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.