Jeremy Adkins doesn’t look like a one-time grave robber as he rides up to the courtyard near the Fruitvale BART station on his bicycle. He doesn’t lug around a pickaxe or have soil under his fingernails, but he’s the one who stashed the dead baby at the hallowed punk collective at 924 Gilman St. in Berkeley, a darker moment left out of Corbett Redford’s new Green Day produced documentary, Turn It Around: the Story of East Bay Punk.
“It was something that was dumb, but why not?” Adkins says, recalling the macabre blunder that gave him a kind of East Bay punk infamy. “Like you get a bad idea and instead of a better one coming along, you keep that bad idea all day long and you end up doing it.”
At the time of his momentary descent into ghoulishness, Adkins was a spoken word artist performing at Gilman Street under the name Jerme Spew. He even toured with Green Day, opening for Gilman’s biggest success story at the American Legion Hall in Napa. His poem “I Miss You Claire” appears on the 1997 spoken word compilation “Less Rock, More Talk” along with monologues by Noam Chomsky and Jello Biafra.
When Adkins wasn’t writing or ranting, he and his friends at the time played increasingly strange pranks. They painted a rainbow flag on a friend’s front gate over-and-over again because the guy admitted he was uncomfortable around gay people, and they plugged a TV and VCR into a light pole and watched movies in the middle of a concrete median in the middle of Albany’s main drag.
“There was plenty for us to do,” Adkins explains, “but there was disdain for simply doing what everyone else was doing.”
In late January 1992, Adkins and his friends went tromping around Oakland’s picturesque Mountain View Cemetery at night. They found what they thought was an open grave but were chased off by security before they could investigate it.
They returned the next day when the cemetery was open only to find that what they thought was a grave was just a water main, but then they discovered an open crypt. In a time before iPhones equipped everyone with a flashlight, they couldn’t see their way around the old mausoleum that had been there since the 1860s. Later that night, they went back with flashlights and bags, but nothing was really thought out.
“It was goldfish planning,” Adkins says. “Obviously we had the idea we might end up taking stuff because we brought bags, but each step was planned after the last step.”
Adkins and his accomplices snatched two skulls and some leg bones. On his way out, Adkins picked up what he thought was a tiny skull, but it was “attached to a mummified baby’s body.”
They took the shriveled-up infant and the other bones back to the house at 54th and Shattuck in Oakland where Adkins lived in a doublewide hallway. They put on the band Sleep’s first album, which begins ironically with sludgy dirge titled “Stillborn” while one of the amateur ghouls started cleaning the skulls with a toothbrush that “probably wasn’t his” according to Adkins.
The other roommates soon found Adkins and company with their ghastly haul and the yelling started.
“The biggest debate wasn’t about the corpse at all,” author and comedian Bucky Sinister says, recalling the mood in the East Bay punk scene at the time. “The biggest debate was whether to call the cops.”
The cops were finally called the next morning, but after Adkins had stashed the baby at 924 Gilman St., “the one place stupid enough to trust (him) with keys.”
The police rounded up everyone at the house in Oakland thinking that there was a fresh corpse there instead of bones that had been interred for 130 years. Police also showed up at Gilman Street while Rancid was practicing to look for the child’s body. They didn’t find her, but Tim Armstrong of Rancid later found her in a Tower Records bag in the sound booth.
Armstrong was able to negotiate the return of the girl’s body as long as police promised to leave the house’s address out of any public statements about the crime, and it worked. The San Francisco Chronicle article on the desecration described where the body was recovered from “a home near Gilman Street in Berkeley.”
“It just became a grave-robbing incident and not a punk incident,” Andy Asp of Nuisance told Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor in their 2009 punk oral history “Gimme Something Better.”
Adkins spent a few weeks in the Santa Rita jail in Dublin, Calif., and later plead out to felony vandalism of a graveyard. Even with dragging Gilman Street into a grave-robbing scandal, Adkins still worked there as a bouncer two years later on the night that Jello Biafra was beaten down by a gang of crusty punks.
Today, Adkins is still performing, only now he’s doing standup comedy. You can catch his set at cafes, marijuana dispensaries, the Night Light in Oakland, and the Comet Club in San Francisco. He might even talk about the mummified baby.
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