True Crime: Death by Homonym

30 Stockton

A few months ago I was in a trial, on the jury. I didn’t end up deliberating because of a nasty debilitating cold- just wanted to put those two words in the same sentence! As true stories go, this one was beyond odd. To make this a cohesive story I’ve interpreted events. So it’s quasi-non-fiction, if that’s possible.

Death by Homonym

Why Homonym? Turns out that the fact that “pitcher” and “picture” sound the same became a major obstacle in the investigation.

Remember that heat wave last year? Late July, we had a few days of insane heat. I was at a Ghetto Gourmet party in Hunter’s Point, sharing a bottle of Beringer Merlot that I can still remember its taste on my tongue if I concentrate hard enough. A mile away, in the Tenderloin, in a small apartment with a Gothic stained glass half circle window out onto Polk Street, the evening hours ticked away in the heat. As it got stuffier – none of the windows could be opened, and the door was always kept cold- two friends argued about what they always argue about. Bedbugs in the building, problems with Catholic Church, Oprah, getting a job, and of course, the new futon, and whether it was infested.

The two housemates weren’t really housemates. The older guy was the apartment lease holder and a friend that he let crash on his couch. The younger guy was a former prostitute and homeless. He was quiet, strong man in his 30s, with a deep baritone and a defensive, smart-aleck demeanor. The older guy, Guy, was effusive and firendly, who had a wild youth but now was settled in his quiet lifestyle of watching tv and reading paperbacks, attending Mass and living on his small income. He rarely left the house, sitting in his small studio apartment reading and watching his beloved old TV. Some of us on the jury suspected he was scamming the social service system, and that he was a former transvestite- all unfounded and speculation of course. It was clear form the icons and religious paintings around his apartment that he was Catholic. He kept piles and piles of papers and books were strategically sorted and kept in certain places. It seemed messy, but was an organized chaos.

Chris was the young homeless guy. When Guy used to hire Chris for the night, he’d let Chris stay over. As the sex stopped, and Guy became increasingly religious, he would let Chris stay over more and more without any services. There were boundaries, though. Chris couldn’t come over before 5pm, and he had to leave the apartment by 9am. Many times Chris waited outside the building, or in the hallway, for these proscribed hours to finish or to arrive.

Guy took on Chris as a kind of strange charity He hounded him constantly to change his ways- to be more orderly, to get a job, to try and do something with his life. Chris stubbornly persisted in his lifestyle- that is to crash at Guy’, then wander around the Financial District during the day picking up cigarettes.

On that night, though, the sticky hot night in that cramped apartment, where Guy refused to open the windows, they started bickering five hours early, and at 3am, Guy was dead, bludgeoned on the floor of his apartment. Blood seeped into the carpet; it was sprayed around on the walls. Chris realized what he had done, and started the first day of several weeks of trying to clean up the mess. He was now leading a more orderly life like Guy wanted, too bad Guy wasn’t around to see the change in him.


The apartment manager, a young black woman who was an art student as well as the manager, showed the pesticide guy around the apartment building. She noticed that Guy had never taken down the notice regarding the pesticide visit from his door, that she had posted three days earlier. She used her master key to open the door, and instantly she and the pesticide guy recoiled in horror at the awful smell. “I know that smell.” He said, and waved her away. He walked in and found Guy wrapped in a blanket in the closet of the studio apartment. He lifted some blankets to reveal a toe, bloated and purple. What he suspected was true. This person was dead.

The apartment manager called 911 and waited for them to arrive. A CSI team arrived and took footage, assessed the situation, and initially noted it as natural causes, because of some vomit near Guy’s head.

The medical examiner was notified of the death, and reviewed the body when it arrived at the morgue. As she examined the body, she quickly realized that it was not natural causes. She visited the scene, where she noticed immediately piles and piles of paper bags full of various household items. Below the bags was a blood-soaked carpet. Blood splatter lined the walls. She notifed the police and advised them to send a new CSI crew onto the scene.

She examined the body and determined that blows to the head had caused the crime. Multiple blows. The police asked her what the weapon was, and she determined that it was blunt.

The police questioned various people around hte building and found the identity of Chris. They posted an all points bulletin. A shopkeeper in the Tenderloin called in and stated that he had the suspect at his counter. He left his shop and followed as Chris wandered down various blocks of the Tenderloin.

A young SFPD officer from North Beach received the note from the dispatcher about picking up a suspect. Since he was unaware whether this guy would be armed or not, he drove down to the Tenderloin, where the shopkeeper was tailing Chris. He walked up to Chris, asked him to answer some questions at the precinct, cuffed him, and led him to the patrol car.

Two homicide detectives at 9th and Bryant got the call that the suspect has been picked up in the Polk St. homicide case. They drove over to the Vallejo station- and got coffee, of course- and proceeded to interrogate Chris for four hours. Much of this discussion was a boring cat and mouse game about Chris denying that Guy had died of homicide. three and a half hours in, he finally admits that yes, he dealt the fatal blow to Chris. They were arguing, and Guy was standing in front of the TV, and Chris grabbed the ‘picture/pitcher’ and hit Guy. Guy fell, made a wheezing noise, and Chris hit him again to stop the sound. At this point the detectives leave the room and go on the hunt for the murder weapon. They interpret his “picture/pitcher” to be “picture.” An investigator returns to the apartment, where Guy’s relatives are packing and moving out his belongings, and take about ten picture frames. They do not take a large glass stein that is usually next to the couch, and under a coffee table.

To be continued.