On TV and in the movies, law enforcement always wins. Though there may be some friction between different jurisdictions, the whip-smart sleuths always end up coordinating their efforts and catching the bad guy through clever detective work.
But in real life, things rarely work out that way. It may take years before different local and federal law enforcement agencies even realize that they’ve got a common problem. And when they do, there’s often little information for them to go on…
Opal and Harold Kraft were a married couple living in Wyoming. Though they had a decent life, the couple took their children and relocated to California when WWII began. There, Harold worked on a factory assembly line and opal worked as a sewing machine operator.
Over the years, their family grew until they had a total of 4 children, three girls and a boy. The strain on their money and time was significant and led to Harold becoming somewhat distant. By contrast, Opal always found time to dedicate to her children. She and her three daughters all gave special attention to their youngest, the boy…
The youngest, Randy, demonstrated remarkable intelligence from a young man. A straight A student, he began to demonstrate a strong interest in politics at high school, saying he wanted to become a US senator. Although he had a reputation as a pleasant, bright student, rumors started to swirl around him.
Holding On To A Secret
Despite the fact that he occasionally dated some of the girls in his school, some of his classmates and teachers began to suspect that Randy Kraft was a homosexual. Perhaps due to his relatively conservative upbringing, Kraft decided to keep his sexual orientation a secret…
In 1963, Kraft graduated 10th in his class and enrolled at the nearby Claremont Men’s College pursuing a degree in economics. In his freshman year, he marched in favor of the Vietnam War and gave his support to presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. He also entered into his first homosexual relationship.
Take the Hint
Kraft began working as a bartender at a local gay bar and had a number of short relationships with men. Over the next few years as he was enrolled at Claremont, he would bring a succession of male “friends” to meet his family. Still, his family was apparently oblivious to his homosexuality.
Toward the end of his time at Claremont, Kraft drastically changed his political beliefs. He joined the Democratic party and even worked as an organizer for the campaign of Robert Kennedy. Kraft also began to slack in his studies and took up drinking, drugs, and would regularly gamble all night with other students. His partying got bad enough that he had to repeat a class, delaying his graduation by 8 months…
Shortly after he graduated, Kraft joined the Air Force where he rose to the rank of Airman First Class. Things were going well for him but, unhappy with having to hide his orientation, he decided to come out. His family eventually accepted him for who he was but the Air force did not, discharging him for “medical” reasons…
Brush With The Law
After his discharge, Kraft resumed working as a bartender. A few months later, he had his first real brush with the law. In March of 1970, Kraft encountered a 13-year-old runaway. He offered to let the boy stay with him at his apartment and once there, Kraft drugged and sexually assaulted him. Hours later, the boy escaped from Kraft’s apartment while he was away at work.
Someone noticed the intoxicated and disheveled teenager on the street and called an ambulance. He had to have his stomach pumped at the hospital and while there, told the police what had happened to him, leaving out the sexual assault. The police searched Kraft’s apartment but because the boy had taken the drugs voluntarily and there was no warrant for the search they conducted, no files were charged…
Kraft had no further run ins with the law for 5 years until a young man went missing. In May of 1975, the skull of a young man named Keith Crotwell was found in a jetty close to the Long Beach Marina. The last time he was seen alive was a little over a month ago when he and a friend got into a stranger’s black and white Ford Mustang in a Long Beach parking lot.
Bring Him In
After driving off, the car returned to the parking lot a short time later. When it stopped, the driver opened the passenger door and pushed Keith’s unconscious (but otherwise unharmed) friend out onto the ground before speeding away with Keith slumped over against the driver’s shoulder. The license plate on that black and white mustang was registered to Kraft, so police brought him in for questioning…
A Likely Story
Kraft initially denied ever meeting the two young men but when police brought him in for questioning a second time, he told them a story that matched witness accounts. He said he dropped off Keith’s friend after he’d passed out and that he and Keith continued their drive together after that. As they drove, Kraft said, his car got stuck in an embankment. He walked alone to a gas station to call a tow truck but when he returned, Keith was gone.
While police were able to verify that Kraft had called for a tow truck, they weren’t convinced by Kraft’s overall version of events. The two detectives on the case attempted to file homicide charges against Kraft the following week but were blocked by the Los Angeles DA’s office. They said that Keith’s death was an accidental drowning, based on an autopsy of only his skull. The rest of his remains were found months later…
Kraft’s third and final encounter with law enforcement would come approximately 8 years later when, at 1:10am on May 14th, 1983, 2 California Highway Patrol cops saw a car driving erratically on the Interstate 5 freeway. After Kraft made an illegal lane change, they pulled him over.
Kraft poured out a beer bottle on the pavement as he stepped out of the car and the officers noticed that his pants were unbuttoned. While one officer performed a sobriety test on Kraft, the other checked his car and found a young man slumped in the passenger seat with his eyes closed. The officer tried to wake the man and found he was cold to the touch…
The man was dead, apparently strangled with a belt also found inside the car. When police checked the car’s trunk, they found a ring binder with a hand-written list of coded notes — Kraft’s “scorecard.” There were 61 neatly printed items in all, saying things like “Golden Sails,” “Vince M,” or “2 is 1 Hitch.”
A Dozen Years of Murder
Each of the 61 cryptic entries on Kraft’s scorecard represented one or more people he’d killed over the last dozen years. The first of them had occurred just one year after he’d been let go with no charges after assaulting a 13-years-old boy. When police searched his home, they found damning physical evidence, including many photos of his unconscious or dead victims, often put in pornographic poses…
Kraft’s m. o. was simple. He would typically lure his victims into his vehicle with an offer of a lift or alcohol. Once inside, he would give them a combination of drugs and alcohol until they couldn’t fight back. Then he would burn them in sensitive areas with a car cigarette lighter, then emasculate, dismember, or otherwise mutilate their bodies before disposing of them near various highways, sometimes pushing them from his moving car.
While there wasn’t enough evidence to connect Kraft with all 67 alleged murders, law enforcement agents were able to charge him with 16 murders. The trial lasted for 13 months as over 1,000 pieces of evidence were presented and 160 witnesses were called against Kraft. He was found guilty of all 16 murders and the jury recommended he be sentenced to death.