Sunday, April 1, 2012

Zebra: A San Francisco Tale Part V

Welcome to the final part of my examination of the notorious Zebra killings that terrorized San Francisco from October 19, 1973 till May 1, 1974. Those that are already familiar with the Zebra murders are often shocked by the lack of recognition the killings now receive. But as we've examined in the prior four installments, which can be found here, here, here, and here, the Zebras were just one branch of a rotten freak tree that had sprouted in the San Francisco-Santa Cruz area as early as the late 1960s. In fact, the seeds can be found as far back as the mid-1950s when the CIA began conducting several of its MK-ULTRA experiments, most notably those involving LSD, in the after mentioned area. By the mid-1960s the effects of LSD had transformed San Francisco into a psychedelic city-state with hopes for a brighter future. But that hope soon turned to into a nightmare as a series of serial killers, radical groups, and cults descended upon the once tranquil north California scene.

We have seen that several of these groups and individuals, most notably the Symbionese Liberation Army, notorious for kidnapping and brainwashing heiress Patty Hearst, may have had ties to Zebra. The SLA in turn had ties to the notorious founder of the Peoples Temple movement, the 'Reverend' Jim Jones who would eventually persuade nearly a thousand of his members to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid at Jonestown, Guyana.  Beyond the connections to Jones, there are some other fascinating similarities between the SLA and the Zebras. For one, both outfits were led by individuals with a long history of petty crime, and evidence of mental instability. SLA leader Donald DeFreeze was actually institutionalized while suspected Zebra leader J.C. Simon spoke of riding a snake and a tornado from Texas to California, and claimed to have spoken to Allah, during his trial.

DeFreeze (top) and Simon (bottom)

Both organizations were allegedly focused on the revolutionary struggle of black America, yet both organizations murdered, or attempted to murder, prominent individuals involved in the San Francisco civil rights movement. In the case of the Zebras, this came in the form of the attempted assassination of Art Agnos, who we discussed in part three. The SLA murdered Marcus Foster, the first black Superintendent of the Oakland school system. The SLA even attempted to pin this murder on blacks, even though it was carried out by white members. What was the purpose of this? Why shoot liberal politicians working toward the advancement of the black community?

As Levenda implies, the SLA seemed to have shared a similar objective to the Zebra killers, namely to incite a race war. The SLA would hardly have been the only group, other than Zebra, actively pursuing this objective. Certainly both Jim Jones and Charles Manson, who began assembling the Family in San Fransisco, were obsessed with the prospects of race war.
"His socialistic rants from the pulpit of the Peoples Temple church in Ukiah and, later, in San Francisco became increasingly full of dire warnings about the doom facing America and the coming race war that would target groups like the Peoples Temple and its followers. Like any good member of the Disciples of Christ, Jones' view of the late twentieth century was apocalyptic.
"There would be a conflagration, a nuclear war, and only those he managed to save would survive the holocaust. Jones' vision of an imminent race war was eerily similar to Manson's. One could say they were on either side of the same argument: Jones (ostensibly) wanted to preserve the black people of America and Manson wanted them destroyed. Both, however, saw race war as inevitable. When the dust cleared, however, Manson had killed only white people (with an attempted murder of one black drug dealer); Jones had killed hundreds of black people in Jonestown."
(Sinister Forces Book II, Peter Levenda, pg. 201)


Earlier Levenda would describe the similar theology that Manson and Jones had as a kind of Nazi-tinged Gnosticism.
"...Jones began to speak of revolution, and of Jesus as a socialist. He began to gradually mock and vilify the God of the Jews, the 'Sky God' as he called him, and to identify Jehovah with satanic forces bent on the destruction of humanity. It was pure neo-Nazism, except it was so convoluted that most of his followers would never have recognized it for what it was... the Nazi ideologists of the Third Reich had reinterpreted the bible in such a way that the God of the Israelites was Satan. This has become standard theology in such racist organizations in America as the Christian Identity movement.

"Lucifer was the 'light-bringer,' and intent on delivering humanity from the clutches of the evil Jehovah. This is also a Gnostic belief, as demonstrated in the scriptures uncovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. In this system, the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was the true God, who wanted to deliver the human race from the blind Creator God, the Demiurge who wanted Adam and Eve as his personal slaves...

"...This form of Gnosticism also influenced Charles Manson, and he began to identify himself with Abraxas, a famous Gnostic deity whose numerological equivalent is 365, the same as the number of days in the year and thus representative of time itself. With the Nazis, the neo-Nazis, and the Christian Identity movement in the United States, Europe, and Latin America, we are experiencing a strange resurrection of first and second century Gnosticism: Gnosticism with a vengeance."
(ibid, pg. 175)

Levenda also believed that Jones likely had knowledge of the SLA during his time in San Francisco.
"Jones was heavily involved in black liberation politics (witness his relationship with Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver), and the SLA was allegedly a black liberation army. There is no way that they would have been unaware of each other in San Francisco in 1973. Jones was too prominent, for one thing. He was active in state and local politics. His church was a magnet for black people, and he preached a boisterous revolutionary, socialist and anti-racist platform. in addition, his members were actively involved in mental hospitals and other health-care institutions in California, working as volunteers or as paid employees."
(ibid, pg. 205)
The SLA were in turn aware of the Zebras as evident by their attempts to take credit for the shootings on January 28, 1974. Members of the SLA were living in the same neighborhood as the two of the main Zebra killers, Larry Green and J.C. Simon. The SLA would in fact flee San Francisco after the Zebras brought to much police attention to the area where their safe house was located. Jones also surely would have been aware of the Zebras, at least through reputation.

the SLA (top) and the men convicted of the Zebra killings (bottom)

As noted earlier, Jones had his own curious link with the San Francisco branch of the Nation, which presumably was also the same mosque, No. 26, that was involved in the Zebra killings. Initially the Peoples Temple and the Nation were hostile to one and other.
"Though philosophically Jones considered his Western Addition neighbors, the Black Muslims, to be sexist and racist, he respected their discipline and effectiveness in youth work and business enterprise. At one time, Jones feared the friction, both largely out of close proximity, might precipitate violence. He contributed to the superheated climate by speculating without cause that the Muslims were responsible for the Temple's arson fire. Once after Temple photographer Al Mills allegedly was hassled by Muslims for taking photos of them, Jones became furious and sent a few of his biggest young black men, including Chris Lewis, to the nearby mosque to issue a warning. The Temple wanted no trouble, but would take no abuse."
(Raven, Tim Reiterman, pg. 281)
The Peoples Temple was already active in San Francisco at the time of the Zebra killings, so it is almost certain that they were aware of the connections to the killings and Mosque No. 26. Again, I'm not certain that the mosque Jones was involved with in San Francisco was the same one that the Zebra killers attended, but I have found no reference to their being more than one Nation of Islam mosque in San Francisco in the mid-1970s. Were the Zebra killings the real reason for Jones' initial hostility? Did he know something about the mosque, possibly from the SLA?

Gradually relations improved between the Peoples Temple and the Nation until, on May 23, 1976, the two organizations held a joint 'Spiritual Jubilee' as a 'demonstration of brotherhood.' Jones himself gave a rousing speech in which a he expressed his gratitude for the 'merging' of the two movements. He delivered it before a half moon of 15 to 20 hulking guards selected from the Temple and the Nation's respective security forces. But I digress.

Jim Jones during his joint 'rally' with the Nation

Clearly there seems to be overlap between the belief system employed by Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and the Zebra killers. This overlap my have extended to the SLA, which was active in San Francisco at the same time as the Zebras and the Peoples Temple, as all three outfits identified themselves with the black liberation movement. But if there is an overlap, was it purely random, or was there some kind of organization with connections to the Manson Family, the Peoples Temple, the SLA and the Zebras pulling the strings? My research points toward the latter.

It has long been suspected that the SLA had ties to the U.S. Intelligence community --at one point U.S. Senator Leo Ryan (who was later murdered by Jones' followers at the Kaituma airstrip while Jonestown was drinking the Kool Aid) even made inquiries as to the CIA's involvement with SLA head Donald DeFreeze. In prior blogs I have chronicled my belief that both Charles Manson and Jim Jones had links to the CIA. The blogs concerning Manson on this topic can be found here and here while the ones for Jones are here and here. If the belief system that Jones, Manson, and possibly the SLA all employed was in some way influenced by their contact with the US Intelligence community, could the same be true of the Zebra killers? There is compelling evidence that the U.S. Intelligence community had heavily infiltrated Zebra's parent outfit, the Nation of Islam, years before the Zebra killings.

Leo Ryan, a US Senator most known for his probes into CIA black opts; he was assassinated by one of Jim Jones' followers shortly before the mass suicide at Jonestown

John Ali, the national secretary to the Nation of Islam, was later revealed to be an undercover F.B.I. agent. He met with Thomas Hagan, one of the men who shot Malcolm X, the night before the assassination. Hagan would later sign two sworn affidavits taking responsibility for shooting X, but also claiming that the other two men convicted of X's murder, Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson, were innocent and were not even present at the assassination. Johnson, now known as Khalil Islam, would finally be released from prison in 1987 after decades of doubt surrounding his guilt. He had some interesting things to say about John Ali.
"Khalil also pointed out 'the agents.' 'Every other man was a cop,' said Khalil, who was compromised at his trial by dutifully lying to protect John Ali, Elijah Muhammad’s national secretary—who many came to believe was an FBI agent. 'I screwed myself lying to protect an informer,' Khalil says, shaking his head.

"As with other sixties assassinations, the possible role of the authorities, especially the FBI cointelpro units, in Malcolm’s killing has been much discussed. Often cited is the fact that uniformed NYPD officers, usually much in evidence at the Audubon meetings, chose the day of the murder to station themselves outside the hall, in the hospital across the street. Speculation takes off from there, with civil-rights leader James Farmer suggesting a cabal of Harlem and Mafia racketeers made the hit on Malcolm."

John Ali, the National Secretary of the Nation of Islam, who is widely believed to have been an undercover FBI agent

Malcolm X's death would open up all kinds of divisions and rivalries within the Nation all the while the FBI was on the inside looking out.
"In the aftermath of Malcolm's death, infighting within the Nation increased. As the 1960s flowed into the 70s, the internecine struggle grew ever more violent, and competing factions vied for power and influence. A Washington, D.C., center for the Hanafi Muslims, a more traditional Islamic group whose leader had left the Nation and counted among his followers basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was attacked by men from the Nation's Philadelphia temple in a brutal assault that left seven dead. Shootings in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Brooklyn were also tied to divisions within the Nation. During this period, the FBI was actively working to break the Nation apart with its covert counter-intelligence program, COINTELPRO. Meanwhile, the heightened aggressiveness evidenced by many radical groups at the time showed in the Nation as well, which began to have ongoing confrontations with police in various cities across the country."
(The Zebra Murders, Prentice Earl Sanders & Bennett Cohen, pg. 109)

The COINTELPRO operation mentioned above was a vast endeavor that featured not just the FBI, but a whole slew of Federal Agencies bent on subverting the 'New Left.'
"The use of informants and provocateurs was part of a massive sub rosa campaign to subvert the forces of dissent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Joining the FBI in this effort was an alphabet soup of federal agencies: the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), the intelligence divisions of all the military services, and numerous local police forces. Over a quarter million Americans were 'under surveillance' during this period, and dossiers were kept on the lawful political activities and personal lives of millions more. Those affiliated with black militant, antiwar, and New Left groups were prime targets of dirty tricks and other underhanded tactics designed to stir up factionalism and 'neutralize' political activists."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pg. 224)
There is no dispute that the FBI, as well as other federal agencies, were infiltrating the Nation at this time. The debate is over the extent the FBI's 'dirty tricks' went to neutralize such an organization. In Zebra, one of only two books focused on the Zebra murders, author Clark Howard strongly implies that some faction of the upper brass of the Nation was aware of, and even actively encouraging, the Zebra killings. The character of 'Vandyke,' a powerful figure within the Nation and based out of Chicago, in Howard's book represents this scenario.

And yet, we just read how John Ali, the former national secretary for the Nation, was an undercover FBI agent. We also read how Ali may even have been aware, if not actively encouraging, the assassination of Malcolm X. Is it possible that another FBI plant within the Nation's leadership structure was also encouraging the killings in San Francisco (and across California)?

It's a proven fact that the Nation was heavily infiltrated by the FBI at this point, and that the FBI was encouraging factionalism within the Nation. What's more, it seems as if violence associated with the Nation began to skyrocket (about the time of Malcolm X's murder) at the same time as the FBI's infiltration campaign went into high gear. The Zebra murders were a major part in further dividing, and 'neutralizing' the Nation as a political threat, one of the stated aims of the FBI's COINTELPRO operation. Further, the SLA, another organization with strong hints of US Intelligence meddling, was active in San Francisco at the same time as the Zebras, and may even have been in contact with several of the killers. Is it that far fetched to suggest that a provocateur or two were agitating black Muslims in San Francisco to start a terror campaign against whites? Or were the ties to the SLA, the Peoples Temple, and the Nation's escalating violence in the wake of FBI infiltration merely a coincidence?

As a final postscript to this series, there is one final link between Zebra and another radical outfit that I would likely to briefly consider. This outfit is none other than the notorious Son of Sam cult. Of course, whether or not the Son of Sam cult actually existed is highly debated itself and it is well beyond the scope of this current piece to thoroughly examine such claims. For now, I will stick with a brief overview and address how the alleged Son of Sam cult may have been linked to Zebra.

The chief proponent of this theory is journalist Maury Terry, who began investigating the Son of Sam murders even before David Berkowitz was arrested for them. In 1987 he published a 500+ page work on the Son Of Sam killings called The Ultimate Evil. Terry's take on the Son of Sam killings goes something like this:
"There is another side to David Berkowitz, however, and it surfaced shortly after his arrest, with allegations of his membership in a satanic cult. In letters mailed from prison, Berkowitz described participating in a New York cult affiliated with the lethal 'Four P Movement,' based in California. He revealed persuasive inside knowledge of a California homicide, unsolved since 1974, and wrote that 'There are other Sons out there --God help the world.

"According to the story told by Berkowitz, two of neighbor Sam Carr's sons were also members of the killer cult that specialized in skinning dogs alive and gunning victims down on darkened streets. One suspect, John Charles Carr, was said to be the same 'John Wheaties' mentioned in a letter penned by Berkowitz, containing other clues that point to cult involvement in the random murders. Calling themselves 'The Children,' the cultists operate from a base in Untermyer Park, where mutilated dogs were found from time to time. Cult members represented the 'Twenty-Two Disciples of Hell,' mentioned in one 'Son of Sam' letter...

"Newsman Maury Terry, after six years on the case, believes there were at least five different gunners in the 'Son of Sam' attacks, including Berkowitz, John Carr, and several suspects --one a woman --who have yet to be indicted. Terry also notes that six of the seven shootings fell in close proximity to recognized satanic holidays, the March 8 Voskerichian attack emerging as the sole exception to the pattern. In the journalist's opinion, Berkowitz was chosen as a scapegoat by the other members of his cult, who then set out to 'decorate' his flat with weird graffiti, whipping up a bogus 'arson ledger' --which includes peculiar out-of-date entries --to support a plea of innocent by reason of insanity."
(Raising Hell, Michael Newton, pgs. 50-51)


The 1974 murder the above passage mentions is that of Arlis Perry, who I mentioned briefly in part three. Her grizzly and highly ritualistic murder occurred just a week shy of the one year anniversary of the beginning of the Zebra killing spree. The 'Four P' cult Newton mentions is legendary in conspiracy lore. It is believed to be a splinter group of the notorious Process Church of Final Judgement, which was active in San Francisco in 1967 during the Summer of Love. The Process has long been associated with Charles Manson, who wrote an article for their Process magazine and who is believed to have picked up much of his ideology from the Process.

While the Process had officially vacated San Francisco by 1968 it has long been speculated that a Process splinter group, the Four P movement (a much more militant faction), was still active in California, and indeed across the entire nation. If such a group did in fact exist, then the Zebra killers were operating in area they were likely still active in. What's more, there are some striking similarities between the Zebra killings and the Son of Sam murders.

Victims for both outfits were typical an isolated individual or individuals, usually randomly chosen, wondering about the city at night. These victims were supposedly always chosen to placate the prejudices of the killers, e.g. the Zebra killers hated whites, so they only targeted white victims. The Son of Sam cult (or at least Berkowitz) reportedly hated women, especially those with long, dark hair, and sought out these types of victims. Virtually all the victims of both outfits were killed with handguns, with each outfit using a signature caliber. The Zebras used .32 pistols. The Son of Sam cult used .44 Charter Arms Bull Dogs. In both cases, the police were able to link the crimes by the caliber of bullet used.

And finally, the result of both shooting sprees were the same: widespread public terror, though New York did not go to the lengths of San Francisco in stopping the Son of Sam killings. Still, summer of 1977 became the 'Summer of Sam.' The local discotheques (outside of which several of the shootings occurred) became graveyards and much of the night life came to a crawl. Women all across New York city began to dye their hair blonde so as not to be targeted by the .44 killers.

As mentioned previously, the Son of Sam cult is believed to be a local chapter of a nationwide cult ring founded by a splinter group of the Process Church of Final Judgement. The ideology of the Process has in turn been described as heavily influenced by Nazism.
"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... 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... seems to indicate a Nazi rather Buddhist inspiration."
(Sinister Forces Book I, Peter Levenda, pg. 297)

a Process altar with stylized swastika

Mary Anne DeGrimston, one of the two co founders of the Process along with her husband Robert, even believed that she was the reincarnation of Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. The Process' ideology is cited as a major influence on Manson's views of a coming race war and apocalypse. Some have suggested that the Process was actively trying to bring such a race war about, and that they were even recruiting minorities to play a role in it.
"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."
(Raising Hell, Michael Newton, pg. 297)
Could that 'some kind of militant thing' have been the Zebra killings and other murders linked to black Muslims across the state of California in the early 1970s? Was there a cult based out of California then actively trying to instigate a race war? And if so, did it have ties to the US Intelligence community?

As we have seen throughout this series, there were a shocking number of serial killers, radical groups, and cults active in the San Francisco-Santa Cruz area in addition to the Zebra killers. What's more, several of these outfits, such as the Manson Family, the Peoples Temple, and possibly the SLA, were obsessed with the prospect of a looming race war, as were the Zebra killers. And this was all playing out against the backdrop of an unprecedented campaign to subvert factions of the 'New Left' being carried out by the FBI, the CIA, and a whole slew of alphabet agencies. Even before the crazies had descended upon San Francisco and Santa Cruz, both locations were being heavily used in the CIA's LSD tests since at least the 1950s. I daresay few regions of the world have ever had such a rogue's gallery of characters pass through it at any time in history as the San Francisco-Santa Cruz region at this time.

And it is here that I shall wrap things up, at long last. The reader that has stuck with me has observed the development of the legendary San Francisco scene that would become immortalized in American culture during 1967's Summer of Love. But over a decade before then the CIA had been active in the San Francisco/Santa Cruz area conducting experiments for their MK-ULTRA project, which included testing LSD in various local universities and hospitals. This would have a profound effect on the San Francisco area that would transform the city by the Bay into a kind of psychedelic city-state (at least along the Haight) full of promise for the future by the mid-1960s. But no sooner had the promise of better future arrived than it turned into a nightmare. The killings sprees of the Zodiac killer and Charles Manson would put the city on notice, but it was the early 1970s when things began to spiral out of control. A wave of serial killers, cults, and radical outfits would descend on the San Francisco-Santa Cruz area and turn this once tranquil region into one of the most violent parts of the country in less than half a decade.

It was in this climate that the Zebra killers started their bloody business -A climate that included Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple, the SLA, the Weather Underground and the Black Panther Party, amongst others. What's more, many of the groups claimed or hinted at ties with one and other. In this past installment we have focused on just how incestuous the whole radical community was at the time. What's more, these connections seem to stretch all the way back to at least the Summer of Love, and a cult known as the Process Church of Final Judgement, who in turn have been connected with a rash of cult-linked killings across the entire United States. A little over two years after the Zebra killers were arrested a series of seemingly random shootings connected by a signature weapon broke out across New York City. These shootings were attributed to David 'Son of Sam' Berkowitz, who claimed to be an operative for a cult known as 'the Children', though he just as well could have been a white Zebra copycat. But then again, perhaps the 'Death Angels' (the cult the Zebra killers allegedly belonged to) and 'the Children' simply had some overlap -or perhaps they were different branches of the same outfit.

It seems highly improbable that all of the connections I've outlined over the course of this series are mere coincidences. But this is the prevailing view of the mainstream -coincidence. To paraphrase Norman Bates, we all go a little mad some times, and that apparently is what happened in San Francisco-Santa Cruz in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And this perceptive works fine as well, just as long as one doesn't pay attention to the details.


  1. The NOI was teaching race war since the '30s:
    Fard’s demise as the leader of the temple was brought upon him when, on Thanksgiving Day in 1932, one of his followers, Robert Harris, renamed Robert Karriem, committed a human sacrifice in order to bring himself closer to Allah. Karriem cited a quotation from a book entitled Secret Rituals of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, authored by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad, which read, “The unbeliever must be stabbed through the heart.” This quote, as well as another stating, “Every son of Islam must gain a victory from a devil. Four victories and the son will attain his reward..”
    1965 report on 'Black Muslims and the Police,' pg2of9
    The Muslims claim that they will overcome without violence or torture, but there will be complete annihilation of the white man. The tentative date set for this annihilation is 1970.
    [This of course is about the time the Zebra killings start.]

  2. A really terrific and fascinating piece.
    When I was growing up, the Zebra killings, even then, were a murky, almost urban legend like story to justify white prejudice. I was never certain if or when, or even where they happened, but they did and white folks needed to be very afraid. "They" hated "us". There was talk of the inevitable race war to come.
    And this was nowhere near Northern California.
    I do wonder how much the Zebra killings aided and abetted White Nationalism and the more extreme fringes of our gun culture.
    If you look at the over reaction to Black Lives Matter and how the police killings in Dallas were immediately tied to BLM, it is not hard to see the Zebra inspired race paranoia of the 70s bubbling up to the surface. How these things are discussed almost has a feel of, "this is what we have been waiting for".
    The long term effect of the Zebra killings, in my mind, was to increase and solidify racial tensions and fears between blacks and whites, making broad, racially integrated political coalitions virtually impossible to organize.
    Considering the elites in this country have long sought a divide and conquer strategy with poor and working people, if the Zebra killings were not the nefarious result of some government security agency's counter insurgency style machinations, they certainly should have been.