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Yesterday’s Crimes: CIA Plots, Canadian Shootouts and the Disappearance of Valerie McDonald 

Friday, May 13 2016
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This is the second installment in a three-part series on the disappearance of Valerie McDonald from her North Beach apartment on Nov. 9, 1980. Click here to read part one.


Valerie McDonald disappeared on Nov. 9, 1980. SFPD missing persons investigators didn’t seem to care even after McDonald’s parents flew down from Oregon to urge them to find their daughter. The ex-cons who ran the apartment building where McDonald lived—men that she was afraid of—were able to get out of the city before an investigation really began.

Phillip Arthur Thompson, John Gordon Abbott, and Michael Hennessey—the potential suspects in the McDonald disappearance—arrived in British Columbia, near Abbott’s hometown, on Nov. 22, 1980. Thompson didn’t stay up North very long before heading back to the Bay Area taking his car keys with him, and forcing his partners to hire a local locksmith to get into their green Chevy Monte Carlo. When the locksmith tried to test the new keys on the trunk, Abbott put his hand over the lock and wouldn’t let him open it.

Abbott had the car towed to a transmission shop in Trail, B.C. on November 24. A day later, he and Hennessey pulled two large duffel bags and a box of papers out of the trunk. When the men showed up to pick up the car the following day, plainclothes Mounties were waiting for them. Abbott and Hennessey opened fire, hitting Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable Jim Lark in the leg. Hennessey was killed just like Abbott’s brother in a similar shootout with Davis police in 1976.

Nobody knows who tipped off the Mounties about Abbott and Hennessey, although Davis police did contact Canadian authorities in 1978 when Abbott had escaped from prison. “It is my belief that Mr. Abbott should be considered very dangerous and would kill without hesitation,” Davis Det. Sergeant John Parsons wrote in a prophetic letter to the RCMP.

When police searched Abbott and Hennessey’s apartment in Rossland, B.C. they found Valerie McDonald’s voter registration and unemployment cards, and one other ghastly piece of evidence: a receipt from San Francisco dated November 5 for 11 bags of cement, two bags of plaster, a tub and a hoe. Robert and Dee Dee Kouns, McDonald’s parents, feared that the men were planning on disposing of a body in the days before their daughter disappeared. Police also found long strands of strawberry blond hair that could have come from McDonald in the trunk of the Monte Carlo.

After the arrest of Abbott in Canada following the lethal shootout, San Francisco Police finally got interested in the case. SF police arrested Thompson in a raid on a Hunter’s Point warehouse used by the gang on Jan. 17, 1981.

In the warehouse investigators found files with plans for a string of elaborate heists throughout the Bay Area, including a pair of robberies that were perpetrated by Thompson on Dec. 24 and 30, 1980, a month after the Canadian shootout. Thompson had kept ominous records on UPS drivers including the ages of the drivers’ children and the routes they took to go to school. Pillow cases were dropped over the UPS drivers’ heads and they were driven to the warehouse.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, Abbott and Thompson used the robberies to get seed money to buy guns to sell to rightwing militias in El Salvador and cocaine cartels in Bolivia and Columbia. Thompson’s ties to the CIA and other federal agencies went from wild conspiracy theory to reported fact, and it was even revealed that he worked as driver for the Nixon campaign in 1972.

“That’s something that always puzzled me,” San Francisco burglary inspector Neil Jordan told the Examiner.

“We had a statement from Abbott acknowledging his and Thompson’s complicity in at least three robberies, and evidence to tie them to three others,” but other Bay Area jurisdictions never moved to prosecute. It was also puzzling to Jordan that Abbott and Thompson got out of San Quentin early on work furlough less than two years after escaping from prison to set up a new burglary ring.

“Why did he (Thompson) get out so early? I don’t know,” Jordan said.

Despite being held in jails nearly 1,000 miles away from each other, Abbott and Thompson both denied any guilt in the disappearance of Valerie McDonald. Without a body or a murder weapon, they weren’t charged in the crime.

“She was just the face of the girl in room 24,” Thompson told the Examiner.

A creepy line in a poem found in Abbott’s journals seized by Mounties seemed to tell a different story, however.

"The Ice Maiden in her fallen beauty also what a dream,” Abbott wrote.
"Flying in the air flowing with the stream."

To be continued: Next week Bob and Dee Dee Kouns continue to search for answers and justice and Phillip Thompson is tied to more brutal murders.

About The Author

Bob Calhoun

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