Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mitchell family’s murders

Jim Mitchell (left) and brother Artie Mitchell

Jim Mitchell (left) and brother Artie Mitchell

Jim Mitchell, born November 30, 1942, and brother Artie Mitchell, born December 17, 1945, grew up in a working-class family living in Antioch, California, a small town close to San Francisco. Their father, Robert Mitchell, was a professional gambler and their mother, Georgia Mae, a homemaker. The brothers were very close, often participating in the same sports and having the same friends. Jim was protective of Artie.

In the mid-1960s, Jim attended San Francisco State University, taking film courses. Through his part-time job at a porn cinema, he came to believe porn was the path to wealth. He shared this belief with Artie.

The brothers scraped together money and, on the Fourth of July in 1969, opened the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre in San Francisco. They filmed porn from another location.

The Mitchell Brothers made the film Behind the Green Door in 1971. Well-made for a porn flick, it received a publicity boost when the public learned that star Marilyn Chambers had previously appeared on a box of Ivory Snow, a soap for diapers and baby clothes. In that cover art, Chambers holds a baby and poses under the tagline “99 & 44/100% pure.” The film cost $60,000 to make and grossed over $25,000,000.

Hunter S. Thomson

Hunter S. Thomson

By 1974, the Mitchell Brothers operated eleven theatres as well as a facility making porn movies. In that year, they made The Resurrection of Eve. It also starred Chambers and, while not the blockbuster that Green was, turned a handsome profit.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, police routinely raided their theaters on obscenity and prostitution charges. Since San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein encouraged these raids, the Mitchell Brothers retaliated by obtaining her unlisted phone number. They put it on a marquee after the words, “For a Good Time, Call . . .”

Public opinion was sharply divided with some seeing the Mitchells as criminals demeaning the culture and others viewing them as champions of free speech and sexual freedom. The brothers made many friends in high places as they rode the wave of “porn chic.” The Mitchells hobnobbed with the rock band Aerosmith, Black Panther Huey Newton, and author Hunter S. Thompson.

As DVDs became household items in the 1990s, the O’Farrell Theatre went from showing porn films on a big screen to live sex shows. Warren Hinckle in the San Francisco Chronicle, writes that the Mitchells “pioneered” lap dancing.

The Mitchell Brothers addressed fears around the life-threatening sexually transmitted disease of AIDS when they produced the 1986 film Behind the Green Door: The Sequel. It promoted safer sex practices by displaying the use of condoms and dental dams. It starred newcomer Missy Manners whose real name was Elisa Florez. As was true of Marilyn Chambers, star of the original Green Door, the star of the sequel boasted an ironic background. She had worked as an aide to Utah’s Republican Senator Orrin Hatch.

In March 1990, Jim and Artie, together with three of Artie’s children and two of Jim’s, visited Ocean Beach. Several youngsters were caught in a dangerous riptide. Artie tried to rescue them and was himself caught. Ocean Beach rescue personnel, along with Jim paddling a surfboard, managed to save everyone but Artie, who had to be hospitalized for several days for hypothermia.

While Jim and Artie had always been close, they had also always had their quarrels. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jim became increasingly concerned that Artie was abusing alcohol and illegal drugs.

The Mitchell brothers' O'Farrell Theatre

The Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theatre

On February 27, 1991, Jim drove to Artie’s house. Artie’s live-in girlfriend, who was also an O’Farrell dancer, was Julie Bajo. Bajo told police, and later a grand jury, that she and Artie had been in a bedroom when they heard noises from the home’s front area. Bajo recalled hearing their front door opening and closing. She said this was quite possible because Artie never locked his front door because he wanted to make it easy for people close to him to seek his help. On this evening, Bajo said she heard the sounds of someone “bumping around” toward the front of the home.

Artie got up to investigate. Bajo retreated into a closet. Bajo said she heard no noises of a conversation before she heard shooting.

For reasons Bajo could not discern, Jim shot eight rounds from a .22 rifle, killing Artie. Terrified by the sound of shooting, Bajo dialed 911.

Officer Kent Haas found Jim on the sidewalk about 100 yards from Artie’s home. He had the rifle in a pants leg and a pistol in a holster.

Prominent attorney Michael Kennedy, who was also a close friend to Jim, served as his lead attorney.

At Jim’s trial, prosecutors presented a computer-generated video recreation of the killing. This made courtroom history. Computer-generated video recreations had been used in previous trials but this was the first time such a presentation was shown in a murder trial. Law.jrank.org states that a figure representing Artie “opened the bedroom door as the gunfire began, walked down the hall and was shot twice. The figure then entered the bathroom, puts its head into the hallway, and was shot the final time in the head before falling to the floor. The presumed tracks of the bullets were shown as red laser beams against a blue background.” As Rotten.com reports, “After the defense team objected that the human figure representing Artie was not gesturing in a menacing manner (as Jim claimed), the judge ordered that Artie’s avatar be replaced with a featureless polygon.” This same article continues that the jury watched “a computer-generated Jim shoot and kill a nightmarish monster from geometry class.”

Mitchell brothers, older, Artie on the left.

Mitchell brothers, older, Artie on the left.

Jim took the stand. He said he had previously had a conversation with Artie in which Artie was angry and threatening. Jim testified that he took the rifle to bluff Artie out of threatening Jim. Jim said Artie brandished a pistol and Jim fired. Jim claimed he had no memory of anything between his firing of the rifle and his being arrested on the street in front of the house.

The prosecution argued that Jim drove to Artie’s house intending to kill and he should be convicted of first-degree murder. The jury found Jim not guilty of murder but guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He was also convicted of unlawfully discharging a firearm and brandishing a firearm to a police officer.

In the sentencing phase, several witnesses testified on Jim’s behalf to support leniency. Among them were former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan and former Police Chief Richard Hongisto.

On April 24, 1992, Jim was sentenced to three years for manslaughter and an additional three years for using a firearm in the killing.

Jim left San Quentin on October 8, 1997. San Quentin spokesperson Lieutenant Joy Macfarlane said he had been a “discipline-free, conforming inmate.” Macfarlane elaborated that he had had a work assignment that he had performed regularly. One of his attorneys, Nanci Clarence, remarked that he looked forward to spending much of his time in freedom with his family. She also said he was happy to be able to return to hobbies such as gardening. “He is in an industry that demands greater and greater levels of exoticism and spectacle,” Clarence observed. “The paradox of his life is that his private tastes are anything but exotic.”

His parole lasted three years. He had to meet regularly with his parole officer, see a therapist, and abstain from alcohol as well as illegal drugs. To ensure compliance with the latter parole requirements, he had to submit to regular urine testing.

After his release, Jim founded an “Artie Fund” to support a local drug treatment center. Artie’s children denounced this fund because they found it outrageous that their father’s killer posed as honoring him.

On July 12, 2007, Jim died from a heart attack. His funeral was held in his native town of Antioch and he was buried next to Artie.

James Mitchell

James Mitchell

Mitchell family history repeated itself in a tragic manner in 2009. Jim’s son and heir, James Mitchell, who was eight years old when his father killed his uncle, met Danielle Keller at a San Francisco club in 2007. Their romance led to the birth of Samantha, nicknamed “Ladybug.” In 2009, Danielle and Samantha moved in with Danielle’s mother, Claudia Stevens. Danielle asserted James had threatened and battered her. She had an attorney file a domestic violence restraining order against James.

On July 12, 2009, on the second anniversary of Jim’s death, little Samantha was celebrating her first birthday. Danielle had an ice cream cake ready for the child.

James arrived at the party. Witnesses said Samantha cried as he viciously beat Danielle with a baseball bat in Stevens’ backyard. Then he grabbed Samantha and drove away.

Police tracked the signals between James’s cell phone and phone towers and found his car parked on a street. Samantha was fast asleep in the car seat when James was taken into custody. Samantha was placed in Child Protective Services.

Danielle Keller

Danielle Keller

In July 2011, a jury convicted James, then 29, of first-degree murder. He was also convicted of kidnapping, child endangerment, child abduction, stalking, and domestic violence. Deputy District Attorney Charles Cacciatore stated that the verdict shows “the seriousness with which we treat domestic violence cases here in Marin County.”

The verdict may also reflect that the wealthy Mitchell family is sadly dysfunctional.

 

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