Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zebra Killers

The Grocer and the Junkie

Book Cover: Zebra
Book Cover: Zebra

His name was Saleem Erakat, but he was "Sammy" to his customers. On the day he was killed for appearing too white, the 53-year-old Jordanian Arab had owned Erakat's Grocery at 452 Larkin Street for 13 years.

            Erakat and his wife, Somiha, had four children, ranging in age from early teens to 21, and the entire family worked at the store, which was open seven days a week, wrote Clark Howard in "Zebra," the only book on the case. The store was located near Civic Center, and government workers streamed through its door on their breaks to buy sandwiches, cold drinks and fruit.

            Sunday, November 25, 1973, broke cold and rainy. As Erakat tended the shop by himself, a tall black man wearing a raincoat and carrying an attaché case entered the store and greeted him in Arabic, Howard writes.

            "As-salaam-alaikum," the man said. Peace be with you.

            "Walaikem as-salaam," the grocer replied. Peace be with you, too.

            Erakat recognized him; he was a regular customer.

            "Did you come for your apple today?" the grocer joked.

            "Not exactly," the black man responded, pulling a gun from his attaché case.

            The man ordered Erakat into the back of the shop, where the grocer pointed to a bag of money and told him to take it. The man wasn't interested. He tied Erakat's hands with one of the grocer's own ties and forced him to kneel in a tiny bathroom. The man's moves were slow and methodical. He wrapped a thick piece of cloth around the muzzle of his gun and pressed it behind Erakat's right ear, then squeezed the trigger, Howard writes, thus ending a father's life and an immigrant's American dream.

            Paul Dancik wasn't as ambitious. He was a 26-year-old heroin junkie.

            On December 11, Dancik's last day of life, he was jonesing for a fix. He'd just been released from jail for drug possession and was itching to score. He walked up Haight Street looking for a pay phone. He'd been arrested half a dozen times before for drug offenses ranging from possession to loitering in areas where narcotics were sold, Howard writes.

Haight & Ashbury Street sign
Haight & Ashbury Street sign

            As Dancik stepped up to a phone on Haight Street with a dime in one hand and a scrap of paper with a dealer's phone number in the other, a black man walked up behind him, Howard writes.

            "Hey you," the man called. When Dancik turned, the man pumped three bullets into his chest. Danick stared at his attacker in disbelief before staggering 20 feet past him down the sidewalk, one hand pressed to his chest, and collapsing onto the pavement.

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