Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zebra Killers

The Deadliest Night

The night of Monday, December 28, took the heaviest toll, as roaming gunmen slayed four whites.

            That evening, Jane Holly, 45, decided to do a load of laundry at the Lightning Coin Launderette, a few blocks away from her home.

            She was the only white person in the laundromat, Howard writes, and as her clothes spun in the washers, she sipped a grape soda and shared a newspaper with another patron, a black man who sat next to her.

            Holly was born in St. Louis County, Missouri, and grew up in a household where she was one of 14 children. In San Francisco, she worked for Wells Fargo Bank.

            As she reached into a dryer to take out her clothes, a black man leveled a gun at her and shot her twice in the back, Howard writes. She slumped against the row of stainless steel dryers, and the black man she was sharing the newspaper with ran over and eased her to the ground.

            Witnesses described her killer as a tall slender black man wearing a three-quarter-length leather coat and a "Fu Manchu mustache," the Chronicle reported. The man fled the scene in a 1969 Cadillac.

            When her husband, George Holly, got home from a Masonic meeting a little after 10:30 p.m., he was surprised that his wife was still at the laundromat.

            "So naturally, I strolled down to Silver Avenue to help her carry the things back," he later told the Chronicle. "And instead, I found her laundry there, and a homicide inspector who told me she was dead."

            Holly described his wife as a woman who had an infectious laugh and who was very social. She'd joked with him shortly before she was killed that "when the time comes, make sure you don't arrange the funeral for any day but the weekend. There's no excuse for upsetting our friends' schedules by having a funeral on a weekday."

              The couple would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary that April.

            Tana Smith, 32, a secretary in Bechtel Corp., lived alone in an apartment at 2908 California Street. 

            She had recently lost some weight, Howard writes, and had decided to buy material at a fabric store near her apartment to sew herself a new outfit to celebrate. At around 8 p.m., Smith paused at the intersection of Geary Boulevard and Divisadero Street. A light-skinned black man with a mustache and dark coat walked up behind her and shot her twice in the back.

            The man fled on foot, and a crowd gathered. A black man took off his coat and rolled it up to pillow her head. When the ambulance arrived, Smith complained about the pain. She died shortly afterward.

            At the crime scene, police again found 32-caliber shell casings, and immediately knew it was another Zebra hit.

           Vincent Wollin was killed on his 69th birthday. The retired Coast Guardsman and cabinetmaker lived at a residential care home. He liked to feed pigeons on the steps of City Hall and play dominoes with his friends, according to the Chronicle.

            To celebrate his birthday, he'd stopped for donuts and coffee -- his favorite snack -- three different times in three different places, Howard writes.

            Afterward, he'd watched shoppers bustling to and from Macy's and Saks in Union Square, then wandered into a billiards room several blocks away to shoot pool.. Later that afternoon, he played dominoes at St. Vincent de Paul, then caught a bus to the Wharf to watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge.

            He was shot in the back, 10 minutes after Tana Smith was killed, at Divisadero and Fulton Streets. He fell facedown on the sidewalk. Witnesses described his killer as a young black man of average height and weight with a medium Afro who was wearing a light gray turtleneck sweater.

            An ambulance raced to the scene, lights and sirens blaring, and an EMT determined that Wollin was still alive, but he didn't survive the trip to the hospital.

            Again, the police found.32-caliber shell casings at the scene.

            Fifteen minutes later, it was John Bambic's turn.

            Bambic, 84, lived in a rooming house at 285 Ninth Street. He dressed in rags and had lost most of his teeth. He supplemented his Social Security income by digging through garbage bins for recyclables. When people saw the old man doddering down the streets clutching dirty bottles, they thought he was a bum.

            The only person who interacted with him on a regular basis was the corner grocer, who told the Chronicle he was a "loner."

            Bambic was shot in the back at point-blank range as he rummaged through a trash bin. When he felt the sting of the bullet, he whirled around,   grabbed his assailant's neck, and began to howl in his face, Howard writes. A resident watching television in an apartment overlooking the street heard the commotion and looked out his window to see a black man and a white man locked in combat. Two men walking out of a bar also witnessed this scene. The black man screamed for Bambic to let go of him. Bambic finally did, and dropped to an ignominious death amid the clutter of the street.

            Roxanne McMillian, 23, had just moved to San Francisco with her husband and 4-month-old baby. Their apartment was a first-floor flat located at 102 Edinburgh.

            As McMillian carried a box of kitchen towels from her car to her new apartment, a black man sidled up to her and told her hello, Howard writes.

            He shot her once in the back and a second time in the side as she turned to speak to him. The gunman fled and her husband rushed to where she'd fallen on the apartment building steps.

            Although she faced years of painful recovery and would be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, she was lucky. She was the only victim who survived the night.


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