Angel of Darkness

The True Story of Randy Kraft and the Most Heinous Murder Spree


By Dennis McDougal

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Randy Kraft was highly intelligent, politically active, loyal to his friends, committed to his work–and the killer of 67 people–more than any other serial killer known. This book offers a glimpse into the dark mind of a living monster. “To open this book is to open a peephole into hell”.–Associated Press. Photographs.



Copyright © 1991 by Dennis McDougal

All rights reserved.

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Hachette Book Group

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First eBook Edition: May 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-56248-5


Kristi Heim is not only a fine researcher; she is a fine reporter who sat through months of trial, pored over mounds of documents, taped hours of interviews and testimony, and compiled hundreds of pages of notes in order to deliver the correct quote or the telling fact. Without her, there would be no book. Likewise, the photojournalist's eye of Leo Hetzel, in and out of the courtroom, captured ideas as well as images. He is an artist who simply uses a camera instead of easel, paint, and brushes. Patient and encouraging, Rich Horgan is that rare editor with vision who cares equally for the writer and the reader. Alice Martell says she is my agent. She is not. A yenta, a yuppie, a guru, and a friend, perhaps, but not an agent. Agent is much too businesslike a term for an expectant mother who wants to know when the next chapter of the book will be in the mail while her labor pains are ten minutes apart. Likewise, Sharon McDougal is not just my wife, she is my best friend and my first line editor who kicks out the awful stuff before anyone in a position to have me fired ever gets a chance to see it. She keeps me going when nobody else can or will. Carl and Lola McDougal, my parents, are my first and still my most venerable fans. Likewise my sister, Colleen, encouraged me through tough times, and my brothers, Pat and Neal, have always been one phone call away. Thanks also to my editors and peers at the Los Angeles Times who sustained me and tolerated my time away from the paper, especially Bob Epstein, Lee Margulies, John Lindsay, Barbara Saltzman, and SCIII. Special thanks to Irv Letofsky who will always be, quite simply, the best editor I have ever worked for in my life. The courthouse reporters in Orange County and Los Angeles work hard, get it right, and are rarely shown the appreciation they deserve for keeping the public informed. I thank them all: Jerry Hicks of the Los Angeles Times; Larry Welborn, Patrick Kiger, and Greg Zoroya of the Orange County Register; Helen Guthrie Smith, Molly Burrell, Bob Zeller, Mary Neiswender, and Kristi Heim of the Long Beach Press-Telegram; Dave Lopez of KCBS-TV. Special thanks to Deborah Caulfield, Lorraine Hillman, Lloyd Thomas, Katie Sauceda, Wayne Rosso, Ray Richmond, Mark Gladstone, Bill Knoedelseder, Brian Zoccola, Dorothy Korber, Pat Broeske, Diane Goldner, the men and women of the Los Angeles Times Editorial Library, and Bill Cook's unsung staff in the basement of the Orange County Courthouse who went the extra mile in helping me in my research. To all those in law enforcement and both the prosecution and defense who gave of their time and resources in Orange County, Los Angeles, and Oregon to help me reconstruct the story of the worst and most baffling serial killer of our times, my thanks and gratitude. Their contributions, as well as the anonymous help given by former friends and acquaintances of Randy Kraft, were invaluable. Finally, thanks to those among Kraft's scores of living victims—the parents, sweethearts, siblings, and friends who were forced to bury a loved one years before his time—who swallowed their pain long enough to cooperate in the creation of this book. Hopefully, their candor may help prevent other sons, brothers, or husbands from trusting to demons in their haste to thumb a ride to the end of the road.


On the last day of the year, Mark Hall, Bill Holly, and Phil Holmer went out on an all-night drunk. With each beer, remembered conversations grew murkier and time telescoped. It wasn't all that clear where the three musketeers of beer had been or where they were going, but by midnight it seemed as if the trio had been out party hopping all over southern California.

Only two of them lived to see in the new year.

"It was payday, but we didn't have no money for drinks," Holmer said years later, remembering how New Year's Eve of 1975 began.

Both he and Hall, a skinny pal with shoulder-length brown hair that parted in the middle of his head, worked swing shift at Emerson Electric Company in Santa Ana. That's where they had spent the previous evening: running through their routine sheet-metal work and breaking long enough to drink lunch from the tap at the Holiday Bar across Standard Avenue. Like Holmer and Holly, the twenty-two-year-old Hall spent a lot of his time drinking.

Hall was quiet and seemed a little dull-witted. People compared him in looks and manner to Ringo Starr, the "slow" Beatle. Shortly after Hall hired on at Emerson in 1974, he was able to run the sheet-metal shear, box brake, drill press, and other general shop equipment, but not without guidance from some of the more senior employees like Holmer. He wasn't even an actual machine-shop employee. His official title was "maintenance man." Mostly, Hall stayed to himself.

The first time he ran into Holmer outside of work was at the Holiday Bar, where regular patrons from Emerson could get their checks cashed each payday. Soon, Holmer and Hall got to be drinking buddies. Holmer kept a half-dozen six-packs of Bud in his refrigerator at all times. Drinking beer was how they spent most evenings and weekends. That's how they planned to spend New Year's Eve.

For a long time, Holmer was convinced that Hall was on the run from some kind of trouble. He and Holly, his surfer-blond roommate, counted themselves among Hall's few friends. But even they didn't know much about him. Beyond that dull, dazed air about him was a lot of hurt that Mark didn't want to talk about much. It wasn't until years later Holmer found out that the restive long-hair with the pocked complexion and the taste for both Budweiser and Jimi Hendrix had come from Pocatello to become a rock star.

Before and after work, the talk in Holmer's and Holly's one-bedroom crash pad on North Parton Street was about booze and broads and the pluses of staying stoned most of the time. Sometimes somebody would come up with a little pot. The triple whammy of alcohol, hard rock, and cannabis turned the apartment into one kickback state of stereo catatonia. Dialogue was expendable. They just never seemed to talk all that much about where they came from or where they were going.

"I didn't even know where he lived," Holmer said later. "I know he lived close to me, but he always used to ride his ten-speed over to our place, so I never went to his place."

Hall usually pedaled over from his own apartment on North Main Street in time for a few beers just before the beginning of the four P.M. swing shift at Emerson. It was easier to work if you were a little loaded. They would all hop in Holly's blue convertible, tool over to Emerson a couple miles to the east, and clock in. At the eight P.M. lunch break, Holmer usually drank a rum and Coke for dinner while Hall knocked back a Schlitz Stout Malt Liquor or two. That would see them through the rest of their shift. They clocked out at midnight, but stayed on tap at the Holiday Bar until last call at two A.M. Most nights, Hall wouldn't even go home. He'd just sleep it off on Holmer's old recliner in the front room of the apartment, just the way he did the day before New Year's Eve. Holmer didn't mind. When he did finally get him to talking about something beyond babes and the best brands of beer, he discovered that Hall was a poet of sorts with a sweet disposition and a passion for the blues.

Hall owned a Gibson acoustic guitar that he played badly. He brought it over on his bicycle once and never took it home. He usually turned it over to Holly to strum. He also owned a mouth harp that he blew like a tortured angel. Sometimes late at night, while Holly plucked tunes from the Gibson and Hall jumped in with his sweet, sad harmonica sounds, Holmer would just burrow down into the tired old sofa with a beer in one hand and wait for heaven to arrive.

Mark Hall had come to California for rock 'n' roll. He was the drummer in a band that he and three other guys had put together back in Pocatello, where he grew up. There, he and the rest of Heavenly Blue, as they called themselves, were heavy metal heroes. They played the high school and the enlisted men's clubs at various military bases in southern Idaho, neighboring Utah, and as far away east as North Dakota. They did convincing covers of Cream, the Doors, and even a few Beatles' standards. There was even some loose talk of their opening once for the Steve Miller Band when the pop group toured the Northwest.

Hall lived for hard rock. He was especially into drums, which he took up when he was still a junior in high school. He talked briefly about becoming a lawyer, but a career in music was what he really wanted. After he dropped out of Highland High in Pocatello in 1971, his drums and the three other members of Heavenly Blue became his life, much to his parents' chagrin.

Said his father, Darwin Hall, "Of course Lois and I, like parents every place, were hoping he would change his mind and apply himself and go to school, and we had the money to put him through school. He could have gone to medical school or anything."

Mark was Darwin and Lois Hall's only son, and admittedly they spoiled him. Darwin, a vehicle services manager for the Pocatello Post Office, was a country and western fan, but he tolerated the Beatles music that leaked out of his son's bedroom.

When he decided to break into pop music, Mark and the other guys in the band made demo tapes out in the garage. They played a few school dances and actually got paid a few bucks for it. That got the group to thinking seriously about their music. They found themselves a booking agent and started playing the enlisted men's clubs at Air Force bases in the Northwest.

"Mark was pretty wild when he got away from his family," said Heavenly Blue guitarist Keith Brasseure. "He'd do pretty crazy things."

In high school, he was loud and a little rude—something of a show-off. That worked all right on stage with the band, but not with teachers or other students. He alienated more people than he needed to, including the members of Heavenly Blue, according to Brasseure.

After he dropped out of high school, Hall dabbled briefly in graphic arts at a vocational continuation school. He took a job for a little while in a print shop. But his heart was with Heavenly Blue.

"The last time he played with us was a two-week Christmas stint we had up in Sun Valley in 1971 or '72," said Brasseure. "He was an interim drummer by then and he knew it. I think he resented it 'cause he knew what was coming."

They all smoked pot now and then, but only Mark let his habit get the best of him when it came to concerts, Brasseure remembered. He liked the groupies and he liked the adulation, but he didn't like the practicing. He showed up late or, sometimes, not at all. By the time Brasseure and lead guitarist Bruce Monk mustered the courage to ask Hall to leave, he was injecting Methedrine and even an occasional shot of heroin. He started carrying his show-off behavior to extremes.

"Near Twin Fall there's this giant canyon where there's a waterfall," Brasseure said. "The one Evel Knievel tried to jump. Shoshone Falls. Three hundred fifty feet, straight down. Sheer death. So it's fenced off, and we stopped there one night on the way back from Twin Falls, and it was dark. He was stoned. So he jumps the fence and goes way out there, right to the edge, and just sits. It was just typical of the things he used to do, just to show off."

It wasn't tempting death that cost him his drumsticks, though.

"He just couldn't remember. You'd go over a riff with him fifteen times and then he'd forget it," Brasseure continued. "I think it was really tough on him when we let him go."

The band broke up a short time after that. Keith Brasseure and Bruce Monk both left for Vietnam, while the band's vocalist worked his way to Europe, where he eked out a living playing for francs outside the Paris Metro.

But Mark had already immigrated to southern California, bitter and broken-hearted about being bounced from the band. He knocked around with a few fringe bands in L.A., but he finally had to face facts. There were no gigs around that paid a Pocatello boy enough to keep up the rent, let alone provide himself with an adequate reserve of marijuana and malt liquor.

That's when he applied for the trainee position at Emerson. Making metal boxes for computer components didn't pay much above minimum wage, but it was enough to keep him clothed, fed, and anesthetized.

It was enough for Holmer and Holly too. In 1975, the Vietnam War was finally over, and so was the draft. That was worth celebrating. None of the three musketeers of beer were particularly knocking the world dead, but they were alive, young, and employed. On the last day of the year, they were well-equipped to party 'til they puked.

The trio crawled out of bed late on New Year's Eve, hung over from the night before. When they drove down to Emerson around two P.M. to collect their paychecks, Holmer picked up a flyer advertising a New Year's Eve blowout in the beach town of San Juan Capistrano. He pocketed it for future reference as they got in Holly's car and drove down the street to the Holiday Bar.

It may have been an hour or two hours that they shot pool and drank draft beer, but the Holiday didn't seem such a great place to spend a holiday. For one thing, it only served beer and wine. So at sunset, they moved on to another bar on Main Street in the downtown district of Santa Ana, where a shot of bourbon or gin could be had for the same price as a beer.

It was dark outside when fellow Emerson employee Steve Sanchez came through the bar, inviting everybody he knew to come to his house in nearby Westminster for a New Year's bash. Holmer followed Sanchez to his home in Holly's convertible while Hall and Holly rode in the back seat, tossing down a few more on the way.

At Steve's party, they mingled and drank some more, each drifting off to talk to other people. There was no telling how long they were there or which one of them finally decided that they ought to move on. Drinking has diminishing returns, however, even for virile young men in their early twenties. What they were interested in was women, and there didn't seem to be enough to go around at Steve's place. The flyer that Holmer had picked up back at Emerson's payroll office promised that loads of them would be showing up at the San Juan Capistrano party.

"By the time we ended up heading down to the other party in Capistrano, it was close to midnight already," Holmer remembered. "It was very late and we were very drunk. I don't know how we got down there. We were professional partiers, but this was New Year's Eve and we were very, very drunk. God knows how we made it down there in one piece."

When they arrived, there were no women. The bash had been reduced to a poker party with a half-dozen guys sitting around a dining room table peering at their cards. Holmer and Holly sat in, but Hall begged off. He stumbled over a coffee table and couldn't get up without some help. Holmer limped his friend into the living room, where Hall curled up like a baby on the sofa to sleep off his binge.

"He was so drunk he fell down in the house," Holmer said. "He was way far gone. To get to that condition would take a lot of booze because this was when we used to party, party, party. We could drink all night long and it didn't faze us."

At midnight, Holmer went to the kitchen for some pots and pans to bang in the New Year with. He got another beer from the icebox. Then he went to the living room to wake up Hall.

But he wasn't there.

"We may have looked around for him in the front yard. I don't know. We were so far gone ourselves," Holmer said.

When he heard that Hall had vanished, Holly still had enough presence of mind to check his pants pockets for his payroll cash. He came up about $200 short, Holmer remembered. Holly groused about it to Holmer all night long while they continued playing cards. They both stayed until dawn, waiting for Hall to return.

But he never did.

Melanie Ann Lane graduated from Westminster High School in southern California in 1975. She remembered the family's annual New Year's Eve celebration that year very well because it happened at her mother's home and not at Aunt Kay's house or at Grandpa and Grandma Kraft's place in Midway City.

It was the year that Aunt Kay separated from Duane Eastburn, her husband of twenty-two years. Kay was living by herself making ends meet with her teaching job in Huntington Beach. It was a cinch she couldn't hold the annual Kraft New Year's gala at her place.

And the extended family with its in-laws and cousins and other shirttail relatives literally could not fit into the Krafts' Orange County homestead anymore. The tiny wood-frame structure on Beach Boulevard had been a World War II Women's Army Corps barracks when Grandpa Harold Kraft bought it from the U.S. government back in 1948. He refurbished it into a chicken ranch and raised his growing brood there, but they had all grown up and moved on years before.

Uncle Randy's apartment in Belmont Shore was out of the question.

It had only recently come to light that Randy Kraft was gay, and nobody was particularly comfortable with the fact yet. He and his roommate, Jeff Graves, seemed normal enough, but there was no need to open newly healing wounds. Harold Kraft still had difficulty accepting his only son's homosexuality, and his wife, Opal, a leader in the local Presbyterian church, simply tried to deny it altogether.

Melanie's favorite uncle was working as a computer operator at the time, running payroll programs for businesses in Long Beach and Orange County. He only made $4 an hour, but there was no shortage of overtime. In fact, he had to work on New Year's Eve that year, he told his sister. He would be a little late to the party.

Randy was making a real effort to get his life back together after several turbulent years following his 1969 discharge from the air force. After thirteen months as an enlisted aircraft painter, he had finally confessed to his superiors at Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert that he was homosexual. That's when he first began to come out of the closet.

Melanie Ann was almost too young to remember, but it had been a trauma for just about everyone. He went through a whole roster of second-rate jobs—bartender, truck driver, dispatcher. At one point, he was going to follow his sister Kay's example and go into elementary education. He was a teacher's aide one semester, working in the classroom with third-grade students. But ultimately that didn't satisfy him either. That the conservative school system administrators had a history of shunning and firing admittedly homosexual instructors was a fact not lost on him.

Finally, he started getting into computers. He was not only good at it, he loved it. He took night classes at Long Beach State University and easily mastered the basics. It wasn't unusual for him to stay up all night working out a computer problem. What's more, he took his jobs seriously and instilled instant trust in his employers. At Aztec Aircraft, one of the businesses where he ran computer payroll and handled the budget spreadsheets, he was given a key within a few weeks of his going to work. He was often the first to arrive and the last to leave.

So Melanie wasn't at all surprised that her uncle didn't arrive at her mother's house on Homer Street until nearly ten P.M. on New Year's Eve.

At thirty, Randy Kraft was the youngest of Harold and Opal Kraft's four children. Melanie's younger sister, Diana, described her uncle as "very neat and clean" and "yuppie casual." He had a tight but ready smile and a short walrus mustache. Since he had settled comfortably into his new life-style, there was a relaxed air about him much of the time. The time he spent at the beach had left him tan and healthy-looking. There was none of the sashaying or limp-wristed vamping in his manner that Melanie and her cousins associated with gay men. If anything, she preferred him to the other men in the family, who tended to cloister themselves in the living room for football and lots of male bonding whenever there was a family gathering.

Uncle Randy listened to his nieces and nephews.

When he did show up at the New Year's Eve party, Randy should have been exhausted, but he joined in the card games and the feasting and the conversation like everyone else in the burgeoning Kraft clan. His nephew Donald Lane had just enrolled in a computer science class and got his uncle talking about career opportunities.

As midnight approached, Doris Lane broke out the champagne. There were other members of the family who drank to excess, but brother Randy wasn't one of them. In fact, he rarely seemed to touch the stuff at all. So when he took up his glass along with everyone else for the New Year's toast, Doris marked the moment in her memory.

It was 12:30 A.M. when he left, as she said later. When Melanie Ann and her mother dropped by Grandpa and Grandma Kraft's home at about eight the following morning, Randy was asleep on the couch. He lived in the young, affluent neighborhood of Belmont Shore in Long Beach, some twenty miles to the north, but he still had his own key to the family home and let himself in and out whenever he was in the neighborhood. Doris noticed that he was still wearing the same clothes he had worn the night before. Her "neat and clean" little brother was just as neat and clean, curled up on the sofa, as he had been the night before at the Lanes' house. Doris and her daughter tiptoed by the sofa and turned on the TV low to watch the Tournament of Roses.

Randy didn't get up right away, but he was wide awake and ready to join in more gin rummy games by noon. He watched the Ohio State Buckeyes get trounced by UCLA in the Rose Bowl before he finally left. And, as usual, he treated the nieces and nephews with the kind of respect they never seemed to be able to get from their parents.

"I always had a good time with Randy," Melanie recalled some years later. "He didn't seem any different that day than he always was."

A quartet of off-duty cops riding dune buggies near a ranger station in the Cleveland National Forest first came across the body.

According to the records of the Orange County Sheriff's Office Detective's Report 458–339, on Saturday, January 3, 1976, at approximately four P.M., a nude male was found in heavy brush on the west side of Bedford Peak at the east end of Santiago Canyon in the Saddleback Mountains, about thirty miles south of San Juan Capistrano.

The killer or killers had carefully wrapped the body's legs around a sapling and slumped it up against the tree like a crumpled scarecrow in a fetal position. The man's hair was long and chestnut brown, tangled beneath his shoulders, and he wore a thin, unkempt mustache that drooped with his permanently frozen frown. When he had been alive, the young man stood about five foot ten and weighed 165 pounds, according to the coroner who arrived about an hour after the body was found and pried the decomposing corpse away from the tree.

He had died of alcohol and asphyxiation, the pathologist said. The body contained the equivalent alcohol of at least five six-packs coursing through its veins at the time of death, which the coroner fixed as sometime after midnight New Year's Eve. The young man had a blood alcohol level in his body of .67—nearly seven times the legal definition of drunk in California. The blood alcohol level in the young man's brain was only slightly less at .59. There were also traces of diazepam or Valium in his bloodstream.

But if alcohol alone hadn't killed him, the leaves and loam packed into his throat had finished him off. An autopsy later revealed that soil had been jammed down his bronchial tubes deep into the tissue of the lungs themselves. He had gagged to death on dirt.

Before he had died, however, his killers had played torturous games with his body—games that would have made a Dr. Mengele squirm with envy. First, the drunken young man had been trussed up like a hog, once he'd been stripped naked. Then, in the cool quiet of the forest, a half-dozen miles from the nearest hamlet, the screaming began.

A cigarette lighter from an automobile had left neat, red circles singed into the skin around the left nipple of his chest. There also were lighter burns branded into the scrotum, eyelids, cheeks, nose, and upper lip. Both eyes had probably been brown in life, but it was impossible to tell when pathologists began their preautopsy protocol. All they saw were the dark red and black circles burned into the eyeballs by the same automobile cigarette lighter.

Nicks and grooves had been carved into the young man's legs, with one particularly long incision sliced deep into the muscle, close to the bone.

After sodomizing the hapless victim, the murderer jammed a cocktail swizzle stick into the young man's penis, all the way into his bladder. Then the killer or killers hacked off both the penis and testicles and plunged them into the victim's anus. More leaves and some burned material were also stuffed into his rectum.

Based on the way the blood had dried and the wounds had reacted to the trauma, medical examiners concluded that the young man was still alive throughout much of the ordeal. $$'


On Sale
May 1, 1991
Page Count
336 pages

Dennis McDougal

About the Author

Dennis McDougal, an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times for more than a decade, has won scores of journalistic honors, including the National Headliners Award and several Associated Press awards. He lives in Long Beach, California.

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