The story of the spirit that haunts San Francisco’s Curran Theater is one of stickups, shootouts, suicide and lost love.
Many phantoms have haunted the stage of the Curran Theater since it opened on Geary Street in 1922. The venerable venue hosted Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera for half of the 1990s; Stephen King and John Mellencamp’s Ghost Brothers of Darkland County scared up a much shorter run there in 2014; and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is already casting its spell on preview audiences.
However, the Curran’s longest-running spirit won’t be seen in the stage lights but has been frightening theatergoers in its ornate lobby since a ticket taker met his tragic end there in 1933.
Massive crowds were still lining up to see the hit production of Show Boat at the Curran at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 28, 1933. During a break in the line, a young hatless man in a brown suede jacket stepped up and shoved his revolver through the ticket window. A shot was fired and hit theater treasurer Hewlett G. Tarr right in the chest.
“What was that noise?” Tarr said as he staggered forward. He looked down and saw the blood leaking onto his coat and collapsed down a short flight of stairs.
“Tarr never knew he was hit,” Lee Parvin, manager of Show Boat, told the Examiner.
Doctors worked on him as police tried to quell the panic, but Tarr died five minutes later. Only minutes after that, Tarr’s 23-year-old fiancé, Dorothy Reade of Sutter Street, arrived at the theater and wept over his body. The couple had spent five years saving up their ticket-taker wages for a wedding that was planned for the following Thanksgiving weekend.
“The worst part of it is that he needn’t have been there at all,” Reade told the Examiner. Tarr had come back early from dinner so he could finish up work and meet Reade a little earlier than usual that night.
“He had just gone into the box office when that man shot him,” she said.
After shooting Tarr, the killer sprinted past horrified onlookers in front of the Curran and escaped in a cab. Minutes later, he held up the Koffee Kup Restaurant on Mason Street for $100 and had the unwitting cabbie drop him off at the ferry building.
Inside the auditorium, the show went on while Tarr’s body was still in the room where he had fallen. Paying customers weren’t denied seeing what George C. Warren of the San Francisco Chronicle had earlier hailed as “a luxurious production” featuring Hattie McDaniel six years before her Oscar-winning performance in Gone with the Wind.
“The Hatless Slayer” — as the Examiner dubbed him for having the temerity not to wear a hat in 1933 — managed to avoid capture for several more downtown stickups before finally getting apprehended after a downtown shootout with police on Dec. 18, 1933.
The killer had just made off with $1,950 from robbing a Bank of America branch at Geary and Jones streets. He tried to get away in a cab as he had so many times before. As the taxi was climbing up the hill on Jones Street, Inspector Phil Lindecker swung his patrol car in front of the cab while Inspector Peter Hughes charged the car on foot.
The killer fired on Hughes through the cab’s rear window. A bullet tore through the veteran cop’s leg.
“He got me Phil!” Hughes cried before peppering the back of the cab with a volley of shotgun shells as “scores of pedestrians” scurried for safety and cabbie Anthony LaRocca leapt from his hack.
After pumping the cab with 21 shots, Inspector Lindecker reached into the sedan and slapped the cuffs on the suspect, who survived by cowering on the floor of the sedan.
The bandit was Eddie Anderson, a 25-year-old electrician. At the beginning of the interrogation, Anderson admitted he committed half a dozen holdups, but wouldn’t cop to murdering Tarr at first.
“It means the rope,” he said. However, after hours of Miranda-free grilling, Anderson broke down sobbing and confessed to killing Tarr.
“I did it, but I didn’t mean to kill him, ” Anderson said. “I put my gun up against the box office wicket. It went off — accidentally.”
Anderson was drawn to crime “because of his desire to impress women with money and importance” but the women “expressed little interest in his fate” according to the Examiner.
“I liked him alright, but he wasn’t any great spender,” said Lorne Fancher of O’Farrell Street, the bandit’s supposed sweetheart. Fancher was hauled in for questioning along with 22-year-old Rae Birch, the other woman Anderson had eyes for.
“My wages were small,” Anderson explained to police. “I made $14 a week and that’s not enough to entertain girlfriends with.”
A strange aside occurred when Manuel Voyages committed suicide in his Jones Street apartment above the bank branch that Anderson had just robbed. Voyages was visiting with some relatives. When they discussed the day’s shootout, he ran to the bathroom and shot himself through the head. Voyages had recently lost his grocery business, making him another casualty of the Great Depression which had then lurched into its fourth year.
With the notorious lynching of a pair of murder suspects in San Jose only weeks earlier, Anderson was convicted in the speediest murder trial in California history. Anderson “went jauntily” to the San Quentin gallows and was hung at 10:04 a.m. on Feb. 15, 1935.
Although Tarr’s mother and fiancé expressed relief that Anderson was brought to justice for the murder, Tarr himself evidently felt no sense of closure. For decades now, patrons of the Curran have reported seeing the spectral image of a handsome, young man in the oversized mirror near the theater’s entrance. He is described as “wearing 1930s clothes,” possibly all dressed up for a wedding that will never happen.