The Dark Side of Paradise
A look at some of Claremont’s infamous alumni
Graduates of the Claremont Colleges go on to accomplish great things in their lives: Claremont McKenna alumnus Henry Kravis co-founded a private equity firm worth over $62 billion; Harvey Mudd grad Dominic Mazzoni created the Audacity sound editing program; Gabrielle Giffords, the former United States Representative from Arizona, went to Scripps; Hunter Lovins, Pitzer ’72, was hailed “Hero of the Planet” by Time magazine for founding Natural Capitalism, Inc.; and Walt Disney Company Executive Roy E. Disney graduated from Pomona. That’s just a few.
However, not everyone who completes his or her four years in the Claremont bubble becomes a superstar. Perhaps the most infamous Claremont College alumnus is Randy Kraft CMC ‘67 who became known throughout Southern California as the “Freeway Killer,” accused of murdering at least 16 people, though he is suspected of killing over 50 others. While Kraft is the only known serial killer among Claremont’s alumni, the other colleges do not lack their share of violent graduates.
A Killer’s Human Side
Randy Kraft was born on March 19, 1945, in Long Beach, CA. The fourth child and only son of Harold and Opal Kraft, he was “as normal as normal could be,” according to Bill Manson, a longtime friend interviewed by Dennis McDougal for a biography on Kraft called Angel of Darkness. Kraft grew up in Westminster surrounded by conservative Presbyterian families, excelling academically in both junior high and high school. His fellow students recognized him as studious and likable but quiet, only becoming animated when discussing his staunch Republican political views.
Then Kraft entered CMC, at that time known as Claremont Men’s College. He resided in Green Hall for all four years and, just like the freshmen today, had many interesting experiences. For example, McDougal records that, “There was the time that the seniors built themselves an illegal brewery… but the dean found out about it and made them destroy it. To show how civilized he was, he shared a bottle with the boys before he made them get rid of it.” Not much has changed, it seems.
Kraft made a place for himself at CMC, pursuing a major in economics, engaging in political conversation as he had since a young age, and enrolling in CMC’s Reserve Officers Training Corps program for two years. One classmate’s impression of him was, from McDougal, that “he was kind of a stereotyped Orange County conservative Republican John Bircher.”
But that changed in the following summers, when Kraft not only realized he was politically liberal, but also accepted that he was gay, which he had suspected from high school but had never addressed. The political change became clear to everyone, but Kraft did not reveal his newfound sexuality to anyone but his family, so that his CMC friends were left clueless until years later.
By his fourth year at CMC, Kraft had developed a major case of senioritis, which meant that, like a large portion of the student population, he spent most of his study time cramming, often pulling all-nighters. He was also exhibiting the first signs of suspicious behaviors; he would disappear at odd hours of the night, according to his roommate, and often walked around the dorms wearing black and holding a beer bottle. Mike Donovan, who lived in Green at the same time as Kraft, described him to McDougal as having “a beard…It wasn’t real full. Just a little tuft at the bottom of his chin…And his sense of humor was strange. He would make snide little comments that were jokes or something, but they seemed funny only to him. Not funny ha-ha but strange funny. Odd funny.”
Despite suspicions from a few individuals, Kraft generally displayed a friendly disposition, and none of his critics ever confronted him, even after he graduated from CMC in 1968 (he was not allowed to graduate with his class in 1967, due to his failure in some econometrics courses). Although he was discharged from the Air Force when he disclosed his sexuality, Kraft pursued a relatively normal career after college, entering into the computer programming business and impressing both colleagues and friends.
That is, until late one night on May 14, 1983, when two California cops stopped Kraft on a highway for drunk driving and discovered in his vehicle not only the dead body of a Marine but also an envelope containing the photographs of 47 different men, placed in gruesome positions and appearing asleep or dead. In addition, a “scorecard” in the car listed cryptic code names for 67 of his victims. For instance, PARKING LOT referred to 19-year-old Keith Daven Crotwell from Long Beach, California, who was last seen leaving a parking lot with Kraft, and whose severed head was found in a Long Beach jetty, while his remaining skeleton was discovered in El Toro, over half an hour away.
Kraft’s methods of killing were varied, and descriptions of his victims’ final conditions would make even the most seasoned Hollywood horror-watcher cringe. Often sexually abused, the young male hitchhikers were shot, strangled by their own belts, or killed by a combination of torture and drugs. Sometimes even whole body parts were missing, examples being the eyes, hands, and genitalia.
Randy Kraft was sentenced to the death penalty in 1989, but still resides today on death row at the San Quentin State Prison. Twenty-two of his listed victims have never been recovered or identified.
Infamous… But Not Alone
Is CMC’s name and reputation tarnished by individuals like Randy Kraft? Sarah Swartz CMC ’15 thinks not. “I honestly had no idea [about Kraft],” she admitted, “but every institution is bound to have its bad apples.” After all, Kraft is not the only infamous Claremont alumnus.
On October 30, 2000, former Pomona student Jared Essig stabbed Professor Frederick Sontag twice in the neck as Sontag was driving him to his dormitory. Essig had just been released from jail for shoplifting, vandalism, and public drunkenness, and had spent time in mental hospitals during his sophomore year, according to a 2000 Los Angeles Times report. Sontag pulled into a parking lot when Essig began giving him nonsensical directions. As the professor told the Los Angeles Times, “He was out of his mind. He gets these psychotic breaks. He has paranoid episodes, too. That’s all.” Despite losing three pints of blood, Sontag survived the incident and felt no resentment toward his attacker. Essig was charged with attempted murder but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and was committed to a state mental institution.
Alexander G. Valentine, a former Harvey Mudd student, was 18 when he beat his mother, Diane Valentine, and his father, Kenneth Valentine, to death with a pipe wrench on August 2, 1996. According to a North County Times article, the murders took place at Diane Valentine’s water purification equipment business in north San Diego. Valentine was flunking out of Harvey Mudd and, after his mother found out, took all measures to make sure the information was not conveyed to his successful engineer father, the end result being the murder of both parents. He was sentenced in February 1998 to a life prison term without the possibility of parole, despite his protests that the police had fabricated his confession. Valentine attempted to obtain a new trial for himself in 2005, but was denied by the appeals court.
The moral of these stories? Well, first of all, don’t hitchhike. Second of all, be aware of your surroundings. In the Claremont bubble we often forget that there are dangerous individuals and situations out in the world, ones in which our lives or the lives of others could be put at risk. And finally, look out for your fellow students, especially if you notice unusual or destructive behavior. One of Randy Kraft’s most chilling yet illuminating statements from his college years was, “You know, there’s a part of me that you will never know.”