Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards were a young couple very much in love. The two were planning to marry in November of 1963 but on June 4th of that same year, someone put an end to that plan and all their future hopes and dreams. Fifty-seven years later the case remains unsolved, here Unsolved Casebook takes a look at the case.
A Trip To Gaviota Beach
June 4th, 1963 was Senior Ditch Day at Lompoc High School. It was a day which traditionally saw those in the senior year take a day off from classes and spend the day partying instead. Eighteen-year-old Robert Domingos and his seventeen-year-old girlfriend Linda Edwards where just two of the many participating students.
Instead of attending one of the gatherings arranged, Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards decided they would rather spend the day together in a more intimate setting. Originally they had planned to head to the beach with another young couple, however, when that couple had to cancel those plans Robert and Linda went on alone.
The young lovers drove down to Gaviota Beach near Santa Barbara in Robert’s 1957 Pontiac. He parked the car near some bushes just off Highway 101 and then the couple hiked down the short trail leading to a secluded spot of the beach. Sadly, the two teenagers would never make it home.
The following morning both the teenagers were reported missing. During the search, a friend remembered that Robert and Linda had previously mentioned spending time together at Gaviota Beach. Upon arrival in the area, Robert Domingos dad George Domingos spotted his son’s 1957 Pontiac parked along Highway 101. During a further search of the area, a Highway Patrolman named Paul Schultz came across a shack. On entering Schultz discovered the bodies of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards.
The Sequence Of Events
After an examination of the murder site and the surroundings, investigators began to put in place a picture of the events which had taken place. Detectives believed that the assailant had first made Linda restrain Robert’s hands behind his back with a piece of pre-cut rope whilst holding her at gunpoint before the attacker himself began to tie up Linda.
At this point, Robert managed to somehow break free of his binds and commenced in a struggle with the man who would go on to be his killer. After the altercation, Linda and Robert made a dash for freedom.
Lamentably, the young lovers were gunned down in their bid to escape. After been shot in the back the killer then approached the prone couple and shot them both multiple times at close range.
After the executions, the perpetrator discarded the bodies of Linda Edwards and Robert Domingos inside the shack where their bodies would ultimately be found. The killer had ripped off the swimsuit that Linda Edwards had been wearing but later examination showed she wasn’t the victim of a sexual assault.
The killer then attempted to torch the shack before making his getaway, if he had stuck around he would have seen the fire failed to take hold thus leaving behind several clues. Four boxes of .22 calibre ammunition were found in the shack along with a number of pre-cut bits of rope and some discarded matches.
The First Suspect
Police quickly came up with a possible suspect. The initial focus was placed on a seventeen-year-old classmate of the two victims who by all accounts had no problem stating he was envious of Robert Domingos.
The unnamed teen was well known to police. The youth had been arrested several times, including an arrest shortly following the murders after he was causing trouble whilst intoxicated. He also had access to firearms owned by his father.
When brought in for questioning detectives noticed bruising on the young man’s hand which they believed could have occurred during the struggle Robert Domingos had with the killer. Alas, no evidence was forthcoming and the teenager was released without charge.
Detectives on the investigation soon found themselves with a new set of prime suspects. A recent crime spree in the area which ended with the murder of a sixty-three-year-old man saw sixteen-year-old James Coleman and seventeen-year-old JC Reed Jr arrested and charged with the murder.
Their victim was named Vern Smith, he had been stabbed to death during a robbery on June 2nd, two days prior to the murders of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards. During interviews, Coleman and Reed Jr admitted to taking part in a number of car thefts, robberies and assaults during a crime spree lasting several days. However, both denied the murder of Vern Smith and instead placed the blame on a third man who they claimed they only knew as “Sandy”.
The pair claimed that during the robbery of Vern Smith their accomplice stabbed the victim in the back without warning. The pair told officers that “Sandy” saw the murder as a joke and was even laughing at his own despicable act.
Following their exit from the crime scene, Coleman and Reed Jr gave Sandy twenty dollars then split the remaining takings from the crime spree between themselves. Before separating from Sandy, they stated he had started to make them feel uneasy and he had begun talking of obtaining a .22 rifle. They last saw him at a motel in Arroyo Grande.
A member of staff at the motel seemingly gave credence to the tale when he described seeing a man fitting the description of Sandy given by the suspects. Detectives soon cleared Coleman and Reed Jr of any involvement in the murders of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards. The man known as Sandy, however, was now a major person of interest.
Sandy was described as been between eighteen and twenty years old, having sandy blonde hair, a stocky build and standing at around 5 foot 11. He was also thought to go under several aliases including William Carr and Robert Coffman. Despite a vigorous search which saw several potential identifications ruled out, Sandy was never located. James Coleman and JC Reed Jr later pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of Vern Smith and were sentenced to five years to life.
Robert Lee Bell
As the search for the elusive “Sandy” was ongoing another teenager came to the attention of authorities. Seventeen-year-old Robert Lee Bell was arrested in Sacramento after a tip-off from Santa Barbara officials in regards to the theft of a .22 rifle belonging to the teen’s uncle in Lompoc.
Robert Lee Bell was arrested on June 9 when he was found in the possession of such a weapon. Whilst under arrest officers noted injuries to the boy’s hands. The wounds seemed about a week old, fitting with the time of the murders.
Santa Barbara officials also stated that Bell had left Lompoc suddenly after the Domingos/Edwards double murder. Bell, however, disputed this and claimed he had quit his job at a car wash in Lompoc on May 31 and left for his family home in Sacramento on June 2. He also stated that he got the scratch wounds on his hands from a puppy, not a scuffle or fight.
Ballistics from the rifle was tested and it was soon discovered that the bullets weren’t a match to either those in the murder or belonging to the rifle stolen from Bell’s uncle. Bell admitted that he had stolen the rifle from a different ranch.
Robert Lee Bell’s claims of being back in Sacramento at the time of the murders were soon shown to be true. Several witnesses came forward to state Bell had attended a baseball game in Sacramento thus eliminated him as a suspect in the murders.
A New Suspect – George Edward Gill
Just as Coleman and Reed Jr were been prosecuted another suspect entered the fray. A fifty-one-year-old vagrant named George Edward Gill suddenly became a leading person of interest after witnesses came forward in October. Gill, an army veteran, had been living in the shack on Gaviota Beach prior to the murders. It was also reported that he had been seen firing a rifle around the same time.
It would take law enforcement over a year to trace the wanted man, but on December 2, 1964, George Edward Gill was arrested and questioned about the murders of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards. Gill openly admitted living in the shack were the young couples bodies were discovered, even admitting to being the person who built it. However, Gill was adamant he had nothing to do with the murder, stating he had left the area by that time.
An inconclusive polygraph test gave detectives hope that George Edward Gill may be the killer they had been hunting. Alas, Gill wasn’t their man. After two days in police custody, Gill was released without charge after his alibi of having left the area for San Jose was proven beyond doubt. The case soon grew cold, until 1970 when Detective Bill Baker re-examined the case and began to see a link with one of the most infamous serial killers of all time… The Zodiac Killer.
The Zodiac Killer
After been contacted by San Francisco PD’s DI William Armstrong the two became convinced the murders of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards were the early work of the Zodiac Killer.
The attack which took place at Lake Berryessa on September 27, 1969, bore an uncanny resemblance especially. Cecilia Shepard and Brian Hartnell were attacked in a secluded spot along the lake, both were tied up before being viciously stabbed multiple times. Hartnell survived the attack but sadly, Cecilia Shepard wasn’t so lucky.
Although stabbed and not shot the attacker did possess a firearm. The rope had also been pre-cut, similar to rope found in the beach shack in 1963. Along with the fact the victims were a lone couple in a secluded spot it is a compelling argument.
The fact that the Zodiac Killer never moved or attempted to destroy evidence at other crime scenes, as was the case in the murders of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards, has led some to doubt the link. The murders were also absent from been mentioned or alluded to in any correspondence that was sent by the Zodiac Killer. Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards certainly could be early victims of the unidentified serial killer but as of writing, no hard proof exists to show this to be the case.
Murders of Johnny And Joyce Swindle
One final possible link to the murders of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards was another double murder which occurred less than a year later in San Diego. Newlyweds Johnny and Joyce Swindle were both shot on the evening of February 5.
The couple, both nineteen and from Jasper, Alabama, were in San Diego to enjoy their honeymoon. At just after 8 pm the young couple were discovered along the boardwalk on Ocean Beach. Joyce Swindle was already dead when discovered but her husband fought valiantly for his life, tragically, he succumbed to his wounds later that night in the hospital.
The couple had been shot from distance firstly. Johnny had been shot in the back, and one of his legs, whilst Joyce was shot in her back and arm. After been put down from distance, believed to be a cliff edge, the attacker then approached the couple and fired off a close-range shot into the heads of both of his victims.
Despite the execution-style killings, detectives could find no one who held a grudge against the young couple back in Alabama. Even though Johnny’s wallet was taken detectives also ruled out robbery as a motive. The murders, like those of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards, were never solved. No official evidence to link the cases has ever been revealed.