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Richard Trenton Chase - The Vampire Of Sacramento

Richard Trenton Chase - The Vampire Of Sacramento
The Making of a Vampire

Richard Trenton Chase had a thing for blood. He also had a fear of disintegrating.

Born May 23, 1950, he liked to set fires as a child and to torment animals. He had a sister, four years younger, and his father was a strict disciplinarian who bickered constantly with his wife. By the time Richard was ten, he was killing cats. As a teenager, he drank and smoked dope, getting into trouble several times but showing no shame over it

He dated several girls, one of whom reported that “Rick” was unable to perform sexually because he could not keep an erection. This problem bothered him and when he was eighteen, he went to see a psychiatrist. He learned that a root cause of impotence was repressed anger. The psychiatrist also thought he might be suffering from a major mental illness, but did not suggest he be committed.

After he moved out of his parents’ home, he went through a series of roommates, many of whom reported his bizarre behavior and heavy drug use. Even the few friends he had considered him weird. Once he nailed shut his bedroom closet door because “people” were invading his space from in there.

He was preoccupied with any sign that something was wrong with him, which held true throughout his adult life, and he once entered an emergency room looking for the person who had stolen his pulmonary artery. He also complained that the bones were coming out through the back of his head, that his stomach was backwards, and that his heart often stopped beating. Another psychiatrist diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic, but thought he might actually be suffering from a drug-induced toxic psychosis. He was put under observation for 72 hours, and it was recommended that he stay but he was allowed to leave whenever he wanted without obtaining permission. Eventually he was released.

His life grew increasingly slovenly, and he submersed into hypochondria and drug abuse. He was five foot eleven and weighed only 145 pounds. He lived with his mother for awhile, now divorced, but believed he was being poisoned. His father made him move out and got him an apartment.

Chase soon began to kill and disembowel rabbits that he either caught or bought, and to eat their entrails raw. Sometimes he would put the intestines with the animal’s blood into a blender, liquefy them, and drink this concoction in an effort to keep his heart from shrinking to the point of disappearing from his body. He once injected rabbit blood into his veins and got very ill. He believed this rabbit had ingested battery acid that had seeped into his stomach, but in fact he had a bad case of blood poisoning.

Finally he was committed as a schizophrenic suffering from somatic delusions. The doctors tried anti-psychotic medications, which failed to work, indicating that his psychosis may have been precipitated by his drug abuse. In 1976, he escaped and showed up at his mother’s house. He was returned to the hospital, ending up at Beverly Manor, a facility for mental patients, where he earned the nickname, “Dracula.” He often spoke about killing rabbits and one day he was found with blood around his mouth. Two dead birds, their necks broken, lay outside his window. The classic “Renfield Syndrome.”

Eventually he was released and deemed no longer a danger to anyone. That’s what they believed, anyway. His parents were granted a conservatorship, renewed annually, and his mother paid his rent and shopped for his groceries.

Chase moved into another apartment and began to catch and torture cats, dogs, and rabbits. He killed them to drink their blood. Sometimes he stole neighborhood pets, and he once even called a family whose dog was missing to tell them what he had done to the animal. He bought guns and started to practice with them.

Although he was on psychiatric medication, he remained unsupervised. His mother weaned him from the medications herself, deciding that he did not really need them. In 1977, the court-awarded conservatorship expired, and his parents did nothing to renew it, leaving Chase on his own.

One day he paid his mother a visit. She heard a loud noise and opened the door to see her son holding a dead cat. He threw the animal to the ground and tore it open, smearing the blood all over his face and neck. His mother failed to act and never reported the incident.

On August 3 that same year, police officers found Chase’s Ford Ranchero stuck in sand near Pyramid Lake in Nevada. Two rifles lay on the seat, along with a pile of men’s clothing. Blood smears on the inside and a blood-filled white plastic bucket containing a liver made them suspicious. When they spotted Chase through binoculars, he was nude and covered in blood. He saw them and ran, but they caught up with him and took him back to his pick-up. He claimed that the blood was his. It had “seeped out” of him. The liver, it turned out, was from a cow.

Chase soon became a fan of the Hillside Strangler, operating not far away, and he avidly read the newspaper articles about the killings. He had guns, he had a fear of other people, and he had no sense of boundaries-a lethal combination even without his weird blood fantasies.

Soon he grew bolder.

The First Victim

It was December 29th, 1977. The man’s name was Ambrose Griffin. He was 51, an engineer, and the father of two sons. He had been yelling at something or someone, his wife reported to homicide cops in the emergency room, and he’d turned and just dropped right there in front of her. She’d heard two odd popping noises, but had given them no thought.

They had just returned from a shopping trip and Mrs. Griffin had opened the trunk of the car and taken out the bag of potatoes. Her husband had followed with two sacks of groceries and had been on his way back to the car when he had dropped, presumably from a heart attack.

Soon she would learn a more horrifying truth. Her husband had been shot in some sort of random, drive-by attack.

One of the Griffin boys reported having seen a man with a rifle walking around in their East Sacramento neighborhood. They tailed him and then called the police, but he turned out not to be their man. His gun was not the .22-caliber murder weapon.

The following day, a news crew found two spent shell casings on the pavement near the Griffin residence. Detectives followed up on reports of a suspicious car driving around the neighborhood, but could get no clear description.

On the afternoon after the Griffin shooting, a twelve year-old boy reported that a man with brown hair, seemingly in his mid-twenties, had shot at him from a brown Pontiac Trans Am as he rode his bike. He was put under hypnosis and recalled a license plate number, 219EEP. It led nowhere.

Routine police work turned up a report from a woman who said that a shot had been fired into her home on December 27th. She lived only a few blocks from the Griffins. A search of her kitchen produced a .22-caliber slug. It proved to have been fired from the same gun that had killed Ambrose Griffin.

At that point, all leads dried up.

The Intruder

On January 11, 1978, Dawn Larson had a strange encounter with Chase. During the six months that they had been neighbors in the same East Sacramento apartment complex on Watt Avenue, she had seen him carry three animals into his apartment-against the rules-but had never seen those animals again. She thought him odd, but worried that he was lonely. He asked her for a cigarette. She gave him one, but he stopped her from walking away. When she gave him the rest of the pack, he let her go.

Nearly two weeks later, on the 23rd, at 2909 Burnece Street, Jeanne Layton spotted an unkempt young man with longish hair strolling toward her. She watched as he tried her patio door, found it locked, and went to the windows. They, too, were locked, so he came back to the door. Mrs. Layton met him there, face-to-face. He showed no emotion whatsoever as he scrutinized her. Then he turned, paused to light a cigarette, and walked away through her backyard.

Down the street, Robert and Barbara Edwards were bringing their groceries into the house when they heard a noise inside. Whoever was in there apparently heard them and started to run. They heard a window slam at the back of the house and then, oddly, a disheveled young man came around the corner toward them. Though Edwards tried to stop him, he sprinted past and got out to the street. Edwards gave chase, but lost him when he jumped a fence.

The police arrived to find the house in a shambles, with theft of valuables the obvious motive. However, he had also urinated into a drawer of freshly-laundered baby’s clothing and had defecated on a child’s bed.

The intruder kept going, veering off his path here and there to walk across the front porches of random houses. Then he came to a tract house at 2360 Tioga Way.

The Mutilation Murders

FBI agent Robert Ressler once asked Chase how he selected his victims. He said that he went down the streets testing doors to find one that was unlocked. “If the door was locked,” he said, “That means you’re not welcome.”

Apparently he found the door at the Wallin home unlocked. He encountered Teresa Wallin, 22 and three months pregnant. Before entering, Chase deposited a .22-caliber bullet in the mailbox. He opened the door and ran into Terry as she was taking out the garbage. She dropped the bag as he raised his pistol and shot her twice. One bullet entered her palm, held up defensively, and traveled up her arm to exit out her elbow and nick her neck. The other went through the top part of her skull. She fell and Chase then knelt over her prostrate body, firing another bullet into her temple.

His next move was to drag her into the bedroom, leaving a trail of blood behind.

He then retrieved a knife from the kitchen and an empty yogurt container from the trash bag that Terry had been carrying.

When David Wallin came home that night at six, he found the house dark. He entered and saw their dog, a German shepherd, waiting inside, but his wife was nowhere to be found. Oddly, the stereo was on. A bag of trash and what appeared to be oil stains on the carpet troubled him. He followed the stains to the bedroom. Then he began to scream.

His wife lay just inside the door, on her back. Her sweater was pulled up over her breasts and her pants and underwear down around her ankles. Her knees were splayed open in the position of a sexual assault. Her left nipple was carved off, her torso cut open below the sternum, and her spleen and intestines pulled out. Chase had stabbed her repeatedly in the lung, liver, diaphragm, and left breast. He also had cut out her kidneys and severed her pancreas in two. He placed the kidneys together back inside her.

There was blood in the bathroom and it was later learned that Chase had smeared Terry’s blood all over his face and hands, licking it off his fingers. The discarded yogurt container near her body was also bloodstained, as if he had used it to drink her blood. His most heinous act, however, was to stuff animal feces into her mouth. There were odd rings of blood around the body, as if someone had placed a bucket there.

Two days later, a puppy was found killed and mutilated not far from the Wallin home. A strange man with stringy hair and driving a Ranchero had bought two puppies from the family with seemingly no concern whether he got males or females, and then they found one of the other puppies from the litter dead.

On January 27th, Evelyn Miroth, 38, was baby-sitting her twenty-month old nephew in her home, one mile from the Wallin residence. Her 51-year-old friend, Dan Meredith, came over. Evelyn was about to send her son Jason, 6, to a friend’s house and when Jason failed to arrive, the friend sent her daughter over to check. The little girl saw movement inside from the front window, and then turned around to report that no one had answered the door. Neighbors grew worried and one finally entered the house and saw what had happened that morning.

Danny Meredith lay in the hallway in a pool of blood. The deputy who checked him saw a gunshot wound on his head, and then saw blood in the bathroom, and what looked like bloody water in the tub. Then he found Evelyn lying naked on the bed in her bedroom, her legs splayed open. She had a gunshot wound to the head, and her abdomen had been cut open and her intestines pulled out. Two carving knives, stained red, lay nearby. It appeared that she had been taking a bath when surprised by her killer, and then dragged to the bed. He sodomized her, stabbed her through the anus into her uterus at least six times, made several slices across her neck, and tried to cut out an eye. Bloody ringlets on the carpet indicated that he had once again used some kind of container to collect blood. He stabbed several internal organs as well, which the coroner later noted would facilitate getting at blood in the abdomen. Inside Evelyn’s rectum was a large amount of semen.

On the other side of the bed, police officers discovered the body of a boy, who turned out to be Jason. He had been shot twice in the head at close range.

The intruder had left bloody footprints behind which resembled the shoe marks found at the Wallin murder scene. Then they located an eleven year-old girl in the neighborhood who described a man near the victims’ residence around eleven o’clock. She described him in his early twenties. He fit the description of a man seen repeatedly in that area walking around asking people for magazines.

Dan Meredith’s red station wagon was missing from the front of the house where neighbors had seen it parked that morning.

Then Karen Ferreira arrived, seeking the whereabouts of her son, David, left with her sister-in-law, Evelyn, that morning. No one had seen him, but a bullet hole was discovered in the pillow that had been in a crib. There was a lot of blood.

It later turned out that Chase had drank Evelyn’s blood and had mutilated the baby’s body in the bathroom, opening the head and spilling pieces of the brain into the tub. A knock on the door must have interrupted him and he had fled with the body.

As police looked for him, he took the baby to his home and severed the head. He removed several organs and consumed them.

It seemed to Chase that he would get away with this brutal series of murders, but he did not realize how quickly the police were closing in.

Hunting the Vampire

Meredith’s station wagon was found abandoned not far from the murder scene, the keys still in it. There was little hope that the baby was still alive. The police did not know it, but the parking lot where they located the missing car was only about one hundred yards from apartment 15 of the Watt Avenue complex where Richard Trenton Chase lived.

The FBI were already on the case. Robert Ressler and Russ Vorpagel developed a profile of who they were probably looking for. They figured him for a disorganized killer as opposed to an organized one, with some clues pointing toward the possibility of psychosis. He clearly had not planned these crimes and did little to hide or destroy evidence. He left footprints and fingerprints, and had probably walked around in daylight with blood on his clothing. In other words, he gave little thought to the consequences. At the very least, his domicile would be as sloppy as the places he ransacked after he was finished with them, and the fact that the murder scenes were fairly close together meant he might not have a car. In fact, he’d taken a car from one house, so he must have walked to that one at least. That meant it was likely that he lived in the vicinity of the crimes. It was also likely that he would kill again, and keep on killing until he was caught. They had to work fast.

They figured him to be a white male in his mid-twenties, thin and undernourished. Evidence of the crimes, they were sure, would be found in his residence, and if he had a vehicle, in there as well. He either would have a history of mental illness or drug use, or both, and he would be something of a loner. They thought he was probably employed at some menial labor or unemployed, given his apparent state of mind, and could be receiving some disability money. He probably lived alone. He might be paranoid.

Many people were questioned around the area and some had seen a white male driving a red station wagon. Although the police artist tried to make a sketch, few of the descriptions were helpful, except for that of a young woman.

On the same day that Robert Edwards had chased the intruder away from his home on Burnece Street, Nancy Holden had had an odd encounter. She was shopping in the Town and Country Village shopping center, not far from Watt Avenue and close to the Wallin residence, when she saw a strange man approaching her who appeared to be confused. She tried to avoid him but he directed a question at her.

“Were you on the motorcycle when Kurt was killed?” he asked.

Nancy was startled. Ten years earlier she had dated a boy named Kurt who had been killed on a motorcycle. It was then that she noticed something vaguely familiar about this interrogator. She asked him who he was and he replied, “Rick Chase.”

She was astonished. This man before her was nothing like the studious, clean-cut Rick Chase that she had known in high school. She had heard he’d gotten into drugs, and looking at him now, she realized those rumors were true. He was grimy and stained, and his agitated manner made her nervous. She talked with him for a few minutes, seeking a way out, and finally got out of the store while he was still paying for something. However, he followed her into the parking lot, intent on getting a ride. She managed to get into her car, roll up the windows, lock the doors, and pull out before he could stop her. She knew she’d been rude but she just wanted to get away.

After viewing the police sketch of a disheveled man seen in the neighborhood wearing an orange ski parka, and recalling that Chase wore one that day the same color, she was sure this was the man the police were seeking.

They also got another clue from the gun registration of a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun, sold in December 1977 to a Richard Chase on Watt Avenue. On January 10th, he had purchased ammunition.

Then Dawn Larson, watching the news, recalled her strange neighbor. She had seen a large map of Sacramento on his wall, marked with black ink. However, she was afraid to make an enemy by reporting him.

After hearing from Holden five days after the Wallin murder, the detectives ran a background check on Chase and found a history of mental illness (including his escape from a hospital), a concealed weapons charge, a series of minor drug busts, and his arrest in Nevada. They found his address on Watt Avenue and went out that Saturday afternoon, one day after the triple murder, to check it out.

They learned from the apartment manager that Chase’s mother paid his rent and that she felt her son was the victim of LSD abuse. Chase refused to let his mother into his apartment.

The detectives knocked repeatedly, but Chase would not open the door. They pretended they were going to leave and then waited. Chase emerged with a box in his arms and made his way toward his car. The detectives apprehended him, but not without a mighty struggle on his part. They noticed he was wearing an orange parka that had dark stains on it and his shoes appeared to be covered in blood. A .22 semiautomatic handgun was taken from him, which also had bloodstains on it. Then they found Dan Meredith’s wallet in Chase’s back pocket, along with a pair of latex gloves.

The contents of the box he was carrying also proved interesting: pieces of bloodstained paper and rags. They took him to the police station and tried to get him to confess. He admitted to killing several dogs but stubbornly resisted talking about the murders. While he was in custody, detectives searched his apartment in hopes of finding a clue about the missing baby.

What they found in the putrid-smelling place was disgusting. Nearly everything was bloodstained, including food and drinking glasses. In the kitchen, they found several small pieces of bone, and some dishes in the refrigerator with body parts. One container held human brain tissue. An electric blender was badly stained and smelled of rot. There were three pet collars but no animals to be found. Photographic overlays on human organs from a science book lay on a table, along with newspapers on which ads selling dogs were circled. A calendar showed the inscription “Today” on the dates of the Wallin and Miroth murders, and chillingly, the same word was written on forty-four more dates yet to come during that year.

Richard Chase on
night of his arrest.
The entire place had an ominous feeling, but at least Chase was now in custody.

The Trial

Evidence was gathered from Chase to compare to samples already being analyzed in the crime lab from the murder victims. There was plenty of blood on Chase’s clothing, and they also took hair samples. However, when they tried to take a blood sample, he had to be restrained. They had no idea then of his intense primal fear of losing his blood.

Farris Salamy was appointed Chase’s attorney and he was immediately separated from the detectives who had spent so much time trying to extract a confession.

Police officers continued the search for the baby, using a bloodhound. They even went to Chase’s mother’s home and she was uncooperative, insisting that despite what they had found, it did not prove that her son had done anything.

At one point, Chase admitted to another inmate that he had drunk the blood of his victims because he had blood poisoning. He needed blood and he had grown tired of hunting and killing animals.

Finally, the baby was found. On March 24th, a church janitor came upon a box containing the remains of a male baby. He called the police.

Box in which David Ferreira
was found
When they arrived, they recognized the clothing. It was the missing boy from the Miroth home. The baby had been decapitated and the head lay underneath the torso, which was partially mummified. A hole in the center of the head indicated the child had been shot. There were several other stab wounds to the body and several ribs were broken. Beneath the body, too, was a ring of keys that fit Dan Meredith’s now-impounded car.

The lead prosecutor for the case of California v. Richard Trenton Chase was Ronald W. Tochterman. He intended to seek the death penalty.

The defense entered a plea of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, but Tochterman was determined to show that he knew the difference between right and wrong and that he was not compelled to murder. Part of his strategy included boning up on the legends of Dracula. He also read about blood-related crimes and blood rituals in various cultures, noting that some people believed that ingesting another person’s blood would strengthen or heal them. He wanted to show that while this might be a belief, it was not a viable reason for murder.

David Ferreira, nephew of
Evelyn Miroth
A change of venue was requested, given the local notoriety of the case, and the trial was moved one hundred twenty miles south to Santa Clara County. By the time it was all over, a dozen psychiatrists had examined Chase. He admitted to one that he was disturbed about killing his victims and he was afraid they might come for him from the dead. There was no evidence in his admissions that he had ever felt compelled. He simply thought the blood was therapeutic. One psychiatrist found him to be an antisocial personality, not schizophrenic. His thought processes were not disrupted, and he was aware of what he had done and that it was wrong.

On January 2, 1979, the trial began. Chase was charged with six counts of murder. The prosecutor emphasized throughout the trial that Chase had had a choice, and mentioned several times that he had brought rubber gloves with him to the victims’ homes with the intent of murder. Altogether, there were 250 prosecution exhibits, the strongest of which were Chase’s gun and Dan Meredith’s wallet, found in Chase’s pocket.

The first witness in a trial that stretched across four months was David Wallin, who described the scene of horror he had encountered upon coming home that day. Nearly one hundred witnesses followed him.

Chase then took the stand in his own defense. He looked awful, having dropped in weight to 107 pounds. His eyes were sunken and lusterless. He claimed to have been semi-conscious during the Wallin murder and he described in detail the way he had been mistreated much of his life. He admitted to drinking Wallin’s blood. He did not recall much about the second series of murders, but knew that he had shot the baby in the head and decapitated it, leaving it in a bucket in the hope of getting more of its blood. He thought the baby was something else, but did not elaborate. He thought that his problems stemmed from his inability to have sex with girls as a teenager and he said he was sorry for the killings.

The defense asked for a verdict of second degree murder, to spare Chase the death penalty, since he was clearly insane and had never been given proper help. Tochterman argued that he was a sexual sadist, a monster who knew what he was doing and who could not be salvaged.

On May 8, 1978, after five hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of six counts of first degree murder.

During the sanity phase, the jury found Chase legally sane after deliberating an hour. It took them four hours to decide that Chase should die in the gas chamber at San Quentin Penitentiary.

The FBI Interview

While interviewing killers all over the country to add information about criminal psychology to their database, FBI profilers visited Richard Chase and learned about some of his oddities. Robert Ressler recounts his encounter in a book, Whoever Fights Monsters.

He describes how Chase had believed in 1976 that his blood was turning to powder and that he thus needed blood from other creatures to replenish it. Nevertheless, the psychiatrists had released him, despite protests from some of the staff that he was dangerous.

From the time he was arrested in Nevada in August, 1977, until the murders began in December paints a clear picture of a deteriorating mind. It was after that that he killed his mother’s cat and bought two dogs to kill. He also tormented a neighborhood family about their missing dog. He then collected articles on the Hillside Strangler. Then, in December, he acquired his gun. After the Griffin killing, he bought a newspaper and kept an editorial page about the senseless nature of that shooting. Then he bought more ammunition. He also set a fire in his neighbors’ garage to drive them from the neighborhood because their music annoyed him.

He told a psychiatrist that the first killing had happened after his mother would not allow him to visit for Christmas. He was just shooting his gun out the window of his car. That he had fired shots at other houses indicated it was not altogether an accident.

Chase told the FBI profilers that he had killed to preserve his own life and he was developing an appeal based on that. He mentioned soap-dish poisoning. Ressler asked him what that was and he explained that everyone has a soap dish. If you lift the soap and find that underneath it is dry, you’re all right. If it’s gooey, you have the poisoning, which turns your blood to powder. The powder then depletes your energy and eats away at your body.

Chase also said that he was Jewish-which he was not-and that he’d been persecuted by Nazis because he had a Star of David on his forehead-which he didn’t. He explained that the Nazis were connected to UFOs which had telepathically commanded him to kill to replenish his blood. These UFOs followed him around and the FBI should be able to pinpoint them by putting a radar on him. He then shoved a cup at Ressler filled with part of a macaroni and cheese dinner. He wanted it analyzed for poison.

Ressler learned that the other inmates taunted Chase and urged him to kill himself. They did not want him near them. Ressler, along with the prison mental health professionals, felt he ought to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital. Although he was sent to one for a short time, he soon returned to San Quentin.

A Vampire's Demise

On the day after Christmas in 1980, one day short of the third anniversary of the killing spree, the guard looked in on Richard Chase. The condemned man was lying on his back in his bunk, breathing normally. He did not return the guard’s greeting, which was not unusual. At 11:05, the same guard looked into the cell again. Chase was on his stomach, both legs extended off his bunk, and his feet were on the floor. His head was against the mattress and his arms extended toward the pillow. The guard called out to Chase, who failed to move. He went in and pulled Chase off the bed. It was clear to him that the "Vampire of Sacramento", aka, "Dracula," was dead.

K. P. Holmes, the coroner, was called. He searched the cell and located a strange suicide note about taking some pills. Chase had been taking a daily dose of Sinequan for hallucinations and depression, which came to his cell in a package of three pills. Apparently he had hoarded the pills and then overdosed. The cause of his death was toxic ingestion. His heart was found to be normal and in good shape, despite his life-long concerns. The prison psychiatrist noted that Chase had been psychotic since the time he had entered the prison, but no one much bothered about the nature of his bizarre obsession with blood.

In 1992, a movie called Unspeakable was made based on Chase as a model for the killer. His case is still used by the FBI as the archetypal model for understanding the disorganized killer.


The Dracula Killer, by Lt. Ray Biondi and Walt Hecox. New York: Pocket, 1992.

Whoever Fights Monsters, by Robert Ressler. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, by Brian Lane and Wilfred Gregg. New York: Berkeley, 1995.

The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, by Harold Schecter and David Everitt. New York: Pocket, 1996.

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  1. Thank you. It was really easy to read it all :)


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