In the mid-1960s, for a few brief years, San Francisco was transformed into a psychedelic city-state with the scent of revolution in the air. Signs of positive change, of a more enlightened era, seemed to be everywhere. Then, just as the Summer of Love was reduced to a grotesque tourist trap, things began to get weird. A wave of serial killers, beginning with the legendary Zodiac killer, began to breakout across the Bay area and nearby Santa Cruz. They were soon followed by a wave of radical groups such as the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, the SLA, and the Weather Underground. Combined with such local fixtures as the newly opened Church of Satan and the notorious Oakland chapter of the Hell's Angels, it was a trip even without the CIA-sponsored LSD. Such was the scene that we examined in parts one and two.
Just as I was wrapping up part two I began to address the focus of this series of blogs, namely the criminally under-reported Zebra killers, a group of militant black revolutionaries who killed at least 14 mostly white victims in San Francisco between October 19, 1973 and May 1, 1974. The Zebra killings are officially attributed to a group within the Nation of Islam known as the Death Angels. The thing is, only one individual, Anthony Harris, has ever spoken of the existence of such an order. Harris was the prosecution's chief witness in the Zebra case and is of rather dubious credibility, as we shall examine in the next installment. Beyond Harris, evidence of the Death Angels is slim to none.
"However, one key element not corroborated at trial or ever thereafter was Harris' description of the group he called the Death Angels, the supposed secret clique within the Nation of Islam. According to what Harris told both the police and the court, membership in the Death Angels was the primary motive for the attacks...
"No police investigator who worked on Zebra has ever heard the Death Angels mentioned by anyone other than Anthony Harris --not one. That is true, too, of the lawyers who worked on Zebra, both for the prosecution and the defense.
"Among Harris's claims about the Death Angels was that pins affixed with wings were given out to those who became members. Not one such pin has ever been found, nor has a photograph of one ever emerged. Harris also purported that Jessie Lee Cooks was high up in the Death Angels, and that this was the reason he could shave his head. Yet shaved heads had absolutely on relation to status inside the Nation of Islam. Roger Pierucci, Cooks's lawyer in the Zebra trial, who once it was over had no doubt of his client's guilt, discounts the shaved-head story as absurd. Harris claimed that photographs of victims were taken to document each kill for the purpose of getting credit for it with the Death Angels, but not a single such photograph has ever been found. Harris also asserted that there were scores and possibly hundreds of Death Angels in groups located across the nation, yet in over thirty years not one of these supposed members has ever come forward in the hope of trading information about the infamous group as a way to curry favor in an arrest or prosecution."
(The Zebra Murders, Prentice Earl Sanders & Bennett Cohen, pgs. 254-255)
On the other hand, there was evidence of dozens of execution-style murders occurring across the entire state of California that bore striking similarities to Zebra and were also potentially committed by black Muslims.
"At the state capital in Sacramento, plans were being made in the Division of Law Enforcement, California Department of Justice, to conduct an interpolice department meeting as early as possible for the purpose of establishing a task force to investigate an ongoing series of execution-style killings throughout the state. For the purpose of obtaining budgetary approval of the plan, a presentation was being made to department heads by Richard Walley from the Intelligence Analysis Unit, a group whose purpose was to correlate and cross-reference all known criminal activity throughout the state.Sanders and Cohen also confirm Walley's briefing. Even during the last leg of the Zebra killings in San Francisco, other murders of whites by Nation of Islam members were occurring in the state capital, Sacramento.
"'Gentlemen,' said Walley, 'as of last Friday there have been sixty-four execution-type murders in California during the past three calender years. That figure is up forty-two percent since the last quarter, when the total was forty-five --an indication that the incidents are rapidly increasing. All of the victims of these incidents have been killed by shooting at close range, or by hacking with a machete or meat cleaver. The incidents have occurred primarily in San Francisco and the East Bay area of Oakland and Berkeley, as well as in the Los Angeles and Long Beach areas in the southern part of the state. They are not exclusively limited to these metropolitan areas, however, there have also been incidents in the counties of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Diego. The suspects, as described and identified by witnesses and survivors, have been exclusively black."
(Zebra, Clint Howard, pg. 169)
"Tension rose even more when members of Sacramento's Nation of Islam temple were arrested the afternoon of April 24 for what was described as the 'random slaying' of a twenty-four-year-old white man, who was killed by a shotgun blast through a picture window. Another member of the temple was accused of shooting an off-duty Sacramento cop... Two other motiveless shootings were said to have occurred in Sacramento since the Zebra sweeps began, and the sheriff told the press he thought they had been 'fostered' by the Zebra attacks."In a press conference shortly before the mass arrests of multiple Zebra suspects, then-San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto asserted that there had been at least 80 killings across the state of California linked to Zebra.
(The Zebra Murders, Prentice Earl Sanders & Bennett Cohen)
"The next day, April 29, determined to calm the fear and put a stop to the killings, Joseph Alioto held a press conference to lay out what he believed he knew about Zebra. Never one to do anything halfway, he didn't limit his comments to the attacks in San Francisco. Rather, he laid out a huge collection of speculative intelligence, claiming that more than eighty killings across the state going back to 1971 could be linked to Zebra, and implying that those responsible for all the crimes might be tied to the Nation of Islam."
(ibid, pgs. 235-236)
|Mayor Joseph Alioto|
While Alioto's numbers have been hotly debated ever since, it seems clear that Zebra not was limited to just San Francisco. So, while there seems to be no hard evidence of the existence of a group known as the Death Angels, there was clearly someone mobilizing young black males with a revolutionary bent. And the Nation of Islam was a major player in all of this. The extent to which the upper brass of the Nation were aware of the killings has also been hotly debated for decades. In Zebra, author Clint Howard implies someone within the upper echelons of the Nation was aware of the murders and was even encouraging them. Sanders and Cohen never give any serious consideration to the extent of the Nation's involvement at the upper levels. While it seems likely that someone in the Nation's command structure had some knowledge of the killings, where the loyalties of this individual or individuals lied is the real question. We shall return to this a bit later.
For now I would like to briefly consider the dates of several of the murders and a few of the more notable victims. The killings began on October 19th, 1973 while the last murder attributed to the Zebra killers happened on April 16th, 1974, just a few days shy of the seventh month anniversary. Sanders believed that several of the murders were revenge killings for what the Zebra folks saw as attacks against the black community in the Bay area.
"One indication of this can be found in a written statement Harris gave to police on the night of January 28 as 'revenge for the shooting [sic] of Larry 3X.' By 'Larry 3X' Harris meant Larry Crosby, who had been shot by Berkeley police a few days earlier.
"Random acts of revenge were intended to create terror among whites in what killers saw as an ongoing struggle. Other assaults also had possible triggers motivating revenge. Just prior to the attack on the Hagues in October, members of the Black Liberation Army were convicted for the murder of SFPD sergeant John Young. Just before the shootings in December, an FBI agent shot a young black man, George Session, in the back in San Francisco's Federal Building soon after the Chronicle reported that the FBI had been trying to infiltrate the Nation of Islam. The very day of the attacks on Thomas Rainwater and Linda Story in April, the Chronicle began a two-part story praising the work of the SFPD's Homicide Bureau."
(ibid, pgs. 259-260)
|SFPD Sgt. John Young, who was murdered by the Black Liberation Army.|
Sanders explanation of the dating sounds rather flimsy, to say the least. The reasons for the deaths in October and December are some what plausible, by why would the Zebra killers opt for a revenge killing over a positive article in the Chronicle concerning SFPD's Homicide Bureau? No, revenge does not seem to have been a primary motive.
There are, however, several fascinating overlaps with major occult dates in the Zebra murders. The second killing occurred two days before Halloween, one of the two principal fire holidays of the ancient Celts, some of whom called the holiday Samhain. Two victims were dispatched of on December 22nd, which was the date of the winter solstice in 1973. The winter solstice, typically celebrated on December 25th, was one of the two chief holidays (along with Midsummer) in most non-Celtic branches of European paganism. When the killers were finally arrested, it occurred on May 1st, the same date of the other major Celtic fire festival, Beltane. That the beginning and end of the killing spree would revolve around Samhain and Beltane is most curious to me as they were the two key holidays of Celtic paganism.
|Samhain and Beltane, the two principal holidays of Celtic paganism, the dates of which the Zebra killings revolved around|
The dates of two of the other murders also stand out to me. As noted before, the first murder, that of Quita Hague, occurred on October 19, 1973. On October 12th, 1974 (a week shy of the one year anniversary of Zebra) Stanford University (which was a big part of the CIA's experiments with LSD and remote viewing) student Arlis Perry was brutally murdered in a highly ritualistic fashion in the Stanford Memorial Church, in the shadows of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Perry, whose murder still remains unsolved, has long since become a minor figure in conspiracy culture after David 'Son of Sam' Berkowitz linked her killing to a cult he claimed to have been a member of. This link may same tenuous at this point, but we shall return to Son of Sam a bit later.
The other date that really got my attention was December 20th. There were two separate shootings on this date, including one the few surviving Zebra victims. Five years earlier, in December 1968, David Arthur Faraday and his girlfriend, Betty Lou Jensen, would not be so fortunate. They have the dubious honor of being the first official victims (there were probably a few others before this date) of the legendary Zodiac Killer. This is just one of several striking overlaps with Zebra.
What was believed to have been the final letter written by Zodiac was received by the Chronicle on January 29th, 1974, the day after the bloodiest night (featuring five, possibly six shootings) of the Zebra killings. It was in this correspondence that Zodiac referred to the film The Exorcist as "the best saterical comidy that I have ever seen." Two of the San Francisco detectives working Zebra, Bill Armstrong and David Toschi, were also the lead investigators on Zodiac. Strangest of all, the M.O. of several of the Zodiac murders, where isolated victims were shot by an individual with a small caliber revolver, bare striking similarities with the Zebra killings. But more on that later.
For now, let us consider the victims. Many of the Zebra victims were not the types of people that would normally warrant much attention from the press. Several of them were senior citizens with little to nothing in this world. Others were college students from humble backgrounds. Two were Salvation Army cadets that were shot on April Fool's Day. One, Paul Dancik, was a small time criminal and junkie.
But mixed with the hodge-podge of seemingly random victims were a few notables. By the far the most famous is of course the politician Art Agnos, one of the few surviving victims. At the time of the attack Agnos, a liberal and champion of civil rights, was a member of the California Commission on Aging. He would go on to become major of San Francisco. He was at a largely black public housing project attending a meeting on building a government-funded health clinic there when the attack occurred.
The final victim was a young man named Nelson T. Shields IV. He was the son of a wealthy DuPont executive. After his death his parents would put their considerable funds towards gun control legislation. Another victim, Saleem 'Sammy' Erekat, was also relatively well-to-do as well. He owned a grocery store in San Francisco and was apparently quite popular with the local community. But there were two things about Sammy that set him apart from all the other victims: He was a Palestinian Arab and a Muslim.
The Zebra killers were allegedly only concerned with dispatching with whites, yet in the midst of their killing spree they would take the time to murder Erekat, who was a prominent business man in the San Francisco Arab community. What's more, his death was much more elaborate than many of the other killings. He was taken into a backroom of his grocery store on a Sunday morning, bound to chair, and then shot execution-style in the face. His family commonly worked with him at the store, but rarely on Sunday mornings, a fact the killers were seemingly aware of. Money was taken from the store in one of the few instance where robbery was also involved in one of the Zebra murders. Police immediately believed the theft was a cover for what the murder really was: a hit.
Probably the strangest victim was Jane Holly. Holly was shot in a crowded laundromat on the night of January 28, 1974, the bloodiest night of the Zebra killings. She was one of five, possibly six, individuals shot that night. Holly was a Wells Fargo employee heavily involved in the female Masonic order known as the Order of the Eastern Star. In point of fact, she was actually the leader of her chapter, holding the rank of 'Worthy Matron,' the highest rank one can achieve at the local level. Her husband, George, was also a Freemason. In fact, he was attending a lodge meeting the night his wife was murdered.
|Order of the Eastern Star logo|
So much for the victims and the dates. Now we shall turn to the effects the Zebra killings had on San Francisco. As noted before, the killings effectively spurred 'martial law'-lite, with blacks as the primary targets. The San Francisco police described these tactics as 'sweeps.'
"...the biggest dragnets in U.S. history. It was also a plan for one of the broadest and most expansive cases ever of racial profiling, though of course the term wasn't in use yet. Starting immediately, all the available cops were to patrol the streets at night, stopping, questioning, and searching every black male who was out after dark anywhere in the city, but with the focus primarily on the Fillmore and south of Market. The assumption was that the vague description they had from witnesses were ample justification for the stops, discounting any notion that they might be unconstitutional...For years these Nazi-like tactics were defended by the San Francisco police and most commentators on Zebra. This was despite the fact that the Zebra sweeps were considered an utter failure for there intended purpose: to apprehend the Zebra murders. In this regard, they accomplished absolutely nothing. And yet, they still have ample defenders. One of the common justifications was that the sweeps had the in advert effect of dramatically reducing crime in San Francisco.
"...a 'Zebra card'... these identification cards were to be handed out to blacks who had been searched. With so many cops on the street, chances were some 'suspects' might get stopped repeatedly. But... with a Zebra card, all an individual had to do was show the document to the next officer to stop him, and the suspect would be waved on."
(The Zebra Murders, Prentice Earl Sanders & Bennett Cohen pgs. 200-201)
"By the weekend, more than five hundred young black men had been stopped and searched by the Zebra units patrolling the streets of San Francisco at night. The operation had turned up no leads to the Zebra killers -but it had reduced major crime in the city by nearly a third. Major crimes -homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny over fifty dollars, and auto theft -had been cut back 30.7 percent. Because of saturation by police officers in the large areas considered primary Zebra operation sectors, which comprised some five hundred city blocks, many crimes might have been committed, were not."Whatever benefits might have been derived by the drop in crime have probably been more than offset over the years by the colossal abuse of civil rights that resulted from the Zebra stops. What's more, some of the worst abuses were never publicized.
(Zebra, Clark Hoard, pg. 333)
"In fact, the SFPD didn't publicize this, but the cards were comprised of two parts, one of which was a copy for the police to keep. It contained personal information about the 'suspect' --name, date of birth, driver's license number, social security number, and the date, time, and place he was stopped --and would be turned in at the end of the shift, to be collated and kept as part of a growing database."
(The Zebra Murders, Prentice Earl Sanders & Bennett Cohen, pg. 206)
|Mayor Alioto fleeing from Zebra sweeps protestors|
Perhaps this is why the Zebra sweeps are still championed to this day. Despite proving to be totally ineffective in solving the case, they provided the SFPD with an easy means of data-mining the black community. One wonders whatever became of the Zebra 'database' that was compiled during the sweeps.
It is at this point that I would like to wrap things up for the time being. But let us recap briefly. The victims and the dates of the Zebra murders are largely described as being purely random. Earl Sanders speculated in the Zebra Murders that the killings were vaguely politically motivated, occurring around the times of several major events in the San Francisco black community. Yet there was also an overlap in the Zebra murders, as well as the arrests, with major occult holidays. What's more, two of the Zebra shootings occurred on the five year anniversary of the Zodiac killer's first official attack. The Chronicle would receive the final confirmed letter from the Zodiac on January 29, 1974, a day after the bloodiest night of attacks during the Zebra killing spree.
Many of the people attacked probably were randomly chosen as many of them were isolated, elderly or non-imposing younger people --in other words easy pray. On the other hand, several of the other attacks are suspect. The most notable of the victims was Art Agnos, a liberal politician and civil rights advocate working to open a government-funded health clinic in a largely black neighborhood. Another curious victim was Jane Holly, a high ranking member in the Order of the Eastern Star, a largely female Masonic lodge. Her husband, George, was also a Mason and attending a lodge meeting at the time of her murder. I'm curious as to what degree George was. Was he a high ranking Mason? Did one of the local Masonic lodges such as the Prince Hall order hear something?
Regardless, the killings were put to good effect by the SFPD and Major Joseph Alioto. A policy of large scale racial profiling, random and baseless stops, identification cards, and classified data mining, were all put into effect. Then, just as public backlash was mounting against the so-called Zebra sweeps, an individual with a long history of petty crime, drug addiction, and mental illness would step forward as an informant and break the case wide open. Or so the story goes. We will more further examine this human, one Anthony Harris, in the next installment, as well as the men eventually convicted for the killings. Stay tuned.