Yesterday's Crimes: A Summer of Dismembered Drug Dealers in the Haight

It was barely August, and the Summer of Love was already getting ugly.

I'm not just talking about pools of vomit on the corner of Clayton Street and raging cases of gonorrhea. No, the ugly I'm talking about involves severed arms, a wannabe Evel Knievel, and maybe even the mob.

[jump] On Thursday, Aug. 3, 1967, most of the body of John Kent Carter, 25, was found in his Parnassus Heights apartment. Carter, an out-of-work flutist who dealt acid on the side, was stabbed several times, and his arm was removed above the elbow. Carter's limb, his VW van, a gun, and $3,000 in cash were all missing from the apartment that was “covered with the colorful swirls and sun-bursts of psychedelic art,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Two days later, police arrested Eric Dahlstrom while he was speeding through sleepy Sebastopol in Carter's stolen van (which also had a severed arm in it). The arm had been “neatly sutured” to stop it from bleeding all over the place while Dahlstrom carted it around. John Carter's gun, $2,657.53 in cash, and a whole mess of pills were also recovered.

Dahlstrom, described as a “26-year-old daredevil motorcycle rider,” blamed the whole thing on an 18 month acid binge. “I'm very hazy about that arm,” Dahlstrom said. “The principal reason I'm in jail is LSD.”

Things were already tense on the Haight, but they got even worse when another acid dealer turned up dead. William E. Thomas, a 26-year-old black man, was known to just about everyone in the scene as “Superspade,” a moniker he embraced by wearing an oversized button proclaiming “Superspade, faster than a speeding mind.”

On the same day Carter's body was found, Thomas made a drug run to Sausalito with a reported $35,000-$55,000 in cash to buy the makings of a massive batch of LSD. Thomas' body was later found stuffed in a sleeping bag and hanging off a cliff in Point Reyes. He had been shot through the back of the head and stabbed in the heart. Only $15 remained of the wad he'd brought with him to make his score.

Even though Carter's murderer was caught, and police hadn't cleared Dahlstrom of the Thomas killing yet, rumors flew around the Haight that the mafia or “the Eastern crime syndicate” was moving in; hippies even started arming themselves.

But the real answer was probably closer to home than New York's Little Italy.

“The people who killed (Thomas) are the people he went to cop from,” an unidentified LSD chemist speculated in the Washington Post in October 1967. “It was a simple robbery. You don't have to go inventing gangsters.”

With the vibrations “at an evil confluence,” a group of hippies staged a mock funeral procession for the “Death of the Hippie” in October 1967 whereupon they carried a large coffin down Haight Street before burning it in Golden Gate Park. The coffin was reportedly filled with hair shorn from several beards, along with two kilograms of weed.

After the murders and too many bad acid trips, a lot of hippies abandoned the Haight for the sunnier climes of Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles. Among them was Charles Manson — probably as good a suspect in the Thomas murder as any.

The murder of William “Superspade” Thomas is still unsolved and is being handled by the cold case unit of the Sausalito Police Department.

Special thanks to reader Free Wheelin' Phranklin for suggesting this case in a comment from an earlier “Yesterday's Crimes” column.  

“Yesterday's Crimes” revisits strange, lurid, eerie, and often forgotten crimes from San Francisco's past. 

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