Yesterday’s Crimes: The San Francisco Torso Murder

The four boys were horsing around on Market Street past a row of grand movie palaces on Sunday, Sept. 8, 1946. They ran past the Esquire, the Warfield and the Regal. When they got to the Paramount, they smelled something really bad.

They followed their noses to the alleyway on the side of the theater at Jones Street where they found a pair of large, cardboard egg crates.

The boys kicked the crates. Rancid human remains spilled out onto the ground.

[jump] When police inspected the boxes, they found a man’s dismembered limbs and torso, all neatly packed and wrapped in a spangled cotton commonly used to ship orchids and gardenias at the time. Some internal organs were stuffed into a three-gallon milk can.

For some strange reason, the janitor of the Paramount hauled the can of guts into the theater, thinking it was dumped by a nearby restaurant.

The head, the hands and the upper arms—all the parts that could help positively identify the remains—had been removed with the skill of a trained butcher, or maybe even a surgeon. Fifty cops made a room-by-room search of the thirteen-block area around the theater for the head and hands, but came up empty.

Due to the unique cotton wrapping, detectives theorized that the body parts belonged to Ramon B. Lopez, described by the Examiner as “a wealthy carnation grower.”

Lopez grew his flowers at his San Leandro nursery, and sold them from a stall at the San Francisco Flower Market on Fifth Street. He had been missing since making the rounds in North Beach on Wednesday, September 4.

Lopez’s wife, Mrs. Guiden-Garcia Lopez, was able to identify her husband’s detached limbs and torso based on “a mole, round and smaller than a dime” and “an ingrown nail on the big toe of the right foot” according to the Chron.

Al Nalbandian, now 94, who still runs the flower stand by Union Square on Geary and Stockton Streets, used to see Lopez almost every day.

“People called him Spanny because he was Spanish and spoke with a thick accent,” Nalbandian recalls. “Nobody called him by his real name.”

“He was a character in the best sense of the word,” Nalbandian adds, “but he never went down on his price. I'll tell you that.”

Lopez was rumored to have $2,000 on him at the time of his disappearance, but police ruled out robbery as a motive for a crime this grisly.

“I can’t recall a murder with money as the motive, that employed such terrible mutilation,” an unnamed official told the Chronicle. “This was motivated by some deep revenge.”

Homicide Inspector Al Corrasa told the Examiner that the manner of dissection suggested a sex abnormality. Police found 14 pairs of nylons in a room that Lopez kept at the Mint Hotel on Fifth Street not far from the Flower Market.

“He was quite a ladies’ man,” Nalbandian says.

Police arrested Benito Cisheros, a former employee of Lopez’s, but kicked him loose after determining he wasn’t a suspect. They were also after a 40-year-old man with a blue pickup truck. Officer Walter Harrington saw the man put the boxes in the alleyway, but didn’t question him or even take down his license plate number.

Harrington said it looked like “a normal delivery procedure,” so he “didn’t think anything about it.”

Frustrated with the police investigation, Lopez’s brother, Mateo Lopez, and son, Anselmo, showed up in San Francisco ready to take the law into their own hands.

“If police find the man who did this to my brother, just let them run him over to me for justice,” Mateo Lopez, a one-armed former bar owner and fight manager, told the Daily Review on Sept. 11, 1946.

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t die too soon as I cut him up like they did to my brother,” Mateo continued.

The official investigation went nowhere, and the family wasn’t telling if they turned up any leads.

Eighteen years later, a man found Lopez’s skull on the beach at Hunter’s Point. The case remains unsolved.

The movie that was playing at the Paramount the night pieces of Lopez were left in the alley was, I kid you not, “Specter of the Rose,” a surreal noir where strange ballet promoters engage in extended discussions about murder, insanity, and vampires.

The first person you see in the film is wearing a carnation pinned to his lapel.

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