Dec. 29, 1977, East Sacramento, California: Fifty-one year old engineer and father Ambrose Griffin was unloading groceries in his driveway when he suddenly collapsed. His wife rushed to his side, thinking he may have had a heart attack. But it was soon apparent that Griffin had been shot.
At the ER, his wife remembered that just before he collapsed, she heard him yelling at someone, and then heard two loud pops.
Despite their best efforts, the ER staff couldn’t save Griffin’s life.
At autopsy, a .22-caliber slug was found still inside his body; they matched two spent casings found in the street near the Griffin home.
Police questioned the Griffin’s family and neighbors. The only viable lead came from a woman living only a few blocks away: two days earlier, someone had fired into her home. Since no one was hurt, she hadn’t reported it.
When police searched her home, they found a .22-caliber slug embedded in a wall. Ballistics tests would show it came from the same weapon as the one used to shoot Griffin.
However, no other leads emerged, and the case went cold. Police were left to assume it was a random thrill kill. They certainly didn’t connect it to any of the strange encounters that soon followed.
In late January 1978, police were called to an apparent break-in at a home on Burnece Street, not far from where the Griffin shooting had occurred. The residents, Robert and Barbara Edwards, were just returning from a shopping trip when they heard a loud noise inside their house. Robert saw the intruder in the backyard and ran to stop him, but the man escaped by jumping over a fence.
When the Edwards entered their home, they found the house in shambles, as though they had interrupted a burglary.
But there were other, more confusing clues left behind. The intruder had urinated on the baby’s clean clothes and defecated on a child’s bed.
Robert described the man as a fairly tall, skinny, dirty white man with long dark hair.
As police canvassed the area, they discovered that a man fitting that description had been seen earlier that day. Neighbor Jeanne Layton told police the man had tried to open her patio door, then her windows. When she walked up to him, he showed no emotion, just lit a cigarette and walked away.
That same evening, shortly after 6 p.m., David Wallin called the police. He had come home from work to find his pregnant wife had been brutally murdered.
Blood stains and drag marks led from the front yard into the bedroom. There, Teresa Wallin lay on the floor, her top pushed up to her chin and her pants around her ankles. Her abdomen had been cut open, and several of her organs had been removed or moved. An autopsy would reveal that she had been shot twice — once through the hand and once in the temple — then dragged into the bedroom, stabbed repeatedly, and sexually assaulted before being mutilated. The killer had then stuffed the family dog’s feces in her mouth.
At the scene, police found a bloody yogurt cup with lip impressions on the rim, as though someone had drunk blood from it.
The brutality of the murder was shocking. Sacramento police reached out to the FBI’s newly formed criminal profiling unit for help. The case ended up on the desk of Special Agent Russ Vorpagel, who recognized that the brutality and disorganized nature of the crime meant the killer would likely strike again soon. Vorpagel called in his friend, pioneering criminal profiler Robert Ressler, for help.
The two quickly developed a profile based on the evidence at the crime scene. They believed the killer to be white, based on the fact that his victim was too. According to the profile, he would have a history of and mental illness, since the crime appeared to be done by someone in a full-fledged psychosis. Severe mental illness like schizophrenia doesn’t manifest until a person’s mid-teens, and it would take about a decade for it to devolve to this point, so the killer would likely be in his mid to late 20s. Because of his mental illness, the killer would probably be skinny, dirty, and unkempt. He would probably live alone and not have a job.
Police were still following leads when, four days after Teresa Wallin’s murder, an even more shocking crime was reported. When 6-year-old Jason Miroth didn’t arrive at a neighbor’s house as planned, the neighbor went to check on him. Inside, she found a gruesome scene. Dan Meredith, a friend of Jason’s mother, Evelyn, was lying in the hallway in a pool of blood. He had been shot in the head with a .22-caliber weapon. The bathroom was bloody as well, the tub half-filled with bloody water. In the master bedroom, Evelyn was lying, naked and spread-eagled, on the bed. Like Wallin, she had been shot in the head, her abdomen sliced open, and some of her organs removed. She, too, had been sexually assaulted after she was shot.
Next to the bed, police found Jason. He had been shot twice in the head at close range.
But the most troubling aspect of the crime soon came to the police’s attention: that day, Evelyn had been babysitting her nephew, 22-month-old David Ferreia. The toddler was nowhere to be seen.
Inside a pillow found in a blood-soaked crib, investigators found a .22-caliber slug.
Now police needed to find not only the killer, but the baby, hopefully before it was too late.
Thankfully, the crime scene contained a lot of evidence, including handprints and boot prints in the victims’ blood. The boot prints were similar to those found at the Wallins’ house.
A young neighbor told police she had seen a man near the Miroths’ home around 11 p.m. Her description of a skinny, disheveled man wearing an orange parka matched the description of the man others had seen at the earlier disturbances. Police created a composite sketch and released it to the media, desperate for information that might help them find little David and hopefully prevent any more death.
The day after the Miroth/Meredith murders, a woman named Nancy Holden came forward with some information. The day Wallin was murdered, she told police, she had been out shopping when a strange man wearing an orange parka approached her. The skinny, filthy man asked her about her high-school boyfriend. She asked how the man would know about that, and he asked her, “Don’t you recognize me?”
He told her he was Rick Chase, an old high-school classmate. She told police he looked completely different from the quiet, studious boy she had known all those years ago.
His current appearance frightened her; she thought she might have seen blood on his hands. So she quickly got in her car, locked the doors, and drove off. She hadn’t thought about the encounter again until she saw the composite sketch and description.
The encounter had taken place at a shopping center very near the Wallins’ house. And it was also near Chase’s apartment on Watt Avenue.
Police conducted a background check on Chase, and what they found wasn’t so much a red flag as a field full of them.
Chase was born in Sacramento in 1950. He described his home life as violently abusive.
Chase began showing signs of mental illness early, including the “dark triad” of bed-wetting, arson, and cruelty to animals. He got into drinking and hallucinogenic drugs early (and often).
As a teenager, he had a series of girlfriends, but none of the relationships lasted very long. Apparently, he couldn’t maintain an erection in the presence of women. He saw a psychiatrist for the problem; they told him the cause of his erectile dysfunction was repressed rage.
After he moved out on his own, his behavior went downhill. His roommates couldn’t stand his heavy drug use and bizarre behavior, which included walking around the house nude, even when company was over. They all moved out, leaving him in the apartment alone.
He developed a strange, delusionary form of hypochondria, believing that his heart was shrinking, someone had stolen his pulmonary artery, his stomach was in backwards, and that the bones in his skull were moving around, among other things.
Another psychiatrist diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic, but thought he might actually be suffering from a drug-induced toxic psychosis. This psychiatrist put Chase under observation for 72 hours, but at the end of that time, he was allowed to go free.
His delusions — and drug use — grew worse. He lost a lot of weight — common for people who often forget to eat. Soon enough, he moved back in with his now-divorced mother.
Now his main delusion was that his heart was shrinking, and that he had to drink blood to stop it. He would buy rabbits and bring home stray pets that he would kill, then drink their blood and eat their organs. He would sometimes put their organs, along with soda, in a blender to make a kind of smoothie.
At one point, he injected some rabbit blood directly into his veins. Suffering from blood poisoning, he was rushed to the ER. There, he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic suffering from somatic delusions, and he was committed to a mental hospital. However, his mental illness did not seem to respond to the drugs the doctors gave him.
In 1976, he escaped from the hospital and went to his mother’s house. She returned him to the hospital and he was transferred to Beverly Manor, a more specialized facility for the criminally insane. There, he earned the nickname “Dracula” for his obsession with drinking blood. While at Beverly Manor, he caught two birds that flew in through the window, broke their necks, and drank their blood. He even took blood from therapy dogs using a stolen syringe.
However, before the end of the year, the doctors believed that he was no longer a danger to society. Over the objections of staff members, he was released back into his mother’s care.
But his mother, for whatever reason, weaned him off his antipsychotic medication. Unsurprisingly, his behavior again spiralled out of control. One day, his mother heard a loud noise outside, and when she opened the door, she saw Chase holding a dead cat. He threw the cat down and started eating it right on the front porch, smearing its blood on his face and neck. His mother didn’t report this.
Instead, Chase’s father insisted he move out and found him an apartment. Chase’s mother paid his rent and bought his groceries. Now totally unsupervised, he went back to killing and consuming stray pets. His new delusion was that he had been poisoned by Nazis in UFOs, and that the poison was turning his blood to dust. He had to consume others’ blood to replenish his own.
It was around this time that he started buying firearms.
On Aug. 3, 1977, police found Chase’s Ford Ranchero stuck in the mud near Pyramid Lake in Nevada. Inside, they saw two rifles and a pile of men’s clothing. Blood was smeared all around the cab, and inside, a bucket held a large liver. The police were suspicious and immediately began searching for Chase. When they found him, he was naked and covered in blood. He tried to run from the police, but police captured him.
He told police the blood was his, that it had seeped out of his body. The liver in the bucket — as well as the blood — was determined to be from a cow. Without any evidence of having committed a crime, police allowed Chase to go free.
In December of that year he purchased a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun.
When police arrived at Chase’s apartment, he would not answer the door. At this point, the police could only question him — they didn’t have enough evidence for an arrest warrant. But officers could tell he was moving around inside. So they waited out of sight.
Soon Chase, wearing a stained orange parka, emerged from his apartment carrying a box. When police tried to apprehend him, he fought them, but they were able to bring him in for questioning.
On his person, police found a blood-stained .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun and Meredith’s wallet. His shoes also appeared to have blood stains on them.
Inside the box were several blood-stained rags and scraps of paper.
Under questioning, Chase would only admit to killing a few dogs; he refused to talk about the murders.
While he was being questioned, police were able to obtain a warrant to search his apartment. Inside, the smell of rotten meat was nearly overpowering. Just as Vorpagel and Ressler had predicted, it was absolutely filthy. Nearly everything was smeared with blood — including plates and drinking glasses. A blender on the counter contained what looked like rotting blood and organs. Human body parts were found on plates in the refrigerator, and one container had brain tissue in it.
They also found a calendar with the dates of the Wallin murder and the Miroth/Meredith murders marked “Today.” Chillingly, there were more than 40 more future dates marked the same way.
But there was no sign of David Ferreira. Police continued to search for him using bloodhounds, but he wouldn’t be found until March. That’s when a janitor came upon a box hidden in an alleyway near a church. The box contained the toddler’s head and decapitated body, along with Meredith’s keyring. Ferreira had been stabbed multiple times and had a single gunshot wound in his forehead.
Chase’s trial began Jan. 2, 1979. He was charged with six counts of murder and pled not guilty by reason of insanity.
Chase had been, by this time, examined by a dozen psychiatrists. One diagnosed him not as schizophrenic, but having antisocial personality disorder. Also, the prosecution pointed out that in none of his admissions did he say he was compelled to kill, only that he thought the blood was therapeutic.
The trial stretched out over four months. When Chase took the stand in his own defense, he was skeletally gaunt. His defense was that he was only semi-conscious when he committed the murders; he tried to blame his actions on the abuse he suffered as a child as well as his erectile dysfunction as a teen. He did say he was sorry for the killings.
The prosecution introduced 250 pieces of evidence proving Chase’s guilt. They continually emphasized that he had planned the murders and that he knew right from wrong when he committed them.
In the US, it is exceedingly rare for an insanity defense to be successful in court. Chase’s case was no different; on May 8, 1979, after five hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of six counts of first degree murder.
During the sanity phase, the jury deliberated only an hour before declaring him legally sane. He was given a death sentence and transferred to death row at San Quentin Penitentiary.
While at San Quentin, Chase was given the drug Sinequan for his hallucinations and depression. Unbeknownst to the staff, he stopped taking it and began secretly hoarding the pills.
On Dec. 26, 1980, a year and a half after he had been sentenced, guards found Chase unresponsive in his cell. He had taken all his hoarded Sinequan at once, inducing a fatal overdose.
At his autopsy, his internal organs, including his heart, stomach, and skull, were found to be normal-sized and healthy.