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Goleta Teen’s Rebellion 35 Years Ago May Have Saved Her from Prolific ‘Golden State Killer’

Debbi Domingo remains committed to finding identity of serial predator, also known as the 'Original Night Stalker,' who brutally murdered her mother in summer of 1981

Cheri Domingo and Greg Sanchez were brutally murdered on July 27, 1981, in Domingo’s home on Toltec Way in Goleta by the Golden State Killer. Domingo’s daughter, Debbi, remains committed to finding the killer, who is a suspect in some 45 rapes and 12 homicides.
Cheri Domingo and Greg Sanchez were brutally murdered on July 27, 1981, in Domingo’s home on Toltec Way in Goleta by the Golden State Killer. Domingo’s daughter, Debbi, remains committed to finding the killer, who is a suspect in some 45 rapes and 12 homicides. (Domingo family photo)

If not for a dose of teenage defiance 35 years ago, Debbi Domingo might never have made it to her 16th birthday, let alone be a happily married mother and grandmother today.

“I was a pretty rebellious teenager,” Domingo said, recalling the summer of 1981. “Mom had been trying to put the hammer down.”

The then-15-year-old and her mother were living in a relative’s Goleta home, which was up for sale.

After a spat with her mother, Domingo had run off and gone to stay with a friend in Santa Barbara, an act of rebellion that may well have saved her life.

She was not home two weeks later, on the night of July 27, 1981, when a serial killer — later dubbed the Original Night Stalker and the Golden State Killer — broke into the residence on Toltec Way and brutally murdered her mother, 35-year-old Cheri Domingo.

Also killed was Gregory Sanchez, 27, Cheri’s longtime on-again, off-again boyfriend, who apparently had stopped by to say goodbye before moving out of state.

In a recent interview with Noozhawk, Domingo exuded a quiet calmness that belies the personal challenges she faced for years in the aftermath of that traumatic night. She spoke matter-of-factly about the horrific crime that forever changed her.

“With her death, and the tragic way she died, her murder really hit home to me that bad things do happen to good people, and we are not promised a future,” Domingo said of her mother. “So I stuffed all of that away for a long time, and kind of just went through the motions of grieving.

“Stuffing that really backfired. It took me a long time to rediscover God, to rediscover myself.”

Today, Debbi Domingo is a happily married mother and grandmother living in Texas. She remains committed to finding the identity of her mother’s killer. Click to view larger
Today, Debbi Domingo is a happily married mother and grandmother living in Texas. She remains committed to finding the identity of her mother’s killer. (Domingo family photo)

Domingo’s life at the time had become something less than settled.

After what she called a “Brady Bunch” upbringing, her parents had divorced, and she split time between living with her mother in the Santa Barbara area and her father, Roger Domingo, and his new wife in San Diego.

Today, she is happily married, living in Texas with her husband of 12 years. Between them they have five grown children, and she works for the State of Texas.

She regularly attends church, which became an anchor in her life after years of drug addiction and bad choices that followed the loss of her mother to a violent serial killer.

Domingo also is actively engaged in the effort to learn the identity of the Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist and the Diamond Knot Killer (the latter for the way he tied up at least one of his victims).

The cold case investigation, which involves the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, other agencies throughout California, and the FBI, was recently ramped up with a $50,000 reward for information leading to the serial killer.

Domingo agreed to be interviewed in the hopes that telling her story might prompt a memory or a tip that would lead to the killer’s identity.

[Scroll down for video of Domingo talking about the case.]

A Grisly Discovery

The battered bodies of Domingo and Sanchez were found at about noon the next day by a real estate agent who had come by with some clients interested in the Toltec Way property.

The victims were in a bedroom, and both had been severely beaten.

Domingo was on the bed, while Sanchez was in the closet, half covered by clothes that had been pulled from the rod.

Blood spatters on the walls and ceiling gave testimony to the intensity of the violence involved in the attack.

It was a horrific crime that shook the quiet neighborhood and the community at large, coming two years after a similar double murder that occurred at a condominium just blocks away, and 16 months after a similar double homicide in Ventura.

On Dec. 30, 1979, Dr. Robert Offerman, 44, and his girlfriend, Alexandria Manning, 35, were found shot to death in his condo on Avenida Pequena in Goleta. Both had been tied up prior to being killed.

Three months before the Offerman/Manning murders, a couple on nearby Queen Ann Lane were accosted, tied up and terrorized by a man, presumably the same suspect, but they managed to escape and flee the home and were not killed.

In a signature move, the couple were bound with pre-cut lengths of cord the intruder brought to the house.

With the similarities among the attacks and the proximity of the crime scenes — all of which were close to the San Jose Creek riparian corridor — there was speculation at the time that the murders and assaults could be related.

But no clear linkage was found, and authorities at the time discounted the possibility.

Without the benefit of DNA evidence, which was several years away from being commonly used in crime investigations, detectives did not have a lot to go on.

There had been a witness in the Queen Ann attack — a federal agent who lived across the street heard the woman’s screams and gave chase to the suspect, who fled on a bicycle and on foot and eluded capture as sheriff’s deputies closed in.

Devastating News

At the time of her mother’s death, Domingo was working at The Granada Theatre, as were the friend she was staying with and the friend’s older brother.

Debbi Domingo was not quite 16 years old when her mother, Cheri Domingo, and her mother’s boyfriend, Greg Sanchez, were murdered in Goleta.
Debbi Domingo was not quite 16 years old when her mother, Cheri Domingo, and her mother’s boyfriend, Greg Sanchez, were murdered in Goleta. (Domingo family photo)

The morning after the killings, her mother’s best friend tracked her down through the theater with an urgent request to call.

She resisted, thinking it was just a ploy to get her to come back home after running away.

“Finally I called my mom’s best friend, and she convinced me to come home, saying it was very important,” Domingo said. “Somehow I believed her enough to go ahead and go.”

Domingo got a ride home, and when she arrived, “it was kind of a typical scene, with police cars everywhere, news cameras and yellow tape around the cul-de-sac.”

She was quickly escorted to her mom’s friend’s house across the street, where she met with detectives.

The news was devastating.

“They told me, ‘There are two dead people in the house ... and it’s under investigation ... and we think one of them is your mother,’” she recalled.

A Prolific Predator

All told, the Golden State Killer is suspected in at least 12 homicides, 45 rapes and more than 120 residential burglaries throughout California from 1976 to 1986, according to the FBI.

The spree of burglaries and rapes began in communities east of Sacramento during the summer of 1976, giving rise to the moniker “East Area Rapist.”

During these crimes, the suspect would ransack the homes of his victims and take small items such as coins, jewelry and identification.

Those cases included the homes of families, couples and single women; burglaries in a neighborhood tended to precede clusters of sexual assaults.

The East Area Rapist was active in the greater Sacramento area until 1978, when the violence escalated to homicide.

On Feb. 2 of that year, a Rancho Cordova couple, Air Force Sgt. Brian Maggiore and his wife, Katie, were on an evening walk with their dog and were chased by the assailant, who accosted them and shot them at close range.

The attacks then shifted primarily to the East Bay area of Northern California, and by October 1979, the activity escalated into rapes and homicides and attempted homicides along the California coast, with the killings in Goleta, Ventura (March 16, 1980), Laguna Niguel (Aug. 19, 1980) and Irvine (Feb. 6, 1981).

After July 1981, no incidents associated with the Golden State Killer are known to have been reported for five years, and there is speculation he may have been incarcerated during that time.

The last crime linked to the serial killer occurred on May 5, 1986, when 18-year-old Janelle Cruz was raped and murdered in her Irvine home.

Then the attacks stopped, and investigators can only speculate as to why.

Did the killer die? Was he sent to prison? Did he leave the state or the country?

Could he have simply stopped raping and killing?

A Calculated and Brutal Attack

In Goleta, investigators believe the killer made entry to the Toltec Way house through an exterior door that led from the small master bathroom to the home’s backyard, according to Gary Kitzmann, a retired Santa Barbara County sheriff’s lieutenant.

Kitzmann came of retirement several years ago to work part-time on unsolved homicides, including the Golden State Killer case.

There is speculation that the killer may have unlocked the door while visiting the home earlier in the day under the guise of a real estate showing, but no evidence has been found to support that theory, Kitzmann said.

Another theory is that he was able to gain access to the door via an adjacent window, he said.

Domingo and Sanchez were in bed, with Sanchez closest to the bathroom, and likely were awakened by the intruder when he opened the door into the bedroom.

It’s been reported that evidence of deep footprints in the bathroom carpet suggest the killer may have lurked for some time in the bathroom before making his move.

Investigators believe Sanchez jumped out of the bed and struggled with the intruder before being shot in the face, an injury that was not fatal, Kitzmann said.

Domingo was tied up, and both were fatally beaten, possibly with some sort of garden implement, although no weapon was ever recovered.

A semen sample was obtained from the bedding, which years later led to the match with the Golden State Killer from numerous other cases, Kitzmann said.

He would not disclose whether Domingo had been sexually assaulted, but many of the victims were.

Roger Domingo, Cheri’s ex-husband, revealed on a message board set up for the Original Night Stalker case that he had been interviewed, in the house, for hours the day after the murders were discovered.

He had driven up from San Diego after being alerted to the killings by his daughter.

His account of the scene and the information shared by detectives at the time is consistent with the scenario outlined by Kitzmann.

Portrait of a Killer

Some of the several composite portraits of the Golden State Killer, who also was known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker and the Diamond Knot Killer. Click to view larger
Some of the several composite portraits of the Golden State Killer, who also was known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker and the Diamond Knot Killer. (Contributed photo)

The Golden State Killer, who today could be anywhere from his late 50s to 70 years old, was described as a white male in his 20s, about 5-foot-10 and having blond or light brown hair, and an athletic build.

Authorities have several composite sketches of what he looked like at the time of the crimes, but they vary considerably and probably would be of limited help in determining what his appearance might be today.

Crime-scene evidence suggests the killer was strong, and may have had an interest or training in military or law-enforcement techniques. Investigators also believe he was familiar and proficient with firearms.

He typically wore a ski mask, and often spoke to his victims in a rough whisper through clenched teeth.

In many of the attacks, he spent hours in the homes, seemingly taking pleasure from terrorizing the residents, rifling through their belongings and eating their food.

His crimes were meticulously planned, and he left little physical evidence — no fingerprints or weapons.

He typically chose locations adjacent to creeks, parks and other open spaces that allowed him to enter and exit without being seen.

A psychological profile created at the time indicated the Golden State Killer likely:

» Was well-dressed and drove a well-maintained car

A composite drawing from 1979 of what the Golden State Killer might have looked like with his mask on. Click to view larger
A composite drawing from 1979 of what the Golden State Killer might have looked like with his mask on. (Contributed photo)

» Had an emotional age of 26-30 at the times the crimes were committed

» Engaged in deviant and brutal sex in his personal life and had sex with prostitutes

» Had a criminal record as a teen that was expunged, and had some knowledge of investigative methods and evidence-gathering techniques

» Had some means of income, but did not work in the early morning hours

» Lived and/or worked near Ventura in 1980

» Hated women for real or perceived wrongs, and if married, probably had a submissive wife who tolerated his sexually deviant behavior

» Was intelligent and articulate

» Likely began as a voyeur in his late teens or early 20s, and peeped into the windows of many potential victims who were not attacked

» Was sexually functional and capable of ejaculation with consenting or nonconsenting partners

» Was a skilled and experienced cat burglar and may have begun that way

» Would appear harmless, and would have been described by those who knew him as arrogant, domineering, manipulative and a chronic liar

» Would continue committing violent crimes until incapacitated by prison, death or some other intervention

A Downward Spiral

After her mother’s death, Domingo moved to San Diego to live with her father.

“From the time that she was killed ... I really just kind of just went through the motions,” she said. “I never went through the grieving. People would ask me how I was, and I would just say I was fine.”

After graduating from high school, Domingo joined the Army.

At age 20, while unmarried and still in the service, she gave birth to her first daughter. She would later have two more children.

The father of the latter two children introduced her to methamphetamine, she said, “and I really hit a spiral.”

“Once I tried it, I just went all or nothing,” she said. “It became a crazy escape for me from the trauma of losing my mom.”

That flight led to years of self-destructive behavior in which she was “very neglectful of myself and my kids,” she said.

Things got so bad that her children were placed in foster care.

“Child Protective Services got involved, and at that point, I realized what I was doing ... and was able to straighten up.”

Her path eventually led back to God, she said, recalling sitting in church one day with her kids while they were still in foster care.

“The message that day was that God cared about me, and he didn’t want me to be miserable anymore,” she said.

Domingo said she’s been clean since 1997.

Pursuing the Cold Case

Cold-case investigator Gary Kitzmann understands that he faces difficult odds in his quest to track down the Golden State Killer.

The attacks in Goleta happened 35-37 years ago, in an era before computers provided the trove of information they do today.

Neighbors and witnesses have moved away or died. Memories have faded. Many potentially valuable case records were discarded after the statute of limitations ran out on possibly related crimes.

“Really, it’s a coin toss,” Kitzmann said of his chances of finding the killer. “All I can do is remain diligent and not give up.”

The death of Cheri Domingo and Greg Sanchez hit Debbi Domingo hard, sending her into a downward spiral that lasted several years. Today she is actively involved in the the hunt for the man who murdered them, known as the Golden State Killer. Click to view larger
The death of Cheri Domingo and Greg Sanchez hit Debbi Domingo hard, sending her into a downward spiral that lasted several years. Today she is actively involved in the the hunt for the man who murdered them, known as the Golden State Killer. (Domingo family photo)

After retiring from the Sheriff’s Department in 2009, he returned part-time a year later to work on the cold case detail.

He and another investigator began poring over the time-worn case files, “checking into leads that were not cleared up,” he said.

Far from the slick resolutions so often seen on TV police dramas, it’s tedious work with no fast results and plenty of dead ends.

“All I can tell you is it takes a lot of investigative work and a lot of luck,” Kitzmann said. “We always know we might not come up with the right name.”

Kitzmann is not alone in his search for the Golden State Killer. Investigators with law enforcement agencies throughout California are engaged in the hunt, and they have met several times to compare notes and theories.

One of the more potent theories about the Golden State Killer is that he worked in a construction-related field, possibly as a painter, which allowed him to move from area to area and remain employed.

The suspect in many of the attacks “was not described as a transient,” Kitzmann noted, but rather appeared clean-cut and healthy.

Among the evidence at some of the crime scenes were bits of paint, and a screwdriver covered in paint was recovered at one of them, Kitzmann said.

“We went back through some of the other cases and found two different rapes up north during which paint was left behind by the suspect,” he said. “It was deemed from him, and brought to the crime scene.”

One theory linked to the Goleta attacks is that the killer may have done construction-related work at a time when parts of the Calle Real Shopping Center — including a Longs Drugs store — were being built. That project coincided with the Manning-Offerman killings.

“It’s still just a theory, a possibility,” Kitzmann said. “We did a bunch of investigative work on the case, trying to determine how he moved around — from Sacramento to Contra Costa, to here and Orange County.”

Kitzmann’s efforts have included tracking down contractors and subcontractors, hoping they might still have employment records that would be useful. The developer of the Longs Drugs project, he said, was from Sacramento.

Kitzmann and his fellow investigators hope that someone locally may remember someone or something from that time period — 1979 to 1981 — that would lead them to the killer.

Over the years, investigators have received hundreds of tips and the names of hundreds of possible suspects, Kitzmann said.

“If we get a tip, we always check the name out,” he said. “If we can’t eliminate the person (as a suspect), we kind of rank them. We have lists with thousands and thousands of names on them.”

But the cold, hard fact is only one of those names — and maybe none at all — could be the Golden State Killer.

And it’s entirely possible the killer has long since met his own demise.

“There’s no way to know ... is the person dead or alive?” Kitzmann said. “Well, the guy stopped in 1986, and there’s a good chance he’s dead, but you can’t say that with any certainty.”

An Army of Sleuths

While law enforcement professionals carry on their investigations into the Golden State Killer case, there is a vast cadre of amateur sleuths, working mainly via the Internet, trying to help solve the case.

Books have been written about the case, and there are numerous websites that include a mind-boggling array of case narratives, evidence, timelines, theories and discussions about the rapes and murders attributed to the Golden State Killer.

Debbi Domingo and her father have both participated in the various online forums, and she sees tremendous value in them.

“I think it’s incredibly helpful,” she said. “Some people (online), they spend every waking hour on this. I credit all of these people ...

“Those websites have really been an anchor to all of us ... If it wasn’t for the online communities, I don’t know whether anybody would have readdressed all of this.”

A Final Chapter?

Looking back across the years, Debbi Domingo said she “pretty much let it go” after the initial investigation into the murders of her mother and Greg Sanchez.

“The turning point for me as far as the investigation was in 2001,” she recalled. “I was living in San Luis Obispo at the time, and detectives from Santa Barbara showed up.

“It surprised me that, yes, the case had grown cold, but was being revisited. I was shocked to learn that anyone really cared.”

It was at that point that Domingo learned there were links — most prominently DNA evidence — between her mother’s murder and the many rapes and killings attributed to the Golden State Killer.

“From that point, over the years, I would go maybe a year or two and check in,” she said.

Then, in 2011, she was contacted by Kitzmann and his investigative partner, retired Lt. Jeff Klapakis, who had both gone back to work and took a special interest in the Domingo-Sanchez murders.

Since then, Domingo has been honoring her mother’s memory by actively trying to generate public awareness about the Golden State Killer case.

“I’m very hopeful right now, especially now that FBI has jumped in and their national campaign,” she said. “I think there’s a good chance he can be identified.”

She added that the key is getting as much information as possible before the public.

“People know stuff, and they don’t know they know it,” she said.

In an online posting, Domingo made the following observation about the Golden State Killer:

“He may very well be alive and living as an unobtrusive member of society. He could be your neighbor. Your co-worker. Your child’s coach. Your Sunday school teacher. Your gardener. Your banker. The security officer who patrols your neighborhood.

“He could work in your grocery store. He could be installing cable or Internet down the street. He could be driving an ambulance. He could be building a house close to yours.

“Or, guess what? He could be your cousin. Or your ex-boyfriend. Or your spouse. I’m not kidding.”

Domingo said she thinks there’s a 50-50 chance the Golden State Killer is still alive, “but the identity is important either way.”

“Being able to put a name and face onto that profile ... It’s important for the families,” she said.

Clearly, it’s important for Domingo as well.

Links and Resources

Anyone with a tip about the Golden State Killer case can contact the FBI at 800.225.5324, or leave a tip at tips.fbi.gov.

Tips also can be left with retired Santa Barbara County sheriff's Lt. Gary Kitzmann by calling 805.681.4100, or the sheriff's tip line at 805.681.4171.

Other related websites:

» East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker website (ear-ons.com)

» FBI website for Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist

» Wikipedia entry on Original Night Stalker

» East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer Proboards

» Facebook Page: Who Is the Golden State Killer

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

(Debra Dee video)

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