Little did an Oceanside historian know, when she was researching the history of the longtime exclusive beachfront neighborhood of St. Malo, that she would run across perhaps the first murder of California’s infamous Zodiac killer.
Kristi Hawthorne, the events coordinator for the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, is a published historian, investigating Oceanside’s long-told rumors, stories, and myths.
A patrolman discovered the body of Davis in a St. Malo alley.
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
In 2018 she began researching the midcentury-built enclave of St. Malo, a gated neighborhood at the beachfront end of South Pacific Street. She stumbled upon an item labeled, “rich people killing each other.”
“I thought this would be juicy,” she told me.
She found mentions of an Oceanside Checker Cab driver, Ray Davis, being murdered in 1962. Further research from news stories in the now defunct Oceanside Blade newspaper found the unidentified murderer, on April 9, 1962, called the Oceanside Police Department stating, “I am going to pull something here in Oceanside and you’ll never be able to figure it out.”
Two nights later, at 11:10 pm, the cabbie radioed his dispatcher that he was taking a fare from his Mission Avenue taxi stand to the South Oceanside area. He was never heard from again.
In the early morning hours following, a patrolman discovered the body of Davis in an alley in St. Malo, with two bullet wounds. His bloodied cab had one shot fired through the windshield and was found hours later in the 400 block of South Pacific Street.
A few days after the murder, the supposed perpetrator called the police department again. He knew details of the cabbie’s murder, and stated he was next going to kill a bus driver. For the next three days, Oceanside police officers and military police from Camp Pendleton were placed aboard every city bus. No further incident occurred.
“I was the first one to put this together [possible connection to the Zodiac killer],” Hawthorne said.
The Zodiac killer plagued Bay Area cops from late 1960s to the early 1970s, phoning police and sending taunting letters to authorities and the press of his horrible crimes. He had five known victims, but claimed 37. He stated he was unstoppable, nor would police ever capture him. He was right.
Hawthorne discovered that the Oceanside cabbie was murdered with the same type weapon, a 22-caliber pistol, which the Zodiac killer used years later. She also learned the Zodiac’s first threat in the Bay Area was to kill a busload of children – the bus being similar to the threat in Oceanside.
In one taunting letter to Bay Area police, Zodiac claimed he had killed many undiscovered victims in Southern California. Hawthorne reported Zodiac killer expert Tom Voigt has always credited the Davis murder was the work of Zodiac.
Another San Diego murder, that of Johnny Ray and Joyce Swindle on the boardwalk in Ocean Beach in February, 1964, bore resemblance to a Zodiac murder.
“When I first called OPD in 2018, my biggest concern was that they’d think I was a crazy person.” She says Oceanside police’s cold-case investigator, Tom Heritage, took her seriously. “The case was so old, their cold case list only went back to the 70s,” Hawthorne said.
A week later Heritage called her with news they had found the Davis murder file, with crime scene photos. “Of course they can’t share them,” Hawthorne said, but she found images from other sources for her recently published expose in the September/October issue of the O’sider Magazine.
Reportedly, Oceanside’s cold-case investigators say the opening of the Davis murder file has sparked interest from the law enforcement detectives and crime analysts from around the state. Investigator Sylvia O’Brien will enter old fingerprint cards collected from the scene in 1962, into the FBI’s high-tech Fingerprint Identification System, knowing this may be their last chance to solve this case.