• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Once names appeared, the staff of the newspaper received threatening calls. Gloria Vinson, the paper's office manager, said that the staff debated the wisdom of publishing these names and persuaded Thompson to stop the practice. "I just felt that was too dangerous," Vinson told the San Diego Evening Tribune. "We're a newspaper; we shouldn't be sitting ducks for a crime." In 1988, Anna Brown recalled to the Evening Tribune that the car and the home of a staff member at Thompson and Associates had been shot at. She also said that the cops "supported the newspaper war against drugs, until 'it got too hot in the kitchen.' " According to the paper, "Thompson himself gave up the campaign after he realized he would not get the kind of police protection he had expected."

Things got so bad that Thompson put Charles Davis, along with three other employees -- Charles Harrington, Dmitri Glover, and Stanley Phillips -- on "drug watch." Thompson would tell them to undertake a "constructive eviction." With a golf club, Davis would announce himself, bang on the door (the addresses came from the neighbors' complaints), and wait ten seconds. Then he'd open the door with his set of keys. First thing he'd hear was the toilet flushing. Club aloft, he'd order, Get out! Sure, he called the police. But the cops wouldn't show, he said. They wanted proof, or they told him to follow the law: serve them 30 days' notice. Thompson approved of the vigilantism. Problem solved, for the time being.

That Monday evening, January 12, 1987, after Thompson had finished his rounds, after dinner and a drink at the Chee-Chee Club or at another bar he frequented downtown, he went home. Sometime he had put a load of clothes in the washer but hadn't started the cycle. It's possible that he'd been driven around by one of his young male drivers, who, according to one friend, "he treated like servants." Thompson's home at 5298 Roswell Street in Emerald Hills was a hill topper, with a stellar view of the San Diego shipyards, the high-stepping Coronado bridge, and the Pacific. His home had just been added onto -- a two-car garage, two new upstairs bedrooms, and a west-facing deck -- by Charles Davis. Davis had left Thompson to pursue his own development interests but had returned to help his mentor after Thompson had undergone quadruple bypass surgery in 1986.

During the remodel, Thompson requested that Davis install a state-of-the-art alarm system as well as several steel security doors on the outside and the inside of his home. To enter the residence, one needed to ring the bell beside an outdoor security gate. Thompson, Davis said, "wanted to open his front door and see who was out there." If he knew the visitor, he would buzz him into a small porchlike stoop, or entryway. The front door and the kitchen door were security doors. Davis also put in a steel door on Thompson's bedroom at the bottom of the stairs inside the house. "I thought it was a little strange," Davis continued, "that he'd be overly conscious about security -- but he was right." Charles Wilson lives three houses away from Thompson's former house on a street perpendicular to Thompson's. Wilson is an insomniac. From his porch, 'round midnight, he'd see Thompson hold what Wilson called "political meetings," all night. Men came and went from his house regularly, Wilson said. He didn't think it strange; this was how the wheeler-dealers worked. He did think it strange that Thompson told him in late 1986 that if he, Wilson, ever saw anything suspicious-looking at the house to call the police immediately.

Charles Davis knew something else about Thompson that only his male friends knew and his female friends may have suspected. Bill Thompson was gay. Not quietly gay, not closeted, but active. By most accounts, relentlessly, daringly active. "I knew he liked boys," Davis said. Boys? I asked. "Young men," Davis clarified. "I'm not going to say boys. Seventeen to 22. I knew about it, but I was kind of distant from it. I would see him with young men at his home." It was a predilection for the boyish type. Trolled for them at pickup sites. Asked them to stay the night or a few days. Grew tired of them and moved on. Every man I spoke with who knew Thompson said his desire was hidden in plain sight: Thompson liked the danger -- he employed guys to chauffeur him during the day and sleep with him at night; he frequented the peep shows on Fifth Avenue to proposition the young ones; he not only paid good money for sex but also carried a cash-packed wallet or kept a money pouch at home. As much as Thompson could be hustled, he was a hustler himself, liking his sex both ways -- what was done to him, he did to others. According to his friends, Thompson never talked about his penchant. He maintained a straight persona, entering a nightclub or a charity event with a woman on his arm. But in the right venues, he made it known he was available. Almost daily.

It was sometime in the early evening, certainly before eight, when Thompson arrived home. Either someone or a group came home with him or someone or a group called on him that night and he let them in. In either scenario, the alarm system was off. He knew those he allowed in. That evening, Anna Brown called him three times, hanging up the last time around 9:00 p.m. Stanley Phillips called Thompson around 8:00 p.m. One police report noted that "Phillips asked Thompson if there was anything he wanted him to do in the morning. Phillips stated he got the feeling someone was at Thompson's house when Phillips was talking to him." The word someone has become the most crucial word in the saga of Thompson's murder.

Near 10:00 p.m., Thompson went into the downstairs bedroom. The bed was made, un-slept-in, as Thompson had another bed for sleeping. He flipped on the overhead light, then the nightstand lamp with its red bulb. He turned the overhead off. He dumped his car keys on a dresser, beside other rings packed with keys, extra sets for his rentals. He turned on the TV. A portly 202 pounds, he was dressed in a short-sleeve dark blue nylon shirt, dark brown pants with a black belt, brown socks, and light tan leisure shoes. He had on a pair of dark blue jockey shorts. In his rear pants pocket was a key ring with eight keys. In his front pocket, a handkerchief. In his shirt pocket, business cards and a pen. On his wrist was a Timex watch. Into the bathroom he carried a toothbrush case and a brown vinyl toilet kit, plus a light-colored towel. His dress, his accoutrements, his routine, and the unlocked security door to this room, added up -- Thompson was getting himself ready for sex. Setting and situation also said he was unsuspecting. In the drawer beside the bed were packets of Dentyne and Juicy Fruit gum as well as three jars of Vaseline. Plus a package of Zig-Zag rolling papers. For him? For his liaisons? (He wouldn't be the first to indulge a vice he hated in others.) In the bathroom, he brushed his teeth, washed up, added a dash of cologne. He was still attractive, his bearing regal, underscored by the fine hands and the large gold ring. Coming out, he was surprised. The toilet kit and toothbrush case and towel flew to the floor. Some group or someone came at him with a knife.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from the web

Comments

Sign in to comment

Join our
newsletter list

Enter to win $25 at Broken Yolk Cafe

Each newsletter subscription
means another chance to win!

Close