Jay Roberts was a young Marine sniper three decades ago when, he says, he had an encounter in a motel room with Randy Kraft, the notorious serial killer who killed at least 16 people, several of them young strong Marines such as Roberts. In his case, and he suspects others, Kraft was able to seduce the men, according to a story by Roberts in a piece in Orange Coast Magazine. "I was a young Marine scout sniper, definitely his type," Roberts writes. "And for a single, unforgettable afternoon, Orange County’s most notorious serial killer coaxed me into a place from which many didn’t escape." The magazine's veteran editor Martin J. Smith tells me it's "one of the most unforgettable pieces I've had the privilege of editing." But is it true? Good question.
More from Smith:
To an editor, a story such as “Center of the Universe” by Jay Roberts is compelling—and incredibly frightening.
Compelling, because Roberts’ claim to have once been seduced by Orange County’s most notorious serial killer offers a rare and chilling glimpse into a merciless mind, and it goes a long way toward answering a persistent question: How could this killer, Randy Kraft, render his victims so vulnerable, especially when so many were combat-ready U.S. Marines?
But such a story also frightens me, because one man’s account of what happened in a San Clemente motel three decades ago is impossible to verify. Kraft, who for a quarter-century has been on death row at San Quentin, isn’t talking. He hasn’t replied to either letter Roberts sent him while writing the story. And we were unable to locate the photograph that Roberts says Kraft took of him that day.
Without independent confirmation from Kraft, and aware of recent magazine fiascoes and near-fiascoes in which story subjects made up elaborate tales about themselves, we set out to verify as many facts about Roberts’ account as possible—even claims about his life that do not appear in the story.
Bottom line: I believe him. Military discharge documents confirm he was, in fact, a rifle expert with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, stationed at Camp Pendleton in spring 1980, when he says this incident occurred. In addition, other public records confirm that Roberts was born when he says he was, and lived where he says he has lived. His claims about his education and career check out. We couldn’t pin down the motel he describes—trust us, we tried—but we accept that it all could have happened the way he says it did.
There’s plenty of information on the Web; the short story is that Kraft is possibly the most prolific serial killer in American history, far worse than those with more notoriety, such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Some investigators believe he may have killed as many as 100 people between 1971 and 1983 when he finally was caught in Orange County, driving on the 405 Freeway with a dead Marine in the seat next to him.
Kraft liked to photograph his victims before, during, and after his acts of sex and torture, and further memorialize his kills in a notebook. The perverse cruelties he inflicted while his victims were still alive are beyond imagination. Quite a few were young Marines he picked up in bars, or hitchhiking. They ended up as strangled, mutilated corpses dumped on roadsides.
He even had a preferred type of Marine. Ideally, they were white, near his 5-foot, 10-inch height and 160-pound weight, and with light brown hair. He liked them youthful and tough, a Marine’s Marine. He also liked straight men. Maybe he took this as a challenge.
Kraft didn’t assault or use weapons to subdue his victims. Typically, he won their trust while plying them with beer, Valium, and similar drugs, then waited for them to become incapacitated. He often was described as notably warm and charismatic, intelligent, and prosperous, with an IT career, active in the Long Beach gay community, and living with a long-term partner who never was implicated in any of his crimes.
So imagine my surprise when my Web search brought up photographs of Kraft, and my first reaction was, “Oh dear mother of Jesus, that looks exactly like that guy ... .” My second thought: A photo of me may well have been among those in Kraft’s possession when he was arrested.
The following is a story I’ve never told in 33 years.