Golden Gate Park has seen its share of body dumps, but this has to be one of the strangest.
On Sunday, Feb. 8, 1981, the headless body of an African American man was found wrapped in a sleeping bag by Alvord Lake, not far from where Haight Street ends at Stanyan. Police couldn't locate the victim's head, but they did discover a chicken wing and two kernels of corn jammed into the bloody neck stump. A slaughtered chicken was also found 50 yards from the corpse.
Police speculated that either a very sharp ax or a machete was used. A deputy coroner called the cut “very clean.”
Fingerprints identified the headless man as LeRoy Carter, Jr., a 29-year-old petty criminal with a bit of a rap sheet, but nothing that should've had him becoming some kind of human sacrifice.
Because of the ritualistic nature of the killing, the case was given to Inspector Sandi Gallant. She had recently handled the local investigations in the wake of the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana. Without knowing it, she had become the department's resident expert on religious extremists.
With the dead chicken in mind, Gallant reached out to Charles Wetli, then coroner of Dade County, Fla., and one of the country's top experts on Santeria, a religion brought to the Caribbean by West African slaves that's a little heavy on the use of poultry. Wetli told Gallant that the murderer would return the severed head to the scene of the crime in 42 days to complete the ghastly ritual.
“We literally were laughed at by our homicide investigators, and our chief of detectives,” Gallant later recalled in the Los Angeles Times.
And as the 42 day mark neared, even Gallant was filled with self-doubt.
“Our problem was, even though our homicide detectives didn't buy it, my partner and I weren't out there doing surveillance on the 42nd day either,” Gallant said.
But sure enough, Carter's head turned up under a bush near Alvord Lake exactly 42 days later on March 22, 1981.
The murder of LeRoy Carter, Jr. remains unsolved.
“Yesterday's Crimes” revisits strange, lurid, eerie, and often forgotten crimes from San Francisco's past.