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Monday, May 18, 2009

Police, Family Hope Victim of Fatal Mugging's Kindliness Will Guilt Reticient Eyewitnesses Into Stepping Forward

Posted By on Mon, May 18, 2009 at 6:30 AM

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The site of Helen Canafax's fatal mugging, 680 Folsom Street.

Appealing to the empathy of a mugger or a killer may be a low-percentage operation. Appealing to someone who fears that mugger or killer may be a better bet -- and the San Francisco Police Department and family of Helen Canafax are hoping to guilt anyone who saw the 63-year-old San Francisco woman's April 10 robbery into coming forward. Their strategy: Noting, repeatedly, that this was a woman who spent her life helping the less fortunate -- and didn't deserve this.

click to enlarge Helen Canafax
  • Helen Canafax
Several weeks after having her hip broken when a mugger attacked her from behind, Canafax died of a pulmonary embolism. The city's medical examiner hasn't yet made a ruling on the cause of death, but both the police and Canafax's family are maintaining that the fatal blood clot wouldn't have occurred if the Potrero Hill resident hadn't been badly wounded in the purse-snatching.

"Helen always took time to work with people who didn't have much: Food, money, blankets, clothing -- that's what she did," said her brother, Cole Canafax. "After the incidnet, I told her that I thought this was a guy who was desperate, violent, has done this before and will do it again. She said, 'I don't know, Cole. He may have needed the money for his family.'"


Last week, Inspector Richard Martin of the homicide department told SF Weekly that he had arrested a man on an unrelated outstanding felony warrant he believes may be tied to Canafax's robbery. Since her mugging took place at 680 Folsom -- a well-traveled SOMA thoroughfare -- in broad daylight, Martin believes more witnesses should have been present than the one who has talked to police. But, so far, no one else has come forward. More input from the general public may be what it takes to connect the suspect (or others) to this crime -- and locate a second man Martin believes aided and abetted the purse-snatcher.

Cole Canafax pointed his car west from the family's native Houma, Louisiana in 1972 "When I had two quarters to rub together," and his little sister joined him in the Bay Area three years later. Helen Canafax as a teacher and a nurse before landing her longtime position as a legal analyst -- but her passion always seemed to be reaching out to others. The Canafaxes were not wealthy people, but Cole remembers his sister helping the less fortunate all the way back in high school, and working to aid the homeless of Baton Rouge during her undergraduate days at Louisiana State.

In San Francisco, she continued her efforts on a personal level, giving away goods and money to those in need, and striking up personal relationships with homeless people in the SOMA area. A number of them are working with the police department on this case.

Sadly, at the time of her death Canafax was excited about a scrap of land she'd purchased back in Houma; she was planning to travel home soon and brainstorm what sort of cabin to build there.

Witnesses or anyone else with information are urged to call  Martin or Inspector John Cleary at (415) 553-1145. The city's

confidential tip line can be reached at (415) 575-4444.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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