San Francisco John Doe #60
In June of 1985, the body of a young man was found in San Francisco’s SoMa District. The young man - who would remain unidentified - had been horribly tortured and mutilated before his death. Three years later, a man would be convicted… but did this investigation fall prey to ‘Satanic Panic’?
On June 15th, 1985, a body was found in San Francisco.
In the South Of Market Area - often abbreviated as the SOMO District - the body of a young homeless man was found wedged underneath the tractor trailer of a semi-truck. The victim - a Caucasian man of slight build - stood around five-feet-five-inches tall, and weighed around 130 pounds. He had been wrapped inside a blanket before being left in the streets.
Alone, this would already be creepy - if not down downright terrifying - but to make matters worse, the victim had been sadistically tortured and killed. When the discovery was announced in the press, the relatively-local Santa Ana Orange County Register declared:
"Police say the man was bled to death and that he was butchered in ritualistic fashion in a type of devil-worship ceremony."
It was unfortunately true. Police reports would note the following injuries to the body of the deceased: his hands had been bound behind his back with guitar string; several burn marks were noted on his neck; candle wax had been poured into his right eye; an upside-down pentagram had been carved into his chest; his chest and neck had been slashed multiple times with a knife; his genitals had been mutilated; and his lower lip had been cut open.
It would be noted, in following reports, that his lip had been purposefully split in order for the responsible party to consume the victim's blood, but... it's really hard to say whether or not that was true, or just a sign of the time's reporting, which was heavily steeped in Satanic Panic and fear of the occult.
This is the story of San Francisco's John Doe Number 60.
Roughly two years passed, in which the investigation to determine what had happened to John Doe Number 60 had struggled through a series of starts and stops. Following the discovery of John Doe's body in June of 1985, the trial went cold.
That is, until a man named Maurice Bork fell into the sights of law enforcement.
In the months after the discovery of John Doe, Bork had been accused of kidnapping and robbery. The suspect - who survived, mind you - claimed that Bork had scratched a pentagram into their chest during the commission of this kidnapping... a violent crime made all the more horrific due to the Satanic imagery it conjures up.
Maurice Bork already had a less-than-stellar reputation. He was a Canadian citizen who had prior arrests, and who had escaped from prison up in Canada and fled to the United States in the early 1980s. For some time, he had been living in the Bay Area, coasting by and living under fake identities.
He was also known to play guitar.
Bork was eventually kidnapping for the kidnapping and robbery charges, but seemed to be growing restless behind bars. In 1987 - roughly one year after his conviction - Bork contacted law enforcement to let them know that he had information about an unsolved crime. When they asked for more details, he said that he knew what had happened to John Doe Number 60... and, more importantly, he knew who was responsible.
His ex-lover, a man named Clifford St. Joseph.
Clifford St. Joseph was an openly gay man living in San Francisco, who was working as a waiter to pay the bills.
Clifford had grown up with a single mother, and the relationship between the two was tense, to say the least. Clifford decided to have himself emancipated at the age of fourteen, and he subsisted for a brief period of time by selling newspapers. Eventually, he became a waiter, which turned out to be a good gig for him.
Despite seeming to move on to bigger and better things, Clifford did have a dark side. He had a previous misdemeanor conviction for check fraud, as well as a statutory rape charge hanging over his head. When Clifford was 17, he had had sex with a 15-year old, which resulted in him getting charged and spending some time in a juvenile prison.
So, with that being said... other than the misdemeanor check fraud case from a few years later, Clifford had no real marks on his criminal record. He lived a relatively quiet life, worked as a waiter, and had a constantly-revolving group of friends.
You see, Clifford St. Joseph prided himself on opening up his home for misfits and runaways: stating that he tried to create the kind of environment that he would have appreciated as a struggling youth. In the process of opening up his home, however, he opened it up to all kinds: including the homeless. This included vagabonds like Maurice Bork - whom he met and befriended just weeks before the death of the man police would later refer to as "John Doe Number 60."
At the time, Bork was living off of the grid, having escaped from a Canadian prison and trying to gain employment in the Bay Area. St. Joseph helped arrange for him to get a fake ID, and allowed him to stay at his apartment for a brief period of time.
During that brief period, the two became lovers. There's no telling what kind of relationship the two had together, but it seems to have ended at some point.
Over the next two years, Clifford St. Joseph would continue on his regular, everyday life... while Maurice Bork had since been arrested, charged, and convicted for kidnapping and robbery.
This leads us to the fateful phone call, where Bork decided to turn in his former-roommate and lover. He claimed that St. Joseph - now middle-aged, and living by himself - had tortured and killed John Doe, and that he - Maurice Bork - had helped dispose of the victim's body and cover up the crime.
This immediately piqued the interest of investigators, who saw this as a possibility to close out an old case file of their's. They immediately got the gears moving on the stalled investigation, and began looking into Clifford St. Joseph.
Clifford St. Joseph was arrested at his home in June of 1987, charged with sodomy, false imprisonment, and murder.
You see, not only was he being charged with the murder of the unidentified man found two years prior. He was also being tried along with a separate case from just earlier that year, in 1987. He was suspected of arranging the kidnapping of a 21-year old homeless prostitute, and then torturing and gang-raping him along with a group of conspirators.
One of the conspirators, it alleged, was none other than his former-roommate and lover, Maurice Bork. The others included men in their social circle named Edward Spela, as well as St. Joseph's most recent roommate.
I know this may sound a bit confusing, because stuff like this usually doesn't happen. It's not often that multiple cases get thrown together, in a metaphorical crock-pot of allegations. Usually, both cases would be tried separately, but the prosecution argued that they should be tried together - to establish a narrative, if you will.
The most recent season of "Serial" has gone into cases like this: where prosecutors will throw everything but the kitchen sink at the defendant, in order to make them look guilty prior to any court proceedings. Thus, increasing the likelihood that they fold and accept a plea deal, easing the burden of the court and the justice system.
By merging the cases together, the prosecutor was hoping to establish that the young victim - who had allegedly been kidnapped and gang-raped - was to be the next victim of Clifford St. Joseph and his associates. Thus, by mere association, establishing them as members of some kind of Satanic cult before the trial even started.
And, per usual, the prosecution had its way. The trials were set to be merged, and Clifford St. Joseph was set to be tried for all of his charges in one trial - facing allegations from a spurned ex-lover, and a victim whose testimony police had been sitting on for months, before arresting St. Joseph for the murder of John Doe.
St. Joseph's defense attorney, Harriet Ross, later stated that the merging of both cases into one proceeding dashed their hopes before the trial was even underway:
"The joinder of the rape and murder was the damning action. It was incredibly prejudicial. I will never belief otherwise. Each one tried alone - there was a good case for an acquittal or a lesser charge. But together, they were so glaringly horrible that the jury had to be emotionally reacting to the facts."
Not surprisingly, the trial against Clifford St. Joseph became an incredibly dramatic affair.
The witnesses called by the state became a cavalcade of convicts, drug addicts, and personalities that the prosecution would normally never pin a case upon. These included Maurice Bork - an alleged co-conspirator - who was currently serving a sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping, and had been accused - by his victim - of torture.
Another witness and co-conspirator - named Edward Spela, "Ed" for short - had his credibility called into-question when it was learned that he had told an investigator that he had held sexual relationships with not only Elton John and Liberace, but that he had nearly been involved in a plot to assassinate Ronald Reagan.
Then there was William McCray, a jailhouse informant who provided some of the most salacious allegations regarding Clifford St. Joseph. He had shared a jail cell with St. Joseph, and claimed the the other man spoke loudly - and often - about Satanism, the occult, and a variety of odd rituals. Of course, his testimony was questioned by the defense when it was learned that he had likely learned all of this by going through St. Joseph's court documents in their shared cell - to which McCray responded by telling the court that he had personally held the binder containing the documents, but had never looked inside. So it was all good, right?
Then, it was also learned that soon after providing a statement to police, McCray had been released from custody. Of course, both the prosecution and McCray denied any funny business, and McCray stuck to his original statement.
Outside of witness testimony, the case against Clifford St. Joseph was very light. The only physical evidence linking him to the crime scene was a drop of blood found near his apartment bedroom and a small bloodstain on a blanket. Both of which matched the type of blood possessed by the deceased, and were found in a thorough luminol search of his home.
Other than that, though, there was no more physical evidence. No real specifics on how or why Clifford St. Joseph had killed the younger John Doe, just a reliance on the jury's fear of his alleged satanic cult.
During their final statements, the prosecutor described the entire trial as a:
"...voyage into an underworld we don't want to admit exists in our society."
Unable to convince the jury of his innocence, Clifford St. Joseph was convicted on all three charges levied against him. Following his sentencing, which gave him 34-years-to-life in a state prison, Judge Alfred G. Chiantelly stated that St. Joseph's crimes would:
"... astonish the imagination of Edgar Allen Poe or the Marquis de Sade."
Clifford St. Joseph was sent to serve his sentence in Folsom State Prison, where he would serve out his entire sentence... all the way, maintaining his innocence.
Just months after his conviction, the case of Clifford St. Joseph was included in a TV special that many true crime junkies - like myself - are already familiar with.
Geraldo Rivera, the infamous TV personality that is known primarily for his mustache and his disappointing unveiling of Al Capone's safe, hosted a daytime talk show for around a decade. Despite Geraldo's attempts to be known as a serious, hard-hitting journalist, the show became most well-known as the predecessor to other shows like Jerry Springer and the Maury Povich show.
In one of his episodes, Geraldo did an expose about what he believed was an epidemic of satanic cults sweeping across the nation. Included was a snippet regarding the recent conviction of Clifford St. Joseph, and the crimes he had been convicted for. In it, you hear from not only the investigators that built the case against St. Joseph, but Ed Spela - the alleged co-conspirator and witness, whose testimony helped get St. Joseph convicted, but was facing no charges of his own.
Cut to ~55-minute mark for relevant story
Clifford St. Joseph has tried, unsuccessfully, to appeal his convictions in the years since.
In the early 2000's, when DNA testing had become more widespread, St. Joseph asked for it to be used to help clear him. As far as I can tell, that never happened, with the DA (at the time) having shown reticence in allowing that to move forward.
By now, most of the witnesses that testified against St. Joseph have passed away. Others, like Maurice Bork, remain locked up behind bars... guilty for a multitude of other crimes.
Some even belief that Bork himself might have been the responsible party. After all, it was he who had a prior conviction for kidnapping and robbery, and was an escaped prisoner from Canada. It was also he who scratched a pentagram into the torso of a victim, played guitar, and is the only person to confess knowing explicit details about the crime itself. When the victim was horribly tortured with a sharp weapon, had his hands bound with guitar string, and is tied to an individual in such a way... in seems suspicious that that person would not be the primary suspect.
Some online commenters have theorized that Bork only confessed to the crime believing - at the time - that it would lessen his sentence.
Some believe that case - one of the few in America to convict someone for alleged Satanic cult activities - was a primary example of Satanic Panic. Not only was the accused convicted on very shaky grounds, but he was also gay... which many believe fed right into the fears of more conservative-minded jurors, God-fearing men and women that weren't as open-minded as they should have been.
Regardless of Clifford St. Joseph's innocence or guilt, it remains odd that - in a case built around a cult sacrifice - no other members of said cult were ever charged, convicted, or even named by law enforcement. If Clifford St. Joseph was in a cult... then it seems to be a cult of one. In which case, it's not much of a cult then, is it?
Lost in all of this drama, surrounding allegations of cults, human sacrifice, and Satanic rituals... remains the horrible truth: a young man fell prey to horrible violence, suffering significantly in his final hours. He was then abandoned on a San Francisco street, where his name joined the countless, nameless thousands that haunt our cities.
The identity of San Francisco's John Doe #60 remains unknown, and his story remains unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on October 28th, 2018
Other original music created and composed by Ailsa Traves