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Episode 556: The Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders

Morbid

18-04-2024 • 1 hora 14 min

On the evening of February 4, 1972, middle school friends Maureen Sterling and Yvonne Weber left their homes with a plan to hitchhike to the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in Santa Rosa, California—it was the last time either girl would be seen alive. Nearly one year later, the bodies of Maureen and Yvonne were discovered at the foot of a steep embankment in a rural part of Santa Rosa, identifiable only by the jewelry Maureen had been wearing the night she left the house.


By the time the remains of Sterling and Weber were discovered, three other young women from the Santa Rosa area had gone missing or been found murdered, all of whom had been seen hitchhiking just prior to their disappearance. In time, law enforcement officials would link Sterling and Weber’s murders to the other three woman discovered in 1972, and three others that occurred in the year that followed, all believed to have been killed by the same man or men.


The Santa Rosa hitchhiker murders, as they’re informally known, are one California’s most perplexing cold cases in the state’s history. In addition to the eight women believed to be victims of the same killer, there are several others who disappeared under similar circumstances and could potentially be additional victims. Although there have been several theories as to who was responsible for the deaths, including Ted Bundy and the Zodiac Killer, there has never been any evidence to positively identify the killer.


Thank you to the brilliant David White, of the Bring Me the Axe podcast, for research!


References

Cook, Stephen. 1975. "Death census--young women, hitchhikers, strangulation." San Francisco Examiner, April 25: 24.

Dowd, Katie. 2022. "Search continues for Bay Area serial killer who murdered at least 7 women and girls." San Francisco Chronicle, March 13.

Fagan, Kevin. 2011. "Ted Bundy a suspect in Sonoma County cold cases." San Francisco Chronicle, July 7.

Johnson, Julie, and Randi Rossmann. 2011. "40-year-old mystery." Press Democrat, July 29: 1.

LaFever, Matt. 2022. 49 years ago, a southern Humboldt woman was killed on her way home for Christmas. July 21. Accessed March 13, 2024. https://mendofever.com/2022/07/21/49-years-ago-a-southern-humboldt-woman-was-killed-on-her-way-home-for-christmas-by-the-santa-rosa-hitchhiker-murderer/.

Press Democrat. 1974. "FBI says nylon rope little help in slaying investigation ." Press Democrat, January 10: 3.

—. 1972. "Female hitchhikers and the pain of Kim's mother." Press Democrat, April 27: 1.

—. 1972. "Femnale hitchhikers and the pain of Kim's mother." Press Democrat, April 27: 1.

—. 1972. "Hitchhiking SRJC coed is missing." Press Democrat, April 27: 1.

—. 1972. "Lawmen say woman's killer could be injured." Press Democrat, March 9.

—. 1972. "Slain woman was tortured; no identity yet." Press Democrat, March 8.

Reid, James. 1973. "$2,000 offered in death of girls." Press Democrat, January 3: 1.

—. 1973. "Another slain girl found east of SR." Press Democrat, August 1: 1.

—. 1973. "Who is the slain girl found off county road?" Press Democrat, August 2: 1.

—. 1975. "Zodiac theory doubted." Press Democrat, April 24: 1.

Rossmann, Randi. 1989. "Police don't like to give up on slayings." Press Democrat, March 5: 1.

Saludes, Bony. 1973. "Bodies identified as two missing SR girls." Press Democrat, Janaury 1: 1.

Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. 1972. Female Homicide Victims Report (Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders). Law enforcement, Santa Rosa, CA: Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

United Press International. 1973. "Officers seek link in deaths of 5 girls." Los Angeles Times, August 17: 3.

Volkerts, Art. 1972. "Secret witness--can you help solve a crime?" Press Democrat, December 27: 1.

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