Heart of the City Archives

Find the rogues and renegades in Notorious City
by Hank Donat

A woman I know was offended recently when she saw Dan White depicted in a mural of notorious San Francisco historical figures. If online traffic is any indicator, my friend is in the minority of people who are truly repelled by that which is repelling. These stories attract readers to my San Francisco-themed web site by up to 50% more than any other category. If you are a student of the sinister side of San Francisco's history and social culture, you may want to clip this column for use as a guided tour. It is a small sampling of the most curious cases.

Patty Hearst is the publishing heiress who was kidnapped by members of the leftist Symbionese Liberation Army on February 5, 1974. Images of Hearst, seemingly reborn as the gun-toting rebel Tania, appeared in security camera footage after Hearst and her captors robbed a Hibernia Bank in the City two months later. She was eventually captured at a safe house at 625 Morse Street in the Excelsior. Today Hearst is a Connecticut mom and itinerate actress and TV presenter. The Hibernia Bank, 1450 Noriega Street, is a Hollywood Video store.

Disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk at City Hall on November 27, 1978. The following year, White was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after his attorneys used the widely misunderstood "Twinkie defense." (White's junk food eating was cited as a symptom of his nervous breakdown, not as the cause.) Following his release from prison, White committed suicide at his home at 150 Shawnee Avenue on October 21, 1985. The window through which White entered City Hall on the McAllister Street side on the day of the murders is now a door.

On February 27, 1991 Jim Mitchell shot his brother Artie to death in Artie Mitchell's Corte Madera home. Jim, who would become inmate #J38838, served just three years for the crime before his release from San Quentin Prison in 1997. The brothers had become porn kings after opening the O'Farrell Theatre on the southeast corner of Polk and O'Farrell Streets on July 4, 1969.

In 1971, the Mitchells cast Marilyn Chambers as the star of their adult feature "Behind the Green Door." At the time of the film's release, Chambers also appeared as a model on boxes of Ivory Snow soap. The publicity created a multi-million dollar success out of "Green Door" and ensconced the Mitchells in the pantheon of adult entertainment alongside figures like Larry Flynt and Hugh Hefner.

With seven confirmed victims, the Zodiac Killer terrorized California in the late 1960s. The case of the unknown murderer who taunted police in letters to newspaper editors has spawned copy cat criminals, counterfeit Zodiac letters, and fictional murderers including the serial killer in "Dirty Harry," the Gemini in William Peter Blatty's "Legion," and the Tinkerbell murderer in Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City." The Zodiac murdered his final victim, cab driver Paul Stine, in Stine's cab in front of 3898 Washington Street in Presidio Heights on October 11, 1969.

By 2001, The Church of Satan at 6114 California Street was in ruins and marked for demolition. The property was the longtime home of Satanic Bible author Anton LaVey who had died in 1997. LaVey was known as the Black Pope by his followers who included the Manson Family and Jane Mansfield. A natural showman, LaVey sustained his evil act by conducting decades of rites, rituals, and curses at this location in the City. LaVey, who founded the church in 1966, was beneath it all a media character. His manifesto ascribed his own brand of dark psychological insight to a lot of the same debauchery that was happening in Northern California leading up to the Summer of Love. Though he became known all over the world, LaVey's success waned in the 1980s and by the early '90s he had gone bankrupt.

Located at 401 Geary Street, the Pinecrest Diner boasts, "We serve the best breakfast in San Francisco," but that's not what it's known for. The otherwise standard issue urban diner is the infamous location where cook Hashiem Zayed shot waitress Helen Menicouover to death over an argument about poached eggs in 1997. Zayed and Menicouover worked together at the Pinecrest in the heart of the theatre district at Mason and Geary for more than 20 years before the killing. On the day of the murder, Menicouover berated Zayed for preparing poached eggs at the request of a customer - even though the dish wasn't on the menu - before Zayed fired five shots into Menicouover behind the counter.

On September 4, 1977, a long-standing feud between Chinatown gangs Joe Boys and Wah Ching led to a botched assassination attempt at the Golden Dragon Restaurant, 816 Washington Street. Members of Joe Boys were enraged after Wah Ching vandalized the graves of some Joe Boys members. Five innocent bystanders, including two tourists, were killed and 11 injured when Joe Boys descended on the Golden Dragon to avenge their dead. Known as the Golden Dragon Massacre, the incident led to the formation of the San Francisco Police Department's Gang Task Force.

Hometown hero OJ Simpson rose from the streets of Potrero Hill to international super stardom as the Hiesman Trophy winning running back from USC who went on to break several records in the NFL. The Galileo High School graduate was honored with a mural at the Potrero Hill Recreation Center. He later became a Frankenstein celebrity after his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson was brutally murdered on June 12, 1994 along with waiter Ron Goldman. Simpson was acquitted of the murders in the sensational "Trial of the Century" but was held responsible for the deaths by a $30 million jury award at a subsequent trial in civil court. Simpson has since been dishonored by the Potrero mural at 17th and Arkansas Streets which has been constantly splattered with the word "Guilty" and other graffiti since the murders.

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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