by G. Jack Urso
This is 570 Myrtle Ave., Albany, NY (fig. 1, above), the family home of Doreen Gaul who left in June 1969 for Los Angeles to study Scientology. She never returned home and her murder has remained unsolved. Although it is sometimes linked to the Manson Family or the Zodiac Killer, there is no evidence for either.
Shortly after midnight on November 22, 1969, Gaul, 19, was found murdered along with fellow Scientologist James Sharp, 15, in an alley behind 1138 Magnolia Blvd., Los Angeles. Both had been whipped with what likely was a chain and stabbed approximately fifty times each. There were so many stab wounds police first thought they had been killed with a shotgun. Due to two reports of a woman’s screams linked to the crime, police report that the bodies were likely killed nearby before being dumped in the alley. Additionally, Gaul was raped.
Some online accounts attributed to The New York Post state that the victims had their right eyes either slashed or removed, suggesting some ritualistic motive. While crime scene photos do show gash wounds to Gaul's right eye, given the horrific number of stab wounds to the upper part of the body it was likely random and not ritualistic, as some conspiracy theories allege.
Having been born in 1964 and grown up in the neighborhood around 570 Myrtle Avenue, Albany, NY, I heard that there was a victim of the Manson Family murders who had lived nearby, or maybe it was a Manson Family member, or a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, or was it a victim of the Zodiac Killer? The tale constantly changed. The rumors always came up at parties or on the schoolyard during recess. No one knew exactly where she lived. When asked about it, our parents only gave vague answers. Between Vietnam, Watergate, inflation, racial strife, the energy crises, and their own divorces, what happened in California in the 1960s with a bunch of hippies was best left in California in the 1960s and that was the end of it for all they cared.
Yet, a murder did happen. It took place in Los Angeles and the victim’s journey there from Albany encapsulates the dark side of the countercultural journey of the 1960s. It had nothing to do with the Manson Family or the Zodiac Killer. It was just another tragic, random murder, yet somehow Gaul does intersect with a lot of threads in the 1960s and in a way exemplifies the stereotypical flower child seeking peace and love in the City of Angels. In trying to sort fact from myth over the span of some fifty-three years has left me with a few answers, lots of questions, and a horrible tragedy that just got worse with every layer I explored.
According to sources, Gaul, known as a devout Catholic in high school by her friends, graduated in 1968 from the Vincentian Institute, about three blocks away from her home. An article on Gaul’s murder in The Knickerbocker News, Mon., Nov. 24, 1969 (“L.A. Hunts Albany Girl’s Murderer”), includes unattributed direct quotes describing Gaul as “talented and intense" and “an intelligent kid with emotional problems.”
Frankly, every kid who turned hippie in the 1960s was probably described this way, so I’m disinclined to give it much credence, but, according to reports, Gaul’s father wasn’t surprised at his daughter’s switch from Catholicism to Scientology, describing her in accounts at the time as a “good kid, but an emotional kid. She was always looking for green grass and rainbows.” Gaul’s father, it was also reported, claimed she had become disenchanted with Scientology and was planning to return home, though her final days seem to indicate otherwise.
The Manson Family Connection
Doreen Gaul was one of thousands of teenagers who migrated to California, with or without their parent’s permission in the 1960s. Spurred on by the “Summer of Love” in 1967, and media representations in film, TV, and publications, California, and San Francisco and Los Angeles in particular, became the Mecca for the Counterculture. Indeed, many Mansion Family members fit that profile.
Gaul was described as wearing the “hippie clothing” reportedly favored by female Scientologists, as well as a lot of teenagers of the era. It was the uniform du jour. At the time, Gaul lived in a converted mansion owned by Scientology and James Sharp (see fig. 7, below) lived nearby in another Scientology-related boarding house. The 15-year-old son of a well-off businessman from St. Louis, MO, Sharp, described by his father as “very intelligent,” was given permission to go to Los Angeles to study Scientology. He arrived in June 1969, the same month as Gaul.
As previously noted, the bodies of Doreen Gaul and James Sharp were found shortly after midnight on Nov. 22, 1969, in the alley behind 1138 Magnolia Avenue, Los Angeles (see figs. 4-6). According to police reports and the Knickerbocker News, Gaul's body was found nude wearing love beads with a peace sign. Both had been stabbed over fifty times each and Gaul was determined to have been raped.
The relationship between the two is unknown, though some reports suggest Sharp was going to “audit” Gaul that evening. “Auditing” is something of pseudo-psychological process using a device called an “E-Meter” (electropsychometer) which does absolutely nothing except measure electrodermal activity. What qualified a 15-year-old to conduct an audit, I don’t know. There is not much information on Sharp or whether he was even enrolled in high school at the time.
|Fig. 5. The alley behind 1138 Magnolia, where the bodies were found, |
at the time of the murders in 1969 (Crimedoor.com).
Police reports indicate that Bruce Davis of the Manson Family lived in the same Scientology boarding house as Gaul in L.A, at 1032 South Bonnie Brae Blvd., and suggested he had dated her, though Davis denied even knowing her. Granted, not a great source, but I’m not sure when Davis would have even found the time. Gaul had only moved into the South Bonnie Brae location, dubbed “Thetan Manor” by Scientologists, on Nov. 18, 1969, just four days before her murder. She previously lived at the Navarro Apartments at 915 South Alvarado (which was not linked to Scientology), according to the police report, which also noted Gaul had a boyfriend named Peter Harbour at the time, who was investigated and cleared of the crime. Notably, Davis was on the run after the alleged “suicide” of John Philip Haught, aka "Zero,” November 5, 1969, during which he was present, and unlikely to return to where he could be recognized and reported to police.
Davis worked at Scientology headquarters in London from November 1968 to April 1969 when he was fired for his drug use and returned back to the United States; nevertheless, they continued to allow him to live in the organization’s housing. It was a busy time for the Manson Family with multiple murders taking place and. despite his brief residency at a Scientology-owned building, Davis generally moved around with them. He applied for a driver’s license on June 30, 1969, under the name Jack Paul McMillan, using the Spahn Ranch as the address, where he was involved in the murder of ranch hand Shorty Shea on August 26, 1969, after which he went to the Barker Ranch in Death Valley with other Manson Family members until Oct. 12, 1969, when they were arrested during a police raid.
As previously stated, Davis went on the run after Haught’s death on Nov. 5, 1969. Davis’ whereabouts on the night of the murders of Gaul and Sharp, November 22, 1969, are unknown; however, Ed Sanders, author of the excellent Manson Family chronicle The Family, reports Davis was back in England by November 23, 1969, and an Interpol report dated May 23, 1970, says London police reported Davis had returned “more recently,” though the date of arrival is not reported. If true, this means Davis may have been out of the country at the time the murders were taking place. Granted, however, as noted above, Davis' whereabouts that evening remain unknown.
If Davis had met Gaul, it would have had to been in June 1969, after her arrival and before the family moved to Barker Ranch; however, while possible, the odds are unlikely. Gaul was not living in Thetan Manor at the time, Further, given Davis’ activities in July and August, an opportunity for contact between the two seems further unlikely. The only other opportunity Davis would have had to dated her would have been between mid-October and early November, after the Barker Ranch raid (during which he was imprisoned for a short time) and before the death of Haught.
Consequently, while many conspiratorial reports have Bruce Davis living in the same Scientology residence as Gaul on South Bonnie Brae Blvd., it was likely not during the time she lived there, Nov. 18-Nov. 21, 1969. While remotely possible as a casual hookup typical of the “Free Love” era, there is no evidence of a relationship between Davis and Gaul. It is all speculation based upon coincidence.
Speaking of coincidences, my research also identified a Bruce Davis who lives on a Bonnie Brae Lane in Colorado Springs, CO, at the time of this writing.
Fig. 7. James Sharp.
Davis was busy with a lot of Manson Family crimes the summer of 1969 and had a harem of Manson Family girls at his disposal as Charlie’s right-hand man. While he was involved in the murders of Gary Hinman and Shorty Shea, Davis was not known to have personally participated in the actual killing, so such a violent double murder would not have been Davis’ usual modus operandi. Consequently, I’m disinclined to believe a relationship between Davis and Gaul existed except as accidental residents in the same boarding house, and they may not have even lived there at the same time.
Police reports indicate the murder of Gaul and Sharp required two assailants, so, if it was Davis, he would have needed help. Conspiracy theories suggest this would be someone from the Manson Family, but in over sixty years since the murder not one family member, many of whom have since become repentant of their past, has implicated themselves or Davis or anyone else in the murders.
Theories of Davis’ involvement led to questions of Scientology involvement, but as easy as it is to lay the blame on a secretive cult-like organization, it must be dismissed as baseless. Absolutely no evidence exists. Of course, anything is possible, but not everything is probable, including Bruce Davis’ alleged involvement as well as that of the Zodiac Killer.
The Zodiac Killer Suspected
The same measure applied to claims the Manson Family was involved also applies to claims that Gaul was a victim of the Zodiac Killer, which can only be regarded as a wild conspiracy theory. The manner of death was not the Zodiac’s usual M.O. The theory is largely built on a letter attributed to the Zodiac Killer and postmarked August 1, 1973, from Albany, NY, and which was mailed to the Albany Times Union claiming a murder would take place on August 10 during a shift change at Albany Medical Center (it did not). The connection with Gaul is based upon the fact that 570 Myrtle Avenue is about a block and a half away from Albany Medical Center.
The connection between Gaul and the Zodiac Killer was pushed by author Bill Nelson in his book Manson: Behind the Scenes (1997) who included what he claimed was a “missing Zodiac letter” allegedly discovered with Doreen Gaul’s possessions, though it is not mentioned in police reports or other contemporaneous accounts. For various reasons, including that the Zodiac Killer never sent letters to his victims, I believe the letter is a forgery and Nelson fell for a hoax. Despite his Secret Service past, Nelson was an obsessive, fringe personality and the book itself is rife with conspiracy theories, misspellings, typographical errors, and fabrications. The publisher is “PenPower Publications,” which bills itself as a marketing firm, so the book seems more like a vanity press project.
Police reports also indicate that evidence suggests that at least two individuals were involved in the murders of Gaul and Sharp. This eliminates the Zodiac Killer, who worked alone, as a possible suspect.
Tragedy upon Tragedy
The deeper one goes down the rabbit hole of research, the more of Gaul's tragedy unfolds. The LAPD reported that on Sept. 10. 1969, Gaul informed the police that she had been raped by "two male Negros" while hitchhiking, but "refused to make a crime report." Officers also reported Gaul "appeared high and had needle marks on her arms." I’m a bit incredulous about this latter claim implying intravenous drug use. After more than fifty years, there is no way to confirm it. Her behavior could have been shock from the rape and even if she had needle marks it does not necessarily mean she was high at the time, an addict, or that her story was not credible. Still though, while the accusation seems almost spurious, we have to allow that the police, who saw this on a daily basis, had some experience in the matter.
Despite that incident, however, Gaul's tendency to hitchhike didn't abate as eyewitness reports indicate that she and Sharp were hitchhiking the night they were murdered.
Like so many young people at the time, Gaul was an idealistic young adult seeking wider horizons. At that age, most of us do. Whether Gaul was involved in intravenous drug use, as the one police report suggests, is unknown, but she was certainly involved with a mind-controlling cult, and despite reports of her disenchantment with Scientology she remained interested enough in it to have been audited the very night of her murder by the person who was murdered along with her.
Eyewitness reports indicate Doreen Gaul was walking barefoot the night she was murdered, a not uncommon practice for countercultural youth at the time. With her quest for philosophical truth, her long blond hair, hippie fashions — including the love beads with a peace symbol that were still around her neck when her body was found, according to police reports and the Knickerbocker News — Gaul seems to embody the idealism, innocence, and tragedy of a generation. Indeed, her fate seems to have unfolded exactly like an episode of Dragnet, complete with Jack Webb’s monotone staccato voice warning viewers about the dangers in the City of Angels. The Doors’ song “L.A. Woman,” about the murder of a “lucky little lady in the City of Light” could have been written about Gaul.
“This is the End, Beautiful Friend, This is the End”
Though I was only four during the summer of 1969, I have many memories. While Doreen Gaul was heading to Los Angeles that June, the events of my essay “In Absentia” began to play out. In July, I watched the Moon landing on TV during our vacation in Wildwood. In August, my long-haired hippie cousin Jan turned up in mud-splattered jeans right after Woodstock, about ninety minutes south of Albany. After the Tate-LaBianca murders, I went around at night to make sure all our doors were locked, terrified the same might happen here. I was also anxiously awaiting the start of kindergarten that fall with the sense that my life was really about to begin. Meanwhile, Gaul’s was coming to an end.
Having grown up about three blocks away from her, I know the area around Doreen Gaul’s house well. Our phone numbers shared the same 489-prefix exchange. Though I am younger by some fourteen years, having just turned five when she was murdered, we would have gone to the same stores and parks. From her home, the Playdium Bowling Alley with its glorious glass-brick facade and large neon sign along with the A&P supermarket were about a block and a half away. Ridgefield Park is two blocks away. The Little League fields at Woodlawn Park are three blocks away and the same distance in another direction is the Calvert Vaux and Fredrick Olmsted-designed Washington Park. I would often cut across Myrtle and past Gaul’s house when walking to Washington Park.
While I never attended her alma mater, the Vincentian Institute, I voted there and would often walk the halls of the former high school when my mother moved in after it was converted into senior living apartments. Big Dom’s (then Walt Subs, which I’ve written about before in “The Rise and Fall of Big Dom’s Subs”) was across the street. We grew up walking on the same streets, going to the same places, eating the same food, and looking at the same skies, if just a few years apart.
Myrtle Avenue has changed little in the fifty-three years since Gaul lived there. Based on the erosion, the cracked and worn sidewalks date back at least to the years she was alive. These are the sidewalks where she skipped rope and played hopscotch and walked to school and went door-to-door on Halloween dressed–up as any number of monsters of the night. These are the sidewalks where awkward confirmation, prom, and graduation photos were taken and now lay on a mantle somewhere or in boxes in the back of someone’s closet, slowly fading away.
The narrow driveway shared with the neighbor next door, the window of her bedroom where she looked out into the night sky dreaming of a future that would always be out of her reach, it all remains much as it was the last time Doreen Gaul stood on these streets.
Yet, in a horrific twist of fate, Gaul is destined to be a historical footnote remembered for the unfortunate tragedy that ended her life and not for the “green grass and rainbows” that she and so many of her fellow teens went looking for in LA in 1969.
1969 may have been the last year of the 1960s, but the cultural zeitgeist of the Sixties really didn't end until 1973 with the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, the end of the draft, and the passage of Roe v. Wade. Combined with the simple fact that the hippies were getting older, settling down, and raising families, the countercultural movement lost steam.
While my fascination with this case may seem a little odd, as an historian of some small measure (it was one of two major subjects studied for my master’s degree in Liberal Studies), I look at it as a case to be studied, much the same way as I did with the JFK assassination (“The Assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald”) and The Battle of the Big Horn (“The Mystery of the Little Bighorn Battlefield”), events I have written about before and whose locations I visited to gain a better understanding of the case. Though I admit, my interest in murder cases is also due in part both to my work in prisons as an educator and having lived next to the Genesee River Killer, Arthur Shawcross (“Arthur John Shawcross: The Monster on Alexander Street”), who I have also written about before.
As a point of history, the murder of Doreen Gaul is at the nexus of a storm of generational change. In many regards, her life mirrors the experiences of millions of young people who broke free from their parent’s traditions to explore new belief systems and embrace the “hippie lifestyle.” I’m sure there are many aging Baby Boomers who can read of Gaul’s life and relate to some aspect of it. By investigating this case, one can learn about the many competing forces involved in making the 60s what they were — a decade of great social upheaval.
Yet despite all that, as is often the case with high-profile murder cases, the victims get overlooked. It’s understandable. The sociopaths who murdered them make for more interesting reading, yet the victim’s themselves get overlooked to the point they almost become irrelevant. Anyone who was ever 19 and looking for broader vistas can relate to Doreen Gaul. I can, as when I took off to Rochester after graduating college to look for work and ended up the next-door neighbor of serial killer Arthur Shawcross.
And there, but for the grace of God, go I.
Addendum I — Research Notes
A visit to the Albany Public Library Main Branch and a search through their microfilm files, brought me an article about the murder in the Albany Knickerbocker News Mon., Nov. 24, 1969 (“L.A. Hunts Albany Girl’s Murderer”). The article notes Gaul was “clad only in multicolored Indian beads and peace symbol.”
Gaul had been noted as having attended a "parochial school" in all the online articles about the murder, but the actual school name was never reported. The Knickerbocker News confirmed my suspicions that she was a 1968 graduate of Vincentian Institute. The article also noted Gaul had been active at the Scientology Center at 510 Second Avenue in nearby Troy, NY (see fig. 9, below).
|Fig. 9. 510
2nd. Ave. Troy, NY. Home of the local Scientology Center in 1969 |
(July 2022, author’s collection).
The Knickerbocker News article further states that Gaul was the eldest of eight siblings, a fact usually omitted by her online biographers. Being familiar with the layout of homes like the one at 570 Myrtle (see fig. 1, above), variations of which are ubiquitous in Albany, at best they come one bath and three bedrooms, but records at Zillow.com indicate there are two baths and five bedrooms. A quick look at the back of the house revealed a two-story addition that dominates most of the small backyard. At some point, modifications were made to the 1,447 square foot home built in 1911, presumably in time for the growing Gaul family. Given the crowded conditions at home and that Southern California was the Mecca of the counterculture, as well as Scientology, I understand why Doreen tried to find her own space all the way in L.A.
According to the Albany City Directories, Doreen’s parents, William and Rosalie, are listed living together at 570 Myrtle in 1969, but by 1971 she is listed as the sole occupying homeowner. The homeowners’ employment is also listed in the directories. In 1969, William Gail is listed as “rptr” (reporter) and in 1971 as “eng” (this could be "electronic news gathering" or "engineer”). In 1972, Rosalie Gaul is listed as the sole homeowner and William is no longer listed; however, no employment is listed for her. The next year, 1973, Rosalie is listed as being employed at the Aetna Insurance Agency. She does not appear in the 1974 directory. A later obituary about Doreen’s brother, Kevin, indicates the father remarried at some point.
As I walked down Myrtle, away from the house, a large black Pit Bull accompanied by a small, but equally ferocious black and tan Chihuahua came running out at me snarling and barking wildly. I paused. I didn't dare make a sudden move for fear of the large dog attacking me. A woman appeared out of nowhere to retrieve them. I don't believe in the supernatural, but this couldn't have been more well-timed, or badly timed, depending on how one looks at it.
Prior to 1969, Rosalie Gaul was a married housewife with a houseful of kids. Then, in a couple of years, evidence suggests she became a single mother who had to reenter the workforce and sell the family home. In some ways, it mirrors my mother’s own experiences with her divorce, which I cover in several stories in The Norwood Avenue Chronicles. In the 1960s and 1970s, as the divorce rates went up, legions of women reentered the workforce. It was so common it became a stereotype used in movies, TV shows, and songs of the era. Rosalie Gaul died in 1992 at age 61. She is buried in St, Agnes Cemetery not far from her daughter, but in a different plot.
The Knickerbocker News article also states that Doreen was involved with the American Saint Hill (ASH) “sect” of Scientology. ASH is a center for higher level training within Scientology and not a separate organization or cult, as some conspiracy theories infer.
Finding photos was challenging. Invariably, the only photo of Gaul posted with the various postings online about the case, is the grainy image from the Knickerbocker News article in microfilm. Having checked out the original microfilm article, even the grain patterns on the image are similar, so that seems to be where that photo originates.
While crime scene photos are available on the Internet, and I ran across them during the course of my research, I am not including them in this essay. I don't believe in censorship, but I am not in forensics or law enforcement, and unless one is, and properly frames the photos within an investigative context, I see posting them as exploitive, gratuitous, and objectifying.
Other images I came across include two photos (see fig. 3, above) at Findagrave.com, a website owned by Ancestry.com for people to gather information on the graves of family members, and a useful tool for finding the burial places of noted, or not so noted, historic individuals. I haven't seen these photographs elsewhere on the Internet, and the resolution is much better than the Knickerbocker News photo. The origin of these photos is unknown, but they appear to be school-related, so perhaps a yearbook or some similar type of publication.
Taking a shot to see what I could find on genealogy sites, a visit to ancestry.co.uk turned up the most touching photos (see fig. 7, above), those of Gaul at a party and the almost too quintessentially American photo of a girl pinning a carnation on her prom date in what one presumes is the living room of the Gaul home on Myrtle Ave. (based on a comparison of the front windows of the home in fig. 1 with the ones inside the room in fig. 7). It makes the human tragedy all too heartbreakingly real.
Addendum II — Grave Concerns
The Knickerbocker News reported on Nov. 24, 1969, that funeral services for Doreen Gaul were to be held Wednesday, Nov. 26, 1969, 9:30 am, at Magin & Keegan Funeral Home, Albany, followed by a service at St. Vincent de Paul’s Church at 10 am.
According to Albany Diocesan records for St. Agnes Cemetery, Menands, NY, Doreen Gaul was interned on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 1969; four days after her murder and one day before Thanksgiving. Records indicate that in addition to Gaul’s mother and a brother, a child who was stillborn or died shortly after birth is buried there as well, though the name is not on the stone.
|Fig. 10. The Gaul family headstone at St. Agnes Cemetery. The late afternoon sun's rays on the marker were not planned, but it was poignantly timely (July 2022, author's collection).|
Gaul herself is not buried in the family plot. Internment records available online (www.intement.net) indicate that the family headstone is in lot 45, grave 218N2 (fig 10) and Doreen Gaul is buried in the same lot but at grave 255S2. St. Agnes Cemetery has about 30,000 known graves and is navigable by a labyrinthine maze of narrow, poorly kept roads. I knew what Doreen’s grave number was, so I thought I could find it by running the names of the people in lot 45 to see where her grave could be located. Well, it was not as easy as I hoped.
I spent an hour at the site and of the approximately thirty names I ran through the database I only got four hits. Four hits out of thirty in a completely random search is a pretty poor rate of return. For most of these people, unless you were at the large and sprawling cemetery and happened to accidently come across their graves, there is no record of them being buried there except perhaps for some equally deeply buried obituary.
It took me two visits to the cemetery to locate the Gaul family tombstone and another one to find Doreen Gaul’s grave. It is located 30-40 yards South/Southwest of the Gaul family headstone, to the left as one looks at the front of the marker (see fig. 11). The approximate location is in the back of the cemetery in a section as far away from the entrance as possible.
The grave is unmarked.
|Fig. 11. The approximate location of Doreen Gaul’s unmarked grave (255S2) is somewhere between the marker for DEVINE on the far left (259N2) and LEGLER, on the far right (249S2), in either the back or foreground (July 2022, author’s collection).|
Doreen Marie Gaul
May 16, 1950 — Nov. 22, 1969
UPDATE October 2022: Though he is not the focus of this article, I found little information regarding James Sharp. Interest in his case seems small compared to Gaul. I should mention with some irony that a few weeks after posting this article when the Fall semester began one of my new students is a young man named Jameson Sharp — an odd coincidence to be sure.
UPDATE November 2022: A reader of this blog sent me the following picture she claimed was taken at the Gaul family headstone “some years ago.” The year was not specified for personal reasons.
The picture is of a hand-painted paving stone (posted here with her permission). Note the date of death is incorrect. The marker was not there when I first visited in July, but when I received this image I returned to see if I had missed something. I did not, but I did find a square-shaped indentation in the soil right where the person who sent it to me said it would be.
That the stone was no longer there is not surprising. Cemeteries have very strict rules about what kind of markers and memorials can be left at a grave and how long they can remain. Additionally, as Gaul herself is not actually buried there, leaving it would be to perpetuate misinformation.
Finally, as historians, amateur or professional, we must respect the final resting places of those we encounter in our research. Cases like Gaul’s can attract unwelcomed attention to surviving family members and we must respect their privacy.
Nevertheless, that someone was so moved to take the time to create this hand-painted memorial shows how deeply this tragedy continues to affect people over fifty years later.
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