It somehow seems appropriate to talk about a character named the Vampire of Sacramento as we approach Halloween. This vampire didn’t go from home to home looking for full-sized Snickers or KitKat bars. The Vampire of Sacramento went from door to door in search of victims…
Richard Trenton Chase is an example of the failings of the mental health system when it comes to treating the most severely mentally ill and protecting the public. It helps to start at the beginning to get a sense of who Chase was and how he evolved into one of Sacramento’s serial killers.
By age 10, Chase had developed a keen sense of hypochondria and believed his blood was poisoned. He was obsessed with his failing heart and a lack of vitamin C. The latter he would treat by holding oranges to his head and believing that he would get the vitamin through “diffusion.” The blood poisoning would be self treated–by drinking the blood of cats and rabbits that the young boy killed. Young chase met all the factors of violence prediction in the McDonald Triad test–bedwetting, cruelty to animals and arson.
A brief period of psychiatric observation occurred in 1973 after Chase was found complaining that the bones were shifting in his head. He’d shaved his scalp so he could watch the bones move. After a 72 period of observation, he was released and the doctors attributed his behavior to drug-induced psychosis.
His animal blood fixation continued and in 1976, he became ill after injecting himself with rabbit blood. He believed that his blood was drying up and that he needed the fresh blood to survive. He was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for paranoid delusional schizophrenia. Medication seemed to have little effect. Dead birds were found outside his hospital window and Chase had blood smeared on his face after sucking the blood form the bird carcasses. He escaped briefly, only to turn up at his mother’s doorstep holding a dead, disemboweled cat.
He went back into the hospital setting and a few months later, he was released into his mother’s care and conservatorship. The hospital administrators said he was no longer a danger to himself or others. His mother set him up in a Sacramento apartment and paid his rent. Neighbors reported that Chase would walk around the complex naked. As a personal note, I was looking for an apartment in Sacramento and nearly rented one in the Watt Avenue complex where Chase lived at the time.
In 1977, His mother felt he didn’t need the anti-psychotic medication and weaned her son off the drugs. On August 3, 1977, Chase was found near Pyramid Lake, Nevada covered in blood. He told responding officers that it was his blood leaking out from his pores. They found a beef liver in Chase’s vehicle and no charges were filed.
The first murder attributed to Chase was on December 29, 1977. Ambrose Griffin, aged 51, was shot in what appeared to be a random drive by shooting. Investigators later believed this attack was a warm up for the events that unfolded.
A neighbor in the Watt Avenue apartment noticed Chase bringing animals into the building, but never saw them leave. Chase would also begin peeking in windows and checking doors in the surrounding area. If they were locked, he’d go on his way, if they were open, he treated it as an invitation and entered the homes. He’d ransack the residences, urinate on the beds and steal items of value.
On January 23, 1978, Chase entered the home of Teresa Wallin, who was three months pregnant. He shot her three times with a .22 pistol and drug her body to the bedroom. He went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and a used yogurt container from the trash and returned to the woman’s body. He removed her organs and drank his victim’s blood from the yogurt cup. It was also found that he had sex with the woman’s corpse.
On January 27th, Chase entered the home of Evelyn Miroth, age 38 who was babysitting her 22 month old nephew. Also present was Miroth’s 6 year old son and a family friend, Dan Meredith, age 51. Meredith was shot and left in the hallway to die. The 6 year old was was found in the bedroom, a victim of two gunshot wounds to the head. Police found Evelyn’s body on the bed, with her body savagely sliced open. Her internal organs were pulled out and there was evidence of blood and tissue collected in a bucket, based upon the stains and rings on the carpet. There was evidence of sexual assault. The 22 month old child was missing.
A trail of bloody footprints led away from the residence. Police received a tip from a young girl that she had seen a thin, scraggly looking man and pointed them to the Watt Avenue apartment building.
Chase was apprehended coming out of his apartment carrying a box of bloody rags, clothes and the .22 caliber handgun. Dan Meredith’s wallet was found in Chase’s pants. A search of the apartment revealed a splatter zone of blood and gore. There was blood on the walls, ceilings and floors. A blender with human remains was found on the kitchen counter. Turns out Chase made “smoothies” from his victims.
The refrigerator held tupperware containers of human remains, which later traced back to Evelyn Miroth and Teresa Wallin. Portions of the 22 month old boy’s brain were also wrapped and stored along side animal organs. The child’s body was not found until March 24th by a church janitor. The baby’s decapitated body was deposited in a cardboard box.
On January 24, 1979 the trial began. After legal maneuvering, the case was heard in another county and a defense of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity was quickly overcome by prosecutors. On May 8, 1979, after five hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of six counts of first degree murder. Four hours of additional deliberation during the sanity phase of the trial ended in a decision–Richard Trenton Chase should die in the gas chamber at San Quentin.
On Death Row, his behavior was so bizarre that he threatened hardcore prison gang members. Chase died on Death Row, not from the gas chamber, but by an overdose of prescription psychotropic medication that he’d managed to horde. An autopsy reveal a completely healthy heart, contrary to his firmly held lifelong belief.
Chase was evil. Of this, there is no doubt. What caused him to become so broken? We now know there was abuse in the home, but other children come from abusive backgrounds and don’t grow up to become vampires.
There were points in his life that could have made a difference, if not for him, but for his eventual victims. Some of the blame rests with a mental health system, at that time, pushing everyone out to community treatment, or declaring them no longer a danger to society, as they did in this case. Then we have the mother who decided her son doesn’t need the medications and watches as his behavior deteriorates and becomes increasingly violent.
Is there anything that could have prevented the Vampire of Sacramento? Sometimes evil walks among us…