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I’ve been a furtive true-crime buff ever since I watched the entire Jeffrey Dahmer trial on live TV as a teenager. The psychological triggers behind crimes like Dahmer’s -- rape and torture and murder -- intrigued me.
Take Ted Bundy, for example. How could a good-looking, neighborly, normal-seeming Joe Schmo transform into what he became -- a ruthless sociopath with no qualms about serially raping and killing in the cruelest ways imaginable? This stuff fascinated me. (And I almost cried when “Law and Order” got canceled last year.)
Still, I wasn’t prepared for how I’d feel when, in June 2007, this guy I’d gone on a date with got murdered. Suddenly “true crime” hit a bit too close to home.
I was in my late 20s and single in a new city (San Francisco) when I met “Frencheese” (otherwise known as H in this story) online. It was 2006 and I’d been doing the Nerve Personals thing off and on for years (remember Nerve, the O.G. hipster dating site du jour?), and I didn’t think twice about meeting up with random dudes I didn’t know very well.
This particular random dude, H, looked like just my type: mid-30s, shiny dark eyes, devious smile, sharp sense of style. I readily agreed when he asked me, via email, to meet for drinks one night. We settled on a dive bar just a short stumble away from my one-bedroom apartment.
I was relieved to discover that, in person, H was equally, if not more, adorably rakish -- natural charisma and a French accent go a long way. Born and raised in France, his parents still lived there, and he spoke fondly about growing up in his home country. He was charming, but he also seemed like a bit of a player. We drank many drinks. We slipped each other the eye across our tiny shaky table.
After an hour or two we got in a somewhat heated debate about sex and gender roles; as a feminist, I was grossed out by H’s strident assertions that men would never, could never, happily practice monogamy. He spouted the usual treatises about guys being biologically driven to “spread their seed” while women were innately domestic and faithful. I was riled enough to instigate a mini yelling match in the bar, but H was cute enough that I ended up inviting him over.
We made out and he crashed in my bed.
The next morning, saying goodbye at my door, I told him I wanted a ride on his motorcycle sometime. He smiled, said “sure.” But I knew in that gut-never-lies way that I’d never hear from him again. (I didn’t bother contacting him after our date/sleepover, either.)
I hardly thought of him again until I saw the headlines. On June 2, 2007, a 36-year-old French-born, San Francisco resident had been stabbed to death between 2 and 4 a.m. The photo alongside the story made it clear -- it was him, “Frencheese.”
He had come home late from partying at a club with friends. Neighbors heard a scuffle and doors slamming, but no one realized what had happened until a pool of blood was found on his building’s front steps the next morning. The cops discovered H’s body inside his locked apartment.
Apparently his home was a nightmare -- blood all over the floor, the walls. He’d been stabbed three times, and most likely died within 2 minutes.
According to the New York Times, a notepad on his coffee table contained a scribbled quotation derived from Latin: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.” Bizarre? Yes, indeed.
There was a clean knife in the kitchen sink, but no other weapon was found. He’d had plans to go on a motorcycle ride the next day.
The SFPD had very few leads, and the mysterious aspects of the crime (like the locked front door) seemed to flummox them. From the start they began referring to the case as a probable suicide, which outraged his family and friends, who asserted that he wasn’t depressed. In fact, he had just been promoted at work and had been making plans to travel and buy property abroad.
The SF medical examiner indicated both suicide and murder as possible causes of death. When it became clear that the police were making little progress on the case, H’s parents hired French investigators to come to the States and try to solve the thing themselves. They also offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of H’s killer.
His ex-girlfriend started a blog and a nonprofit to raise awareness of the case and how it was mishandled by police. SFPD eventually conceded that the case looked more like a murder than a suicide.
Though the case has since grown cold (it’s unsolved), it’s not for a lack of press. The bizarre killing has drawn media attention from around the globe. It was even the subject of a “48 Hours Mystery” episode.
Though he still has no clue who killed his son, H’s father acknowledged that his death may have been a crime of passion enacted by a jealous lover, or a lover’s lover -- possibly someone he met online (yikes).
H was an avid Internet dater; in a People magazine article, his dad stated, "[His] only weakness was that he was dating a lot, always looking for women.” For those reasons, H’s computer was searched for clues, but it turned up nothing.
As for me, after the initial shock wore off (it is pretty odd, having gone out with a murder victim), I thought of H’s case often and followed its progress over the years. When I first learned of his death, after the momentary shock derived from seeing a name I recognized in the San Francisco Chronicle, I was struck by not-quite-grief (like I said, I barely knew him), empathy, and horror.
It was a scary and terrible way that he died. But I have to admit, I felt a little weird when I sat down to write this piece. An innocent man got murdered, and anyone getting stabbed to death at their own home is tragic. But I didn’t really know H, and I’d hate for this to read like I’m exploiting his death.
Sometime last year I was creeped out to discover that H’s Nerve Personals profile was still up, still “Frencheese.” I emailed Nerve to tell them his profile should be removed, but they wanted a death notice, which I obviously didn’t have. I emailed H’s ex-girlfriend to alert her, but I didn’t hear back.