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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Yesterday's Crimes: The Torture-Kit Sadist

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 10:15 AM

click to enlarge RANDY HEINITZ/FLICKR
  • Randy Heinitz/Flickr

This story is one giant trigger warning.

On Saturday, July 20, 1957, James Lonergan, a 26-year-old teacher, was on a date with an unidentified 19-year-old student nurse. The car ride started to get bumpy, so Lonergan pulled over by Golden Gate Park. As he was checking for a leak in his gas tank, a man crept out of the darkness and pressed a 10-inch blade to Lonergan's back.

“I want no trouble, only your wallet,” the man said. Lonergan handed over his wallet and wristwatch, hoping that would be the end of the ordeal.

But it was just the beginning.

The man forced Lonergan back into the car at knifepoint, and they drove to an isolated spot in the park. Lonergan was then bound and gagged with medical tape and a length of cord that the man fished out of the cardboard torture kit he was carrying. The man made the nurse get into the backseat, where he tied her arms behind her back and shackled her legs with a pair of handcuffs connected by a long chain.

The nurse struggled. The attacker punched her face and whipped her with a belt.

“Scream!” the attacker commanded. “Yell that it hurts! I want to hear you scream with pain!"

The attacker then burned the nurse with a cigarette, chopped off some of her hair, and raped her. After he was done, he sat silently for nearly 30 minutes before announcing he was going to give the couple “an injection.” Lonergan and his girlfriend felt a fresh rush of panic before the attacker gathered his tools, got out of the car, and walked into the darkness of the park, still carrying his torture kit.

Lonergan managed to slide out of the front seat and, still bound and gagged, wormed over to Lincoln Way, where people heard his screams. The nurse was found naked, bruised, and sobbing in the backseat of the car.

The rapist wore horn-rimmed glasses and had nylon pantyhose pulled over his scalp, the couple told police. They also described him as swarthy and bucktoothed. The press dubbed the suspect “the Torture-Kit Sadist,” and some reporters called him “The Fang” because of his exaggerated overbite.

Four days after the rape, police had a suspect in custody. His name was John Alvin Rexinger, 23, a convicted forger living on Franklin Street while he served out his parole. (Rexinger had been busted for statutory rape when he was 18.)

Detectives hauled Rexinger to the female victim’s hospital room, where she positively ID’d him.

The police thought they had their man. Rexinger had the right glasses, but he didn’t have the buckteeth.

He wasn’t the Torture-Kit Sadist.

His alibi, however, was dubious. He claimed he was at home during the attack, recording poetry for his parole officer. His poems conjuring “the frosty crunch of young bones under steel” and “bars and young flesh over iron chains” only made him look guilty as hell.

Inspector Frank Gibeau of the SFPD told the press that the poetry “clearly indicates (Rexinger) is a sexual psychopath and sadist.”

With his priors, and shopkeepers identifying him as the man who recently bought cord and tape from them, Rexinger feared he was destined for San Quentin’s gas chamber.

After eight days in the stir, Rexinger got a reprieve when police arrested a 21-year-old junkie named Melvin N. Bakkerud for burglarizing a pharmacy. When police searched Bakkerud’s apartment, they found the cardboard torture kit and John Lonergan’s wristwatch.

Rexinger said he felt “as though a steamroller had been lifted off (his) chest” when he was informed of Bakkerud’s arrest, but he was still held in custody due to his parole violations. By the time he was released, he had lost both his girlfriend and his job.

For his part, Bakkerud told police he got the idea for his brutal crimes from a detective magazine. A few months later, Bakkerud himself was featured in a photo spread for the November 1957 cover of Inside Detective  — a fitting tribute for a sadist.

"Yesterday's Crimes" revisits strange, lurid, eerie, and often forgotten crimes from San Francisco's past. 


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About The Author

Bob Calhoun


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