Paul McCartney visited the Haight in May 1967 to spin a copy of the still-unreleased Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the members of Jefferson Airplane. The Summer of Love hadn’t quite begun, and the mood was still optimistic. George Harrison and his wife Pattie swung through Haight Street and Hippie Hill on Aug. 7. Asked what he thought of the scene, the quiet Beatle said, “If it’s all like this, then it’s really too much.” And it was. The Summer of Love was giving way to fall, the dying season.
Just four days earlier, on Thursday, Aug. 3, most of the body of John Kent Carter, 25, was found in his Parnassus Heights apartment. Carter was an out-of-work flutist who went by “Shob” and dealt acid to make the bills. When found, he had been stabbed in the chest, and his arm was chopped off just above the elbow.
A trail of blood showed where Shob had been dragged from the living room to the bedroom of what the Chronicle called a “brightly decorated pad,” covered in “the colorful swirls and sunbursts of psychedelic art.” Carter’s battered VW van, a handgun, and $3,000 he and his girlfriend were saving for a trip to Europe had all gone missing — along with his arm.
Two days later, on Saturday, Aug. 5, Sebastapol police Officer Charles Baker arrested Eric Dahlstrom at 11 p.m. for speeding through the sleepy town in Carter’s stolen van. Inside, police found Carter’s loaded 9-millimeter P38 automatic, $2,657.53 in cash, a whole mess of pills, and the missing arm.
“He had this arm rolled up in leather, shammy-like material,” Baker, now retired and still living in Sebastopol, tells SF Weekly during a recent phone interview. “There were several shammies it was rolled up in. I’d unroll one, and find another shammy. It went through that about three times, and out popped the arm.
“It was sort of a shock, you know, to see that kind of thing,” Baker adds.
Dahlstrom, looking dirty and harried in old newspaper photographs, was a 26-year-old daredevil motorcycle racer from Sebastopol. He had just taken the top prize in the Cotati Motorcycle Grand Prix in May, but things were already going wrong. He told reporters that he had been on an 18-month LSD binge when he killed Carter over some bad acid.
“[Carter] was convulsing as he went down,” Dahlstrom told the Examiner during a jailhouse interview. “That’s why I stabbed him some more — maybe a little too much. I hadn’t had life in my hands before like that.”
Dahlstrom couldn’t explain why he chopped off Carter’s arm with a butcher knife.
“The hand is a man’s history,” Dahlstrom said. “I’m a Cancer. I’m not a hard person, normally.”
The same day that Carter’s body was found, William E. Thomas took a ride up to Sausalito with somewhere between $35,000 and $55,000 in cash, to buy the makings of a massive batch of LSD. Thomas, a 26-year-old African-American who lived in the Mission, was better known around the scene as “Superspade,” a moniker he proclaimed by wearing an oversized button that read, “Superspade, faster than a speeding mind.” Thomas reportedly had plans to buy into a restaurant in Marin, and hoped this drug deal would be his last. It was, but not in the way that he had planned.
His body was found on Aug. 6, wrapped in a sleeping bag and dangling off a 300-foot cliff near Point Reyes. He had been shot through the back of head and stabbed in the heart. Only $15 remained of the wad he’d brought with him to make his score.
“Superspade was the first guy I saw who had a real, bona fide Afro,” attorney Patrick Hallinan recalls during a recent conversation with SF Weekly. “He was just a very pleasant guy. There was nothing aggressive or nasty about him at all.”
Hallinan, a liberal firebrand attorney, became Thomas’ lawyer after the dealer had been rounded up in a pot raid — with a Hillsborough debutante and some other Peninsula rich kids — in December 1966. The bust and Thomas’ “super-smart” fashion sense made him a local celebrity, with regular mentions in Herb Caen’s Chronicle column, and a prominent but posthumous role in “You Are What You Eat” (1968), an incoherent documentary/music video with appearances by Tiny Tim and Timothy Leary.
Even though police had Dahlstrom in custody for the Carter murder, rumors flew around the Haight that “the Eastern crime syndicate” was moving in. The ensuing panic-driven narrative had even had hippies buying guns, but police were dismissive of this angle. After clearing Dahlstrom for the Thomas murder, homicide detectives searched for the two men in a tan car that Thomas was last seen with, “a bearded New York Negro hippie known only as ‘Joe,’ ” and “the Sausalito hoodlum,” but none of these leads panned out.
Unbeknownst to Bay Area law enforcement — who had their hands full in 1967 with the drug-dealer murders — Charles Manson was living just off Haight Street on Cole, and was already assembling what would later be called “The Family.” He would take long drives in his VW bus up to Mendocino, on a route that happened to go past the craggy sea cliff where Thomas’ body was dumped.
“There is nothing like the drive up Highway One along the north coast of California,” Manson told biographer Nuel Emmons, in his 1986 biography, Manson in His Own Words.
The Thomas murder bears similarities to Manson’s attempted murder of Bernard “Lotsapoppa” Crowe and the torture and killing of Gary Hinman. These precursors to the more infamous 1969 Tate-Labianca murders were botched shakedowns of drug dealers by Manson and company that ended in extreme violence. According to Karina Longworth’s epic “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” series in her You Must Remember This podcast, Manson’s followers claim credit for as many as 35 murders — although they are unreliable narrators.
While it’s unclear whether Manson played a role in Thomas’ death, his own recollections indicate he was more concerned with avoiding violence in 1967 than with causing it.
“The district was getting ugly and mean,” Manson observed. By late summer, he had witnessed a knifing on Lyon Street, and saw a beat cop flee a shooting near the Haight.
“Fuck, if everything was getting so bad that even the cops didn’t want to hang around long enough to do their jobs, Haight-Ashbury was no place for me and my girls,” he explained.
He soon hightailed it to Topanga Canyon. With the vibrations “at an evil confluence” in October 1967, a group of the original flower children staged a mock funeral procession for the “Death of the Hippie.” They carried a large coffin down Haight Street before burning it in Golden Gate Park. It was reported that the coffin was filled with the hair shorn from several beards and two kilograms of weed. The Summer of Love was over, but the murder of Superspade went unsolved.
“Who would’ve done that? That’s beyond me,” Hallinan mused. “I think you still have a mystery on your hands.”
Check out more stories from this week’s cover story here:
Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll ’67: The Hippie Temptation
Fifty years ago this month, Harry Reasoner and CBS tried to scare kids away from drugs. It didn’t quite work.
Prostitution, Overdoses and STDs
Haight-Ashbury was filled with more than marijuana and music in the summer of 1967.