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Portrait of the Soul-Jacker 

Police call Bernard Temple the meanest hit man ever to roam the gang-infested streets of Bayview-Hunters Point. Temple calls himself a soul-jacker -- someone who kills to steal the spiritual power of his victims.

Wednesday, Mar 26 1997
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Robert Nash stares at 12 grand jurors who are hearing evidence in a gang murder investigation. Nash has been called to the grand jury room as the prosecution's "star witness" this August day in 1996. He would rather be anywhere -- anywhere -- else.

After he takes an oath, swearing to tell the truth, Nash begins the process of ratting-out his childhood friend, Bernard Temple, whom the district attorney wants to charge with murder in the first degree.

In halting testimony, sometimes limited to monosyllabic responses of yes and no, Nash and another witness tell the grand jury this mundane and chilling tale:

On the morning of Oct. 29, 1988, Bernard Temple, then 20, lent his Cadillac to Walter Mullins, an acquaintance.

Nash accompanied Temple that afternoon to a Toys "R" Us store where Nash watched Temple purchase the type of mask worn by hockey goalies (and, of course, by the character Jason in the Friday the 13th movies).

Later that evening, as Temple and Nash were partaking in a sidewalk craps game at Oakdale Avenue and Baldwin Court, Mullins, gobbling down some fast food, returned Temple's car, which should have been back hours before.

Nash already had an inkling that Temple had taken an assignment to kill Mullins, who's suspected of robbing street-level crack dealers. When Assistant District Attorney Floyd Andrews asks why Temple bought the mask, Nash reluctantly stumbles through this explanation: "Either -- you know, I mean, get the car back or probably murder him or kill him or something."

At some point, Temple left the game of craps and, putting on his Jason mask, prepared to execute his grisly job. Because he suspected Temple had murder on his mind, Nash says, he started talking to Mullins about girls and other noncontroversial topics. Nash felt that while he and Mullins were engaged in conversation, Temple might not kill the tardy car-returner.

A minute or two later, Mullins left Nash and crossed the street. Temple, wearing the Jason mask, walked up behind Mullins and pumped one well-aimed shot to the base of the back of his head -- execution style, as they say in the daily newspaper reports -- sending Mullins crashing, dead, to the sidewalk, fast-food containers spilling all around. One shell casing clinked to the sidewalk, landing near Mullins' outstretched foot.

Still wearing the hockey mask, Temple disappeared around a corner. Seconds later, Temple, sans mask, came back around the same corner, panting, asking what had happened.

After Nash wraps up this awful narrative for the grand jurors, Andrews peppers him with a few additional questions, trying to get more definite answers about the hit. The prosecutor gets exactly the opposite.

Nash begins to hedge and hem and haw and backtrack. Frustrated, Andrews finally has Nash repeat his basic points and quickly dismisses him from the stand.

The prosecutor turns to the grand jury and apologizes.
"Sorry about that," Andrews says. "It should be pretty obvious he's pretty concerned about his name leaving the room, and I hope everybody respects that he's a nervous wreck."

Bernard Temple, the 28-year-old son of a part-time minister who knows the Scripture by heart, calls himself the Soul-Jacker because he believes that when he kills someone he acquires the soul of the victim and thereby makes himself stronger.

Street names are common in the crack-infested ghettos of San Francisco, where people go by monikers like Little Disease, Smurf, Ne Ne, and Nina Boo. Bernard Temple went by several nicknames: Mani, short for Maniac; Nardy; and Nard T. The Soul-Jacker business was different, though. One San Francisco cop who has investigated Temple says the Soul-Jacker takes his psycho-spiritual title seriously. "He's a sick fuck," the officer says.

Police say Temple is a hit man for major cocaine suppliers. He stands charged with two murders, and officers familiar with his history say he's killed 15 people on orders from dealers who pay him thousands of dollars a pop. In the limited universe of drugs and death and drive-bys that unfortunately but extensively defines Bayview-Hunters Point, Bernard Temple is a terrifying legend.

He's simply the hardest, the baddest, the meanest who's ever come to the meanest part of San Francisco

"If Nard T comes to town, someone is dying," says E.R. Balinton, a San Francisco police officer who has known Temple since the accused killer was a juvenile offender learning to box at San Francisco's Youth Guidance Center.

So far, Temple has been charged with killing Mullins and another man, Jacky Williams, who Temple allegedly riddled with bullets in 1991. Andrews says both men were killed because they were suspected of stealing drugs from dealers.

Veteran homicide inspector Napoleon Hendrix, who has relentlessly tracked leads on Temple for years, says he isn't done with the Soul-Jacker yet. "This isn't over," says Hendrix in his telltale deep East Texas growl. For most of 1995 and 1996 Hendrix commanded a now-disbanded special unit of officers who set out on stone-cold trails of years-old black-on-black homicides, nabbing several killers who had seemingly gotten away with murder. So when Hendrix says he isn't done, he probably isn't.

Thanks to the testimony of Nash and Charles Johnson, who is now in state prison, the Soul-Jacker was arrested on Aug. 29, 1996, a little more than two weeks after the grand jury returned a bill of indictment. He was in a park near his Modesto home playing with his 2-year-old son. He went quietly, the cuffs slapped on by Officer Balinton, his old juvenile hall counselor.

The arrest capped a six-month investigation by the Bay Area arm of the new federal Violent Gang Task Force. A Department of Justice invention that started forming on paper in the waning days of the Bush administration, the task force was resuscitated by Attorney General Janet Reno and launched in 1994 during a nationwide teleconference with the nation's top law enforcement officials.

About The Author

George Cothran

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