Thirty-five years after two hitchhikers were murdered as they slept on beach at Campus Point, the UC Police Dept. has reopened the investigation in an attempt to close the only unsolved case in the department’s history.
On July 5, 1970, Tommy Dolan and Thomas Hayes, both 17, traveling with 20-year-old Homer Shadwick, were camping on the beach when they were attacked by an unknown assailant wielding some kind of bladed weapon. Officer Mark Signa, spokesman for the UC Police Dept. (UCPD), said the perpetrator killed Dolan and Shadwick — who were hitchhiking to L.A. after seeing a fireworks show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco — and severely wounded Hayes. In March 2004, Donna Dolan, the mother of Tommy Dolan, asked the UCPD to reopen the case and re-examine evidence found at the scene of the crime using modern crime-solving techniques.
“They were attacked while on the beach,” Signa said. “Tommy Dolan and Homer Shadwick were murdered. Hayes survived. The unknown subject had a knife, machete or some other sharp instrument.”
Donna Dolan said she asked the police to reopen the case when, nearing her 80th birthday, she needed to find some closure concerning her son’s death. By reopening the case now, she said she hopes the police will be able to unearth some DNA evidence pointing to a suspect, possibly from a hatchet that was recovered in connection with the crime. She also said she thinks three assailants, not one, committed the murder.
“[Investigators] have the hatchet,” Donna Dolan said. “There was also a knife or a sword that have never been in the evidence room, but they know what it was because of the wounds. Any blood was from [Tommy Dolan and Shadwick] – the perpetrators weren’t hurt in any way because the boys were sleeping in sleeping bags and they couldn’t even defend themselves … I was told by the detective at the Dept. of Justice that he would use anything he could find some DNA on.”
Dubbed an axe murder by locals and police, Signa said the incident seemed on the verge of being solved in 1970 when UCPD detectives found the van the victims had traveled in before they were dropped off at UCSB. At the time of the murder, the El Gaucho (the predecessor to the Daily Nexus) reported that Hayes managed to identify his attacker as an Asian man named “Carl,” and that two other men who had also traveled in the van with the three victims had been involved in the incident.
Signa said detectives never officially named these “persons of interest” as suspects and let the owners of the van go free.
“UCPD and the Sheriff’s Dept. tracked down the van they were hitchhiking in, but they were never able to prove who was responsible,” Signa said. “They basically had the van and the people associated with the van, but they could never prove their involvement.”
Donna Dolan said she was disappointed that the police failed to bring any of the possible murderers to justice, despite having clues as to who they may have been and where they went.
“There were three men,” she said. “There was a white man — they tell me he is in Atascadero now in prison for the criminally insane. There was a black man who has never been identified. There was an Asian man and they said at the time that he had left the country and gone to Hong Kong. They had to know his name in order to know he left the country, so they must have known who he was and didn’t stop him.”
Even today, Donna Dolan said, little has been achieved in re-examining the case. She said too many years have gone by and funds to continue the investigation have been stretched too thin, leaving her with no more answers now than she had last March or 35 years ago.
“These cases are never closed — they’re just forgotten about,” she said. “Time goes by, other murders happen, events happen and it gets forgotten… The problem now is the same as the problem 30 years ago — money. Nothing much is happening now but I don’t know if that’s because of money or manpower … I contact them every two or three weeks and they don’t tell me anything. They might choose to [stop pursuing the case], and if they do, I have no recourse. They could tell me anything and I would believe it.”
Signa said detectives from the Dept. of Justice are currently reviewing the case files and determining whether or not current techniques, such as DNA sequencing, will yield any new and viable information. Though the investigation is a drain on UCPD coffers, Signa said, the main hurdle to overcome is time, not money.
“The case was sent to a unit that deals with re-investigation and reopening cases,” Signa said. “They have the expertise, so we’re going to wait on them and take their advice. If we have to do DNA collection or re-interview people, it’ll still be a joint cooperative effort [between the Dept. of Justice and the UCPD] … Yes, it’s expensive, but money isn’t the end-all be-all of the investigation. The problem is mostly time.”
The Dept. of Justice has been considering the reopened case for over a year, but Signa said he does not yet know when or if it will decide to have the UCPD fully resume its investigation of the murders.
“They have a huge caseload,” he said. “We hope to get some response from them soon. They have it right now and whenever they can get back to us they’ll get back to us.”
Donna Dolan said she has resigned herself to the idea that she may never find out who killed her son or watch them stand trial. While his death is often on her mind, she said, she has little to do but hope for a resolution.
“With all the new technology, perhaps it’s just a matter of time,” she said. “I think the odds are 50-50 [that the murder will be solved]. I’m not going to say they’re 100-to-one against me, because that’s not what I want to know and that’s not what I want to think … I may never know, but at least I need to try.”
Faced with no further news from Dept. of Justice, Donna Dolan said all she and her family can do is remember Tommy Dolan and hope that someone remembers the three men sleeping on a beach 35 years ago and knows what happened to them.
“You think about the person every day — it’s especially hard around holiday times. You think what he would have been like, would he have gone to Vietnam, would he have had a family,” she said. “He probably would have been just like his dad – they were like peas in a pod and were the same in looks and emotional makeup. They were very quiet people … I can never believe that there isn’t somebody in the Santa Barbara area that doesn’t know what happened.”