Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zebra Killers

Teddy Bear

Angela Roselli, a 20-year-old college student, was in a good mood on the night of December 20, 1973. She'd been to a Christmas party where she'd had a few drinks with friends, and was looking forward to a break from her studies.

            Afterward, as she parked her car near her apartment in The Haight, she noticed two black men talking in a car that was double-parked further down the block. One of them got out and started walking toward her. She thought he was going to hit on her.

            "He had a real nice coat, light-colored, maybe camel hair, three-quarter-length," she told the Chronicle later. "He was wearing a white tam o'shanter.

            "He had this zombie look when I turned around before he shot me," she said. "It was like he was in a trance – he was looking at me, but he was looking through me.

            "I didn't see the gun. He must have had it up his sleeve. I thought the first two shots were firecrackers. The third shot made my leg go out. I went down and I figure that saved me from getting his fourth shot in the head."

            The third shot had nicked her spine. Roselli spent weeks in physical therapy, but she survived.

            Ilario Bertuccio, shot the same night, did not.

            The 81-year-old janitor worked at the 7-Up bottling company in the high-crime Bay View district of San Francisco. After he finished sweeping the loading dock, he'd collected his nightly free bottle of 7-Up and stuck it in a paper bag, Howard writes.

            It was a mile walk to his apartment, but Bertuccio enjoyed it, as he did his job. Despite family and friends who urged him to retire, Bertuccio liked to stay active. He was a small man, 5'3 and 135 lbs., and he had an impressive shock of thick white hair.

            The old man probably didn't think anything was unusual about the figure walking down the sidewalk toward him. It was too dark to see the gun he was holding. But as the stranger grew closer, he opened fire on Bertuccio, shooting him four times in the shoulder and chest. The old man's prized bottle of 7-Up shattered on the cement next to where he fell. Mercifully, Bertuccio died almost instantly.

             Two days later, on December 22, two more whites died.

            Shortly after 8 p.m., Neal Moynihan, 19, was walking down a street in near the Civic Center. Moynihan, a fifth-generation Irish-American resident of San Francisco, had just gone Christmas shopping and had bought a teddy bear for his kid sister. As he passed the Civic Center Hotel, gingerly carrying his package, a black man walked up to and shot him in the face, neck and heart. He crumpled lifeless to the sidewalk, the teddy bear splattered with his blood.

            Moynihan's murderer fled down an alley and turned down Gough, where Mildred Hosler, 50, was walking to her bus stop. The killer walked up to Hosler and shot her four times in the left breast before continuing down the street at a jog, no doubt enormously pleased with himself: he'd eliminated two whites in six minutes. 

            The shooting spree baffled the police. There appeared to be a total absence of motives. No robbery. No rapes. No angry exchange before bullets were fired.

            It was every city dweller's worst nightmare – random, senseless, violence. No one was safe. Equally troubling was the ethnic breakdown of the crimes. In every case, the killers were black, the victims were white.           

            Authorities did know a few things about the killers. In each case, the gunman had walked up to his victim, fired several shots into the person at close range, and then fled on foot. A hit-run killing, police called it. Another clue linked the killings. The gunman favored a 32-caliber pistol; the shells were scattered over the pavement at each crime scene.

            Police Chief Donald Scott announced the "Z" radio frequency would be reserved for all communications related to the case, which the press began to refer to as the "Zebra Killings."

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