61 Year Old Cold Case Remains Unsolved – The Murder of Ray Davis

Shades of the Zodiac?

One quiet night in Oceanside, California a senseless murder was committed with no apparent motive or suspects. Days after the murder, someone claiming to be the killer called local police with an ominous threat that resulted in armed gunmen protecting city busses for several nights in anticipation of another death. But as shocking as it was, the incident slowly faded into obscurity and the murder went unsolved. The case was in fact forgotten about altogether until in 2017 when I stumbled upon a newspaper article while doing research on an unrelated subject. As I continued research on the murder I collected dozens of newspaper articles and discovered that the case had never been solved. I then contacted the Oceanside Police Department who directed me to their Cold Case Detective.

The Murder of Ray Davis

On the evening of April 9, 1962, the Oceanside Police Department received an anonymous telephone call. The unidentified caller stated cryptically: “I am going to pull something here in Oceanside and you will never be able to figure it out.” The call was likely dismissed…until two nights later on April 11th, when a body was discovered and the caller contacted the police again.

Patrolman Terry Stephens discovered the lifeless body of Ray Davis in an alley in the upscale beachside neighborhood of St. Malo at 1:45 am.  The night of the murder, Stephens had not yet turned 28 years old, but was already a seasoned police officer. Born in 1934 in Escondido Stephens was raised in Oceanside where he lived nearly all of his life. At the age of 21 he joined the Oceanside Police Department and served on the force for 31 years before he retired.

The victim, Ray Davis was just 29 years old, a native of Michigan. Ray was estranged from his wife Marion, whom he had married in 1953 in Owosso, Michigan.  At the time of Ray’s murder she was living in Pomona with two children from a previous marriage.

Ray and his brother Jack had moved to Oceanside in January of 1962. Oceanside had a population of less than 25,000. Jack got a job working at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Ray as a cabdriver for the Checker Cab Company. The brothers were renting a house at 525 South Tremont Street.

Ray Davis was working an evening shift, his cab parked on Mission Avenue in downtown. At 11:10 pm he reported to his dispatcher Lowell Sikes that he was driving a fare to South Oceanside. He never returned or responded to subsequent radio calls.

Police inspect the cab in which Ray Davis was murdered

Ray’s body had been dumped in the alley behind 1926 South Pacific Street, the home of Oceanside’s former Mayor Joe MacDonald. Across the street was the home of Oceanside’s current Mayor Erwin Sklar. This was not a neighborhood familiar with violent crime, let alone murder. (Note: Few people realize that St. Malo does not begin behind its iconic gated archway, but also includes the 1900 block of South Pacific Street.)

Davis had been shot once in the back, through the driver’s seat, and once in the back of the head. His assailant unceremoniously pulled him out of the cab and drove away. Robbery did not appear to be a motive as Davis had a modest amount of cash in both his wallet and shirt pocket.

The bloodied cab was discovered at 6:30 am, left in the alley of the 400 block of South Pacific Street with its meter showing a $2.20 fare. On scene Detective Don Brown found a third shot had been fired through the windshield of the taxi.

On the front seat of the abandoned cab was a paperback novel, “Dance With the Dead.” Written in 1960 by Richard S. Prather, it featured a private detective who solved crimes, all the while encountering scantily clad women…very campy stuff.

Davis was taken to the Seaside Mortuary at 802 South Pacific Street where an autopsy was performed by L. H. Fairchild of the San Diego County Coroner’s Office. Two .22 caliber bullets were removed and given to Oceanside Police Detective Floyd R. Flowers.

The following day, April 12th, both the Oceanside Blade Tribune and San Diego Union Tribune newspapers reported the murder along with the fact that police had no motive or suspect. The story of Ray’s murder was also published in several Southern California newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. In Ray’s home state of Michigan, at least three newspapers reported the murder of Ray Davis. No mention was made of the mysterious phone call of April 9 as the Oceanside Police Department had not released that information.

Funeral services for Ray Davis were held at the Oceanside Church of God on April 13th. He was buried in a plot located in the “Sunset Slope” at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Virginia Davis, his bereaved mother, flew from Michigan to Oceanside for the services.

Headstone of Ray Davis in Eternal Hills Memorial Park, Oceanside, California

On April 16th the Oceanside Police Department disclosed to the public that an unknown person had called them on April 9th with a veiled threat that they now linked to the murder of Ray Davis. The second phone call came with a frightening warning.

Police Chief William H. Wingard described the caller as a possible “deranged killer” and released the contents of the call:  “Do you remember me calling you last week and telling you that I was going to pull a real baffling crime? I killed the cab driver and I am going to get me a bus driver next.”

Who, but the original caller, would have known about the initial message? Who would taunt the police in such a way?

This threat was not taken lightly, considering the unknown caller seemed to have made good on his last one. Chief Wingard stated: “We have no reason to disbelieve the calls.”

In response to the threat, the Oceanside Police Department took measures to protect all city busses and armed military police were put on each bus going aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The newspaper reported that Frank Lilly, Oceanside’s City Manager gave Oscar Hatle, Bus Superintendent “blanket authority to take whatever steps necessary.” The unusual aspects of the murder and the unprecedented response of armed guards were big news. The story was widely distributed by the Associated Press and United Press International.

Three days passed without incident. Guards were removed from the busses, but on so-called “lonely routes” the bus company assigned two drivers. Oscar Hatle commented: “The situation still exists. We are taking no unnecessary chances.”

The police had no motive and scant evidence. They were desperate to solve the murder. Several people were questioned and released. One reported suspect was a fellow cabdriver, Charles Schofield, but the accusation had no foundation.

On May of 1962 an arrest was made of four Marines for armed robbery, but neither their prints nor ballistics matched.  Another armed robbery suspect was arrested in November but again, the fingerprints were not a match.

The murder was all but forgotten about except for the Davis family. Years passed, then decades. Ray’s brother Jack died in 1990. Ray’s mother died in 1995 and was buried at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Ray had no biological children. After the death of his brother and mother there was no one left to remember.

Headstones of Ray and Jack Davis with their mother Virginia Davis at Eternal Hills Memorial Park

Work of the Zodiac?

It is only speculative, but it is still worth noting that seven years after Ray Davis’s murder, a killer known as the Zodiac would mimic the same deadly scenario. In 1969 he shot and killed a taxi driver in San Francisco, contacted police taking credit for it and then threatened to target a bus, in this instance one full of children.

The Zodiac killed his victims in a variety of ways and weapons, including a .22 caliber gun (as in the murder of Ray Davis). It is believed that the Zodiac may have been in the military. It is now surmised that one of his first victims may have been Cheri Jo Bates, who was murdered in Riverside, California in 1966. While there are several theories surrounding Zodiac, is it too far-fetched to believe that perhaps he started his killing spree in Oceanside?

Many serial killers are known to taunt or toy with police and certainly this was the case with Ray’s murderer. Serial killers taunt because they crave the attention, they want the notoriety and many times they are convinced of their own superiority over law enforcement.

Theories and conjecture aside, to this day the murder of Ray Davis remains unsolved. It is likely the killer is dead … even if he was just 25 years of age in 1962, he would be 83 years old in 2020.  Many of the police officers and detectives who worked so diligently to try to solve the case and protect the residents of Oceanside have passed. However, Roy K. Smith, a retired police captain, remembers the case as he was working the morning watch the night of the murder.

I first brought this case to the attention of Tom Heritage, a semi-retired law enforcement officer working part time in the Oceanside Police Department’s Cold Case files. Soon after his brief review of the file, Heritage permanently retired and moved out of the area. Detective Sylvia Guzman O’Brien then headed the department and she took a more thorough look into the unsolved murder.

In December of 2019 Detective O’Brien sent the latent fingerprint cards collected at the scene for entry into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). The Oceanside Police Department has kept silent about those results.

There may be DNA evidence. The murderer pulled Davis’ lifeless body out of the front seat of the cab by his belt loop but it is unknown if the evidence is sufficient to create a profile.

Detective O’Brien retired in 2021 and it is unclear if anyone is actively working this murder which is now 60 years old. The Oceanside Police Department solved a 27-year-old case in February of 2022, the stabbing death of Dolores Rabaya in 1994.

Regardless if there is a tie or link to the Zodiac killings, Ray Davis still deserves justice. Even if the killer has since died, perhaps this case could be solved through ancestral DNA forensics.

View local news reports on the links below:



Listen to this “Vanished” podcast about the infamous Zodiac Killer: https://audioboom.com/posts/8266146-vanished-zodiac-sick-of-living-unwilling-to-die

Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

30 thoughts on “61 Year Old Cold Case Remains Unsolved – The Murder of Ray Davis

  1. This 187 made headlines in the newspapers at the time, when I was living in San Diego and I recalled it when I hired on the OPD in December 1963. I was trained by Don Sammons (died 1977) who had interviewed a “strong suspect” when assigned to the Detective Bureau during the investigation. He felt that subject was a strong suspect but had been convicted of burglary and was sent to prison on that charge after the interview.
    I find it interesting that the body was dumped in an alley between the homes of two of Oceanside’s Mayors. Had he have wanted to the killer could have driven 500 yards south, at the end of the St. Malo complex and dumped Davis in the ocean. Sounds like he wanted to send a message to the City fathers. Also, driving the cab back to 400 South Pacific before dumping it is also of interest since he well could have left it at the scene and walked away. The dump site of the cab was close to the SFRR yard and the bus depots (both back to Camp Pendleton and points north or south) which the killer could have used to flee the area.
    Also the telephone calls, apparently local, indicated the killer did not flee the area or had returned to enjoy the notoriety of the homicide. If the calls were made out of the area it would be interesting to determine the location if they had been long distance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul, thanks so much for reading. I appreciate your insight into case and your comments. Do you remember the name of the suspect? Was it Coates – I look up his full names in my notes. Thanks again


  2. Hi Kristi. Great article. So sad about Ray Davis. Seems an innocent fellow at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Very frustrating that a murderer may have gotten away with it. Perhaps the evidence sent by OPD to a crime lab will at least let us know that the killer served a long prison sentence for some other crime and died while incarcerated!!! Finally, how sad too for his poor mother burying two sons. RIP Virginia, Jack and Ray. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Joseph, good to hear from you and thanks for reading my blog! Yes, I really hope this case is solved in some form or fashion. I love the mystery of it but hoping for some justice


  3. WOW! Thanks so much, Katie! I hadn’t even heard of this sinister crime before! I’m glad more light is being shined on it and time will tell whether a younger Zodiac was responsible!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow,an interesting article,kristi…I was a dispatcher at the O.P.D. For 27 years..I knew terry Stevens,and Sylvia obrien,and vaguely remember the story of ray Davis..I began my career in ’87..I’m now a volunteer at the calif. welcome center,and see you periodically..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=2ahUKEwiaubHMnpbnAhUEba0KHUdRBzUQFjAAegQIBhAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nbcsandiego.com%2Fnews%2Flocal%2F1967-cold-case-poway-nikki-benedict-murder-mystery%2F48845%2F%3Fakmobile%3Dy%26akdevice%3Dandroidphone%26sslEnabled%3Dtrue%26amp&usg=AOvVaw22pYstKm1yZqb2vd_-zMgQ

    Hi.Been trying to get someone to look at Nikki Benedict’s case for years! The car that passed by she and a friend Shortly before her murder is of interest as a possible match to the possible Car the killer of Cheri Jo Bates drove in 1966.The man looked like1969 Zodiac killer sketch as per a Det. in SD l spoke to by phone.
    The Ray Davis case fits young Z. But also the Jarman case which l will send. My suspect Bruce M. Davis first came to CA in 1962,but returned in 1963 ;went back to TN then came back out here and finally moved to Anaheim in 1964.
    Howard Davis


    1. Not all info has been published on this or the 1970 Targis case. The killer did take the cab and dumped Targis’ body same as Davis. Not enough evidence released to make firm judgments as to whether he was a Z Vic or not.
      Note murdered cab driver Paul Stine was a Zodiac victim. 10/11/69 So since about 7 years had passed since the Raymond Davis case in 1962 Zodiac would not necessarily duplicate every feature of the Davis crime. In both cases robbery was a ‘possible’ motive. In both cases the killer took the cab drivers wallet. Yet in Stine’s case money was found in his pocket. In the Davis case we are not given this detail. Police do hold back certain info. We may expect the same with Targis.
      Note there was no call to police before or after Stine was killed. Yet , Stine was a definite Zodiac Vic. Yet it is believed by some including myself that possibly young Z attacked Ray Davis in 1962 where calls were placed by the killer.
      Davis’ body was dragged out of his cab and later found, but Z Vic Stine was left in the parked cab.Davis’ killer took his cab and later abandoned it. Both crimes though were connected to upper class neighborhoods.
      Stine was shot once in the head, but Davis was shot twice in the head and back. Note Davis was shot with a .22 Stine a 9 MM. Both are proposed as Zodiac victims.
      We can’t expect exact duplicates especially in a space of 7 years! of a crime even though committed by the same man. We get this from research into serial killers.
      Stine’s shirt was cut and swatches were later mail in some missives this didn’t happen with the Davis case.


    1. In the case of Ray Davis, robbery was not a motive. It is unusual because of the phone calls made to police before and after and the threat to harm a bus/driver, which is nearly identical to the Zodiac.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting. I am convinced the Zodiac Killer was Edward Wayne Edwards. Last August a woman contacted me and explained she met serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards in 1971, and she witnessed him prepare a Zodiac card, explaining details of how it encoded his name and much else. However Edwards was arrested in January 1962, and sentenced to a term in Federal prison, which would rule him out.

    See https://ededwardsserialkiller.wordpress.com/pines-card-witness/ for what the woman told me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Whoever murdered Ray was a cowardly deviant. All crimes linked to the zodiac were cowardly attacks on unarmed
    victims . A useless tool . Just a reminder .


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