Tying the Visalia Ransacker to the Snelling Murder

Rounds from the gun (used by the Visalia Ransacker) that killed Claude Snelling
Rounds from the gun (used by the Visalia Ransacker) that killed Claude Snelling

This is an actual photo of the spent rounds from the gun that killed Claude Snelling. Sorry for the low quality of it… I’ve been unable to obtain a better version. It’s still chilling to see, and I thought it would be the perfect item to use to remind people about this tragic murder.

On September 11th, 1975 at 2:20 AM, journalism professor Claude Snelling was shot to death while interrupting the abduction of his daughter by a masked man. The man was suspected of being the Visalia Ransacker, a sexually-motivated burglar who had been targeting the small town of Visalia, California since 1973.

While examining the physical evidence, investigators carefully noted ballistics information on the bullets that killed Snelling. They didn’t have a match for them, but since the Ransacker was suspected of being the killer, they began digging.

On August 31st, 1975, the Visalia Ransacker stole a gun during one of his many burglaries. Even though the gun had been stolen, the owner of the gun had filed a police report and when they came into contact with him again, he told investigators that they could find some old rounds that he had shot into a canal bank at a location nearby. These rounds were recovered and the ballistics were tested against the ballistics from the gun that killed Snelling.

The Visalia Ransacker. To this day, he remains unidentified.
The Visalia Ransacker. To this day, he remains unidentified.

They were a match. The Visalia Ransacker was the killer.

The weapon has never been recovered, and unfortunately, the Visalia Ransacker has never been identified. Some researchers feel that he later evolved and became the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer. Identifying one or both of these criminals would go a long way toward finding closure and justice for many victims.

The Home Invaders – Inspiration for EAR/GSK?

Thank you to user Any of N for the information that inspired this post!

“Don’t be alarmed if someone shines a light on your face around two or three in the morning, dressed completely in black and wearing a ski mask and gloves … Don’t wonder how he got in … no lock or alarm is going to keep you secure … No sense in reaching for the phone, the wires have been cut.”

No, that is not a quote from the East Area Rapist. It’s from a book that may or may not have inspired him.

When it comes to offenders who begin their crime sprees seemingly fully-formed, much like the East Area Rapist did, one of the main questions we have to ask is “Where did they learn to do this?”

Is this simply the continuation of a previous crime spree with a new M.O.? Did they have a mentor? Did they read a “how-to” book?

Don’t laugh at that last one. Proboard user “Any of N” came up with an interesting find. A book called “The Home Invaders” by Frank Hohimer looked like it just might be that book.

Cover to
Cover to “The Home Invaders” by Frank Hohimer.

The problem was that it was rare, and no one was able to locate a copy. Then someone came through for me and spent a pretty penny purchasing one. It arrived the other day, and when I started reading it, my jaw dropped. The book was many things… partly about a criminal career, partly about the criminal justice system of the 1960s and early 1970s, and partly a HOW-TO book.

Early in his life, Frank Hohimer (a.k.a. “John Seybold” according to several sources) spent eleven years in a prison, where instead of being rehabilitated, he learned to be a better criminal. He was tutored by Okla Smith, a man who might’ve been the greatest cat burglar in the world, on how to commit crimes and evade detection. (Side note: Smith was in prison for killing his wife. He’d never been arrested for burglary). And Smith himself had learned the “trade” from other mentors. Hohimer was benefitting from the experience of generations of thieves.

Upon Hohimer’s release, he immediately began a “successful” career as a cat burglar. He would’ve continued undetected had he not become mixed up in the Mafia. He ended up on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list for two years, and eventually turned himself in. At the time of his arrest, he was wanted in Denver, Indianapolis, Connecticut, and Illinois.

Before going to jail, he had been making three to five million per year as a cat burglar (he was working only the most exclusive and wealthy neighborhoods). After some interesting deals with the federal prosecutors (the corruption of the FBI is emphasized during these portions), he ended up going to prison at Fort Madison, Iowa, serving a thirty-year term. It was in this prison cell that he wrote the book.

“The Home Invaders” is unique in the sense that there were no professional writers involved, only an editor to fix punctuation and grammar issues. It reads very conversationally. He describes his “craft,” his rules, his preparation, and his activities. In fact, preparation is emphasized quite a bit. His skills were described by Time Magazine in the following way: ““Worked with military precision… known for stealth and daring.”

He mentioned that his hits weren’t “guesswork,” and that he always had precise information. He didn’t worry about the police because the way that he worked, it was impossible to get caught. And after reading about his methods, I can see why the thought that. Some of the “rules” that he was taught included:

  • “Always keep your face and hands covered on a burglary.”
  • “Don’t bother checking the children, they will sleep through anything, noise will hardly wake them up.”
  • “Check the refrigerator. If there is a small baby in the house, there will be formula in there.”
  • “Open every door on the ground floor, so you have plenty of exits, then lock them back just like you found them before you leave.”
  • “Before you work a neighborhood, make damn sure that you know how the cops and security patrol work.”
  • “Never drive a car in the neighborhood you’re hitting. The first thing cops look for is a car driving out. Or a nosy neighbor may jot down the number. Park your car miles away so you get back to it just when people are starting to drive to work. If you’re driving at 2 or 3 in the morning, you might throw a stop from a nosy copper. You can fall in with morning traffic and drive right out of the city.”
  • “Never use slip on sneakers, use the tie kind. Slip ons fall off. When you get back to the car, change clothes as soon and as fast as possible.”
  • “If you have to run, there’s no way to catch you over back fences and through yards.”
  • “Never leave tracks crossing a wet or dewy black top. Lay down and roll if you have to and the cops won’t know you’ve crossed.”
  • “Do not have any strong scent like deodorant or shaving lotion. It might wake people up.”
  • “The more people are in the house, the safer you are. They’ll think it’s someone else if they hear someone moving around.”
  • “Never be afraid of dogs, they can sense fear. Most dogs are friendly, snap your fingers and they come to you. Call them lightly right out of the house, roll them a ball, throw a stick, they will go get it.”
  • “Don’t cast a shadow across a window.”
  • “Never offend where you live.”

Does this… um… sound like anyone else I’ve written about?

The burglary kit used by Frank Hohimer.
The burglary kit used by Frank Hohimer.

The mass-market version was published in January 1975, and one has to wonder if a young East Area Rapist got his hands on a copy somehow. The title would have certainly appealed to him. The methods, the dress, the flashlight, even the time of night certainly rings true.

Of course, the Hohimer book isn’t the only place he could’ve learned these things, and even if he did learn them here, there’s not much we can do with that from an investigative standpoint. But this could be an interesting piece of the puzzle, a little glimpse of what might’ve helped form such a criminal who was looking to start out.

There are a few major differences between Hohimer and the East Area Rapist, of course, especially when it comes to violence. Hohimer writes “Professional burglars never kill no matter what. It creates too much unnecessary heat. He never HAS to kill. He takes the whole house over in a matter of minutes … I have been in hundreds of homes, but I’ve never harmed anyone. Why? I was a professional. I always had immediate control of the situation. I worked silent as a cat and I never woke any member of any household making an entry.”

His first night out as a criminal had some interesting parallels to the East Area Rapist’s own first documented attack in June 1976. Hohimer emphasized picking out certain houses first, a group of them, then narrowing down the target. And patience. Waiting for people to retire at around 10 or 11, then starting to move around the yards at 1:00 AM. The rest of his first night went like this:

He hopped a few back fences across a few yards. He went to the back door of his target and started chipping away at the door frame, and then pushed the knife against the lock to successfully open it. Then he waited half an hour to make sure he hadn’t alerted anyone to his presence. He roamed the house without waking the sleeping couple and stole their jewelry. After the burglary, he went to the refridgerator and drank a quart of milk. He hit another house, and then a final one. On his last hit of the night, he decided to wake the couple up. He put on his ski mask, then shined the light in their faces and told them he wanted their money, just like he’d been taught. He bound them with neck ties, robbed them, ran back to his car to change, and disappeared into morning traffic at around 5:45 AM.

Creepy. The rest of the book talks about his various experiences, and like I mentioned earlier, talks a lot about how corrupt Law Enforcement was at the time. Surprisingly, Herbert Beigel, a member of the federal task force assigned to Hohimer’s case, talks more about the corruption than Hohimer does. Beigel calls the FBI a “government spy ring” and not a law enforcement agency, and the book discusses how bribes were given to local police by Hohimer for them to ignore him while he was in their town. Fascinating stuff, but not all agencies were like that.

I found the information in the book unnerving, and I can easily see someone looking to embark on a life of crime finding it useful. Whether or not EAR ever came across it, I don’t know. But some of the elements are there.

The Brandon Lawson Case – Enhancing the 911 Call

Brandon Lawson, missing since August 8th, 2013
Brandon Lawson, missing since August 8th, 2013

On the night of August 8th, 2013, a man named Brandon Lawson disappeared somewhere off of US-277 between San Angelo and Bronte, TX. There’s very little evidence of what could have happened to him outside of a 911 call that he made, and as with most missing persons cases, the possibilities are almost endless.

Folks who follow my work know that when I approach a case, I like to strip away theory, unverifiable fact, and start at the basics. In this case, we have a haunting 911 call from the subject himself on the night that he disappeared, and while several talented folks have poured over it looking for clues and debating interpretations, the one thing that we can all agree on is that there’s still valuable information left to be found in this call.

To that end, I enlisted the services of an audio specialist to help make sense of this call. Not only did he provide some cleanup and a transcript, but he provided several files that show a breakdown of the work that he did. I’m happy to share them here with you all, and I hope that some portions of the call are now clearer. Simply click on the links found within the transcript to hear the related enhanced portions of the call, and look below the transcript for more files. Please note that these are lossless WAV files, and if you’re on a laptop or desktop, they might not play in your browser (right click and use “Save As” to get them onto your device.

“You there.” That’s what it sounds like the background voice seems to be saying after the dispatcher asked Brandon if he needed an ambulance. “No, I need the cops” Brandon told her. If Brandon met with foul play that night, it’s possible that we’re hearing the voice of his attacker.

While some headway has been made here, there’s still more to do. The specialist continues to work with the first part of the call in hopes that the unintelligible part at the beginning can be deciphered. If progress is made, I’ll be sure to update you.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that one day Brandon’s family can receive closure. If you have any feedback, please contact me at coldcase.earons@gmail.com.

Possible Transcript

Dispatcher: 911 Emergency.

Brandon: Yes I’m in the middle of a field with (unintelligible). Right here goin’ towards Abiline on both sides. My truck ran out of gas. There’s one car here, a guy chasin’ me, through the woods. Please hurry.

Dispatcher: Okay, now run that by me one more-

Brandon: There’s a guy talking to him. I totally ran into him.

Dispatcher: Ah, you ran into him, okay.

[unintelligible background voice(s)]

Brandon: Just the first guy.

Dispatcher: Do you need an ambulance? [background voice talking at the same time, might be saying “Watch out (unintelligible)”]

Background voice: You there.

Brandon: No I need the cops.

Dispatcher: Okay. Is anybody hurt? (pause) Hello? Hello? Hello?


Listen to the original version without any enhancements.

Listen to the full enhanced version.

A file containing only the isolated background segments.

A closer analysis of “there’s a guy”


Find more information at:

Failed EAR/GSK Attack on Queen Ann in Goleta

For several months now, our friend Bill Harticon has been traveling to the different East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer attack sites and snapping amazing photos. These pictures have been instrumental in helping many of us visualize areas that we’re not able to visit in-person.

Today we visit the scene of the first known Southern California attack committed by the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer. Luckily, this couple got away. The next victims would not be so lucky.

We’re so grateful to Bill Harticon for putting these photos together for us!

Queen Ann Lane in Goleta | Failed attack by the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
In the early morning hours of October 1st, 1979, the East Area Rapist made his presence known in Southern California, a few hundred miles away from where he’d previously been attacking. He attacked here on Queen Ann Lane, most likely using the types of canals and walkways that he’d used before.
North Patterson in Goleta | Failed attack by the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
Before he committed his assault, he stole a bicycle from this area of North Patterson,
mostly likely entering and exiting the street from here.
Queen Ann Lane in Goleta | Failed attack by the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
This area could’ve been the way he arrived at the attack site. He didn’t leave from here, though.
Queen Ann Lane in Goleta | Failed attack by the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
Another view.
Queen Ann Lane in Goleta | Failed attack by the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
Queen Ann Lane, near the attack site. The would-be rapist/killer rode his bike past an off-duty FBI agent at this location.
Queen Ann Lane and Kellogg in Goleta | Failed attack by the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
The FBI agent pursued him down Queen Ann Lane and Kellogg.
Kellogg in Goleta | Failed attack by the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
This is Kellogg, the escape route that the EAR/GSK took on his bike.
Goleta | Failed attack by the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
During the time period of this attack and the Offerman/Manning murders, construction was going on in this area that might have brought the killer down, depending on what his occupation was.
Goleta | Failed attack by the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
The Calle Real shopping center. Painting was going on at the time of the Offerman/Manning murders, and some theorize that the offender was a painter based on some physical evidence found in Northern California and at the scene of the Offerman/Manning murders.

Goleta – Photos of the Offerman/Manning Condo

For several months now, our friend Bill Harticon has been traveling to the different East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer attack sites and snapping amazing photos. These pictures have been instrumental in helping many of us visualize areas that we’re not able to visit in-person.

It appears that not much has changed since the fateful morning of December 30th, 1979, when Dr. Offerman and Dr. Manning were killed. These photos show the condo complex from a few different angles, and a future post will show a few more.

We’re so grateful to Bill Harticon for putting these together for us!

Avenida Pequena | Offerman/Manning murdered by East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
The murders of Dr. Offerman and Dr. Manning occurred on this street in the early morning hours of December 30th, 1979.
Parking lot | Offerman/Manning murdered by East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer

The parking lot in the complex where Dr. Robert Offerman and Dr. Alexandria Manning were killed.
Entrance | Offerman/Manning murdered by East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
The front of the condominium where Dr. Offerman and Dr. Manning were killed.
Condos | Offerman/Manning murdered by East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
The vacant condo and Dr. Offerman’s condo. Either before or after the murders, the killer entered this residence. He left pieces of twine behind as evidence.
Vacant Condo | Offerman/Manning murdered by East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
A closeup of the vacant condo that was entered by the killer.
Vacant Condo | Offerman/Manning murdered by East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
Another view of the condo.
Vacant Condo | Offerman/Manning murdered by East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
The door to the vacant condo that the killer entered before or after killing Dr. Offerman and Dr. Manning.
Bike Stolen | Offerman/Manning murdered by East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer
The bicycle was stolen from near this area on the night of the murders.