Long before the introduction of cell phones, female drivers in California drove the streets after dark exposed to the dangers of the night, and more specifically, the men that targeted them offering them hope while they were at their most vulnerable. Here are 10 terrifying cases in which female motorists throughout California were targeted by men posing as ‘good Samaritans’ back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Robin Ann Graham-
On November 15, 1970 Robin Ann Graham, an 18 year old college student, ran out of gas on a Los Angeles area freeway near the Santa Monica off ramp. At about 2:00 am, Robin phoned her parents from a call box along the highway, and they left home to go help her. While waiting for her parents to arrive, a man stopped to offer assistance, and was witnessed by a police officer. The man described as having dark hair and being in his mid 20’s, was driving a blue or green 1950’s Corvette with primer. The police officer witnessed Robin getting into the man’s car, apparently willingly. When Robin’s parents arrived a short time later, they found Robin’s car locked up and no sign of Robin. Robin was never seen again, and no sign of her or what happened to her ever turned up. The man seen offering her help has never been identified.
Cindy Lee Mellin-
On January 20, 1970 A 19 year old Ventura girl, Cindy Lee Mellin left her job shortly after 9:30 pm. After closing, some of her Broadway dept store co-workers saw her standing besides her car with a man. The car was up on a jack. Her co-workers were not alarmed since they assumed that Cindy had a flat tire, and that her father had come to help her. The man with Cindy was not her father. The next morning at about 7:00 am after awaking to find Cindy had never came home, Cindy’s father raced to her job and immediately found her car still jacked up. The tire that had been removed was still laying on the ground. There was no sign of Cindy. Cindy had vanished without a trace. Subsequent investigation revealed that the sidewall of Cindy’s tire had been deliberately punctured. Over the years, police would come up with a person of interest and theory of what happened to Cindy, but there was never enough to make an arrest. The case remains unsolved today.
On March 20, 1970, a woman named Kathleen Johns was driving from San Bernardino in southern California to visit her sick mother in the SF bay area. Once she drove into the Moedsto area, a man driving behind her started flashing his headlights. Johns pulled over for the man. He walked up to her car and said that her rear wheel was loose and wobbling and that he’d tighten it for her. Thankful, Johns said okay. The man walked back with a tool and started working on her tire. After he was done he told her she was good to go and he drove off. Kathleen started to drive and only made it a few feet before her rear tire fell completely off. The man,still closeby, backed up and offered to give Kathleen and her young baby that was with her a ride to a service station. They drove ashort ways and came to a station but the man drove right by. Kathleen started to get nervous and asked the man why he drove by it. He wouldn’t speak. When he finally did he said phrases like “before I kill you I’m going to throw your baby out the window” or “you know you’re going to die”. This went on for a long while as the man drove around the back roads of the Modesto area. Finally, Kathleen sensed her chance to escape and jumped from the car after he had slowed down. Kathleen ran into a field and hid with her baby. The man got out and started searching with a flashlight before hurrying back to his car and driving off upon being scared off by a truck driving down the road. Kathleen sooned flagged down a car and was taken to a police station to report the encounter. While at the police station, Johns looked at a wanted poster of the Zodiac killer hanging on the wall and told police “that’s the man that attacked me”. When police went to investigate the scene, they finally located Kathleen’s car and found it burned. Oddly,before it was burned, her attacker had apparently put the tire back on the car and moved it to the original spot where she had stopped. To this day,it’s not known if the Zodiac was her attacker, but the Kathleen Johns incident remains linked to the unsolved Zodiac killer case.
Cheri Jo Bates-
On the evening of October 30,1966, Cheri Jo Bates, a Riverside College student went to the college library to study and check out some books. As the library was about to close, Cheri headed out of the library and back to her parked car. When she tried to start it, it wouldn’t start. Just then, an unknown male, came along and offered to help her looking under the hood of her VW bug. He told her he couldn’t start it but apparently offered her a ride. Instead of walking back to the safety of the lighted college, she walked with the man in the opposite direction towards a dark alley along side an abandoned house. At this point, Cheri was savagely attacked with a knife. She was slashed and cut so many times and so severely that she was nearly decapitated. The next day, her body was found by a grounds keeper. Police searched the crime scene and found a few clues including a shoe print, and a watch which may have been torn from her killer during the struggle. Their investigation revealed that somebody had disconnected a wire that kept Cheri’s car from starting. Exactly a month later, somebody mailed a ‘confession’ letter to police claiming they were Cheri’s killer and included details about the attack. The letter revealed no clues or evidence that would help identify the killer. Six months after the murder, the police, the local newspaper, and Cheri’s father, all received handwritten letters that read “Bates had to die, there will be more”. These letters also did not reveal any clues to solve the case,but years later, the Bates case letters and a handwritten poem found on a desk inside the library were all linked by a handwriting expert to the infamous Zodiac killer,and Cheri’s case has remained a very tantalizing piece of the Zodiac puzzle. For nearly 50 years, the Riverside Police dept has denied that Cheri’s case is linked to the Zodiac killer. They have had a favorite suspect that they have been pursuing for decades despite crime scene DNA not matching him.
On April 20, 1972, a woman named Ernestine Terello pulled over for a flat tire near the Ventura freeway in Agoura. Her car was later found abandoned. There was no sign of Ernestine. Police theorized that a good samaritan had offered her help and abducted her. A month later, Terello’s body was found on the Circle X boyscout ranch in the Santa Monica mountains. Her body was fully clothed so sexual assault may not have been a motive. Additionally, she still had on valuable jewelry, so apparently, robbery was also not a motive. This case did not get much press attention and no suspects have ever been mentioned nor have any arrests been made.
Mona Jean Gallegos-
On June 19,1975, Mona Jean Gallegos, a 19 year old Covina girl, was returning home from a friend’s house in Alhambra at about 1am when she ran out of gas near Santa Anita Avenue on the San Bernardino Freeway. Her car was located at about 4:45am but there was no sign of Mona. Police theorized that a motorist had offered Mona a ride to the service station nearby that was open all night, but Mona never made it there. About six months later, Mona’s skeletal remains were found in a Riverside ravine. Mona’s case remains unsolved today.
In May of 1969, Rose Tashman was driving from a friend’s home in Van Nuys to her home in Hollywood when she had gotten a flat tire near the Highway Avenue offramp. Tashman had moved to California from Israel only 7 years earlier and was a student at Valley Junior College. Rose’s car was found the next day but Rose was not. Flares were found set out around her car. The area where her car was found was only a few miles from where Robin Ann Graham would run out of gas 2 years later. At about 6pm, in a bushy ravine off of Mullholland Drive, Tashman’s nude and strangled body was found. This case revealed few clues and is still unsolved nearly 50 years later.
In January,1970, airline stewardess Joy Hungerford of Mountain View was driving on the Bayshore Freeway in the Redwood area when her headlights suddenly went out. She pulled off on the 2200 block of Broadway. A man described as about 30 years old soon pulled up and got out offering to help Joy by fixing her lights. It wasn’t long before the man asked Joy to go with him in his car. Joy,still seated in her car refused and it was then that the helpful stranger pulled a knife out and placed it at her throat and ordered her out. Just at this moment another car passed by and Joy started to scream and honk her horn causing the man to flee. I spoke with Joy a few years ago, and she recounted the night for me. Although a lot of time had passed, she definitely remembered certain things in particular. She recalled that a few days after the attack, she was asked by local police to come in and look at some men in a lineup. She picked out a person she thought was the man who attacked her. Although her memory was fuzzy,she seemed to recall that the man had recently been released from prison but could not remember his name or details of the arrest. She went on to tell me that she was blown away when I reached out to her to discuss these events which happened so long ago. I’m thankful to Joy for taking the time to speak with me.
Series of 1968 ‘Good Samaritan’ attacks in VanNuys area-
In November, 1967, Multiple Van Nuys area women were approached by a man following them and flashing their lights. When they pulled over, the man walked to their car and told them that they had some issues with their back tires. He offered to help them or drive them for help. In some cases he did not go through with an attack, but in others, he atatcked the women, none seriously. The pattern of attacks caused the local police and newspapers to alert the public to watch out for this ruse. Articles alerted female motorists what to do if they were signalled to pull over by a stranger. After several attacks, this man vanished. He was never identified or arrested, and based on how similar the M.O. was to the Kathleen Johns attack, some have theorized that this man may have gone on to later attack Kathleen Johns years later.
The Berkeley incident on Telegraph Avenue-
In the Fall of 1968, on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, two young women were walking when a man pulled along side them and asked if they needed a ride. They declined and gestured to their VW Big parked within sight. The girls walked into a snack shop and stayed there for about 45 minutes before walking to their car. When they tried to start the car, they couldn’t. At about this moment, the man that offered them a ride earlier suddenly showed back up offering his assistance. Seeing this man helping the girls push their car to another out of the way spot, a second man stopped and offered to help. The first man was infuriated and left the scene cursing at the second man who stopped and offered to help. When the second man looked under the hood, he saw that a wire was pulled purposely. This case has been thought to be related to the Cheri Jo Bates case due to the striking similarities.