Agnos, Art: Zebra murders 1973-74


Art Agnos: In 1973, I was working as a field representative administrative assistant to Leo McCarthy, working in the capitol in Sacramento as well as in San Francisco, and because I had chosen to continue living in the eastern side of the city which ultimately became the assembly district I ran for, Potrero Hill, I was well known at that time as a social worker who has political power. And so some of my neighbors over on the Potrero Hill housing projects asked me to come to a meeting to build a health clinic for the housing project for women and children, and families in need. That was a dangerous time in San Francisco. People didn’t go out at night because there was a series of killings going on. It hadn’t become quite as pronounced as it did later that year in 1973, but people were still conscious of it, it was in the papers, and it ultimately be known as the “Zebra Killings.” It wasn’t known as that then. But nevertheless I had made a commitment to go to the meeting. Went to the meeting. Had a very successful and productive meeting with a group of people, primarily African Americans who lived in the public housing project, and agreed that I could help them. And as I was walking back to my car, I had a date with my now wife, then fiancé, a couple of people from the meeting stopped me to ask a follow-up question. And as I was addressing them, another African American man came up to me and fired twice into my chest point-blank range. I didn’t react when he was coming up to me because it was a very integrated neighborhood and you weren’t surprised if somebody of color came towards you. So he was literally at point-blank when he pulled out a .32 caliber pistol and fired twice in the chest. Once right here, and once there. What saved my life, quite frankly, the doctor said was he happened to point the pistol in a downward trajectory rather than level because if it had been level it would have gone through my heart. So the whole neighborhood erupted. He ran away. I was brought to the hospital at San Francisco General who saved my life. Later on, a couple of the inspectors, Carreras and Fatinas (who happened to be Greek) who were doing the investigation came and told me that I was part of the Zebra Case. I said, “the Zebra Case?” I thought it was a racist description when you’re talking about zebra, black, white. I said “You cops are all the same. Ya’ know you’re always thinking the worst.” But they turned out to be right. It was a radical sect of the Black Muslims who required the killing of a Caucasian as an initiation into this group. And they were very deadly because they shot and killed about fifteen or sixteen people, wounded another five, and of those five I’m the only one who’s not permanently disabled. So I was very lucky. This went on for the better part of a year because it was stretched out as these various perspective members into this radical group were earning their initiation. Indeed at that time, as we look back, it was the first example of radical Islamic terrorism in this country, and it was in this city. At that time we only had three major networks you know, ABC, CBS, etc. I was on all of them because the country was completely captivated by this terror that this famous city of San Francisco was under - captivated by it. So Mayor Alioto had to do some really dramatic things that were controversial at the time which today would be called racial profiling; stopping every Black person who fit a certain description to see if they had guns on them and all the other kinds of things. It was not an easy time in San Francisco.


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The Moscone oral history interviews are part of the George Moscone Collection, MSS 328.

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