This post is completely off-topic, but I wish to write about this. It is a very dark, deeply personal tale...
As some background, I was in the USMC from 1976 to 1980 and my last duty station was Camp Pendleton, from December 1979 to the end of August 1980, where I served with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, "The Walking Dead", as a STA platoon scout/sniper. Camp Pendleton is the huge Marine installation in southern California, on the coast between San Clemente and Oceanside.
Last Thursday evening, I was reading something on the web that made a brief and tangential reference to a serial killer who was killing Marines in southern California in the 70's and early 80's. Having been a Marine at Pendleton then, I thought, "How come I never heard of this back then or since then". So I googled up something along the lines of "serial killer california marines 80's" and came up with a fellow named Randy Kraft.
There is plenty of information on the web, the short story is that Kraft is possibly the most prolific serial killer in American history. At a minimum, he likely claimed 67 victims, and some investigators feel he may have killed as many as 100 people between 1971 and 1983 when he was finally apprehended. In addition to his numbers, he is notable for his extreme sadism - he would torture and rape his victims, some feel for as long as a weekend, brutally mutilate them, finish them off by strangling, then dump their bodies along the network of highways in southern California.
He liked to photograph his victims, both when alive and well and during and after his acts, and record his kills in code in a notebook.
In numbers, he far exceeds much more notorious killers such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer.
The cruelties he inflicted on his victims while they were still alive are beyond imagining.
Quite a few of his victims were young Marines, the many others were pickups in bars, random hitchhikers and so forth. Not a lot is known about his methods other than the end product of mutilated, strangled corpses with large amounts of alcohol and Valium or other similar drugs in their bloodstream. One reason is because Kraft, still on death row in California, has maintained his complete innocence to this day. The other reason seems to be that Kraft had a very high kill ratio; there are only a few scattered accounts of relatively brief encounters with him.
This is especially puzzling with respect to his Marine victims, who are young, fit, and often quite aggressive - how did he subdue them? The conclusion is that he won their trust while plying them with beer spiked with Valium and other drugs and waited for them to become incapacitated before proceeding. There is no indication that he struggled to physically overcome his victims.
In person, he was described as a warmly charismatic individual, quite intelligent and prosperous in an IT career, active in the Long Beach gay community and living with a long term partner, who, incidentally, was never implicated in any of Kraft's crimes.
So imagine my surprise when I googled up "serial killers marines 80's california" and upon seeing some image results, my first reaction was, "Oh dear mother of Jesus, that looks exactly like that guy I met...".
And my second reaction, after reading a bit more about this man, was that my picture may well be among the photos that were seized from Kraft when he was finally apprehended in 1983 with a dead Marine in his front passenger seat.
The following is a story that I never told anyone until last Friday. Even though I had no idea that Kraft was a serial killer, it may become clear why I never spoke of this for 33 years.
I don't remember the month exactly, but I'm thinking it have been early in the season in 1980. It was a nice balmy day, but little activity on the San Clemente beach where I was loitering nearby in the parking lot area just looking out at the ocean. I had ridden off-base on my motorcycle. There were few people about and few cars in the parking lot.
Here is the area, it has been reworked a bit since that day:
At some point, a stranger walks up and strikes up a conversation. Older than my 20 years, I would have guessed him 30 or so. Neatly attired in collared shirt, and dark pants/jeans, he gave off the aura of a nice professional yuppie guy, although I'm not sure that word was in use then. Broadly spaced eyes, eyebrows of presence, and a kind of prominent chin, not really massive and jutting, but a quite distinct breakpoint where his chin began below his mouth.
We began casually chatting, he clearly was just lounging, loitering around, enjoying the ocean view as I was. It quickly became clear that he was quite the engaging conversationalist as well as being intelligent and quite pleasant.
He told me he was down from Canada enjoying the beaches and climes of southern California. His speech, a bit soft yet precise, and his general manner, a bit kinder/gentler, fit my stereotype of Canadians and would have been very disarming in the event my guard was up. But I was totally relaxed to begin with, just a lazy day looking at the water.
As we chatted, it became clear we were both enjoying the conversation, so it sort of morphed into a situation where we were two pals hanging out near the beach, enjoying the weather, the conversation, and the new friend we were both rapidly becoming acquainted with.
We sat there talking for maybe as long as several hours. I don't remember what we talked about except that it was everything under the sun - books, current events, traveling, just lively, stimulating conversation. And this guy was such a wonderful fellow, pleasant, attentive, witty, all in a low-key, happy, self confident manner.
We were becoming fast friends and we remarked on this perhaps more than once. That is, isn't wonderful to just come out here next to the sea on such a perfectly fine day and run into someone with whom you immediately hit it off with so well....
Around 4 or thereabouts, seaside time is winding down, a natural time to leave, but neither of us seemed to want to part ways. This guy suggests continuing the conversation just up the hill in his motel room where he has some "good beers". I agreed, being a Marine on liberty, I was always open for a lark, but the truth be told, the far more important factor was I still wanted to continue to hang around this fascinating character.
So I hop on my motorcycle and followed this guy in his dark car up the hill to his room on El Camino Real, the main drag through San Clemente. Interestingly enough (in retrospect, I didn't notice it then) for a Canadian tourist, he took a side street shortcut that I didn't know about. We came up Trafalgar Lane, for some reason I remembered the building with the uneven 2d story side windows and terrace on the left at the intersection with El Camino Real. It was more of a light tan then. I seem to recall that there was a smaller building of similar vintage on the right, but is a KFC now:
We hung a left onto El Camino Real, then another nearly immediate left into the parking lot of the motel where this guy had a room:
It has been converted to small shops and offices, but the original construction as a motel is still obvious. This guy's room was on the second floor, about in the middle of the wing that points towards the El Camino Real (the left wing of the L in the view above). I can point out the exact one.
Nice place, although not swank and not the Hilton, but also certainly no roach motel. Someplace you'd expect somebody like this guy to stay - business class, which was the Ritz-Carlton for me back then.
The room opened up to the left of the door, the head of the king/queen bed to the left and on the right a low chest/table under a large mirror. I seem to remember a briefcase or bag on the low chest, but for a Canadian tourist, he was travelling awfully light, no suitcases about. But like the shortcut, I didn't notice the anomaly 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 beer from somewhere beyond the low chest, a mini fridge or cooler, I don't know.
I remember him handing me, down low, at waist level, like a handshake, the open "good beer" because it was so unusual for a poor junior Marine. Cheap domestic swill usually constituted our grog ration. But this one was a dark green longneck bottle and the somewhat ornate label had a goldish outline, some white letters in an arc and somehow a splash of red in it. He may have told me the brand at the time, but I don't remember this.
So we sat there for a while and continue to engage in vivid conversation, I'm just enjoying the heck out of the whole scenario, this magical afternoon.
Eventually, apropos of nothing, this guy asks 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 non-threatening, there was nothing like "I want to do x with you", it was very abstracted.
Nonetheless, the long delayed giant light bulb finally goes off for dumb naive me. I know all the readers a few paragraphs ago were screaming, "Don't go to a motel room for beers with any stranger, much less Randy Kraft", but I was pretty fearlessly stupid about everything in those days. And homosexuality just wasn't part of my life in the Corps or growing up in Georgia and Ohio, save one or two fleeting/furtive approaches when I was 13 or 14 by dirty old men who met every single negative stereotype and then some.
Gays, especially ones who were normal Joes like this guy, may as well have been Martians to me then. Up until that point, it had never occurred to me for a moment that this man, nor nearly any other one I ever encountered, had anything other than a platonic interest in me.
But even at all that, I normally didn’t go running around to motel rooms with strangers. Or even rarely. Or even ever at all. But that afternoon, I was totally enchanted with this guy by the time we started up the hill. I never gave a moment’s consideration to the idea of not going. We were in the process of becoming just the most wonderful buddies if we weren't already, hardly strangers. We both had already noticed and commented on what a fine friendship we were developing.
So what I didn't do in response to this question is what one would think a young simpleton Marine would, and some would suggest, at least back then, should, do - either jump up and leave, or jump up, punch the guy and then leave, probably with a whole bunch of foul language in either scenario. Maybe even riffle his wallet for good measure....
Nope, just another topic to talk about in the same vein we had been talking about everything else. For one thing, this guy had long since hooked me, I was under his spell and I just wanted to hang out there with him. He truly had a magnetic presence for me at this time.
Nevertheless, while I'm no gay basher, nice tolerant guy, gay sex never had been my bag up until that time and never has been since.
Which I told him, again, all very amicably, just hanging out w/brewskies, chewing the fat.
As an aside, I sort of remember him futzing w/a notebook from time to time, although I don't distinctly recall discussing its purpose. My impression, whether assumed or we did discuss it, was that it was his schedule, to-dos, etc. He was a well-organized guy, that was pretty obvious.
So we go on talking a bit about gay sex, about how he likes it, but I don't. At one point he said, well, actually a lot of Marines like gay sex.
I was pretty surprised at this, but he assured me that that was one of the attractions of this area for him.
Now this flabbergasted me, I had never even gotten a hint of such a thing and I was getting nearly to the end of my 4 year tour. But he assured me that this was true, which I found as yet just another interesting topic in our wide-ranging conversation.
But even more, he assured me he had friends that also did the same, no biggie.
At that point, I was beyond flabbergasted, the idea that sex tourism outside Camp Pendleton cruising for young Marines was a popular Canadian vacation option was utterly inconceivable to me. However, while I couldn't dispute that such a thing might exist - this guy claimed it did and furthermore was at this very moment directly in the process of engaging in it with me, that was undeniable - I did observe that, based upon what I knew about Marines, a plan for approaching them for sex with guys seemed like a very promising strategy for receiving a right proper ass-kicking on a regular and frequent basis. Again, all very academic and friendly in tone, I wasn't subtly threatening this guy by any stretch of the imagination.
He responded to my observation with a line that I remember more than anything else said that afternoon:
"No, you just have to get them away from their friends".
I sort of remember he was glancing at his notebook or looking off into the distance, and it struck me at how casual, confident, and analytic he was about this thought, but also almost as if it were completely obvious, like it was the first rule of picking up Marines that they teach in the Royal Canadian College of Picking Up Marines.
The manipulative implications of this stratagem didn't alienate me at all - it seemed a lot like a precaution someone would take for handling potentially dangerous wildlife, makes sense to be careful in such a situation.
Beyond that, though, I saw that he clearly had an effective plan, exhibit A being me, a genuine Marine, here in this room with him, away from my friends, and things had already proceeded in a fashion I would never have foreseen. And by my reckoning, the chances of him getting even glancingly mangled or mauled by me seemed about zero at most. I definitely had to give him credit for that.
And that made me think maybe this guy might know more, perhaps a lot more, about Marines than I did, an interesting possibility.
Like everything else we had been talking about afternoon, I found it utterly fascinating to learn that people from afar were analyzing Marine behavior in order to maximize their chances of having gay sex with them while concomitantly minimizing their risk of personal harm, which I had instinctively supposed, upon now learning of this constituency and now considering the venture, was quite considerable for the unwary and/or unprepared.
I could sort of relate, as, being a sniper, I was all about target acquisition, stalking, stealth, studying and understanding your prey while protecting yourself in an exposed position where you are grossly outnumbered. And, honestly, I was more than a little gratified to discover that us poor old jarheads were so sought after, by foreigners from Canada even.
By this point, I couldn't tell you how long I had been there or whether I drank more beer. But despite my fascination with this guy, gay sex was just plain not my bag but it was plainly his, we were both pretty clear on our respective positions, albeit friendly about the whole issue.
We did discuss what this meant in our developing friendship, this guy very gently rooting for me to give it a try, at least once simply in the spirit of inquiry, me opining that we could be just friends, that could possibly be okay too.
Eventually, while meandering through various unrelated topics, it was clear we were nearing an impasse on this point, and although surprisingly few warning lights were going off about how I shouldn't really be sitting around in a motel room, swigging beers and talking with a total stranger, well, a male one anyhow, about sex between us (academically, not graphically - for the record, this guy was a perfect gentleman throughout, never once touched me, hovered, leered, etc, I felt perfectly comfortable in my physical space), I started mentioning that maybe I should go.
So the polite sex talk veers off into something else, and my urge to leave diminishes for a while, but eventually, I decide I really should go anyhow.
Now the interesting part of this is that I felt I should go because I was thinking maybe I led this guy on by agreeing to come up to his room and it wasn't fair to him for me to be sitting there being a total tease. Quite surprisingly, I actually felt like I was wronging this guy as opposed to the other way around. I remember, even as this was happening, being quite aware and surprised at the anomaly of this. I was pretty astonished that, a gay dude had, on the face of it, lured me into a motel room, made advances, and here I was, feeling bad for him because I’m rejecting these advances.
But I did, I sincerely did. I well knew I hadn’t been lured by any stretch of the imagination and the sex stuff just seemed to be a small part of our developing friendship. Nonetheless, I remember, in addition to my fascination with this guy, starting to become fascinated with how I was reacting and conducting myself in this rather unusual, for me, situation.
Me, I had no personal desire to leave at all, I really liked the guy, I was still quite comfortable in my skin and was not repelled at all.
I think we discussed my anomalous reactions and feelings, that kept me there a while longer, then I brought up leaving again. I think this went back and forth a few times, I don't remember. The conversation drifted around, the specifics are vague.
Finally, I make a pretty earnest, sincere effort to leave, and this guy asks if he could at least take a picture of me as something to remember this wonderful afternoon and our wonderful friendship.
I say sure, of course, and stand up in front of the mirror at the foot of the bed, he's on the bed. He asks me to take my shirt off, in the wide eyed and earnest manner kids do when supplicating for a special treat like staying up late or extra sauce on their sundae. So I pulled off my shirt and he snaps the picture.
During this interchange was about the only time this guy's demeanor changed. While he remained his pleasant, warm self, he got a slight hint of neediness and standing shirtless before him and his camera I sensed a powerful worship of my young Marine self. Not really the body or my physique but rather the whole package of me as young Marine as an icon.
So things are getting a little foggy, but I seem to remember standing next to him admiring the photo, black and white, of me with my shirt off in front of the mirror, turned slightly. And I'm still there in the room and my shirt is off.
I linger a little, again, I just so hated to go. Finally, this guy suggests, another pic? Maybe with your belt loosened a bit?
Something clicked at that suggestion. Not a five alarm firebell, just the awareness that having already crashed blithely through all sorts of boundaries, that if I stayed there, I would inevitably end up doing something that I'd really prefer not to. That was exactly my thought, it was sort of abstracted and one level removed, as had everything or anything else sexual in the whole afternoon. And it was sort of a gentle idea at that point, that what possibly lay ahead were things that I'd prefer not to, rather than things about which I'd have huge and unshakeable objections.
"Prefer not to" was a dramatic de-escalation about things that maybe 4 or 5 hours ago, before we had met, had been a vehement, "no way Jose, not on your life and if you touch me I'll break your arm" after taking out the liberal peppering of obscenities it would contain.
I understood that the whole tide was moving in that direction, towards things I'd prefer not to, and "prefer not to" probably was going to get downgraded to a lower standard that would also continue to get lowered. And I had been sporadically saying for a good long while that I was leaving but, you know, I wasn't leaving. If I was going to leave, I actually had to leave, not just sort of have a vague desire to do so that really was just a hollow protestation providing me cover to stay.
Ultimately, my preference for leaving was only slightly stronger than my desire to stay in this room with this guy, the downside being the possibility of having to deal with things I'd prefer not to.... But it did prove stronger at that moment.
So I declined the next picture, and took my leave. Not abruptly, but decisively. This guy throughout had been a warmly pleasant and eternally patient guy. I'm scared to admit it, but if he had held off on that next suggestion for a bit longer, the process would have continued, the ground game relentlessly moving the ball up the field. "Prefer not to" would eventually be long gone in the rearview mirror.
As it was, it took a huge, supreme act of willpower to actually force myself to turn to leave. As I did so, I remember this guy looking at me silently with an expression I can only characterize as winsome disappointment. I felt awfully sorry for him, he was such a good guy. Pity that gay sex just wasn't my thing. But "prefer not to", mild as that may be, and still in effect, was still no.
I walked out into the fading California sunshine, it was that time of day where the sun is low enough to cast the first hint of the vivid gold tones that grace stucco buildings during a California sunset. So maybe it was pushing 6:00 or so. As I walked down the steps, I even thought of going back, saying, aw heck, lets shoot the shit some more, sorry for screwing up the afternoon. I had to command myself, "Get on your bike and leave". It is trite to say this, but my head was actually reeling.
I got on my bike, turned right out of the parking lot onto El Camino Real in the direction of Pendleton. It felt as if the earth were rocking like a ship in the seas.
As I proceeded south, I looked over my right shoulder back at the motel, our room's window was visible along this wall colored with a hint of the sunset to come. I'm not sure what I expected to see, but I remember a mental image envisioning this guy sitting in our room alone with his notebook in his lap, his legs crossed, gazing slightly downwards, off to the side, looking a little dejected and deep in thought, his eyes blank. It wasn’t hard to imagine him sighing.
My thoughts were as cluttered as random static on the radio.
I looked forward again, gunned the bike a little and I remember absolutely nothing further about that day other than a glance down the road ahead.
To say that I was one woefully confused devilpuppy after that afternoon would be an understatement of epic proportions. Just for starters, I had posed for a cheesecake photo in a motel room drinking beer with a guy who I just adored, who freely acknowledged he wanted to get into my pants, would like nothing more than that. There was a whole lot of explaining to do for that alone, and even without the photo, what was I doing up there in that motel room in the first place with aforesaid guy with the professed hots for me.
This most-fucking-assuredly, to employ a Marine term of art, was not a post-liberty tale for my STA platoon sniper pals back at 1st Battalion, 9th Marines aka "The Walking Dead".
But beyond the raw facts and potential embarrassment, I scarcely had terms or concepts to describe the scenario much less understand it. While nothing was arousing in a sexual manner about the whole episode, I had been drawn in by something that seemed as powerful, mysterious, and as inevitable as sexual attraction. Perhaps this guy saw something in me that I didn't acknowledge myself?
My DefCon level had been clearly demonstrated, via incontrovertible field testing, to be movable clear down to "prefer not to", and there is no guarantee that even that feeble inhibition constituted my absolute bottom limit for this sort of circumstance.
So when I turned right out of the parking lot onto El Camino Real, was I fleeing this guy or that potential something in myself.
Given the scenario and the facts, it seemed hard to deny that there was at least some basis to support an arguable case for the latter. And of course, there was just this incredible attraction I had experienced for this guy's presence, the far most curious aspect of the whole affair.
There weren’t any honest answers to any of these questions that did much to ease my mind.
Thus began a process of mild denial, hedging, and minimization. I really wasn't in the room all that long. The gay sex stuff came up pretty quickly after only a few swigs of beer. We had a brief chat about picking up Marines and I rapidly said I had to go. As I was leaving, he caught me off guard asking for a photo, and even further off guard by quickly asking me to take off my shirt, which I did sort of unthinkingly in the rush of things. Then as I was leaving, he asked for another photo with the belt business, but I was already leaving and just walked off.
The facts remained largely the same, but slight changes in degree and emphasis started relieving my conscience. And, oh yeah, maybe we were just stopping by the motel room briefly on the way to somewhere else, maybe to grab a bite to eat, surely we mentioned something like that during our long conversation beachside...
A tweak here, a tuck there, and along with the passage of time, things became a little more livable. Eventually, I thought about it less and less. Nonetheless, it always remained this oddly powerful experience in my remembrances and even though I could live with the experience in its detuned edition, I never told a soul about that afternoon.
As for that guy, I bore him no ill will at all. I actually thought quite highly of him for being such a proper gentleman and such stimulating company and all and put it to bed with, well that would have been a wonderful friendship were it not for that pesky gay/straight complication.
Finally of course, there was always that mortifying photo out there, sometimes I would have some deliciously vague dread that this would turn up some day at an inopportune moment during my Presidential campaign or somesuch.
But as the years passed, I even thought of that less and less.
When I googled about SoCal marine serial killers last Thursday, my afternoon with that guy couldn't have been further from my thoughts. However, I recognized Randy Kraft immediately - the chin, the eyes, the eyebrows, the expressions. I just couldn't believe I recognized him as that guy.
You blink, you look again, you look at other photos. You wonder if you are being melodramatic, if your recollection is faulty. You wonder if people will believe you, that they will 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 (I still don't know if such a thing exists, but it wouldn't surprise me). You realize that to be true to your story and yourself, you can't let what what you are now reading create false recovered memories.
So while I always remembered that afternoon as an oddly unique and powerful event that I still perhaps had unsettled, albeit long unvisited, issues with - I still had never told anyone about it - it was utterly surreal, the notion that I had spent this wonderful, if confusing, afternoon with one of the most prolific and brutal serial killers in American history.
I was (and still am, truth be told) reeling just as I was that day exiting the motel parking lot to head south on El Camino Real. How is this possible? I rapidly read a lot of the literature on Randy Kraft and between the gruesome parts, every single thing I read concurred with with that guy even though I already knew beyond any doubt that Kraft was that guy when I saw the picture.
The charm and intelligence, mannerisms, the mode of dress, the control, the patience, the wit, the caring, the Moosehead beers (the label matches my foggy recollection) and on and on. It was like reading about a long ago acquaintance rather than a stranger, because, bizarrely enough, I was.
I was even Randy Kraft's "type" of Marine he apparently preferred, according to some accounts of his taste in jarheads.
And of course, the photos, some of healthy, living Marines apparently enjoying his company prior to his unspeakable deeds, and some of whom remain unidentified. I think the reader understands my questions about this. First, any ideas about how long would he save them? If the answer is at least 3 years, got one of a jarhead sniper with his shirt off in front of a mirror in a motel room? He has a USMC tattoo on his left bicep, although that isn't too distinguishing of a characteristic given the circumstances. And how does one go about getting an answer to questions like that?
I spent a few days getting myself to accept that this really happened. And in my reading, I rapidly noticed the paucity of "close call" stories - I was specifically looking for something with which to compare notes. A few hitchhiker tales where the would be victim bailed fairly rapidly, that seems to be the extent of the literature. For someone who killed as much as Kraft, one thinks there would have been more mishaps along the way.
And while I'm still in a state of semi-disbelief about this new information about an old event, I've started revisiting the afternoon with the question of how did a bloodthirsty psychopath rather than a horny gay guy get me into his room. The only slightest hint I got of any sociopathology would have been his remark of "You just have to get them away from their friends". And that is really only in looking back. While it struck me as a bit odd at the moment, it seemed just indicative of a man with a plan, not necessarily a bad thing.
Oh, and here is an interesting thing about that motel. I noticed that it is only about a block or two from an on ramp to Interstate 5 south towards Pendleton and a prime spot for Marines hitchhiking back to base after an evening of liberty, maybe already primed up with some alcohol. That got me thinking and thanking google earth:
From the on-ramp:
Maybe I'm overanalyzing and it is just an extraordinary coincidence that our hotel (to the right), has a great view of the on-ramp where there may be Marine hitchhikers, especially from the second floor.
And maybe it is only a coincidence that despite all the motels in San Clemente (there are tons...), this is the only one with a view of this on ramp, again, a primo one for Marines returning from liberty.
Now, I'm not a detective, but I am a former Marine sniper so I shivered when I noticed this. I also verified, playing around with google earth, that the second floor of that motel has a clear line of sight for virtually the entire length of the on ramp, especially for the important shouldered section where Marine hitchhikers would be located. It is completely unique in that regard. So not only is it the absolutely the perfect place to monitor as much of the onramp as possible with maximum discretion and stealth, there isn’t even any other contender, one that Kraft could access, such as a motel, that you could even consider as any sort of viable alternative.
This motel is a dream come true for scouting tipsy Marine hitchhikers, for surveillance and target acquisition, an ideal encampment for Kraft when he was of a mind for killing Marines.
I've come to understand that Kraft would disappear for several days, nobody would know where he went other than him muttering a few things about going down to try to pickup Marines.
Perhaps he had various places like this scoped out? My theory on how we perhaps met is he got settled into his room - it appeared fresh and cleaned - but it was still a little early for hitchhikers, especially drunk ones. As a committed beach bum, he cruised down to hang at the beach, and lo and behold, there I am, target of opportunity on a lazy afternoon, away from my friends, and his type of Marine.
In any event, he certainly knew the side street route from this motel to the beach, which, again, I didn't. And he seemed to know it quite well, proceeding at a rather brisk pace so that following him even on a large, fast Japanese motorcycle provided the afternoon with yet another dash of exhilaration.
Randy Kraft apparently never pulled a gun, never seems to have attempted to get the jump on his victims, and he seems to have only rarely struck out. In the few cases I've been able to find, this seemed to have mostly happened shortly into a would-be victim's encounter with him, when Kraft is still just some stranger.
So how did he keep them, or me really, I can only speak for myself, engaged long enough to get them drunk, drugged, and incapacitated on such a repeatable basis? To understand this, I have to understand how any man, forget the serial killer part, I knew nothing of this that afternoon, could cause me to take leave of my senses and follow him up the hill to that room.
And then once there, revealed as gay and wishing to seduce me, a mulishly unreconstructed straight man, keep me there, fully aware of his desires, enchanted and transfixed and engaged in the process, and who would have succeeded in his goal were it not for relatively trivial misplay in timing.
This is where I left that guy 33 years ago, the afternoon first gently whitewashed then buried beneath a callus of time.
Many years ago, I read a German short story, I’m sorry, the reference eludes me, I’ve forgotten everything of it except its unforgettable closing line, “Sometimes, when you open a grave, it only contains dust”. But other times it doesn’t, and the revelation of Kraft as serial killer, the enormous disquiet I have felt as a result of this, suggests that Kraft as man and then Kraft as gay man have both remained quite alive and well and with me through the years, just muted with soothing rationalizations and bound with my comfortable self-delusion.
The simple, though excruciatingly painful, admission I’ve had to make to myself is that Kraft simply swept me off my feet and made me feel special in the most irresistibly seductive way. And even that, my friends, is a euphemism, a hedging of the fact that, for one impossibly beautiful California afternoon, I was very much in love with Kraft, absolutely smitten, the nub of the issue that I’ve been avoiding first for 33 years and then through the many preceding drafts of this tale, each revision peeling off a yet another layer of self-deception until only the truth remained, that a tale that began as a recount of an unnerving incident has ended as a love story of the most unusual sort.
On and off base, I was just another jarhead, indistinguishable from thousands of others. And like many of them, from a broken home, troubled background, again like so many young Marines, where nobody ever made me feel special like that. So it was intoxicating, really, to be at the center of that guy's attention. By the time I followed him up that hill to the room, I was putty in his hands, I thought he was the swellest guy in the world.
Even though gay sex is not my preference, I was flattered that such a obviously together guy would devote so much effort and consideration towards me. And he was scrupulously respectful, no leering, "accidental" touching, brushing, no innuendo or off color jokes, nothing, not once over the course of the afternoon. Despite our discussions about sex, nothing was graphic, clinical, nor descriptive. It was as G-rated as the topic can possibly get.
He accorded me perfect dignity, again something one does not get overloaded with as a low ranking Marine grunt.
When he took that picture of me, I felt cherished, even venerated, and I enjoyed it. Immensely. That is an extremely difficult truth to own up to. The little voice saying, "Hey, isn't this a little out of bounds?" was no match for the sense of being the center of someone's universe.
I'd like to think the belt was an uncrossable boundary, and in the intervening years had convinced myself it was, but in actuality I had already crossed so many other boundaries, it would have been, at the right moment, which was not to be long in coming, just as flimsy as the ones preceding it. Although mine that afternoon was a platonic love, which, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, is every bit as attractive as erotic love, lovers of any persuasion do many things, anything under the sun, that they’d otherwise prefer not to please their beloved. It is practically definitional.
When I left that room, I was dizzy and confused and overwhelmed. Perhaps he had begun drugging me - the rest of the day is a complete blackout, that's a bit suspicious. But blaming things on Rio or Valium is more denial - I suspect that under any circumstances, I would have been overwhelmed by the experience. I was already infatuated with this guy beside the beach (where we partook of nothing save the fresh sea breeze and the California sunshine). Why else would I have followed him up the hill to that room?
Kraft seemingly aimed for the ultimate in sadism, in body count, in absolutely depraved utter cruelty. I'm no criminal psychologist, but perhaps Kraft found that while being mutilated and tortured is an unspeakable horror beyond imagining, having it done by someone you love, a special one, makes it just a tiny bit worse. So possibly winning the victim’s heart not only served the tactical purpose of allowing drink and drugs to take affect, but also to enhance the cruelty of the endgame.
Again, I can only speculate, but that guy seemed to lay it on far, far beyond what would seem necessary for simply getting me through a few spiked beers. That could have been accomplished maybe even beside the beach with a lot less effort and far greater certainty of success. Hand me a spiked beer or two there, when I'm woozy enough, pack me in the car and help me stumble into his room. No need for an hours-long romantic dance where I may just get pushed a bit far on a belt issue and bolt...
Perhaps a bigger game was on, one I or you can't even imagine even though we may be playing in it. Maybe he liked a slow languorous hunt on occasion, see how close to the edge he could play it. He is a longtime Bridge player, it turns out.
I’ll never know the rules of Kraft’s game or games, but what I learned from Kraft the serial killer, once I achieved honesty with myself about Kraft the man and then Kraft the gay man, is that love, my love at least, can easily and unwittingly become ensnared by evil.
What I haven’t learned yet is whether I am the better or worse for that knowledge. Life did seem much simpler without it but it is still early.
Ultimately, and as this narrative closes, I really can make no claims at all about Kraft’s intentions for me. The only irrefutable proof that Randy Kraft wanted to kill you was when he did it and he didn't kill me. That being said, he killed squads of young Marines exactly like me, his type, away from their friends, winning their trust while passing them beers.
The thought that I sat and enjoyed such a pleasant, no, the truth please, such a singularly magical afternoon where my heart had been won, where the object of my affection wished with every fiber of his being to brutally murder me, or people exactly like me in the least case, in the most savage and bloodthirsty fashion and possessed the well proven ability to do so with ease remains yet unmoored, a derelict vessel careening about with a toxic cargo.
One is tempted to speculate, to view this in way that could help numb this horror - maybe he decided I was a nice guy, we really did connect that afternoon, somehow via his human side, if he had one at all, and so when I was, unbeknownst to me, squarely in his crosshairs, a clear and ridiculously easy kill as well as a high value target, his type of Marine in precisely every regard, in which he had invested hours of stalking and who was long since as good as dead the moment the slightest fancy struck, 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 respond, yes, it was such an uncommonly lovely day and we were having such a grand time as new found friends, he decided he didn’t want to ruin it for me and gave me my life back.
Everyone wants to believe that they are special.
If anyone reading this can provide assistance or advice in determining or how to go about determining whether my photograph was amongst the items seized from Kraft those many years ago, please feel free to contact me.