Original Night Stalker Murders

The Original Night Stalker 1979-1986

 

 

December 30, 1979

767 Avenida Pequena

Goleta

Dr. Debra Manning and Dr. Robert Offerman

 

A late night trip to the bathroom was the reason he was up at this ungodly hour. Sitting at the edge of his bed, the man gazed at his clock before settling back down to sleep. As the glowing digits came into focus he could see that it was 3:05 am. At that moment the predawn quiet was broken by a series of abrupt sounds somewhere nearby in the neighborhood.

 

pop----pop-pop-pop----pop

 

Firecrackers? He and his wife headed upstairs to a window where they could gain a decent view of the neighboring homes. From here they could see into the backyard of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Offerman’s  condominium where they noticed a sliding glass door open. They could see no lights on inside the condo. Moving to another room for a different vantage point they noticed a white car, similar to a Pinto or Honda, driving slowly from the condominium complex parking area with the headlights off. They noted the time as 3:17 am.

 

Some hours later, two friends of Offerman arrived at the condo for a morning tennis date. They noticed the open sliding glass door, entered the home and called out for Dr. Offerman. There was no answer. One of the pair went through the living room where he could see down the hallway to Offerman’s bedroom. He saw a naked woman on the bed, seemingly asleep. To forestall an awkward moment the couple decided to leave, but before they made it back out the door one of them stopped. This didn’t feel right. Surely someone would have heard him calling loudly for his friend and, albeit a bit groggy and embarrassed, have responded. He turned around and walked down the hallway to see what was going on. In the bedroom he discovered two dead bodies.

 

When police arrived they found the body of clinical psychologist Dr. Debra Manning face down and naked on the bed. Her wrists were bound tightly behind her with white, nylon twine. She had been shot once in the back of the head, execution style. Dr. Offerman was also naked and in a kneeling position at the foot of the bed, face on the floor. He had been shot once in the chest and four times in the back. A loop of the same nylon twine was around his left wrist. It was apparent that Offerman had managed to free himself from his bindings and attempted to defend himself and Manning from their attacker, only to be gunned down. Neither victim had been sexually assaulted.

 

It was evident the attacker had rifled through drawers and closets. Discarded in the patio area they found a partially eaten turkey carcass wrapped in cellophane. Did Offerman work his bindings free while the killer was helping himself to their holiday leftovers in another room? One likely scenario is that while the suspect was away from the bedroom, Offerman freed himself. When the killer returned, Offerman attacked. The killer fired once into Offerman’s chest, dropping him to the floor where he pumped four more bullets into his back. He then turned his attention to the still bound and helpless Dr. Manning, who he shot once in the back of the head. His plans ruined and the sound of multiple gunshots threatening to draw the attention of neighbors or, worse yet, the cops, he fled.

 

Further investigation of the scene revealed the same type Adidas shoe impressions as were found at the thwarted October 1 Goleta attack in the condominium’s backyard as well as the neighbor’s. Curiously, dog prints were found along with these sneaker prints.

 

Two flakes of bluish green paint, determined to be architectural paint, were found on Debra Manning’s toe. The victims had been shot with a .38 caliber revolver, Super Vel brand .38 ammunition.

 

Detectives also discovered that the vacant condo next door to Offerman’s had been broken into. A window screen had been removed and tossed atop a hedge. Below the window were the same Adidas shoe prints. Inside, they found strands of the same nylon twine used to bind Offerman and Manning. More strands of this twine were found on another neighbor’s patio and on two nearby dirt trails.

 

Neighbors had reported prowlers and burglaries in the area prior to the murders. One neighbor had a bicycle stolen.

 

 

March 13, 1980

Lyman and Charlene Smith

573 High Point Drive

Ventura

 

It was more than a little odd for the dog to wake her up from a dead sleep at two in the morning, so instead of simply ignoring it and rolling back over to sleep she got up to investigate. The dog, a Great Dane, led her outside and then to the gate which led to the yard next door. There he stood silently staring at the neighbor’s house. The early morning dark was cool and quiet. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary except her dog’s behavior, so she returned to bed.

 

Three days later, on March 16th, 12 year old Gary Smith rode his bike from his mother’s home to his father and stepmother’s house on High Point Drive, where he was going to earn his allowance by mowing his dad’s lawn. His father, Lyman Smith, a prominent attorney who would likely be a judge very soon, lived in the well-appointed, upper middle class home with his wife Charlene, an interior decorator. Gary arrived around 2 pm, greeted the gardeners who were already working in one part of the yard, and walked to a side door which he found unexpectedly locked. He went around to the front door, noticed a few days’ worth of unopened newspapers on the front porch, and stepped inside the house. He could hear, faintly, a buzzing noise which he tracked through the house to the master bedroom. The boy could now see that the source of the buzzing was the alarm clock. He also saw two people lying on the bed, the sheets covering their heads. Dried blood covered the pillow nearest him. Gary pulled back the covers from one of the figures and immediately saw that it was his father, pallid, motionless. He grabbed the bedside phone and called the police.

 

The police arrived at the scene at about 2:17 pm. They found that both victims had been bludgeoned on the head with a log the killer had taken from a pile of firewood outside. Lyman had been struck once on the head, Charlene one to two times. Blood had splattered across the dresser and the wall above them. Chunks of bark littered the carpeted floor. On the bed between the victims lay the bloodied log.

 

Charlene, lying face up and wearing only a t-shirt, was bound with drapery cord on her wrists and ankles. She had been raped. Lyman Smith was face down, naked, wrists and ankles also bound with drapery cord. The killer had tied the Smiths’ ligatures with an unnecessarily complicated knot known as a “diamond knot” or “lanyard knot”.

 

Investigators found that drawers had been opened, though nothing valuable seemed to be missing. There was no evidence of forced entry, but the front door and master bedroom window were unlocked. The mattress and box spring in another bedroom were found askew. In the living room, sofa cushions were propped up against the back of the couch. Neighbors reported prowling incidents in the area before and after the murders. One resident of a nearby street noted an unfamiliar white, mid-70’s Pontiac parked at the corner of High Point Drive around 10:30 pm on the night of the murders. At approximately 2 am the same person heard screams coming from the direction of the Smith house. The Pontiac had disappeared by the next morning.

 

 

August 19, 1980

Keith and Patrice Harrington

33381 Cockleshell Drive

Dana Point

 

On Thursday, August 21, 1980 at around 6:30 pm Roger Harrington arrived at the house he owned in Orange County where he allowed his son Keith and his new wife Patrice to live while Keith completed his final year of medical school. Patti had invited her father-in-law to the home for dinner the previous Sunday. After finding the front door unexpectedly locked and no answer at the door he retrieved the key from its hiding place above the door and let himself in. Once inside he called out and still received no answer. He assumed the kids had simply stepped out somewhere for a bit. In the kitchen he noticed a few bags of groceries sitting on the counter. He checked the garage and saw that both cars were still there. Well, maybe they had gone for a walk. He noticed that the door to the guest bedroom, the room Keith and Patti slept in, was closed. He opened the door to glance in and saw nothing out of the ordinary, so he shut it back. Had he missed something? Roger opened the door again for a closer look and saw the shape of two figures beneath the bedsheets. He pulled the covers back from one of the figures and found the body of his son, gone purple with post mortem lividity, but with no obvious injuries. When he uncovered the second body he found his daugher-in-law, Patti, barely recognizable through the copious blood that covered her face and soaked through the pillow beneath her head. Both were laying on their stomachs, heads turned to the left. He replaced the covers and phoned his other three sons. Then he called the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

 

Investigators again found no sign of forced entry. Both victims had been bound, but the killer had opted to remove the ligatures and take them this time. However, a small amount of macrame type cord was found on Keith harrington’s lower back, indicating the type of binding used. Both victims had died of multiple head injuries as a result of being bludgeoned with some object. Patrice Harrington had been raped. The murder weapon was never recovered, but a small fragment of brass was found embedded in Patrice’s head. It’s possible the killer grabbed one of the brass sprinkler heads from the lawn where a new sprinkler system was being installed to use as a bludgeon. Apparently, the killer was learning: in addition to removing the ligatures and murder weapon from the scene he had pulled the covers over their heads before bludgeoning them to avoid blood spatter.

 

Three days after the murders, a blood-encrusted motocross glove was found roughly three-quarters of a mile from the crime scene. This case lacked the usual reports of prowlers and other suspicious activity seen at the other EAR/ONS crimes. Notably, this was the only time the EAR/ONS struck in a gated community. To enter the neighborhood one needed a gate code or permission from a security guard. This being the case, it’s likely EAR/ONS parked his vehicle somewhere outside the neighborhood and simply hopped a wall to gain entrance.

 

 

February 6, 1981

Manuela Witthuhn

35 Columbus

Irvine

 

Sleeping alone at night made 28 year-old Manuela Witthuhn uneasy, but here she was. Her husband, David, was in the hospital with an infection, leaving Manuela alone in the house until he recovered. Aware of her anxiety, Manuela’s father offered her his German Shepherd to keep her company, but she refused. Instead, she opted to sleep on her bed inside a sleeping bag, which gave her a sense of security with its warm coziness.

 

When David could not reach his wife on the phone from the hospital he asked Manuela’s mother to stop by the house and check on her. She found her daughter in the sleeping bag on the bed, bludgeoned to death.

 

Investigators noted ligature marks on Manuela’s wrists and right ankle as well as a ball of fibers on her lower back. She had been raped and murdered. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the rear of the head. Once again the ligatures and murder weapon, whatever it may have been, were removed by the killer.

 

Pry marks were found on the sliding glass door and the door had been partially lifted from its track. A flathead screwdriver with paint on it was also found.

 

It appeared that the killer had also attempted to stage the scene as a burglary gone bad: a lamp and crystal trinket, both of little value, were taken and a television set was found in the backyard near the fence. Intriguingly, the cassette from the Witthuhn answering machine was also missing.

 

 

Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez

July 27, 1981

449 Toltec Way

Goleta

 

Her aunt was not comfortable in the neighborhood, in fact, it gave her the creeps. After all, the Offerman/Manning murders had occurred only a half mile away less than two years ago, so 35 year-old Cheri Domingo agreed to stay at the house on Toltec Way, acting as house sitter, until her aunt could sell it. On this evening Cheri’s on again, off again boyfriend, Greg Sanchez, 27, was spending the night with Cheri in the home.

 

They slept together in the small master bedroom. On Greg’s side of the bed was the door to the bathroom, which led to a second door leading outside to the yard.

Deep impressions in the thick carpet would later reveal to investigators that their killer had lain in wait in the bathroom for some time, lurking silently until the couple was asleep, before emerging for his usual style of attack. However, instead of catching his victims completely unawares, something, quite possibly the scraping of the bathroom door across the thickly carpeted floor, alerted Greg Sanchez to the intruder. He rolled out of bed, ready to confront or defend himself from the killer and was shot in the face. The wound was not fatal, but Sanchez was stunned, falling to the floor where EAR/ONS struck him in the head with some blunt weapon, possibly a gardening tool taken from the small shelf outside. He managed to get up and the killer rained blows down on his head with the weapon, causing Sanchez to fall back into the bedroom closet where EAR/ONS continued to bludgeon him until dead. He then covered Greg’s head with clothing from the closet and turned his attention to Cheri Domingo.

 

The next day, around 11:30 am, a real estate agent arrived at the house with some prospective buyers. When he looked in the master bedroom he could see the nude, partially covered body of Greg Sanchez in the closet and the body of Cheri Domingo on the bed.

 

Investigators determined that Sanchez had not been bound, but Domingo had been “hog tied” with her wrists behind her back and tied to her ankles. One resident saw a man standing behind a tree in the area around 9:45 pm. A married couple in the neighborhood reported that around 10:00 pm they were followed while out for a walk by a young male with blond hair to his neck, standing about 5’ 11” and thin.  One neighbor reported hearing a gunshot on the morning of the murders between 3:20 and 3:35 am. Other nearby residents also reported hearing the shot. None called the police.

 

After the Domingo and Sanchez murders, the once prolific rapist/murderer disappeared for almost five years.

 

 

Janelle Cruz

May 4, 1986

13 Encina

Irvine

 

18 year-old Janelle Cruz lived with her parents in the well-kept, upper middle-class home (which was for sale) in Irvine and worked part-time at a nearby Bullwinkle’s pizza restaurant. On this particular Sunday night Janelle’s parents were on vacation in Mexico and Janelle had a male friend over to visit. Around 10:30 pm the pair heard a noise outside Janelle’s bedroom window which they dismissed as a cat. A few minutes later they heard another noise, this time it seemed to come from the garage. This was attributed to the washing machine. At 10:45 pm Janelle’s friend went home, leaving her alone in the house.

 

Around 11:15 pm a neighbor heard the unmistakable sound of Cruz’s Chevette and a single car door slam. Evidently, Janelle had left the house for perhaps a half hour and then returned home.

 

The next day, around 5:00 pm, another unfortunate realtor showing the home to a potential buyer stumbled upon the body of Janelle Cruz. She was in her bedroom lying diagonally across the bed, a blanket covering her head.

 

Investigators determined that she had been raped and beaten to death with a blunt instrument, likely a pipe wrench that was later found missing from the family garage. The killer had beaten her viciously about the face and head. Blood was found on the kitchen floor, kitchen cabinets, the floor beneath the front door, on some wooden shutters, and at the head of her bed. Although fresh scrapes were found on her wrists there were no ligature marks. Blades of grass were found near the head of the bed and near Janelle’s lower legs. There was no sign of forced entry, but a sliding glass door was found unlocked.

 

The rape and murder of Janelle Cruz was the last known crime attributed to the unidentified monster that had terrorized California for a decade.

 

 

Aftermath

 

While the EAR/ONS was active, a number of suspects were developed but, of course, none panned out. A few of these investigations had devastating effects on the persons of interest. For instance, Manuela Witthuhn's husband, David, was a longtime suspect in his wife's murder, a situation that had ruinous consequences for his own life. A business partner of Lyman Smith was charged with the Smith murders and remained on the hook before the case was finally dropped due to lack of evidence.

 

In 2001, DNA recovered from the Original Night Stalker murders in southern California was matched to DNA from three of the East Area Rapist crime scenes in Contra Costa County:  the San Ramon attack of 10/28/78, the Danville attack of 12/09/78, and the Danville attack of 06/11/79. Any question about the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker being one and the same man were finally put to rest.

 

Keith Harrington's brother, Bruce, was instrumental in the creation of California's Proposition 69 in 2004, which requires DNA samples from convicted felons in the state for submission to a database. This law has led to the resolution of several cold cases, but so far there has been no match found with the DNA profile of the EAR/ONS.

 

 

 

Debra Manning and Robert Offerman

Manuela Witthuhn

Janelle Cruz

Original Night Stalker Murders
Original Night Stalker Murders
Original Night Stalker Murders
Original Night Stalker Murders