Photo: A video capture of the alleged assailant. (COURTESY STOCKTON POLICE DEPARTMENT)
If ever there were a time to avoid Stockton’s dark places it is now, with a serial killer (or killers) on the loose, six people dead, and the police department down over 100 cops.
Police this week linked two 2021 cases to the series, a black woman shot in Stockton — who survived — and a Latino man killed in Oakland. All victims were out alone well after midnight.
“And that same person of interest has been seen at several scenes,” said Stockton Police spokesman Joseph Silva.
The female victim described an “unknown race male, 5’10” to 6’0,” thin build,” wearing black, his sweatshirt hood pulled up, and a black, “Covid-style” mask.
A more recent surveillance camera caught grainy video of him from behind, showing no face, but capturing the man’s gait, marked by a slight shoulder roll.
Not enough to ID him, though.
“The city has a lot of video surveillance cameras,” Silva said. “But where these homicides have been occurring, they’re really dark. The residents out there don’t have too many home video surveillance cameras.”
This crisis comes as Stockton’s police force has been sapped by officer departures. A labor dispute through most of 2020 saw scores of police leave for higher-paying departments.
That dispute was recently settled. It’s not clear, however, that the resolution, which fell short of police demands, will staunch the police exodus or allow management to staff up.
In any case, a force that a top criminologist said should number 600 cops, and which is budgeted for 485, has dwindled to 380. Short-staffing does not help the hunt.
Nevertheless, Stockton police have increased deployment in the affected areas at night and early morning. The FBI, ATF, CHP and Sheriff’s Office also are working the case.
The addition of a black female complicates the victim profile. Before, when four of five known victims were Latino men, it was reasonable to wonder if the killer targeted this demographic. Now the victims’ only common denominators are being out late, alone. Easy targets.
This is not Stockton’s first encounter with a serial killer. In the modern era the city has experienced more than its share.
Roger Reece Kibbe, the I-5 Strangler, killed at least six women, several along the Stockton-Sacramento I-5 corridor. Kibbe was IDed after a deputy pulled him over on Wilson Way. His photo resembled composite sketches of the suspect. Officers obtained a warrant to search Kibbe’s house.
They found parachute rope Kibbe used to strangle victims and scissors used to cut off their undergarments. In 2021 Kibbe was slain at age 81 in his cell in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione.
The Speed Freak Killers, Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine, two murderous meth heads from Linden, were convicted of four murders in and around San Joaquin County. Investigators believe they committed dozens more.
Herzog was released when a court overturned his conviction. He hanged himself in 2012 when he learned Shermantine was going to reveal other killings.
Shermantine remains on San Quentin’s Death Row. He offered to reveal the location of more bodies in exchange for a reduced sentence. Authorities rejected his offer.
Louis Peoples, fired from his Stockton tow-truck job in 1997, left a two-month trail of blood, murdering four people. Peoples kept a scrapbook, “Biography of a Crime Spree.” In it he laughed about his murders, criticized police, and pasted clippings.
“I have to admit I’ve always wanted to murder someone,” Peoples wrote. “And the idea of a crime spree has appealed to me for some time now…”
“He was a real piece of work,” said retired Undersheriff John Huber, who worked the case. “So was his wife. He’d written her love letters and she’d written him back what a big man he was.”
Of two store clerks he killed in Village Oaks Market, Peoples wrote, “I never thought the two people in the Village store would die, after all I only shot them two times each ha! ha!”
That mockery reportedly infuriated a jury, which gave Peoples the death penalty. He was found hanging in his cell on San Quentin’s Death Row in 2021, age 58.
The Golden State Killer, a sadistic rapist turned serial killer, terrorized communities up and down California in the 1970s and ’80s. Joseph DeAngelo never killed anyone in Stockton. He did rape two victims here. DNA led to his arrest and life imprisonment in 2018.
Nowadays some serial killers who never lived here, or killed here, die here because sick state prisoners are sent to the California Health Care Facility, the giant state prison hospital outside Stockton.
The most recent example is Herbert W. Mullin. Mullin confessed to killing 13 people, including a priest in a confessional. He died Aug. 18 of natural causes at age 75.
Now a new serial killer — a Stockton Night Killer — is out there.
As has been widely reported, the City of Stockton is offering $125,000 in cash reward to anyone with information that leads to an arrest. Call the Stockton Police Department tip line at (209) 937-8167. Or email tips to email@example.com.
“We want everyone to remain vigilant,” Silva said. “Have good situational awareness. Avoid dark, isolated areas, and if you have to travel at night or early morning hours, take a family member or a friend. And if you see anything suspicious, report it to police.”
Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.