It was shortly after 2:00 a.m. when Gerald Jackson finished his closing shift at the Barbary Coast, a downtown gay bar at the corner of Fourth and C, next to the landmark California Theatre.
The 27-year-old Vietnam veteran wasn’t ready to call it a night, so instead of heading home that early morning on December, 28, 1971, Jackson drove his new Ford Torino one block south to Horton Plaza, a small, neglected city park at the time, hoping he could coax someone cruising the park into going home to his Pacific Beach apartment for the night.
It was after 2:30 a.m. when witnesses spotted Jackson driving off with a man in his early 20s, according to court documents.
Five days passed and Jackson hadn’t shown up at either his full-time job as a mail carrier for the post office or his part-time bouncer job at the Barbary Coast, and his friends had started to worry. On January 2, Ronald Coberly and Roy Logan drove to his apartment at 1572 Hornblend Street near Ingraham to check up on him. After banging on his door and getting no response, Logan lifted a screen and opened a window so he could reach inside to unlock the front door.
As they walked in, the two were overwhelmed by a horrible smell, and although it was almost 5:00 p.m., they could hear a loud alarm clock ringing in the bedroom. The normally spotless apartment was littered with half-eaten food. There were blankets and a pillow piled up on the couch as though someone had been sleeping there, and the floor was strewn with clothes and hangers.
Coberly noticed Jackson’s JVC/Nivico 5001 AM/FM stereo receiver was missing, along with several bottles of scotch. He also saw a milk container. He knew that Jackson, who was allergic to milk, never kept any in his house.
Inside the bedroom, the two found Jackson lying nude on the floor alongside his bed, dead from multiple stab wounds. The walls and bed were splattered with blood. A bloody palm print smeared the wall near a light switch.
“What I saw — I couldn’t believe it [until] it hit me what happened,” Coberly would later testify in court.
San Diego Police Department detectives Art Beaudry, John Williams, and Norman Stephens, as well as detective sergeant Jack Mulley and criminalist Parker Bell were called to the scene to collect fingerprints, blood samples, cigarette butts, and other evidence. They inventoried the items missing from the apartment, including the stereo and Jackson’s social security card. They discovered that Jackson’s Torino was also gone. They sent out a Teletype to all law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for a Ford Torino with California license plate 389DFJ and a Nivico receiver, serial number 04202809.
Four days later, on January 6, police in Mexicali, Mexico, found an abandoned Torino with California plates and called their counterparts over the border in Calexico to check on its stolen status. The Calexico Police Department confirmed it was Jackson’s vehicle and notified San Diego police about the find. San Diego detectives asked Calexico officers to search area pawnshops for Jackson’s stereo. The next day, Lieutenant John Highnight stopped by the Los Angeles Pawnshop, less than a quarter mile from the U.S.-Mexico border crossing. Inside, he turned up a pawn ticket made out to Gerald Jackson and a receipt for $25 paid for a Nivico receiver, serial number 04202809. Pawnshop employees said that the seller wouldn’t let them touch the receiver and insisted on shelving it himself. He told employees he was coming back for it and didn’t want it damaged. Highnight quickly discovered on the stereo a palm print in dried blood.
San Diego detectives later matched the bloody print to those found in Jackson’s apartment and inside the Torino. But the computerized fingerprint databases that are available to law enforcement today didn’t exist then. In 1972, fingerprints had to be visually matched by comparing them to prints on file. If the investigating agency didn’t already have the suspect’s prints in its own files, the print evidence wouldn’t be much help.
Investigators turned to old-fashioned police work as they looked for suspects. They pored over Jackson’s phone records. They took his friends’ and acquaintances’ fingerprints. They checked the bars and bathhouses he was known to have frequented. Working with the military, detectives compiled a list of military personnel who were absent without leave at the time of the murder. An arrest warrant was issued for Gerald Jackson, in case the suspect was still using the victim’s identification. Detectives went as far as contacting other police departments handling murder cases of homosexuals, but none of the suspects turned out to be the man they were looking for. Eventually detectives exhausted their leads without turning up a suspect, and the case was officially inactivated.
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Approximately three and a half decades later, Gabrielle Wimer, a criminal justice student at Grossmont College, was interning with the San Diego Police Department’s Homicide Cold Case Team. In January 2008, Wimer ended up with the files containing the mounds of evidence collected during Jackson’s murder investigation, including the suspect’s fingerprints. After more than 30 years, technology had caught up to the detectives’ work, and she knew there was a chance of finding a match. She brought the case to the attention of her supervisors, and the Cold Case Team reopened the investigation. Copies of the prints were submitted to the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System — the largest biometric database in the world — for comparison.
Three months later, on April 30, the FBI notified San Diego Homicide that they had a match, a man arrested by the Dallas Police Department in 1966.
The suspect, Gerald Dean Metcalf, 62, was married and living in a house on Easy Street in Chandler, Texas, a town of approximately 2000 about eight miles west of Tyler, Texas.
San Diego police detective John Tefft was assigned the case. During his initial research, Tefft learned that Metcalf had been arrested in Ector County, Texas, in 1984 for murder but was found not guilty. According to Ector County authorities, Metcalf beat a man with a baseball bat before shooting him several times, but the jury felt it was a case of self-defense.
On August 27, 2008, Tefft, along with forensic specialist Dorie Savage, flew to Texas to interview Metcalf about the murder, according to court documents. Assisted by members of the Texas Rangers and other local law enforcement agents, the San Diego officers obtained a warrant from a Henderson County judge and headed over to Metcalf’s house at 21266 Easy Street.
The officers served the warrant and had Metcalf accompany them to the local sheriff’s station, where they obtained DNA and handwriting samples, along with his finger- and palm prints. Metcalf agreed to an interview, telling Tefft that he was in the Navy in 1965 and stationed in San Diego until he was discharged due to a medical disability. Following his discharge, he said he would occasionally visit his uncle who lived in San Diego, but he wasn’t certain of the time period.
The detective got to the point: your fingerprints were found at a murder scene and in the victim’s vehicle. Tefft showed Metcalf the Calexico pawn slip signed “Gerald Jackson” and pointed out that the signature looked very similar to his own.
Metcalf agreed the signature had a strong resemblance but said he didn’t know anyone named Gerald Jackson. He also explained he had memory problems and had no recollection of any incident in San Diego in 1971.
“Do you remember killing a man in San Diego?” Tefft asked.
“Not that I recall,” Metcalf said.
When asked about the 1984 murder charge, Metcalf said he did remember that incident and pointed out that it was a case of self-defense. Then he ended the interview.
Tefft accompanied the Rangers on the ride back to Metcalf’s house. As Metcalf climbed out of the unmarked vehicle, Tefft told Metcalf he would be in town for another day. Tefft asked if he could give Metcalf a ring the next day, and Metcalf agreed.
Metcalf’s wife Barbara answered Tefft’s 9:00 a.m. call and opened up to the detective. She said that she and her husband had talked throughout the previous evening, and she knew the matter was serious, but he didn’t tell her why he was being investigated. He’d been waiting for Tefft’s call, she said, so the detective asked her to put Metcalf on the phone.
“I never told anyone about what happened in San Diego,” he admitted. Before Metcalf could get too far into his story, Tefft asked if he could drive over and continue the conversation in person. Metcalf agreed and invited him over.
Metcalf was waiting outside when the officers arrived and quickly confessed to killing Jackson, according to court documents. He didn’t remember the date, but he recalled how cold it had been the night Jackson picked him up at Horton Plaza. He said the only reason he agreed to go with Jackson to his Pacific Beach apartment was that he was cold, tired, and hungry. At the apartment, Jackson fed him, and the two started drinking scotch. After a few drinks, Metcalf said he was ready to call it a night, but Jackson wanted to move things into the bedroom. Metcalf said he offered to sleep on the couch, but Jackson insisted he sleep in the bed. Metcalf admitted to undressing and climbing naked into bed with Jackson.
“[He asked me to] go down on him,” Metcalf said, and he said that he’d refused.
After he’d turned down Jackson’s sexual request, Metcalf said, Jackson got up from the bed, left the room, and returned with a knife.
“I was in for the fight of my life,” Metcalf told the detective, but he said he blacked out during the struggle. Metcalf said when he came to, Jackson was dead. In a panic, Metcalf said, he grabbed the keys to Jackson’s Torino and fled the apartment, heading east on Interstate 8. He said he abandoned the car and disappeared by taking a job with a group of traveling magazine-subscription salesmen. The job took him through the Southwest, and he stayed on long enough to make it to Texas before quitting and getting on with his life.
When Tefft pressed him about the missing wallet and stereo, Metcalf said he had no recollection of stealing anything. Like the 1984 killing, Gerald Jackson’s death was also a case of self-defense, Metcalf said, and he had a scar on his leg from the knife attack to prove it.
Was the cut ever treated? Tefft asked.
No, Metcalf said, and he became evasive when Tefft asked him to change into shorts so he could photograph the scar. Maybe the scar had disappeared or moved, he said. Metcalf eventually agreed to put on a pair of shorts, but he couldn’t find the scar. “It’s not there,” he said, scanning his legs, but he changed his mind when he found a small scar on his left leg above his ankle. He admitted that he received no other wounds from the knife fight. Tefft pointed out that Jackson was stabbed more than 50 times and had no defensive wounds on his hands.
The two San Diego officers wrapped up the interview and returned to San Diego the next day to submit the palm prints, DNA, and other evidence they’d collected to the San Diego Police Department’s crime lab. Approximately two weeks later, the lab confirmed that blood found in Jackson’s apartment and on the Nivico receiver matched Metcalf’s. Criminalist Tammy Ballard confirmed that Metcalf’s DNA was on a cigarette butt collected at the crime scene. A warrant was issued for Metcalf’s arrest, and the Texas Rangers picked him up on October 13, holding him for extradition to San Diego for trial.
On the day of Metcalf’s arrest, the San Diego Police Department issued a press release announcing that Gerald Jackson’s 1971 murder had been solved.
“The case is fascinating,” says Metcalf’s public defender, Gary Gibson. “Some of the people are deceased. Obviously, when you’ve got a 37-year-old case, there are going to be dead [witnesses]. The police actually did a very thorough investigation back in 1972, but the overall case is not entirely difficult to put together. Mr. Metcalf did state to police officers that the person that ended up being stabbed in the case picked him up on the street, took him to his house, and tried to rape him.”
Gibson, a 17-year veteran of the Public Defender’s Office, says that despite the evidence and confession, Metcalf pleaded not guilty. Gibson will argue self-defense.
“This is a pretty straightforward case. It’s what happened in the guy’s house in 1971. There’s no dispute that these people ran into each other, there’s no dispute that they were together, and there’s no dispute that the man was stabbed by Mr. Metcalf.”
While Metcalf has been sitting in jail awaiting trial, Gibson says that his health has deteriorated.
“Yes, he’s quite ill, and he’s on the liver transplant list. He’s had a continual series of health problems while he’s been in jail. He’s been hospitalized outside of the jail system on at least two occasions,” Gibson says.
Metcalf’s murder trial is scheduled to begin September 3. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life if found guilty.