January 20, 1987
Los Angeles, California
Joseph Danks (26) is arrested following a string of murders of homeless men
On January 20, Danks fatally stabbed an unidentified, approximately 50-year-old man. The attack was witnessed by another man who fled. The witness then followed Danks until a police car approached, at which point the witness hailed the officer to report the attack. As Danks was arrested, a newspaper containing a kitchen knife, still wet with blood, fell from his clothing.
While in custody, Danks confessed to stabbing several homeless men in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles, as well as one in Santa Monica. The attacks began with the murder of Edwin Trujillo (41), who was killed on Christmas Eve of 1986. Shortly before the attack, Danks had been turned away from a Santa Monica homeless shelter after they had reached their maximum capacity. Danks was angry “those slugs would have a bed” for the night while he would not, and immediately took his rage out on Trujillo.
The first attack in the Koreatown district was committed on either January 5 or 6 when Christopher Michael Forsblade (40) was killed. Isaac Davis (58) and John Charles Coble (55) were murdered during separate attacks on January 14, and two John Does (approximately 40 and 50) were killed on January 16 and 20 respectively. Danks also attempted to kill a 64-year-old man on January 18 and the 58-year-old witness on January 20.
Danks detailed his attacks, noting each victim had been stabbed in the back. He did not know any of the victims before the assaults, and reportedly looked down on the other men for being homeless. “I’m a bum, but I’m a clean bum,” Danks explained. “Some are so dirty you can’t tell if they’re white or black.” He further declared the attacks were not significant as the victims were homeless. “It ain’t nothing, man, three or four bums,” he said during a taped confession in which he claimed he was unaware any of the victims had died from his attacks. “I don’t see what the big fucking deal is, what the big fucking deal is, man.” In addition to his hatred toward homeless people, Danks claimed to be an “envoy from God to kill old people.”
Danks pleaded guilty to avoid a possible death sentence and was given a term of 156 years to life.
The violence perpetrated by Danks continued after his sentencing. On November 19, 1989, Danks attacked another patient while both were being treated at Atascadero State Hospital. The other patient approached a nurse; he was “covered in blood from his eyebrow down to his belt” from multiple puncture wounds. The patient stated Danks had attacked him by first attempting to strangle him. When the patient escaped Danks’ grasp, Danks stabbed him with a pencil. “[The patient] said [Danks] was trying to stab him in the heart, but the pencil broke, and at that point [Danks] began to stab him in the face area,” hospital security personnel reported. After the pencil broke again, Danks attempted to gouge out the patient’s eyeballs. Danks reportedly “seemed irritated because he did not kill” the patient, according to the security staff.
Danks was later moved to a prison to serve his term. On September 21, 1990, Danks used a strip from a bed sheet to strangle his cellmate Walter Holt (67) within hours of the inmates being placed together. Danks waited three hours before calling a correctional officer to his cell to inform him, “I murdered my cellie.” In January 1992, he stabbed another inmate slightly above his eye with a piece of metal. In April 1992, he was found in possession of a 5-inch (13-cm) “inmate-manufactured stabbing instrument.” And during his 1993 trial for the murder of Holt, Danks stabbed one of his lawyers near his eye using a copper wire he had smuggled into the courtroom.
Danks requested the death penalty for Holt’s murder, which was granted. He later claimed during an interview that he had requested a death sentence to have better television privileges afforded to San Quentin inmates and, as there were already 300 inmates on death row ahead of Danks, it was unlikely he would be executed. As of January 2021, Danks is still on death row and will be for the foreseeable future as California currently has a moratorium on capital punishment.
Danks, Joseph. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Inmate Locator. CDCR Number: E66310. https://inmatelocator.cdcr.ca.gov/Details.aspx?ID=E66310
Swenson, Steve E. “DEFINING CASES: Man known as ‘Koreatown Slasher’ asked for death penalty.” The Bakersfield Californian. September 21, 2014. Updated: September 13, 2016. Accessed: January 20, 2021. https://www.bakersfield.com/news/defining-cases-man-known-as-koreatown-slasher-asked-for-death-penalty/article_f5a898d1-9f2c-5707-8a44-4d42224901ca.htmlhttps://www.bakersfield.com/news/defining-cases-man-known-as-koreatown-slasher-asked-for-death-penalty/article_f5a898d1-9f2c-5707-8a44-4d42224901ca.html
Danks v. Martel. United States District Court Eastern. District of California. October 14, 2011. Case No. 1:11-cv-00223 LJO (E.D. Cal. Oct. 14, 2011). Archived: https://casetext.com/case/danks-v-martel
People v. Danks. Supreme Court of California. The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Joseph Martin DANKS, Defendant and Appellant. No. S032146. Decided: February 02, 2004. Archived: https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-supreme-court/1258547.html
Rapattoni, Linda. “Michigan drifter pleads guilty to transient killings.” UPI. December 3, 1988. Archived: https://www.upi.com/Archives/1988/12/03/Michigan-drifter-pleads-guilty-to-transient-killings/1863597128400/
“Man Ordered to Stand Trial on Four Murder Counts.” Associated Press. April 28, 1987. Archived: https://apnews.com/article/8eda49b26f8510664cf6cbbf5c93d2ec
Feldman, Paul. “Drifter Admits Killing ‘Bums,’ Prosecutor Says.” Los Angeles Times. January 24, 1987
Castine, John. “Michigan drifter faces more slashing charges.” Detroit Free Press. January 23, 1987
Castine, John. “Former Bay City man to be charged in LA.” Detroit Free Press. January 22, 1987
“Transient Arrested in Five Slayings in Koreatown.” Los Angeles Times. January 21, 1987