In San Francisco, the sudden collapse of the citywide police dragnet brought new shivers of panic to an already frightened citizenry.
Many whites stopped going outdoors after dark. Even police officers frequently looked over their shoulders as evening approached.
Some whites–especially in the heavily Italian North Beach area–began talking about spreading vigilante terror among blacks.
And the murder-spree affected the city financially: The tourist trade–on which San Francisco depended for so much of its revenue–sharply declined.
The reaction of blacks was entirely different.
During the manhunt for the notorious “Zodiac” serial killer in the late 1960s, San Francisco police had relied heavily on dragnets and interrogations of young white men resembling a composite sketch.
But blacks charged racism when the same tactic was used to hunt for the supposed lone “Zebra” gunman.
Many blacks blamed “unemployment” and “oppression” for the attacks. When interviewed by the San Francisco Examiner, none condemned the murders or expressed sympathy for their victims.
Then, on April 22, 1974, a break finally came in the case. Anthony Cornelius Harris decided to tell the police what he knew about the men responsible for the murders.
Before doing so, he visited the parents of his close friend, Larry Craig Green–who was one of the “Zebra” killers. He hoped that, through Green’s mother, he could persuade his comrade to go with him to the police as a witness against the other three Death Angels.
While at the home of Green’s parents, he called Green.
“I knew right there it was impossible to get him to admit to doing anything,” Harris later testified. “He told me to get the hell out of his house and never to come back.”
Later, Harris phoned the Black Self-Help moving and storage company where he had been working for the last six months.
One of the Muslims he spoke with was Green, who warned him: “Man, they’ve got a contract out to kill you, your wife and the baby.”
It was then that Harris realized that he, his wife, Debra, and their newborn son had been marked for death by his former friends. There was nowhere else to go but the police if he wanted to stay alive.
So, on April 22, 1974, he came forward as a police witness.
Many police believed Harris had been one of the killers himself. He bore a strong resemblence to the suspect in a police artist’s sketch: A young black man with a short Afro and pointed chin.
But Harris insisted that he hadn’t murdered anyone, and that he had resisted efforts by his friends to enlist him in their murder spree. He claimed to fear for his life at the hands of his fellow Muslims.
The police immediately placed Harris and his family under round-the-clock guard.
At 5 a.m. on the morning of May 1, 1974, more than 100 police officers assembled at the San Francisco Hall of Justice. They were heavily armed–with shotguns, submachineguns and automatic rifles.
Their assignment: Arrest seven men believed responsible for the brutal series of murders known as the “Zebra” case.
At a given signal, police charged into the various homes and apartments where the suspects lay sleeping. None of the wanted men offered any resistance.
Three of the seven were soon release for lack of evidence. The remaining three–Larry Craig Green, Manuel Moore and J.C. Simon–were held at high bond.
A fourth suspect, Jessie Lee Cooks, was already serving a life sentence in prison for his admitted murder of Frances Rose, a physical therapist, on October 30, 1973.
Cooks would be charged with other “Zebra” murders by a San Francisco grand jury on May 16, 1974.
The trial began on March 3, 1975, and lasted longer than any previous one in the history of California–376 days. Testimony from 181 witnesses–115 for the prosecution–filled 13,331 pages of trial transcript.
San Francisco Superior Court
The Nation of Islam paid for the legal representation of every one of the defendants except Cooks, who had admitted to murdering Frances Rose.
On March 13, 1976, Larry Craig Green, Manuel Moore, Jessie Lee Cooks and J.C. Simon were convicted of multiple murders. All were sentenced to life in state prison.
Harris remained under heavy police guard throughout his tenure as a witness. Then he was flown to Houston, Texas, and kept under the watchful eye of the local police.
From there he moved to El Paso, and then on to Las Vegas. For a time, he came under the protection of the Justice Department’s Witness Security Program.
After the trial, Harris received a portion of the $30,000 reward. Eventually he turned up in Oakland, and then ultimately disappeared.
The toll of victims taken by the “Zebra” killers had been staggering:
- Sixteen murdered
- Five wounded
- One raped
- The attempted kidnapping of three children
At the time of sentencing, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Joseph Karesh turned to a wall map showing where each of the murders had taken place.
“As I look at this map and see all these dots,” said Karesh, “I hope we do not forget all these people who have been reduced to dots.”