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.

In 1987, Temple was convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl. In a pre-sentencing interview with a court-appointed psychiatrist, Temple downplayed the seriousness of his first adult offense.

"The defendant stated that the victim looked like she was 16, and that if she had looked 14, he would have nothing to do with her because he is not interested in children," the psychiatrist wrote. "The defendant stated that he had known the victim for about a month. He described her as very fast, and stated that she was overly friendly."

"On the day of the offense, the defendant stated that he was at home with a friend and she called wanting to come over. He stated that she came into the house and walked directly to his room, sitting on the bed, and they talked. He described the talk as 'boring,' and felt that she was simply stalling, 'like she came over for one thing.' He stated that she took off her coat, he turned off the radio, and they held each other. Then she lay back on the bed, he unzipped her pants and pulled them off. She told him not to tell anybody. He stated that he put on his tape recorder, and 'I recorded me and her.' When asked why, he stated that it was 'to give proof' to his friend, Caesar, that he had had sex with her."

Temple claimed that the girl bragged about the sex, the bragging got back to her mother, and when the mother confronted the girl, she cried rape. After pleading guilty to statutory rape in December 1987, Temple was sentenced to three years probation based in part on the recommendation of the psychiatrist, Ronald Levy.

"I find nothing from a psychiatric point of view which would lead me to the conclusion that this defendant constitutes a danger to the health and welfare of others. I conclude he is suitable for probation," Levy wrote to the court.

Levy couldn't have been more mistaken.

Less than a year after the rape, in October 1988, the Soul-Jacker baptized himself in the blood of Walter Mullins. According to a former gang associate, it was Temple's first hit. "He got scared and he backed off for a while," the associate says. "But then he came back like the Tasmanian devil."

By the time Temple allegedly killed Mullins, the Soul-Jacker was a legend in Hunters Point. In his 1996 book Street Soldier: One Man's Struggle to Save a Generation -- One Life at a Time, Joseph Marshall Jr., the co-founder of the Omega Boys Club, a group that helps reform youthful offenders, described Temple in this way: "A rock of a kid ... widely known as the toughest gangbanger in Hunters Point. His nickname was Mani, for Maniac. There was nothing on two legs -- and probably four -- that Bernard couldn't beat up. He was the kind of kid who would walk up to you and knock you out just because he felt like it, the classic 'crazy nigger.' "

A San Francisco police officer who has worked extensively in Hunters Point over the years backs up that assessment. "He would always try and make a calm situation into a hostile one," the officer says. "If we were talking to a couple of youngsters, he would say something like, 'Why are you harassing them?' He was a shit disturber who would always try and disturb the calmness of the contact."

In the late '80s and early '90s, turf wars raged among the gangs of Hunters Point, Sunnydale, and the Fillmore. By virtually all accounts, Temple was an instigator of the violence, a divisive force who opposed community leaders trying to stop the warfare. In fact, Temple was a leader of the HP mob and, therefore, at the center of the most vicious confrontations. But not even a Soul-Jacker is bulletproof.

On April Fools' Day of 1990, Temple's chief rival from the Sunnydale mob, Ernest Hill, shot him in the stomach with a shotgun, and Temple almost died.

A police report shows that Temple was uncooperative with investigators on the shooting case, telling them he'd "take care of business." Temple's "business" would lead to the most deadly cycle of gang violence in Southeast San Francisco in recent memory.

Amazingly, as Bernard Temple was planning retribution for being shot, he was chosen by then-Mayor Art Agnos to serve on an 18-member committee called "The Mayor's Team" that was expected to advise Agnos on gang-related issues. (Agnos once dressed the group in tuxedos and feted them at the swanky Carnelian Room.)

Agnos' decision to tap Bernard Temple for public service wasn't merely the result of Agnos' tendency to listen to stupid or ill-informed advisers, although that certainly played a role in the insanely inappropriate choice. To put it simply, Bernard Temple had and, by most accounts, still has charisma. There's an odd coloration to his character that softens the violent streaks of red.

Temple fooled more than white liberal former social workers like Agnos. The Soul-Jacker seems to have been able to fool people in his own community. One of Temple's old friends from Bayview-Hunters Point, Shirletha Calhoun, spun into voice-cracking hysterics when informed that Temple is in jail, awaiting trial on two counts of murder.

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