That Zebra Killings

The “Zebra” murders were a string of racially motivated murders, committed by four African-American men who were later convicted, that took place in San Francisco, California, from October 1973 to April 1974.

During 1973 and 1974, fourteen execution style murders and eight assaults occurred in San Francisco, whose police named the case “Zebra” after the special police radio band they assigned for the investigation. Twenty-two crimes in a six-month spree involved mostly white victims of the three black suspects.

The majority of the attacks were carried out by five members of a group within Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam called the “Death Angels.” Jesse Lee Cooks, J.C. Simon, Larry Green, Manuel Moore and Anthony Harris were part of this group which believed that whites were created 3,000 years ago by a black mad scientist named Yacub who wanted a race of inferiors to rule over. Death Angels believed they could earn “points” towards going to heaven when they died if they killed whites.

The first murders in this spree occurred on October 19, 1973 and were particularly grisly. Richard Hague, 30, and his wife, Quita, 28, were kidnapped and forced into a white van as they took an evening walk around Coit Tower. Quita was fondled by two men and then nearly decapitated by a third with a machete. One of the killers then attacked Richard with the machete, but he survived.

Ten days later, on October 29, 1973, the Death Angels claimed their second victim. Frances Rose, 28, was driving up to the entrance gate of the University of California at Berkeley extension center in her gold Mustang when a black man walked in front of her car. He raised his hand, ordering her to halt, then leaned through the window and asked for a ride, Howard writes. Something about him made Rose step on the accelerator instead. The passenger door was unlocked, and the man flung it open and fired into the car, spraying bullets into Rose’s neck, cheek and chest.

There were even some high profile victims. Art Agnos, who would later go on to become mayor of San Francisco, was shot and almost killed by the Death Angels. A member of the California Commission on Aging, Agnos was attending a community meeting in a black neighborhood to discuss building a government funded health clinic in the area. In the same neighborhood the killers were hunting for whites. As the meeting let out, Agnos stopped to talk with two women. One of the killers came up behind him and shot him twice in the back. The bullets ripped apart his lungs, spleen and kidneys. Bystanders called an ambulance and Agnos barely survived

The SFPD had tried another tack — offering a $30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killers.

When Anthony Harris, an employee at the Black Self-Help Moving and Storage in Market Street, and Death Angel candidate, saw the sketches in the newspaper, his active imagination concluded that one of the sketches was of him. Seeing the reward as a way of helping his family, gaining immunity from prosecution, and securing a new identity, he called the police and told them about the “Death Angels.”

Anthony Harris was struggling to support a wife and baby, and $30K was a lot of dough to him. A few hours after he dropped a dime from a pay phone, detectives brought him to a police station for questioning. He spilled all the beans, telling them about the Death Angels and the point system based on killing white people.

Howard writes that the Black Muslim sect believed white people were an inferior race created by evil scientist named Yacub, and that by killing “blue-eyed devils” or “grafted snakes” — as they called Caucasians — they would be guaranteed entry to heaven. The cops couldn’t believe their ears. But as Harris talked to them, they realized he was the real deal. Only a person who had witnessed the murders would be able to recount them in such detail.

Harris also told them about a killing that hadn’t made the paper, that of a young white homeless man the group had kidnapped from Ghirardelli Square. The men had brought the man back to Black Self Help, stripped him naked and tied him to a column in the loft, Howard writes. Then each of the men had chosen a weapon — a knife, a meat cleaver, a machete — and taken turns hacking him to pieces. Harris told the detectives that he’d dumped the body into the San Francisco Bay.

Quita Hague, hacked to death …
Frances Rose, her face blown apart by close-range gunshots
Saleem Erakat, tied up and executed
Paul Dancik, shot down at a public telephone …
Marietta DiGirolamo, thrown into a doorway and shot to death
Ilario Bertuccio, killed while walking home from work …
Neal Moynihan, shot down while taking a teddy bear to his little sister
Mildred Hosler, shot down while walking toward her bus stop
John Doe #169, kidnapped, tortured, butchered, decapitated
Tana Smith, murdered on her way to buy blouse material
Vincent Wollin, murdered on his sixty-ninth birthday
John Bambic, murdered while rummaging in a trash bin
Jane Holly, murdered in a public Laundromat …
Thomas Rainwater, shot down on the street as he walked to a market …
and Nelson Shields IV, shot three times in the back as he was straightening out the cargo deck on his station wagon

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