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Murdered but Not Forgotten

Were They Victims of Zodiac Killer?


TWO YOUNG COUPLES: They call two of Santa Barbara County’s unsolved murders “cold cases,” but, after more than four decades, warm memories of the young victims are held close to the hearts of friends and families.

On June 4, 1963, it was “Senior Ditch Day” at Lompoc High School. So football star Robert Domingos, 18, and his fiancée, Linda Edwards, 17, decided to head for a remote beach near Tajiguas to sunbathe.

They were to graduate in a couple of days and planned to marry, but it was not to be.

Barney Brantingham

On the night of June 21, 1970, there was a full moon. Sandra Garcia, 20, a Bishop High graduate and Santa Barbara City College student, and her fiancé, John F. Hood, 24, of Oxnard, a decorated Vietnam veteran, took a blanket down to East Beach. “We won’t be gone long,” they said as they left the Garcia home.

Perhaps they were gazing at the heavens when a knife-wielding attacker took them by surprise.

The two slayings at area beaches, years apart and apparently unrelated, would seem to be random killings, the young couples unlucky targets of opportunity. But some suspect that the murders may have been the work of the notorious Zodiac Killer, blamed for a series of Northern California slayings. He’s never been identified.

No positive Zodiac connection has ever been found. “I’m familiar with the Zodiac rumor,” Santa Barbara Police Lt. Paul McCaffrey told me. Although not an officer when the East Beach murders of Garcia and Hood occurred, McCaffrey did follow-up work later and talked to San Francisco detectives. “They said the Zodiac case had been blown up [larger than life] in the public imagination.”

“There was also all that speculation that it was the Manson gang,” recalled Santa Barbaran JoAnn Schwendtner, Garcia’s close Bishop High chum. You can find attempts on the Internet to link the Manson family to the murders: suspicion but no evidence.

However, one member of the Manson “family,” Robert Kenneth “Bobby” Beausoleil, was born in Santa Barbara. He’s now serving a life sentence for killing music teacher Gary Hinman in 1969, supposedly at Manson’s direction, over a money squabble possibly involving drugs. Beausoleil has denied any involvement in any other Manson murders. No Manson connection with the Santa Barbara beach murders has ever surfaced.

“Sandy was a very nice girl, soft-spoken,” Schwendt­ner recalled. “She was my ride to college. The entire 1968 Bishop graduating class went to her funeral.” Schwendtner said she talks frequently with the family about Sandra. “Whenever I go to a funeral, I think about Sandy a lot because she did not [get to] live her life.”

Sandra and John’s blanket-covered bodies were discovered the next morning. Both had been beaten and repeatedly stabbed with a bone-handled knife police found at the scene. “She was mutilated almost beyond recognition” by the ferocious attack, Schwendtner said. Hood was stabbed 11 times in the face and back, police said.

Not only has clinical psychologist Dr. John Averitt never forgotten his Lompoc High classmates Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards, but he recently finished a video documentary about the murders. “Some investigators now believe the case may have been the beginning work of the so-called Zodiac killer,” he told a Tennessee newspaper, the Cookeville Herald-Citizen, in a recent interview.

Averitt, who is in private practice and also serves as a Cookeville police sergeant, has made a study of the Domingos-Edwards slayings. “I believe the murders were the work of the Zodiac killer, but I can’t prove it,” he told me by phone this week. Circumstantial evidence, including similarities to later known Zodiac murders, points to these as apparently the first Zodiac attack, Averitt said.

“I was just a sophomore that year, and Bobby and Linda were seniors.” Domingos was a star guard on the football team when Averitt was a junior varsity player.

On that sunny day 48 years ago this week, Domingos and Edwards, wearing swimsuits, spread a blanket on the sand near the water.

According to what I’ve learned, investigators believed the two were confronted by an assailant armed with a .22 caliber weapon, probably a rifle. He had brought with him several lengths of pre-cut cord, which he ordered Linda to use to tie Robert. But Robert, a strong youth from a ranching family, was able to free himself, and the pair ran for their lives. The killer gave chase and shot them numerous times.

He then dragged their bodies into an old shack nearby and tried but failed to burn it down. His motive for the attack? Rape? No, said Averitt. “He was a power killer,” motivated by “control.”

When students learned of the deaths, “The whole school was in shock.” Averitt said he hopes the video may generate a tip that might help solve the case. It can be seen on YouTube by typing in “John Averitt.”

“I am not making any money from this documentary,” he said. “I just want to keep the memory of my friends alive and maybe motivate somebody out there who knows something to come forward.”

Meanwhile, Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards, and Sandra Garcia and John Hood, sleep the eternal sleep.

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