Center of the Universe

I was a young Marine scout sniper, definitely his type. And for a single, unforgettable afternoon, Orange County’s most notorious serial killer coaxed me into a place from which many didn’t escape.


I read something on the Internet one recent evening that made a brief and tangential reference to a serial killer preying on Marines in Southern California in the 1970s and early ’80s. Having been stationed at Camp Pendleton, I thought, “How come I never heard about this?” I had returned to the East Coast upon my discharge in September 1980, but still. So I searched “serial killer California Marines 80s” and came up with the name Randy Kraft.

There’s plenty of information on the Web; the short story is that Kraft is possibly the most prolific serial killer in American history, far worse than those with more notoriety, such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Some investigators believe he may have killed as many as 100 people between 1971 and 1983 when he finally was caught in Orange County, driving on the 405 Freeway with a dead Marine in the seat next to him.

Kraft liked to photograph his victims before, during, and after his acts of sex and torture, and further memorialize his kills in a notebook. The perverse cruelties he inflicted while his victims were still alive are beyond imagination. Quite a few were young Marines he picked up in bars, or hitchhiking. They ended up as strangled, mutilated corpses dumped on roadsides.

He even had a preferred type of Marine. Ideally, they were white, near his 5-foot, 10-inch height and 160-pound weight, and with light brown hair. He liked them youthful and tough, a Marine’s Marine. He also liked straight men. Maybe he took this as a challenge.

Kraft didn’t assault or use weapons to subdue his victims. Typically, he won their trust while plying them with beer, Valium, and similar drugs, then waited for them to become incapacitated. He often was described as notably warm and charismatic, intelligent, and prosperous, with an IT career, active in the Long Beach gay community, and living with a long-term partner who never was implicated in any of his crimes.

So imagine my surprise when my Web search brought up photographs of Kraft, and my first reaction was, “Oh dear mother of Jesus, that looks exactly like that guy … .” My second thought: A photo of me may well have been among those in Kraft’s possession when he was arrested.

The following is a story I’ve never told in 33 years.

I don’t remember the month exactly, but it must have been early in the spring beach season in 1980. It was a beautiful, balmy day, shortly after lunch, and there were few people on the San Clemente beach where I was loitering in the parking lot next to my motorcycle, looking at the ocean since there were few girls about.

At some point, a stranger approached and struck up a conversation. Older than my 20 years, he was probably about 30, I guessed. Neatly attired in collared shirt and dark pants, he gave off the aura of a yuppie. Broadly spaced eyes, a prominent chin, not really massive and jutting, but a distinct breakpoint where his chin began below his mouth. We started chatting; he clearly was just lounging, loitering, enjoying the ocean view like me. He was engaging, intelligent, and pleasant—a warm guy with a wry smile.

He said he was down from Canada. His speech, soft yet precise, and his general manner fit my stereotype of Canadians, and would have been disarming had my guard been up. But I was totally relaxed. As we talked, it became clear we were both enjoying the conversation. We talked for several hours about everything—books, current events, and travel. We were becoming fast friends, and we remarked on this, perhaps more than once.

About 4, as seaside time was winding down, neither of us seemed to want to part ways. He suggested continuing the conversation just up the hill in his motel room, where he had some “good beers.”

Normally, I wouldn’t have gone to a motel room with a stranger, but I never gave it a thought. I just liked the guy so much, and he seemed so kind and together, that it never occurred to me he could be dangerous. But even if he were, I was a U.S. Marine, and of the pure canonical type—hard-core infantry, a rifle range coach at times, finishing the final leg of my four-year enlistment as a scout sniper with the legendary 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, “The Walking Dead.” And although I served in peacetime, I was not a stranger to hands-on violence. But such thoughts were the farthest thing from my mind.

So I hopped on my Kawasaki KZ750, my pride and joy, and followed this guy’s dark car up the hill to his motel near the main drag through San Clemente. Although I didn’t notice it then, in retrospect, I realize this supposed Canadian tourist took a side-street shortcut that I didn’t know about.

While not the Hilton, the motel was someplace you’d expect somebody like him to stay, business class, which was the Ritz for me back then. The room opened up to the left of the door, with the head of the large bed to the left and a low chest or table under a large mirror on the right. I remember a briefcase or bag on the low chest and a notebook on the bed. But for a Canadian tourist, he was traveling awfully light, with no suitcases about.

As with the shortcut, I didn’t think twice about it then.

The heavy drapes were open, the gauzy white ones shut and enough late-afternoon light filtered in for a pleasant cast. I took a chair. He produced a “good beer” from somewhere beyond the low chest, from a minifridge or cooler. I remember him handing me the open bottle down low at waist level, the male-bonding way, because good beer was so unusual for a poor junior Marine accustomed to cheap domestic swill. It was a dark-green longneck bottle with a somewhat ornate label.

We sat for a while and continued our conversation. Eventually, apropos of nothing, he asked me, in the same manner we had been discussing everything else, “What do you think of sex with guys,” or words to that effect. Very nonthreatening, very abstracted. Finally, the long-delayed light bulb went off for dumb, naive me.

Now, at that point in my life, gay men might as well have been Martians. I grew up in Georgia and Ohio, where gay men were deeply closeted. Until that point, it never occurred to me that this man, or nearly any other I’d encountered in my life, had anything other than a platonic interest in me. What surprised me is that I didn’t jump up and immediately leave, or punch the guy—one for the Corps—and then leave. While I’m no gay-basher, gay sex never had been my bag before that afternoon, and never has been since. I never had the slightest murmurings, yearnings, confusions, or inclinations. Ladies were my prime off-duty interest, in competition or in combination with beer and motorcycles. But in that room, it just felt like another of the many topics we discussed.

At one point, he observed that lots of Marines like gay sex. I voiced my surprise at that notion, and was even more surprised when he said this was one of the attractions of this area as a vacation destination for him. He told me he had friends who did the same, organizing their vacation travel to Southern California where there most certainly was no shortage of Marines. There were 50,000 of us at Camp Pendleton, El Toro, and assorted smaller facilities. Still, the idea that sex tourism just outside Pendleton was a popular Canadian vacation option seemed outlandish. Based on what I knew about Marines, I told him that approaching them for gay sex seemed like a foolproof way to get a right proper ass-kicking.

He responded with a line I remember more than anything else said that afternoon, and I was struck by how casual, confident, and analytic he was about the thought: “No, you just have to get them away from their friends.”

The manipulative implications of that didn’t occur to me then; it seemed a reasonable procedural precaution someone would take when handling potentially dangerous wildlife, or Marines like me. It makes sense to be careful in such situations. I also saw an analogy to my role as a sniper, and from our forays down to Ensenada to hit on Mexican babes, the idea of separating one from the herd.

And he undeniably had a point. Here I was, a standard-issue Marine who, at that moment, was alone with him in his motel room, away from my friends, being propositioned, and things already had proceeded in a way I never would have foreseen. That made me think maybe this guy might know more, perhaps a lot more, about Marines than I did.

I don’t know how long I was there, or how much beer I drank; one or two more perhaps, three at the absolute outside. It was far from a dedicated boozing session. And despite my overwhelming fascination with this guy, gay sex was just not my bag. We were both clear on our respective positions, and, to my amazement, completely friendly, objective, and open about the issue.

We discussed what that meant in our developing friendship. One of his points—a major one to which we returned a number of times—was that maybe I should try it once, that I really couldn’t be sure until I had done so. As a logical debate point, you could see the merit.

My counterpoint was that it was something I just never had any urge to do, unlike my keen interest in the female form, the possibilities of which I’d only begun to explore. But I didn’t express even the slightest revulsion for gay sex as a concept. I was always a live-and-let-live guy, although among my buddies in the Corps, I’d naturally hew to the standard convention that all practitioners of homosexuality should instantly be put to the sword.

I’d joined the Corps a week after my 17th birthday, and by then it seemed like I’d been a Marine forever; I scarcely remembered another life. Pendleton, Lejeune, Okinawa, Norway, Germany, England, wherever the Corps took me, was invariably a bone-wearying physical grind of field operations, Spartan living, and bad food. I spent off-duty hours in cheap dives getting blotto on cheap beer, playing pool on ratty tables. And while my Marine pals were brothers to whom I was profoundly attached by both policy and esprit de corps, they were largely a young, brawn-over-brains, unsophisticated lot exactly like me.

This afternoon was a world away from all that, and I was enchanted. Eventually, though, we were at an impasse on the sex stuff, so I mentioned that perhaps I should go. I thought maybe I’d led this guy on by coming up to his room, and it wasn’t fair to him for me to be sitting there being a tease. I was astonished that a gay dude had lured me to a motel room, made advances, and here I was, feeling bad for him because I was rejecting him. In addition to my fascination with this guy, I was also fascinated with how I was reacting to this alternate universe.

When I finally made a sincere effort to leave, he asked if he could at least take a picture of me to remember this wonderful afternoon. I said sure, of course, and stood in front of the mirror at the foot of the bed. He asked me to take off my shirt, in the wide-eyed way kids do when asking for extra sauce on their sundae or something. So I pulled off my shirt, struck a pleasant pose, and he snapped a picture.

As I stood shirtless before his camera, his demeanor changed; I sensed a hint of neediness in him, a powerful worship of my young Marine self. Not really my body or my physique, but rather the whole package of me as young Marine, an icon. Afterward, I stood next to him; we were slightly turned toward each other, he on my left, both admiring, beholding actually, the instant black-and-white of me with my shirt off. Buff, handsome, and young, with the charming innocence many of us young Marines possessed. We called ourselves baby-faced killers, and back then I was as baby-faced a killer as they came. I looked 15. A sergeant on Okinawa had nicknamed me “Sweet Pea.”

And I was still there in that room. And my shirt was off. Quite comfortably off.
I had taken a seat again—I so hated to go—when he suggested another pic. Maybe with your belt loosened a bit? Something faintly clicked at that suggestion, a vague awareness that, having already crashed blithely through all sorts of boundaries, I inevitably would end up doing something that I’d prefer not to if I were to stay. “Prefer not to” was a dramatic softening of my opinion about things and, amidst the fog, I understood that even that inhibition eventually would crumble. It took a supreme act of willpower to force myself to leave. As I turned away, he looked at me with an expression I can only characterize as winsome disappointment. I felt profoundly sorry for him.

I walked into the fading sunshine. It was about 6, the sun low enough to cast the first hint of the vivid gold that graces stucco buildings during a California sunset. Walking down the steps, I thought of going back, of saying, “Aw man, sorry for screwing up the afternoon.” I had to command myself, “Get on your bike and leave.” It’s trite to say this, but my head was reeling. I turned out of the motel parking lot, and in the direction of Pendleton.

As I headed south, the Earth rocked like a ship at sea. I looked back at the motel; the window of our room was visible. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but I envisioned this guy sitting alone with his notebook in his lap, looking dejected and deep in thought. Amid my cluttered thoughts, it wasn’t hard to imagine him sighing. Gunning the bike, I looked forward again, and I remember nothing further about that day other than a glance at the road ahead.

To say I was one woefully confused baby-faced killer after that afternoon would be a massive understatement. For starters, I had posed for a beefcake photo in a motel room after drinking beer with a guy I adored, who freely acknowledged he was trying to seduce me. Even without the photo, what was I doing in that room in the first place? And that isn’t even getting into the whole “prefer not to” business—the biggest can of worms of all. This was not a post-liberty tale for my STA Platoon pals back at 1st Battalion, 9th Marines; not a topic fit for the hallowed halls of “The Walking Dead” trod by hundreds of spit-shined boots.

But something awesomely big, loud, and powerful had happened. I had been drawn in by something every bit as mysterious and inevitable as sexual attraction. Maybe there were still more sides of me to be revealed in that room. When I turned out of the motel parking lot, was I fleeing him, or something I couldn’t confront?

I didn’t like the sound of that much. But how could I be gay and not interested in sex with guys?

I had no ability at that point in my life to come up with credible answers. So began the natural human process of mild denial, hedging, and minimization of things we don’t understand to relieve our conscience and confusion. A tweak here, a tuck there, and along with the passage of time, things became at least livable if not understandable. Eventually, the afternoon and its events reached a state of equilibrium, and I thought about it less and less. When I did think of it, I recalled it as an anomaly, a magic afternoon where I had been swept away by my attraction to an interesting guy. But in the end, no harm, no foul—especially if I kept my focus off that photo out there, and the mortifying dread that it would someday turn up.

I never told a soul, and I suppose this alone says something.

As for that guy, I remembered him fondly. I always thought highly of him for being such stimulating company, and particularly so for being such a proper gentleman about the sex and all. I concluded it would have been a wonderful friendship if not for that pesky gay-straight complication.

At my keyboard, I recognized Randy Kraft immediately—the chin, the eyes, the eyebrows, the expressions. It would have been shocking to recognize an acquaintance as a serial killer under any circumstance, but recognizing Kraft as the guy I met on that long-ago afternoon took my breath away for days.

You blink. You look again. You look at other photos. You wonder if you’re being melodramatic, if your memory is faulty. You wonder if people will believe you, or simply think your imagination has run away with you. You wonder if there is a class of neurotic people who make up false accounts of run-ins with serial killers. You realize that to be true to your story and yourself, you can’t let what you are reading create false memories.

It took me days to accept this really happened. The only hint I got of any sociopathology would have been his remark that “You just have to get them away from their friends.”

Oh, and about that motel. I remember it being within a few blocks of an onramp to the 5 Freeway, heading south toward Pendleton. That onramp is a premium spot for Marines, primed by alcohol, hitching rides back to base after an evening of liberty.

Now, I’m not a detective, but I am a former Marine scout sniper. And as I remember that long-ago afternoon now, I think, “Bingo!” Kraft had set himself up in a motel that was the perfect place—a motel where, with discretion, stealth, and convenience, he could monitor the comings and goings of guys like me. It was the most astonishingly well-wired place imaginable for someone hunting drunk Marines.

Draw your own conclusions; I’ve drawn mine. One is that Kraft had identified a number of such locations throughout Southern California for when he slipped away for a few days. All were places where he could monitor his prey, and then conveniently move in for the kill. He may have found similar locations in Oceanside at the other end of Pendleton, or by the Marine Corps Air Ground Training Center at Twentynine Palms, or the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. The entire circuit is a loop through Southern California, a long drive, but if he departed Long Beach early, he would be settled in somewhere before evening.

I know that because I trained to go invisibly solo, or in a very small team, for long periods, to study a large body of prey that grossly outnumbers you, to identify a target among them, then patiently draw closer, considering every detail of the environment, and all the time without the slightest false move, or rustle of underbrush, or snap of a twig that would alert your target and blow the hunt. Then, at the perfect moment, after all this painstaking care and preparation, take one shot to claim your victim and disappear like a ghost, leaving behind just a body.

In that business, location is everything. It begins with an optimal observation post from which one conducts surveillance and target acquisition. That’s what makes STA Platoon the sharp edge of the USMC sword. Along with about a dozen others, I provided that service to the 800 or so regular infantrymen of “The Walking Dead.”

My second conclusion is that, after finding a base at San Clemente that day, Kraft simply went to the beach to unwind. He found me there, a target of opportunity away from my friends—a 5-foot-9, 160-pound, sandy-haired, peach fuzz-faced, and mulishly unreconstructed straight Marine. With my motorcycle and the beach as a backdrop, I was a Randy Kraft pinup boy.

Bagging me was an opportunity too good to let pass. So, there beside the beach, I enjoyed an hours-long command performance from a world-class sociopath, its sole object being that I would unthinkingly follow him up the hill and deliver myself to that room.

I read a German short story many years ago—I’m sorry, the reference eludes me—and I’ve forgotten everything about it except its closing line: “Sometimes, when you open a grave, it only contains dust.” The corollary to this, of course, is that other times it contains much more.

After I discovered my seducer’s identity, I confided to several friends, and wrote several long emails to others to help understand my distress. Those small beginnings, through many revisions seeking answers, became a story—the one you’re reading now.

I found that far from having disintegrated into dust, Kraft remained alive and well and with me through the years and places I’ve been since leaving California in 1980—through college, a tour as a submarine officer, graduate school, a tech career, a marriage, and a son. And the reason I’ve never left him behind is simple: He made me feel special in the most irresistible way. For one impossibly beautiful California afternoon, I was very much in love with him. And I’ve never had another man, before or since, affect me that way.

That’s what Randy Kraft found in me by the beach, the thing that got me up that hill. It could have been drugs, or sex, or money, or his comic book collection; he’d work with whatever he could get. But in me he found the capacity for loving a man, one like him, such as I did that afternoon. When he took that picture of me, I felt cherished, even venerated, and I enjoyed it. Immensely. That’s a difficult truth to face. The little voice saying, “Hey, isn’t this sorta out of bounds?” was no match for being the center of someone’s universe.

And what began as me recounting a horrific anecdote to friends ended up as a love story, one of a most unusual sort. Simply put, that afternoon, we—the serial killer and the young Marine sniper—were perfect for each other. How could I fall in love with Randy Kraft for an afternoon? I still haven’t found the answer within myself. Maybe he’d begun drugging me; suspiciously, the rest of the day is a blackout. But blaming it on Valium would be denial; I already was infatuated enough to follow him up the hill.

The most unsettling aspect is that Kraft is the only man who has ever made me feel that way, to have identified and then acquired that thing in my heart. As I once wondered what loving a man meant, I now wonder what …

I can’t even finish that sentence.

Ultimately, Kraft’s final intentions for me are unknowable. The only proof that he wanted to kill somebody is when he did it. And he didn’t kill me as he did so many Marines who were very much like me.

I’m tempted to speculate, to view this in a way that could help numb at least part of this horror. Maybe we really did connect that afternoon, somehow via his human side, if he has one at all. And so, when I was as vulnerable as an infant in that room, he stayed his hand from my bared neck and quietly watched me, no—and this is no fine distinction—quietly let me depart that room and that afternoon.

You don’t know how much I need to believe something like that, that somehow I was different, that even a Randy Kraft would give me a pass, that if asked, he’d remember that room and that afternoon and say it was such an uncommonly lovely day, and we were having such a grand time as newfound friends, he decided not to ruin it for me, and gave me my life back.

Everyone wants to believe that they are special.


The Photo
Publishing this story raises a question: Was the photograph of writer Jay Roberts among the many pictures—including some of victims and potential victims—in Randy Kraft’s possession at the time of his arrest?

Dan Salcedo of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department was kind enough to locate the warehoused case files to see if a snapshot matching Roberts’ description might be in it.

“Unfortunately I did not locate the photo Mr. Roberts was speaking of,” he wrote in an email. “As I understand it, all photographs located during the searches related to the Kraft case were collected as potential evidence. It doesn’t mean the photo doesn’t exist, but from everything I reviewed, that particular photo was not located or collected as part of the investigation.”

Roberts says he was disappointed, but not surprised. “I had some morbid curiosity about it. But there are tons of unknowns between 1980 and an evidence search today.”
—Martin J. Smith


Click here for photos of writer Jay Roberts today; click here for our fact-checker’s verification chronicle.

For more background, read “Why Isn’t Randy Kraft Dead?” by Patrick J. Kiger, May 2013.


Lettering by Dan Hoopert / Illustration by Polly Becker

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue. – See more at:

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue.

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  • Frank Rubio

    Well since Kraft is still alive and on death row you could be his pen pal and ask him a lot of these questions yourself, could you not Mr. Roberts? (this was one of the best feature pieces I have ever read in OrangeCoast by the way)

    • Jay Roberts

      I have written him and he has not responded. But even if he did, it is unlikely he would engage in that sort of conversation, he still maintains his complete innocence.

      • Ian Olsen

        You are weak let’s defeat evil

  • LeachimX

    This is absolutely magnificent. Kudos.

    Which raises question: Do you even know how perfectly wonderful what you’ve written is?

    • Jay Roberts

      While perfectly wonderful might be a stretch, it would be false modesty for me to say that I didn’t think this was a pretty darn good story. However, this benefited from a ton of beginner’s luck and an incredibly patient & skillful editor – Marty Smith.

      So while I’m quite pleased with it, it is like a lucky mid-court shot and I’d hate for anyone to think that this sort of work is typical of me.

      • rayf

        A pretty darn great story indeed! Thanks for the deep reflections. It is certainly not “just” beginner’s luck, but a very rich coinciding of circumstance, well marinated for decades, with intriguing perspective on the many ways in which we are all hunting and hunted. The best con men prey on our desires and vulnerabilities.
        The nature of love demands such risks. It is rare to have such a clear view of what was escaped. Yet, the buttons in your heart that were pressed that day, still seem to feel their need; to bask in the “specialness” of such a connection. A testament to your humanness and the powerful calculating nature of a heartless prey-or.

  • vonhairdo

    AMAZINGLY well written article. It was fascinating, honest and introspective. Thank you for the good read, Mr. Roberts.

  • Scotland2013

    Fascinating insight and read. It’s unfortunate that you have so many unanswered questions but, equally, it’s fortunate that you are alive and well to have them. Gayle, Scotland, UK

    • Wondering

      “It’s unfortunate that you have so many unanswered questions . . .” I suppose it would have been more fortunate if his ‘unanswered questions’ had been answered by engaging Mr. Kraft. ????????

      By the way, is ‘Scotland’ far from Canada?

      • Steve Skubinna

        It seems that half of Canada is populated by MacKenzies.

      • JustJenna

        You sir, are rude.

  • Andrea

    This story gave me chills. Thank you for writing it. I can relate to what you are feeling. I had a similar type of experience – it was summer of1990 and my parents were away for the weekend. I was 16 and ended up alone in hotel room, drinking beer and playing video games with a guy that ended up raping and killing two girls just weeks later. He was about 40.
    Just because I liked him. I trusted him. I was flattered that he was spending time with me. He was very good looking and very polite. I loved him. He treated me with respect. I spent best part of that day with him. Now when I look back, it makes me sick – if he decided that he wanted to harm me, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I was 5ft4 and 100 pounds. He made some advances, we talked about sex and relationships, he dared me to kiss him(and I did), but when I told him that I was a virgin, he changed. He became nervous and he took me home in a hurry. I remember his words when he dropped me off in front of our house – we could have had so much fun, if you were few years older. Maybe I will come to check on you in a year or so…They arested him few months later. I only learned about this few years ago and it took my breath away…it could have been me easily.

  • james E. Lytle

    I heard quite a few tales of his style of meeting and be-friending people during the Trial and this is puts you right back in the car with him or in your case the hotel room. he was described in two instances (fanchers and Kent Mays, both young boys) as engaging in conversation and getting them to go with him to later drink and take pills he had with him(Valium) that encapacitated them to the point of not being able to fend him off . Both are the two lucky fish that got away and are most likely mortified to this day of their experience with Randy Kraft. Kent more likely worse off since he could of been another (2 in 1) cryptically noted in his Death list but was taken back and dumped out of the car to leave Mr Crotwell to the depths of Krafts Darkness! Not to say Mr. Fanchers experience of being Drugged and Raped was any less Disturding. Glad your still here to talk about it and you are in a select group of Survivors. You said youve tried to write him and got no reply. I tried to see him after the Trial at the Jail before he was shipped off to San Quentin just to see why he still thinks he is Innocent? but was not allowed at the time and have since then requested meetings through his Appeals Attorneys since I have been Questioned a few times about the Trial and my knowledge about Mr Gambrel and my Brother in Laws Party that he was heading to when he was picked up Hitch hiking. but that was all argued over during the trial. But I would still go see him Face to Face Again!

  • Mike

    I believe he did start drugging you. It’s not normal to not remember the rest of the day when it was such a special day for you. You should thank the lucky stars every day you are alive! Wow.

  • Jay

    Fascinating story, and completely believable. Just shows what a cunning sociopath Kraft is, and how disarmingly charming and benign he could appear to his victims. I don’t believe for one second that he “spared” you. A pitiless monster like him wouldn’t have given a second thought to brutally torturing you as soon as you became unable to defend yourself. He was just biding his time. I’m sure he was kicking himself that he let you get away.

    I’ve always found it bizarre how there’s never been any documentaries about this case.

    • Mike Müller

      1970’s – 1980’s society was more than a little bereft when it came to gay men being murdered. Many of Kraft’s victims were presumed to be gay and thus devalued, as male victims are in general. Had his victims been girls or young women, a.k.a. Bundy – we’d be swimming in documentaries and such.

  • J.H.

    “Maybe we really did connect that afternoon, somehow via his human side, if he has one at all.”

    One thing you have to understand about sociopaths is that they are the most charming people, but they don’t have that “human side”, meaning compassion or caring about you at all. So don’t think he wouldn’t have killed you given the chance because that’s where he got his ultimate kick, just like from taking that photograph.

  • Mike

    My dad sent me the link to this story, and even with the backdrop of the beach scene in San Clemente, it’s still creepy. My hypothetical conclusion is that I wonder if you had put up a fight and possible resorted to some type of gay bashing, would he of then did the deed? Maybe the fact you were in his spell and possibly willing to do something, did he not proceed with his stand operation?

    Great read, but made my skin crawl!

  • Merrikat1000

    You’ve examined sexuality (both human and your own) in a way that few are willing to. Really nice article.

  • J Hertzberg

    Fascinating and well-written tale, Mr. Roberts.

    Here’s a chilling story in a similar vein

  • Jay Roberts

    @J Hertzberg

    I just went and read that article. The funny thing was that before I had just answered some questions for an interview. They were very interested in the mechanics and inner game of reconstructing memories like this.

    Then I read the article you recommended. The author really dug into the issue of obscured long ago memories. My article talked a little about this but boy, the author real nails it in that one. I was amazed at how similar our experiences, the inner game of it, had been. About doubting what you remember, doubting yourself, seeking out rapidly fading memories and records.

    I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes this article.

  • Guy

    As a young 21-year old (also only interested in women) I once allowed myself to be somewhat seduced by a similarly older, wealthier, more sophisticated man, and for all the same reasons you mention. After he bought me dinner with lots of wine, I started down the physical path with him once at his place, but I stopped short of what he wanted from me as I realized I just wasn’t into it.

    He was very insistent, and I learned part of what it must be like for so many women who are the targets of smooth, persistent sexual suitors (minus the typical physical power imbalance)… a very good lesson to carry with me.

    Obviously, you have a chilling and amazing story to tell, but let me chime in to add my congratulations on such a wonderfully written, thoughtful work.

    • jane

      I am saddened by the fact that in spite of the advantages being a male may afford, this issue is still kind of taboo and and processing it healthily is frequently avoided out of shame. I think it was just this year (2014) that the FBI changed their definition of rape from being the forceful penetration of a female by a male to an attack that can occur to either sex and perpetrated by either sex in any combination.

      I hope we are moving into an age where the every male, gay or straight, can healthily explore encounters like you mention and like the author mentions without the constriction of emotional fear.

      Male or female, people are people and there are some great manipulators out there. At their most intense, intimate relationships are most tightly bound by emotional connection, and emotions and skilled manipulation know no gender.

  • Kim

    This …has left me in a dissociative state . I can totally comprehend the mental emotional distress . I had to slog through years of it in therapy . Still do sometime . I would suggest a trigger warning for this . It’s a brilliant article , it captures exactly the experience. So much so that it has recreated those moments of my own struggle . Different circumstances , same emotional trauma. Thank you for sharing this beautiful , scary vulnerability .

  • Steve Skubinna

    Maybe we really did connect that afternoon

    I believe you are overthinking this. As a sociopath, Kraft would be adept at gaining his target’s confidence. And what better way to hook a person is to be interested in him? When you were a young Marine hunting girls in dives, how many came on to you? And any that did, how hard would they have needed to work at it?

    Sociopaths are masters at gaining the confidence of others. Obviously Kraft nearly hooked you. Believing another person is sincerely interested in you is tremendously intoxicating.

  • James J

    Very honest and bare report, thanks much. When I was a muscular, tall young Sailor in San Diego, 1984, I’d get propositioned at the trolley, in bars, and one time on a bus bench downtown to “Be in films.”

    Every one of those i’d say “No, thanks, I got a job.” They’d press, and say you can make money, and I’d say “Oh, maybe I made a mistake that first time. I have a KNIFE, and the TRAINING to USE IT. On You. Ask me again, in case you DIDN’T HEAR ME This time.”

    And they’d go away, bitching about what an asshole I was. Who knows where that would have led? I joke to friends these days that I’d have been star in some porn in the valley called “Sailor’s Porthole.”

    Happily married and two 23 year old kids later, I’m glad I didn’t go off with any of those that offered.

    Scary story, J Roberts. Scary.

    You know it and I know it; Closest you ever came to being a statistic, because you were trained for everything else and frosty in the grass. Keep that powder dry. I’m a fan of the old M-14, myself.

  • Nina

    I’m curious Jay, if you have thought about visiting him in prison to have a conversation about whether he remembers you and what made you different from his victims? I see that someone already commented and made mention to being his pen pal and you said you have written with no response. Is it possible to request a visitation? I think not only for you, but to in general get into the mind of a serial killer and what their thought process is. If he was 100% sociopath with no human side, I don’t think he would have been capable of letting you go without a struggle. It sounds like he had every opportunity to have it go that way if he so desired, so I do believe you were different and “special” and finding out what why could be insightful. If he connected with you then, he could again and you could possibly hold the key to his confession. Sounds crazy I realize, but you never know.

    • Jay Roberts

      Had Kraft responded to my letters, it is possible I may have continued with a thread that culminated in a meeting. Or maybe not, it may have seemed so far out that I would have recoiled.

      Since publishing this article, I’ve had several discussions with media people discussing a project for meeting Kraft. My thought is that if someone was able to set it up, I would likely participate, probably both for my own curiosity and for whatever insights other may be able to gain about Kraft & his type.

      But I don’t foresee me independently doing so. Making this discovery was very shocking and hugely disruptive to my life. At some point, one just wants to get back to normal and not be on a quixotic, obsessive journey. I think things for me are getting to that point although I’ll admit that I still have a lot of questions.

    • Ian Olsen

      Could any of you actually beat him up instead of the other way around. If these are our marines – – liking gay experiences and sympathetic toward gay rapists – – Oh my that’s an issue.. How about you tell us what you would have done instead if you knew then what you know now.

  • 0311 3/7

    I came across the story of Kraft a year or so ago and it also sent chills up my spine. While the memories I have of faces from that time are few, I was also at Camp San Mateo (62 area) with 3/7
    from 81 to 83 and I think of some of the strange array of characters that picked me up hitch hiking up PCH whenever I had a chance to get up and stay at some family friends in Laurel Canyon. Dozens of times aggressive and strange folks (mostly white gay males) pulled over and offered a ride. I always declined any semblance of friendliness (or offers of booze and drugs) but there were two very specific occasions that are reminiscent of folks with serious “issues”.

    I was simply amazed that I had never heard of this guy and the authors description of that area being a perfect hunting ground is spot on. I’m still puzzled that there was no command warning based on all these folks going missing…..did they know?

    Anyway, sounds pretty credible to me . I would offer this observation after 30 years of life and experience with some dangerous folks, if it was him, there was no spark of humanity that saved you. It was simply luck and the fact you got the hell of of there before becoming easy prey. Sociopaths don’t offer humanity, and killers of the same disposition offer nothing but death and periods of calm between the next storm.

    • Jay Roberts

      I’ve had a number of discussions with people and thoughts about why there was no warning or cognizance on the part of the Corps at the time about Marines going missing.

      I don’t know how it is now, but when I first enlisted in 1976, shortly after Vietnam, desertion and UA (AWOL in Army lingo for non-USMC/Navy readers) was still quite common. While this had declined significantly by 1980, it was still the default assumption that somebody was AWOL when they didn’t show up for morning formation. And if they didn’t show up for 30 days, the local command listed them as a deserter, reported them to the FBI, struck them from their rolls, and forgot about them. For better or worse, it wasn’t the duty of the USMC to figure out what happened to long-term absentees. And as far as I know, the FBI did little to track them down other than listing them as wanted so their name would turn up in a traffic stop. I don’t remember anyone thinking anything of a scenario other than desertion when a Marine in my unit went missing, which was a common occurrence then.

      This probably all seemed reasonable at the time, since, at least then, it was the truth in the vast majority of cases. Beyond that, even the notion of a serial killer was much less common then than it is now. I don’t think the Corps was knowingly callous – as I was getting out, the USMC was starting to pay a lot of attention to motorcycle accidents, which were claiming a lot of victims & was a readily identifiable problem. Or maybe they were and just assigned lower priority because the victims were assumed to be, if not gay, maybe marginal Marines who had gotten themselves into something that they shouldn’t have.

      So personally, I’m probably like you, somewhat puzzled I didn’t hear about it at the time, but absolutely astonished that I had never heard about it since. I guess Kraft remains at least somewhat known in the local area, the editor of Orange Coast seemed rather surprised that I claimed to never have heard of the guy and grilled me pretty hard on that.

      Anyhow, Semper Fi & thanks for responding. FWIW, I started off at Lejeune with 2/2 as an 0341 in 81’s platoon, we had a relatively better quality of life than you 0311’s in the field but the humping was unbelievably brutal, I don’t miss that one bit.

      • 03113/7

        Semper Fi, back at you Jay

        I am still very puzzled that this guy is still alive and can only guess (?) it has to do with CA politics. While I am against the death penalty in most cases due to so many errors in the past that are being uncovered with modern DNA testing, this case reaches the “no fn doubt” area of law enforcement.

        I actually found this article while looking for something regarding Scout Snipers at Pendleton but saw the reference to Kraft and was immediately interested. I suspect as more and more folks run into this article and other information on the net regarding Kraft over the coming years there will be more than a few others coming forward that saw that mug on PCH or 5.

        What an animal.

        Best to you Jay, interesting darn article

        Semper Fi
        7th Marines San Mateo, 81-83

      • JustJenna

        I was three years old and living at Camp Lejeune in 1981. We lived on Bouganville Drive. My dad was a navy man but it’s still crazy that we were living at the same station at the same point in time and now I’ve run across you on the Internet. Truly a small world. And I’m glad your alive and well.

  • Evan Dean

    A while after reading your article last year, I began to reflect more and more on an odd exchange I had with a man on a beach in San Diego in August of 1980. A friend and I were in town for the Dead concert the following night, and went to a beach to camp. Before retiring, we joined a bonfire circle, about a dozen folks from their teens to mid-20s, with 2 dudes mid-30s, most or all males, an assortment of disparate groups brought together by the blaze, passing pipes, telling stories. The guy to my immediate right was one of the two elders, and he spent the whole time I was there gasping, moaning, rubbing his neck face with his hands, staring out at the dark sea. When I asked him what was on his mind–those were my words, I recall, based on his reply–he said “Death. I’m going to kill myself tonight and I’m going to take someone with me.” My friend overheard this and we hoisted our packs and headed out of there as fast as tact might allow.

    I reasoned later that he was most likely a drama student pranking naive kids like us. However, after reading your article, curiosity lead me to look up photos of Randy Kraft. It’s been 34 years but my memory of that firelit face, mustache, receding hairline, age, build–it all matches too damn well. I’m in no way sure, but it is very eerie. Weird thing is that earlier that same day, while hitch-hiking alone through Orange Co (my friend & I met at the ticket counter that evening), I’d been sternly warned about the killer on the loose, and how I matched his chosen victim type. Well, I didn’t, I was a skinny long-hair, but I didn’t know that at the time. I never put the two together ’til now, at age 52, safely distant in time.

  • Randy

    I believe we all, at one time or another in our lives stare into the jaws of death, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. This is the most wonderfully articulated account of such an event I’ve ever read. Congratulations on your survival, and thank you for sharing your story in such a honest and caring manner.

  • Ari

    Encounters of this sort surely left Kraft frustrated and horny. After all, he lusted for straight white marines and such. These guys would most likely say NO to him.

    So, he would bypass their rejection through beer and valium. A total power game. To the death.

    I sadly bet that the above unfulfilled encounter and its kind fueled further crimes by Kraft The psychopath was not desired by his sober targets. He thus would have them his way. How twisted.

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  • Frank

    Ok, has anyone else noticed that Jay Roberts was the spitting image of Kraft’s 1975 victim Paul Kuchs? It gives me the chills….

  • Frank