At first glance the young couple looked like they were sleeping. They were fully clothed and lying next to each other face down under a beach blanket. But they were still, terribly still. Early arrivals to the beach on that warm Sunday morning drew near enough to know something was wrong, and called police.
“We won’t be gone long,” Sandra Garcia had called to her family the previous afternoon as she left with her fiancée, John Franklin Hood. When they never returned their families grew worried. It wasn’t like them not to call.
Sandra, 20, was pretty and soft-spoken. She worked at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Hood, an expert marksman, had been with the 64th Armored Division in Vietnam, and came back with a Bronze Star, Silver Star, and a Purple Heart. He didn’t talk much about his time there.
John Franklin Hood
On Saturday, February 21, 1970 the couple packed up food and a blanket and headed to a beach east of Santa Barbara, just down from Santa Barbara Cemetery.
Maybe they wanted to gaze at the partial lunar eclipse that occurred that night. Maybe they wanted to talk about their upcoming wedding. Maybe they just wanted to steal some time together and listen to the waves.
At some point the owner of the bone-handled fish knife startled them. A violent struggle ensued. Hood was stabbed 11 times, mostly in the face and back. Sandra allegedly suffered much worse.
It was a puzzling crime. Their property wasn’t stolen or disturbed. Sandra wasn’t raped. No one could identify any enemies that might want to hurt the couple. The double murder at Cemetery Beach went cold.
Forty-two years later the unsolved Garcia and Hood murders are only occasionally mentioned, usually among Zodiac sleuths who wonder if he was responsible. There’s also sporadic chatter about a possible connection to Charles Manson, who lived for a time in Santa Barbara at 705 Bath Street.
What’s rarely mentioned, but what I find interesting, is something that happened a few months after the Garcia/Hood murders. This was a few miles north. On July 5, another early Sunday morning, a stroller along the beach next to University of California Santa Barbara stumbled upon two young men hacked to death in their sleeping bags. A third young man with multiple head wounds was seriously wounded but still alive.
Thomas Dolan, 17, had hitchhiked from his family’s home in Manhattan Beach to San Francisco with a cousin and two friends. On their way back to southern California the group stopped to camp out on the Santa Barbara beach and watch 4th of July fireworks. Sometime during the night as they slept the group was attacked with a knife and hatchet. Dolan and another young man died. Thomas Hayes, 19, of Hermosa Beach, survived. Robbery wasn’t the motive. The victims still had their money and watches.
Very little has been written about the 4th of July murders. A few articles from that time mention in passing the Garcia/Hood double homicide, but that’s the extent of speculation about a possible link.
The Santa Barbara cases came to mind recently because while researching a longer story I kept running into examples of what’s known as “linkage blindness,” which is the failure to recognize a series of offenses as the work of one person, usually because investigators focus too much on dissimilarities. For example, the last three victims of the BTK killer weren’t originally linked to him, as it had been almost a decade since his infamous serial murders, and his last two victims in particular didn’t fit his typical victim profile.
The linkage blindness examples I encountered on my story mostly had to do with jurisdictions not cooperating with each other, or ridding themselves of responsibility once they felt the offender had moved to a different area. It was less about not seeing similarities and more about not wanting to.
I don’t know what happened in Santa Barbara, or whether they felt, or feel, the violent knife attacks on their beaches a few months apart in 1970 could be connected. It certainly seems worth exploring, though the more time that passes the harder that will be.
In 2005 Tom Dolan’s mother told the Ojai Valley News that she was turning 80 and feeling “old,” and she’d like to see her son’s case solved before she dies.
“It’s a mystery that nobody has bothered all these years to delve into,” she said.