Yesterday's Crimes: Bodies in Barrels and the Killer Cop

The 55-gallon metal drums looked out of place. They were left in Golden Gate Park near a narrow jogging path about a mile from the ocean. Answering reports from concerned residents, mounted patrolman Bruno Pezzulich was the first to inspect the drums on May 3, 1983. He noticed that one of them was marked “Toxic Chemicals,” and called the fire department.

When one of the firefighters moved one of the concrete-sealed barrels, blood began to ooze out.

[jump] San Francisco Chief Assistant Coroner Joe Surdyka had the drums thoroughly x-rayed and fingerprinted before he dared to open them. To open the drums immediately could have damaged “the integrity of any evidence on the outside,” Surdyka explained to the Associated Press.

Surdyka found the body of a fully-clothed African-American man in one drum, and two naked Caucasian women stuffed in the other. There was a lot of blood in those drums, and the bodies were badly decayed. It took Surdyka a few days before he could determine that all three victims had died from gunshots to the back of their heads.

The male victim was Michael Thomas, age 24. He had a record of robbery and drug arrests going back to 1977. The female victims were Phyllis Melendez, 24, and Brenda Oakden, 19. Melendez lived with Thomas and had been arrested five times for prostitution in 1982. Oakden went by the name “Brenda Rule” and was “a fan of the city's punk rock scene,” according to the Associated Press.

The investigation dragged on for months, but police finally made an arrest in August 1983 when they were able to match fingerprints found on the drums to Anthony “Jack” Sully, a former cop turned killer.

Sully was a hard-looking man with a mustache and a receding hairline. He served on the Millbrae police force from 1967-74 before quitting to open an electrical contracting business in Burlingame. Sometime after turning in his badge, Sully developed a passion for torturing and murdering prostitutes while freebasing cocaine. He was linked to three other Bay Area murders in addition to the bodies in the drums.

His first victim was Gloria Fravel, a prostitute who worked for an escort service run by Tina Livingston, a frequent accomplice of Sully's. According to court records, Sully tortured and raped Fravel in his Burlingame warehouse over the course of a weekend in February 1983. He occasionally took breaks from the mayhem to freebase coke with Livingston and another escort named Angel Burns. When Fravel's gag came loose and she started to scream, Sully killed her by yanking hard on a noose that he had tied around her neck.

Sully and Burns dumped Fravel's body on the side of Highway 35. Sully kept a newspaper article reporting the discovery of Fravel's body as a sick trophy. He thought it hilarious that the corpse was found by a butcher.

Sully then murdered Thomas, Melendez, and Oakden and stuffed them into drums. After that, he killed Barbara Searcy when she went to his warehouse to collect money he owed her. He showed Livingston the body and coerced the madam into burgling Searcy's apartment to erase a message that Sully had left on her answering machine. Sully and Livingston then dragged Searcy's body behind his pickup truck to make it unrecognizable.

Kathryn Barrett, a drug dealer, was Sully's last known victim. Sully and his friend, Michael Francis, stabbed Barrett six times in the chest as Livingston watched. When Barrett didn't die from the multiple knife wounds, Sully slammed a sledgehammer into her face. Francis later said that “he could not forget the sound of Barrett’s bones cracking.”

When Sully was brought to trial in 1986, he entered a plea of not guilty. His defense tried to paint Livingston as the murderer and mastermind of a plot to frame their client. Livingston cooperated with the prosecution and pled guilty to manslaughter; he served three years.

Sully was found guilty on six counts of first-degree murder after a seven-week trial on June 3, 1986.

“You killed me for a crime I didn't commit,'' Sully yelled after the sentence was read. He then screamed obscenities as deputies dragged him out of the courtroom. He was sentenced to death just over a month later.

“I'm not a monster, a maniac, nor am I subhuman,” Sully, then 41, said during a 40-minute speech at his sentencing hearing. Deputies lined the courtroom walls to guard against another outburst from the convicted murderer.

Sully appealed his verdict in 2013, but the court upheld his death sentence. He currently awaits his fate on San Quentin's Death Row.

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

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