Unsolved homicides haunt Richmond District

by Thomas K. Pendergast

Sometime during the last few years Brian Austin, Travis Del Rio, Brandon Lee Evans, Jinsun "Lilly" Lee, Robert Mathis and Jordan McKay all became murder victims, either in the Richmond District or in Golden Gate Park.
Yet, they have something else in common: Homicide inspectors have not found a killer for any of them.
Since 2005, there have been at least 11 homicides in the district or the park, with arrests coming in five of those cases.
The San Francisco Medical Examiner's office confirmed that Brian Austin was 29 years old and had no fixed address when his body was found on Oct. 16, 2007, at the intersection of 47th Avenue and Fulton Street. He was lying prone near a crosswalk and his death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy showed it was due to a "sharp-force injury."
Travis Del Rio was the most recent murder victim. The 37-year-old man was shot to death on Dec. 1, 2010, in his apartment at 23rd Avenue and Anza Street.
Brandon Lee Evans was 20 years old and had recently moved to the City from San Diego when he was shot to death in Golden Gate Park, near the horseshoe pits, on Nov. 29, 2008.
Jinsun "Lilly" Lee was a 54-year-old Korean immigrant who was found shot to death behind the counter of her family's market at the corner of 19th Avenue and California Street on Aug. 19, 2006.
The body of Robert Mathis, 31, of San Francisco was found on June 17, 2009. He had been stabbed to death in the parking lot of Kezar stadium, located just yards away from the Park Police Station.
The SF Police Department has confirmed that all of these killings are open homicide cases actively being investigated, and that no arrests have been made. Because of that, homicide inspectors will not release further information about any of them.
No doubt one of the most difficult cases is that of 23-year-old Jordan McKay, whose life came to an abrupt end on the morning of Sept. 17, 2008 when he was gunned down as he arrived home on his bicycle at the intersection of 15th Avenue and Cabrillo Street.
"It was really early in the morning so people weren't outside, no one was up," said McKay's older sister, Dana Landis. "And then it was a classic problem of something happening in a big city and people don't involve themselves. There was some yelling. It looked like a fight so people just kind of avoided it. No one was looking. They were complete strangers to him."
A couple of days later when she was interviewed by SFPD homicide inspectors, she was not encouraged by what she said they told her.
"No one had really seen the car that was parked there or the license plate," she recalled. "The neighbors sort of just heard stuff but didn't really see anything and (the police inspectors) pretty much told us right away that they didn't think they would ever solve the crime. I mean they just, right away, said 'you realize that this is the kind of thing we don't ever get to the bottom of.'"
She understands that they do not have much of a case so far.
"I get that they have all these crimes to solve and I realize that if they don't have some kind of lead, if there wasn't any side connection, friendship or previous engagement with some horrible people, it's really hard to figure out why a perfectly good kid got shot down randomly early in the morning on some safe street."
"Jordan was just beginning to find himself as an independent man," said his mother, Jude McKay.
McKay worked in Berkeley at a post-production company creating animation and computer modeling. His latest work included working on a Bruce Willis film.
Yet, as a graduate from the University of California at Santa Cruz who majored in economics, he had bigger plans for the future.
"He got really interested in economics," said Landis. "He really saw the connection between economics and ecology and environmental issues. He was particularly concerned about the destruction of land in third-world countries, where they didn't have as much power to push back on things like that. So, he was looking into micro-finance and how countries like that could protect their natural resources."
Of the five homicide cases since 2005 in which charges were filed, most included witnesses. In one case, police said the perpetrator contacted them right after the crime.
In November 2005, Taff Michel, 27, was shot to death while trying to warn someone else about an armed robber. Witnesses said two men, one with a pistol, approached a woman from behind who was walking along Kezar Drive in Golden Gate Park. They turned out to be brothers from Redmond, Washington, and they were found by police officers later that evening hiding in the bushes of Golden Gate Park.
The triggerman, Travis Tackett, 22 at the time, eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in state prison. His brother William Tackett, then 24, eventually got a two-year sentence.
On Sept. 16, 2006, Boris Albinder, 19, of San Francisco was killed during a fight that erupted from an argument between two groups of men over a parking space in front of a nightclub on Geary Boulevard at Third Avenue.
Sarith Soun, 25, of San Francisco was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in state prison on March 27, 2009.
On Sept. 16, 2008, an elderly man died after being struck by a car at the intersection of 20th Avenue and Geary Boulevard. At the time press reports described it as a hit and run. Uwe E. Emerson of San Francisco was eventually charged with felony vehicular manslaughter and is now awaiting trial.
On Jan. 8, 2009, Ryosuke Yoshioka, 59, of San Francisco died after his throat was slashed in the parking garage of an OfficeMax store at the intersection of Arguello and Geary boulevards. Two male witnesses say Peter Fong, 45, of San Francisco then attacked them with a knife but they were able to subdue and detain him until police arrived. Fong was indicted for the charge of murder by a Grand Jury on Feb. 24 and is awaiting trial.
On Independence Day, July 4, 2010, Adam Noyes, 25, of Vermont, was stabbed to death in Golden Gate Park. Police say the suspect, Richard Ray, 65, of San Francisco flagged officers down near the Conservatory of Flowers at about 9:40 p.m. and told them about stabbing Noyes. Ray claimed he stabbed Noyes in self-defense. Media reports say a knife was found on Noyes' body but he also had defensive wounds, as did Ray. Ray has pled not guilty of murder and is awaiting trial.
For the family of Jordan McKay, however, there's been no resolution. There is just a chasm between yesterday and today.
"It is like there was the life before and the life after this happened," said Jude McKay. She works as a nurse in oncology at the Alta Bates Cancer Center and her husband, Matthew McKay, is a teacher at the Wright Institute and publishes psychology self-help books at New Harbinger Publishing.
"We continue to work and contribute and help people in our work and in our lives. But Jordan is always there," she explained. "We look for him in the places he loved (Yosemite), in music, in nature and bring him with us in every thing we do."
"We went from thriving or living to surviving and I'd say that's still what we're doing," said Landis. "I have never been closer to anyone than I was with him. This was the way it was when he was born. I was pretty old when he was born, I was about 18. I can't explain it but we had a really, really tight bond throughout his life. He was kind of the center of my world. When you lose somebody like that you just get through the rest of your life, I guess."
Yet, almost as bad is the feeling of not knowing who killed her brother.
"I have a permanently broken heart and I kind of have to struggle through my days. I wonder if it ever even occurs to (the murderer) in his little daily routine and laughing at jokes and talking to friends that he's left this trail of destruction and pain behind him."