Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trailside Killer of San Francisco

Mixed Signals

Not until spring the following year was there another violent incident, but in early March, the body of Barbara Schwartz, 23, was found murdered in the same park where Edda Kane was killed. Out hiking with her dog on the 8th, the young baker had been repeatedly stabbed rather than shot, and her wounds had been to the chest.  But there had been a witness who had watched the entire episode, and it was she who led the rangers to the crime scene.

This female hiker was watching through the trees as a thin, athletic man, about twenty-five, she guessed, approached Barbara Schwartz, whose dog was barking.  He had a hawk nose and dark hair, and he wore hiking boots.  To her surprise, he suddenly began to stab Barbara with a knife.  They struggled for nearly a minute, and then he fled as Barbara fell to the ground.  The witness ran for help, so the crime scene was quickly processed and a witness report drawn up.  Police found a pair of blood-stained bifocal glasses that they hoped had belonged to the killer.

In retrospect, the witness's description would prove to be wildly erroneous in every respect — which she herself would later admit — and it would mislead the investigation for some time.  Other hikers that day had seen a lone male, wearing glasses, who looked to be in his forties.  He wore a raincoat, despite the fact that it was not raining.  Although no one knew it at the time, this man was more likely Barbara's killer.

The pathologist counted twelve separate wounds in her chest and he estimated that her attacker had used a ten-inch knife.  A few days later, some kids found a boning knife near the crime scene, crusted with blood.  It proved to have been purchased at a chain grocery store, but the specific location could not be pinned down.  Unfortunately, a TV reporter handled it, obliterating fingerprints. 

The bifocals found near Barbara turned out to be prison issue, so investigators busily checked lists of recently released convicts, especially those with a record of sex crimes who resembled the sketch a police artist had made from the witness report.  At this point, the FBI's San Francisco-based field office got involved, along with other agencies.  However, the investigation turned up no good leads.

Map of California with Marin County locator.
Map of California with Marin County locator.

In fact, the police in another jurisdiction did question a man that night who claimed to have been wounded in a convenience store attack, but having no access to the Marin County all-points bulletin, they failed to put and two together. While they cannot be blamed for that, they neglected to find out that there had been a convenience store robbery in the area.  In any event, this man, with his quiet manner, looked nothing like the predator who had stabbed Barbara Schwartz to death, so the link would probably not have been made that night.

The next day, the wounded man visited an optometrist — Barbara Schwartz's doctor — to get a new pair of glasses.  Although police questioned him about Barbara's prescription, he never heard about or saw the flyer about the eyeglasses found at the scene.  That was unfortunate, for it's likely he would have recognized the unique prescription. Instead, the killer was free to continue.


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