Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zebra Killers

Machete Attack

San Francisco skyline
San Francisco skyline

A couple in their early 40s, a professor and his wife, were driving through the industrial section of San Francisco late one night in the fall of 1973 when a man staggered out of the shadows toward them.

            The area was deserted, illuminated by sparse and dim yellow streetlights, and the couple assumed the man was just another skid-row drunk.

            Then they noticed his hands were tied behind his back.

            The professor got out of the car and cautiously approached the stranger, who was muttering incoherently and struggling to maintain his balance. The professor called out to him. When the man turned around, the professor gasped. The stranger was hideously mutilated — his skin hung in bloody strips from his skull, as if someone had hacked at his face with a machete.

            Someone had.

            A few hours before, a group of men had kidnapped the man, Richard Hague, and his wife, Quita, as they took an after-dinner stroll around their neighborhood and forced them into a white van. After sexually molesting his wife, they'd slashed her neck with a machete, nearly decapitating her. They attacked Richard next, presuming that he was dead when he stopped moving. They presumed wrong. After the van drove off, Richard staggered into the street, where the professor and his wife found him.

Chief of Inspectors, Charles Barca
Chief of Inspectors, Charles Barca

            This was the first in a series of violent attacks by assailants known as the Zebra Killers after San Francisco Police Department dedicated the "Z" radio frequency to all communications related to the case. The senseless killings so terrorized San Francisco that residents were afraid to walk the streets after dark and out-of-town visitors booked their vacations elsewhere.

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