The 170-year history of the San Francisco Bay Area told through its crimes and how they intertwine with the city’s art, music, and politics
In The Murders That Made Us, the story of the San Francisco Bay Area unfolds through its most violent and depraved acts. From its earliest days when vigilantes hung perps from downtown buildings to the Zodiac Killer and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, murder and mayhem have shaped the city into the political and economic force that she is today.
The Great 1906 Earthquake shook a city that was already teetering on the brink of a massive prostitution scandal. The Summer of Love ended with a pair of ghastly drug dealer slayings that sent Charles Manson packing for Los Angeles. The 1970s come crashing down with the double tragedy of Jonestown and the assassination of Gay icon Harvey Milk by an ex-cop. And the 21st Century rise of California Governor Gavin Newsom, Trump insider Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Vice President Kamala Harris is told through a brutal dog-mauling case and the absurdity called Fajitagate. It’s a 170-year saga of madness, corruption, and death revealed here one crime at a time.
Bob Calhoun is a San Francisco Bay Area author, journalist, and former wrestler and peepshow emcee. Since 2015, he has recounted his city’s most gruesome and lurid events in his regular SF Weekly column, Yesterday’s Crimes. His punk wrestling memoir, Beer, Blood & Cornmeal (ECW Press), was a national bestseller.
Satan Saves Zodiac
Robert Salem designed fashionable lamps out of his converted firehouse at 745 Stevenson Street near San Francisco’s Civic Center. His hurricane-style light fixtures were sold in specialty shops throughout the world and a few of his designs were even displayed in museums as high art. Salem had friends who worked at the nearby Franciscan Hotel, and he told them they could stop by his place anytime. The hotel workers grew worried when they hadn't seen the middle-aged artist in several days, so they went to Salem's live-work space on Sunday, on April 19, 1970 to make sure he was okay. They noticed a rank odor coming from his apartment, so they broke down the door. Trails of dried blood led throughout what the Chronicle described as “an expensively-decorated hippie-style pad” with Japanese tatami mats on the floors and tree branches climbing up the walls.
They found Salem’s mutilated body on one of mats. He had been stabbed several times with a very sharp knife, and his throat cut from ear-to-ear in a botched attempt at decapitation. Frustrated from not being able to sever the head from the body, the killer cut off Salem’s ear and took it with him. Investigators never found the ear. Before the killer left the apartment, he took a shower to wash off the blood, and cranked the heater up to 90° to exacerbate the putrescence. On the wall of the flat, he scrawled the words “Satan saves Zodiac” in his victim's blood with "a weird cross-like design” next to it that turned out to be an Egyptian ankh. Homicide Inspector Gus Coreris was hesitant to say that Salem’s murder was the work of the Zodiac Killer, who had been terrorizing the greater Bay Area since gunning down Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday in Benicia on Dec. 20, 1968.
“Probably the person we are after wanted us to think it was the Zodiac,” Inspector Coreris said with a bit of caution.
It had been nearly six months since the Zodiac’s last known murder. On Oct. 11, 1969, the killer hailed Paul Stein’s cab on the corner of Mason and Geary Streets. He rode it to Washington and Cherry Streets in Presidio Heights, where he shot Stein in the back of the head with a 9mm automatic. Two days later, the Zodiac sent a bloody swatch of Stein’s shirt to the San Francisco Chronicle to needle reporters and police. Zodiac was the grandfather of all trolls.
On April 20, 1970, the same day that the Chronicle ran its first story on the Salem murder, the Zodiac Killer dropped a letter to the paper into a corner mailbox in San Francisco. This was his first letter since he sent a note with yet another cipher to attorney Melvin Belli on Dec. 20, 1969. “I have killed ten people to date,” Zodiac boasted in the new letter at a time when only five of his victims had been confirmed (then and now). The serial killer didn’t take credit for the Salem murder or even mention it, but he dangled the possibility that he could have been responsible. Zodiac closes the letter with a sinister postscript on the bottom of a page showing a hand-drawn diagram of a bomb.
“I hope you have fun trying to fygure (sic) out who I killed,” he taunts.
"Zodiac = 10. SFPD = 0. "
“Bob Calhoun’s The Murders That Made Us reveals that even the most violent aspects of San Francisco’s history are as colorful and fascinating as the city itself. This is a book for both true crime buffs and any readers who enjoy top-notch storytelling. ” — Jeff Guinn, New York Times bestselling author of Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson and The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple
“A gripping, deliciously shocking, expertly researched true-crime history of the Bay Area. ” — Alia Volz, author of Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco