankles of his rape victims loosely for obvious reasons. He had to untie them to lead them to another room to rape them.

     Again, EAR took what appeared to be the murder weapon. None was found. It was assumed it must have been the lamp.

     This is noteworthy. EAR never brought the murder weapon. He murdered the Smiths with the log from their own wood pile; the Harringtons ostensibly with a brass coated sprinkler head, and here, possibly, the lamp. D’Ambrosia deduced he brought a controlling weapon with him (gun/knife), but never the murder weapon. If EAR wanted this to look like a burglary gone bad, why take the lamp? An unarmed burglar would naturally reach for an object and use it. Why take it?

       What is the most curious thing is that EAR took so long between strikes now. Why? From his developing pattern, it appears like he never knew Los Angeles. The worst possible scenario is that he never even lived in So. Cal; that he was merely visiting for work on a per deum basis and devoted all his extra time to prowling where he could. Except for the Harringtons, no strike was far from California’s two major north-south arteries— Highway 101 and Highway 5. This would be underscored again. Five months later he was back in Goleta, with tragic results.

Files on the EAR/ONS

QQ

Preliminaries

Introduction

A Word About Rape

   Notes on Personal Investigation

Logic verses Instinct

The Folklore of “Copycat”

Updates

 

Prehistory

The Summer of ’76

Victim #1
— The Beginning—
Rancho Cordova

Victim #2
—Careful Selection—
Del Dayo

     Victim #3
— Foiled Attack—
 Rancho Cordova

Victim #4
— Violent Improvisation—
 Crestview

   Victim #5
— Selected Target—
 Citrus Heights

Victim #6
— Curious Tactics—
 Rancho Cordova

     Victim #7
— Baring Down—
 Del Dayo 

     Victim #8
— Interrupted Arrival—
 Rancho Cordova

Analysis of First 8 Strikes

Victim #9
— Revealing Mistake—
 Citrus Heights

Victim #10
— Fair Oaks—
 Undaunted

  Living Dangerously
— The Year of the EAR—
1977

Victim #11
— Cats and Fields—
Sacramento

Victim #12—
 Blind Spot Reveals—
 Citrus Heights

Victim #13
— Unexpected Jogger—
Carmichael

Ripon Court Shooting

 Victim #14
— Over the River . . .
and Through the Woods—
  Sacramento

Victim #15
— Tactical Misuse—
 Rancho Cordova

Victim #16
— Opportunity Knocks a Clue—
 Orangevale

Victim #17
— Unexpected Spoke in the Hub—
 Crestview

Victim #18
— Moving Upwards—
La Riviera

Victim #19
— Presentiment
 of
 Impromptu Danger—
Orangevale

Victim #20
— Blind Spot
 and a
Stop Watch—
 Citrus Heights

Victim #21
— Tactical 1—
Del Dayo

Victim #22
— Tactical 2—
South Sacramento

Panic!

  After the Lull—
1977’s Autumn of Fear

 

Victim #23
— Tactical 3—
 Stockton

Victim #24
— Switcharoo—
 La Riviera

Victim #25
— Follow Diablo—
 Foothill Farms

Victim #26
—  Dump Truck Biker—
 Carmichael

Victim #27
— Condo Commando—
La Riviera

Victim #28
— Tail of Diablo—
 Foothill Farms

Victim #29/30
— Assault!—
 Carmichael

Maggiore Double Murders
— Critical Clue—
 Rancho Cordova

   Yet Another Year— 1978

composite2

       Witness in Charcoal

Victim #31
— Distant Roaming—
 Stockton

Victim #31B
— Back to Rancho—
 Rancho Cordova

Victim #32
— Little Pocket, Big Clue—
 South Sacramento

Victim #33
— The Deep Dig—
 Modesto

Victim #34
— Co-Ed—
Davis

Victim #35
— Back—
 Modesto

Victim #36
— Forth—
 Davis

Silent Victim
— Lateral—
 Modesto

Victim #37
— Forth North—
 Davis

A New East—
 Contra Costa Corridor

Victim #38
—  Surreal Schedule—
 Concord

Victim #39
— Opportunity Kicks—
 Concord

Victim #40
— Cats and Fields Again—
 San Ramon

Victim #41
— The Way to San Jose—
 San Jose

Victim #42
— Sobbing in San Jose—
 San Jose

Victim #43
— Danville—
 Playing it Close

 

   No Stopping Him— 1979

Lacing with Ligatures— Thunderbird Place

Victim #43B
— Auld Lange Syne—
 Rancho Cordova

Victim #44
— Along the 680—
 Fremont

Victim #45
— Follow the Cats—
 Walnut Creek

Victim #46
— Sticking to Routine—
 Danville

Victim #47
— Walnut Creek—
 Dig and Retreat

Victim #48
— Shouted Out—
 Danville

Victim #49
—  The Unsuspected —
Goleta

mask-clenched2

Murder
—Original Night Stalker—

Goleta
— Doctor Duo—
 Dec 30, 1979

Ventura
— Cats & Murder—
 March 13, 1980

Laguna Niguel
— Exclusive—
August 19, 1980

Irvine
— Home Alone—
 Feb. 6, 1981

Goleta
— Dig & Retreat Again—
 July 27, 1981

Irvine
— Epitome of MO—
May 4, 1986

 

         Phantom Predator—
  Analysis of EAR Crime Spree

       Analysis of EAR Prowling MO

Portrait of Terror

The Lair of an Arch Rapist

     The Mystery of the Silent Dog

Phone Calls

Thwarted!

 

Night Predator
Files on the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker

The Website of Gian J. Quasar

Contact