Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zebra Killers

Fanatical Black Sect?

San Francisco Police Dept patch
San Francisco Police Dept patch

            The San Francisco Police Department called the December 28 murder spree the city's most violent night since the late 1920s, when a cab driver named Buck Kelley went berserk and shot several people to death.

            The city cringed with fear. The victims were outlined in yellow chalk on the streets where they fell, and these empty shapes were a constant reminder to passersby that they could be next. As the winter dusk fell early, office workers and students rushed home to lock their doors and draw their shades.

            The police pleaded for the public's help.

            "This is a case where the public will be our best detectives," Chief of Inspectors Charles Barca told the Chronicle. "These are senseless, unprovoked crimes and it's hard to understand them."

            Barca admitted that his department had few leads in the case. They knew the attackers were slender, young, black men who favored .32 automatic pistols. They knew the victims were random whites who merely happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Beyond that, they didn't know much, he said.

            He assured the paper that his department would guarantee the anonymity of any witnesses that came forward.

            The papers began to publish reports that the killings were part of an initiation rite of a "fanatical sect of blacks" who were killing white people across the country. In one such report, the Chronicle said that a white hitchhiker in Long Beach was picked up by three black men on a freeway and driven to a deserted street, where he was savagely knifed and left for dead.

            In all of the attacks, the assailants were described as polite, well-dressed black men who wore their hair closed-cropped or who had shaved their heads.

            The city breathed a bit easier when there was a lull in the violence for several months.

            Then came April.

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