Local filmmaker looks to produce feature about final victim of prolific serial killer
Filmmaker Cameron Cloutier’s still-unfinished journey with his film, Bird with a Broken Wing, began four years ago when he heard a story that was stranger than fiction. While chatting with a couple of friends, one of them asked Cloutier if he had ever heard of the East Area Rapist. He hadn’t, so his friends started telling him the story, which they had both heard about in the news a few years prior. Cloutier couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. “What are you talking about?” he remembers thinking. “Everything they said was out of control.”
As with Cloutier’s initial encounter with the story, a condensed history lesson is necessary here. From 1976 to 1979, a suspect known as the East Area Rapist committed a series of crimes in Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto and Walnut Creek. Then from 1979 to 1981, his crime spree migrated to the cities of Goleta, Ventura, Laguna Niguel and Irvine. (It wasn’t until the late 1990s—when he would be dubbed the Original Night Stalker—that his DNA connected him to this latter series of crimes.)
Then in 1986, after a five-year crime gap, an 18-year-old woman named Janelle Lisa Cruz was murdered in Irvine, a mile-and-a-half from the last murder. She remains the last known victim of the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker. Responsible for more than 50 rapes and 10 murders, he is the most prolific serial killer and sex offender in California history, and still remains uncaught, despite the fact that law enforcement authorities have his DNA, fingerprints and blood type.
It’s a story that Cloutier has been looking to turn into a film for four years, and now, having done extensive research and with script in hand, he is seeking a way to finance the production. “The film will use Janelle’s story as a basis,” Cloutier says. “Her life was so interesting, and it explains why he probably came out of hiding for her, and then while it tells her story, it also flashes back to several of the other crimes so that we can understand the methodology of his crimes.”
Having received the support of Cruz’s family, the police, and the FBI, the most significant remaining hurdle for Cloutier’s film is the arduous process of fundraising. With that in mind, Cloutier is holding a fundraiser for the film in Sacramento—with Mayor Kevin Johnson tentatively scheduled to attend—on May 4, which happens to be the date of Cruz’s death in 1986.
According to Cloutier, every cent matters. “I’ve been on this project now for four years, but when I first started, there was nothing about these crimes out there except for a little website and a Wikipedia page, and that was it,” he says. “Since I started working on this, it’s kind of gotten bigger, but it hasn’t crossed over into the mainstream yet, so my original intent—which still is my intent—was to bring awareness to the crimes.”
Though the film will discuss the crimes of the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker, Cloutier plans for it to center around Janelle Lisa Cruz and her life, struggles, accomplishments, and finally about what happened the night the two met.
“If you know Janelle’s story, then you know that even though she died, her story is a positive one, and that’s what the film explores,” says Cloutier. “I did not know—until I started talking with her family—how complex her life was. She wasn’t just this girl who was killed; the things that happened in her life made it possible for this guy to come into it. It seemed less and less like she was just a random victim, and more like he had to silence her.”
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