The Zebra murders have all but been forgotten in 21st century America despite the incredible wave of terror they inspired in San Francisco in the mid-1970s. When all was said and done, at least 15 individuals were dead (the death toll for Zebra seems to fluctuate between 14 and 17 victims, depending upon the source), and up to another ten were seriously wounded, and a state of martial law had been enacted in the city by the Bay. The victims of these crimes were almost entirely white while the perpetrators were all black (allegedly), which inflamed racial tensions to the point that some felt a full scale race war was narrowly avoided in a city that prided itself in blurring color lines. From the time of the first murder to present day the killings remain shrouded in mystery with countless questions left unanswered, such as whatever became of the Death Angels, a cult inspired by the Nation of Islam that was fingered for the killings?
In this series Recluse will attempt to shed a little light on this curious time in recent history. But to fully understand the Zebra killings, we must first understand the context of where they occurred: San Francisco, 1973-1974. And to understand the San Francisco of '73 and '74, we must study its history, as well as surrounding areas like Santa Cruz, from the 1960s on, for the specter of the 1960s hung over the Zebra killings like a shadow. I will warn the reader now that it will be some time until I even come to the Zebra killings, for there was much going on in the San Francisco-Santa Cruz area at the time, and a lot of it is relevant to Zebra. So bear with me, for this will not be a quick journey.
In the popular conscience, San Francisco will always be the focal point of the psychedelic 60s (in America at least), and for good reason. The San Francisco of that era was immortalized in the legendary Mamas and the Papas tune "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" where the general public was first introduced to the so-called 'flower children' making the scene along the Haight. Much of the signature music of the hippie era derived from the San Francisco scene, which featured such notable acts as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company (which briefly featured 27 Club member Janis Joplin), Santana, Sly and the Family Stone in addition to more obscure, but influential groups, such as the cult folk-rock band the Moby Grapes (maybe best known for the middle-finger salute on their debut album) and the proto-stoner metal outfit otherwise known as Blue Cheer.
In addition, many of the key personalities of the psychedelic movement would at least make the scene in San Fran, if not set up shop. Of course Timothy Leary was there. In fact, he uttered his famous "Turn on, tune in, drop out..." jive in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge during 1967's Human Be-In. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson was living there in the mid-60s while researching his first major publication, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, an account of the notorious motorcycle 'club' that originated around the Bay area. Thompson would go on to write the legendary Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a few years down the road. The always controversial Thompson hung out with such notorious figures as Sonny Barger, the founder of the Oakland chapter of the Hell's Angels (who were very active in San Francisco around this time) and attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta (who was the inspiration for the character of 'Dr. Gonzo' in Loathing), a major figure in the Chicano Movement. Thompson was even linked to the Franklin cover-up as an alleged child pornographer working for an international child sex ring, though Nick Bryant's The Franklin Scandal (IMO the best work yet published on Franklin) debunked this claim.
Ken Kesey was also there in the mid-1960s with his Merry Pranksters, conducting the first of their legendary 'Acid Tests' around the Bay area. Naturally, Augustus 'Bear' Owsley Stanley was also there with his infamous acid sheets, ensuring the San Francisco was the first region of the country where LSD was sold on a large scale.
"Haight-Ashbury was the world's original psychedelic supermarket, the place where acid was sold on a mass scale. The undisputed king of the illicit LSD trade was Augustus Owsley Stanley III, a dapper individual who could rap for hours on topics ranging from acid rock to Einsteinian physics...
"Owsley's product first hit the streets in February 1965, during the halcyon days of the early Acid Tests. Though his career as a bootleg chemist led him to adopt a reclusive lifestyle, he did pop up now and again on the psychedelic scene. He visited Millbrook and was on hand to freak freely at some wild parties hosted by Kesey. Owsley was so impressed by the music of the Grateful Dead that he became a patron to the band...
"Known throughout the Haight as the 'unofficial mayor of San Francisco,' Owsley cultivated an image as a wizard-alchemist whose intentions with LSD were priestly and magical..."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pgs. 145-146)
The legendary Haight-Ashbury was ground zero for 1967's 'Summer of Love.' Since the Beat era various artists, free thinkers, and other eccentrics had been attracted to the previously quiet neighborhood with its Victorians and low rent. Things went into overdrive as the 60s wore on. Roaming youths could expect ample assistance from the Diggers, self-described 'community anarachists' who provided free food, free 'stores' and free concerts to the youth. They could also expect to find ample drugs available, especially LSD. This led researchers such as Lee and Shlain to refer to the Haight-Ashbury community as a kind of 'psychedelic city-state.'
"...The most significant expression of the new psychedelic lifestyle centered in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. It was in the Haight that the cultural rebellion fueled by LSD happened so vividly and with such intensity that it attracted worldwide attention.
"Situated on the periphery of Golden Gate Park, this quiet, multiracial, and somewhat run-down neighborhood first became a haven for nonconformists in the early 1960s, when tourists, gangster elements, thrill seekers, and narcs squeezed the life out of the hip scene in North Beach. A good number of beatnik refugees migrated across town to the Haight, where ramshackle Victorians were available at low rent. The next few years were a gestation period in which Haight-Ashbury continued to evolve as a gathering point for the creatively alienated. Increased numbers of Berkley radicals, fed up with academia, joined the artists, musicians, and bearded habitues who were probing eccentricity and other forms of dissent.
"By 1965, Haight-Ashbury was a vibrant neobohemian enclave, a community on the cusp of a major transition. A small psychedelic city-state was taking shape, and those who inhabited the open urban space within its invisible borders adhered to a set of laws and rhythms completely different from the nine-to-five routine that governed straight society. More than anything the Haight was a unique state of mind, an arena of exploration and celebration. The new hipsters had cast aside the syndrome of alienation and despair that saddled many of their beatnik forebears. The accent shifted from solitude to communion, from the individual to the interpersonal. The sound of the in-crowd was no longer folk or jazz but the bouncing rhythms of rock and roll that could incite an audience to boogie in unison almost as a single organism."
(ibid, pgs. 141-142)
However, no sooner had San Francisco emerged as a Mecca of social change than it began to go into rapid decline. Ironically, it all played out in 1967, during the Summer of Love, as more and more outsiders, many lacking the idealism of the original residents, flocked to the Haight.
"Violent crime increased dramatically as the acid ghetto became a repository for hoods, bikers, derelicts, con men, burnouts, and walking crazies. The shift in sensibility was reflected in the kinds of drugs that were prevalent on the street. First there was a mysterious grass shortage, and then an amphetamine epidemic swept through the Haight. By midsummer 1967 speed rivaled pot and acid as the most widely used substance in the area. The speed syndrome ravaged people mentally and physically. Widespread malnutrition resulted from appetite suppression, and infectious disease like hepatitis and VD (from unsterilized needles and 'free love') were rampant. The Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic was established in response to the mounting health crisis. Among its other functions the clinic offered a special 'trip room' where people could ease off the bummers and freakouts that were becoming even more commonplace in the Haight."The 1968 Jefferson Airplane single, "Greasy Heart," may have best summed up the Haight by this time:
(ibid, pgs. 186-187)
Despite the disaster that was unfolding in San Francisco, many still held onto the idealism of the Summer of Love as the 60s gave way to the 70s. Some of these individuals fled the mounting instability in San Francisco for the tranquil and fertile Santa Cruz Mountains. It did not take long for the negative aspects of the San Francisco scene to follow.
"...many other disenchanted hippies and flower children move on in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of them found refuge in the hundreds of square miles of sparsely settled wilderness offered by the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the abundance of rich soil and clear, running water provided ideal conditions for communal living and marijuana cultivation. By 1972, some seventeen thousand men, women, and children had taken up residence in the fertile glens and along the rich creek beds of Santa Cruz. As Margaret Cheney described the scene:
Every enterprising commune or solo Druid grew a patch of cannabis; but it did not end there. More enterprising men began to operate small, portable pill factories in the remoter parts of the forest, turning out LSD and amphetamines for the city market, free of police harassment. A small cult of Satanists from San Francisco liked the landscape and opened a local parish. After them came the pretenders, exploiters, and hangers-on. The more sensational news media promoted the black-mass aura. Small sacrificial animals were occasionally found beheaded."(Programmed to Kill, David McGowan, pgs. 134-135)
|Santa Cruz Mountains|
As the reader may have gathered, there was more than a little bit of a dark undercurrent to San Francisco and the surrounding area than popular culture tends to remember. In actuality, that undercurrent is down right sinister. Things took a decisive turn for the worse in 1967 as many of the original progenitors of the Haight scene uprooted themselves from the city in a brief attempt to return to nature. It was at this point that the real madness began to set in as far more ominous 60s icons such as Charles Manson began to make the scene.
"Haight-Ashbury circa 1967 was an ideal breeding ground for the type of wayward youth that new to the scene and budding guru Manson found easy to attract. As popular legend has it, Charlie -fresh from the slams -landed in San Francisco smack dab in the summer of Love. Initially, he drifted about the town, bumming around, emerging from his institutionalized shell. But his transition back into society proved easier than expected, due mainly to the psychedelic scene unfolding around him, of which Charlie dove into headfirst, feeling an instant connection to all the flower children hanging out in the streets and sleeping in the parks. It was in this social milieu that Manson soon became a familiar figure, fitting seamlessly into a patchwork of social outcast, as he as well had been an outcast all his life. Manson was adept at interpreting the key elements of people's personalities, determining what responses would put them at ease and make them friends, allies or sexual partners. This ability was another factor that helped him fit so well into the brave new world he discovered upon prison release.
"Manson was later quoted in the underground newspaper, Tuesday's Child, about how he'd met a boy this period who introduced him to the Haight. 'We slept in the park and we lived in the streets and my hair got a little longer and I started playing music and people liked my music and people smiled at me -I didn't know how to act. It grabbed me up, man, that there were people that were real.'"
(The Shadow Over Santa Susana, Adam Gorightly, pgs. 14-15)
It wasn't long after the Summer of Love came to an end that Manson and his budding Family left San Francisco, due to the bad vibes Manson was getting out of the whole scene. Perhaps Manson had a point. Beyond the typical social parasites -the con men, pimps, and professional criminals that had descended upon San Francisco during 1967, there was a new menace to contend with that was just beginning to make national headlines: the serial killer.
It all began on December 20th, 1968. It was on this date that the first official murder attributed to the notorious Zodiac Killer occurred inside the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the next couple of years a bloody trail of carnage would be left across the San Francisco-Santa Cruz area that would leave the latter with the highest per-capita murder rate in the entire nation while no few than six serial killers would be spawned from this region.
"...women began missing from around the Santa Cruz area. As early as autumn of 1968, reports began surfacing of grisly occult sacrifices being performed in the surrounding mountains. By the summer of 1972, it was clear that Santa Cruz had a problem. Mutilated bodies began showing up in the hills. By the time 1973 rolled around, the bodies were piling up at an alarming rate. In just the first six weeks of the year, eight bodies were found, and women were continuing to disappear. What had once been an idyllic community had been radically transformed; the murder rate had quintupled and Santa Cruz had achieved the rather dubious distinction of having the highest homicide rate in the country. Many of the area's killings were credited to two alleged serial killers, Edmund Kemper and Herb Mullin, who were said to be operating at the same time in the same city, though acting independently of each other. Kemper's bloody odyssey reportedly included eight victims brutally butchered between May 1972 and April 1973, most of them coeds whose corpses were cannibalized and sexually violated. Mullin was credited with dispatching thirteen victims in just four months, from October 13, 1972 through February 13, 1973. Mullin admitted to having a strong interest in the occult, a fact made evident by the nature of the killings attributed to him: the first victim was killed on Friday the 13th, the second on or about Halloween, and the third murder was the stabbing of a Catholic priest in his confessional on November 2, celebrated as All Souls Day.
"To briefly recap, no fewer than six serial killers/mass murderers -Charles Manson, Stanley Baker, Edmund Kemper, Herbert Mullin, John Lindley Frazier, and the Zodiac -were all spawned from the Santa Cruz/San Francisco metropolitan area in a span of just over four years, at a time when 'serial killers' were a rare enough phenomenon that they hadn't yet acquired a name. And another serial killer was said to be at work not far away during this timeframe. As Bundy chronicler Richard Larsen recounts, the bodies of at least fourteen young women and girls were found, nude with their belongings missing, in Northern California between December 1969 and December 1973..."
(Programmed to Kill, David McGowan, pgs. 135-136)
If the serial killers weren't enough, the late 1960s and early 1970s also saw the rise of various radical organizations identified with the 'New Left,' many of them based out of the San Francisco-Santa Cruz area. Some of the most notable of these organizations included the Black Panther Party, founded in Oakland, and its even more militant splinter group, the Black Liberation Army; and the Symionese Liberation Army, the kidnappers of heiress Patty Hearst who have drawn so much attention in conspiracy circles of late. We'll examine some of the conspiracy lore concerning this outfit a bit later. There was also the New York-based Weather Underground, who were active in San Francisco by 1970.
"The Weathermen, who now called themselves the Weather Underground, had been operating in the Bay area since 1970, when a bomb planted in the SFPD's Park Street Station killed Sergeant Brian McDonnell and injured eight others. Other bombings around the area were also linked to the Weather Underground, and just a year before Zebra began, the FBI discovered an abandoned bomb factory they had fashioned in the Fillmore..."
(The Zebra Murders, Prentice Earl Sanders & Bennett Cohen, pg. 172)
|the Weather Underground|
Finally, there were the cults. In 1966 the Church of Satan was founded by Anton LaVey at the Black House in San Francisco on April 30th, Walpurgis Night. In 1970 services for Jim Jones's notorious Peoples Temple began being held in San Francisco. By 1971 the Peoples Temple established a permanent facility in San Francisco, using an old Scottish Rite Masonic lodge for this establishment. By the time Jones officially moved the Peoples Temple headquarters from Redwood Valley to San Francisco in 1975 it had long sense become the central point of the organization. Jones would become a big move and shaker in San Francisco politics until 1977 when he fled to Jonestown, Guyana where the rest, as they say, is history. Thus, many Peoples Temple members were heavily active in the Bay Area by the early 1970s.
The mysterious and highly controversial Process Church of Final Judgement was also active in San Francisco during this time frame as well. Anyone who has read their fair share of conspiracy literature will instantly recognize the Process, who have been linked to both the Manson Family as well as the Son of Sam cult, in addition to an international ring dealing in drugs, sex trafficking, contract killing, and kiddie porn. Needless to say, the legitimacy of these claims has been highly debated for years, essentially ever since Ed Sanders linked Manson to the Process in his 1971 book The Family. More fuel was added to the fire with the 1987 publication of Maury Terry's The Ultimate Evil, which is kind of right-of-passage type book in conspiracy circles. This tome further linked the Process to Manson in addition to the Son of Sam killings and several other notorious murders. A thorough examination of the Process is well beyond the scope of this article, but I would like to address their origins and philosophy in brief as they will crop up again before this piece is over.
"...the Process Church of Final Judgement, usually referred to as the Process. Formed sometime in 1963-64 as a splinter group from Scientology, its founder was Robert Moore,a British subject who was born in Shanghai on August 10, 1935 and had been -according to one account -a cavalry officer who served time in Malaya... and who later lived in London at the time of the Process' creation. At the Hubbard Institute of Scientology in London he met Mary Anne MacLean, a woman who is said to have been engaged to prizefighter Sugar Ray Robinson in America for a brief period, before returning to England. Mary Anne MacLean was born in Glasgow on November 20, 1931, and was thus four years Robert Moore's senior. Before she met Moore, however, she became involved with several high-ranking British politicians, a la Christine Keeler of the Profumo affair...
"The headquarters of the Process in London was on Fitzroy Street in the early days, before moving to a large house on Balfour Place in 1966. The philosophy of Robert and Mary Anne Moore (now known as Robert and Mary Anne DeGrimston, a name of cultic significance to them) was a mixture of reincarnation, existentialism, some concepts adapted from Scientology, an attempt to merge the worship of Jehova and Lucifer, and a bit of neo-Nazi flavor. Their emblem was a stylized swastika, which in all fairness could have meant they were Buddhist; however, the philosophy of the Process and its alleged origins as a front for a German neo-fascist group, coupled with Mary Anne's belief that she was the reincarnation of Josef Goebbels, seems to indicate a Nazi rather than a Buddhist inspiration. Further, the group was known to have kept thirty German shepherds on hand as a kind of totem-cum-guard dog arrangement. It was this very public association of German shepherds with the Process that would later lead some investigators in the United States to link Process members or former members with a series of sacrifices of these particular dogs where cult activity was believed to be taking place."
(Sinister Forces Book I, Peter Levenda, pgs. 295-297)
|a shrine belonging to the Process|
The Process brought their curious belief system to the United States in 1967, just in time for the Summer of Love.
"In 1967, the Process set up camp in San Francisco, a few doors down from where Manson was living at the time on Cole Street. By the spring of 1968, they were in Los Angeles, and making a frontal assault on the entertainment industry... Dressed in black, German shepherds at the leash, and speaking about worshipping Jehova, Lucifer and Satan, they were a pretty common sight in California. In 1966, Anton LaVey had already opened his Church of Satan to much media hoopla in San Francisco, so Californians were getting used to Satan-worshipping and oddly-dressed, blackly-dressed young people working on their satanic stares while everyone else was working on their tans. And then, in the summer of 1968, the California operation of the Process suddenly went underground."There are few explanations given for why the Process opted to go underground in 1968. For one thing, U.S. Immigration Service was issuing deportation orders to the British Processeans by May of '68, which seemingly drove most of the non-American members back overseas. Researchers like Sanders and Terry have speculated that the move underground was driven by a more sinister agenda than deportation: terrorism. The Process looked forward to Armageddon and may even have taken steps to bring it about.
(ibid, pg. 297)
"War -and specifically a kind of hodgepodge racial Armageddon -was much on the mind of Process members in 1968 and 1969. One member of the cult, questioned by LAPD on his link to a pair of biker homicides, described the 'natural hate' Processeans reserved for blacks, but the cult was also willing to use minorities, where feasible, 'to begin some kind of militant thing.'"Race war was seemingly a preoccupation of numerous individuals wondering around San Francisco in the late 60s and early 1970s. Charlie and the Family certainly believed in a coming confrontation between blacks and whites and even attempted to set one in motion by leaving clues pointing toward the Black Panthers at the scenes of both the Tate and LaBianca killings. The Panthers, in turn, were also preparing for a race war as was an even more radical Panther-splinter group, the Black Liberation Army. Jim Jones also foresaw a coming race war, and used this as a rationalization for moving his largely black congregation to South America so that they would avoid this struggle. The concept of a race war between black and white Americans will be a major theme in later installments, so keep it in mind dear reader.
(Raising Hell, Michael Newton, pg. 297)
But for now I shall pause. In the next installment I'll consider the other sinister force, this one of a federal nature, that was also heavily active in San Francisco since at least the mid-1950s. From there we shall finally move on to Zebra. Stay tuned.