When police announced on Tuesday that they had found a headless corpse in a fish tank in the San Francisco home of the former bartender Brian Egg, it seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of his neighbor, Scot Free.
Free, an actor who lives across the street from Egg in San Francisco’s busy South of Market neighborhood, had been convinced that something horrible had happened to Egg ever since he had noticed a stream of sudsy water gushing from under his missing neighbor’s front door weeks earlier.
Egg, 65, an eccentric neighborhood “curmudgeon” who regularly walked his dog and watered trees in the urban alleyway where he lived, had been conspicuously absent all summer. But Free said several shady-looking men had been around his home, cleaning frantically with chemicals that smelled like bleach, using so much water that it poured out from under the front door and into the street.
Free and other neighbors said they had called the police repeatedly and asked them to check on the welfare of their neighbor, who they said often opened his home to “drifters”.
But their concern only increased on 14 August, when a white van pulled up, marked as a biohazard crime scene cleanup vehicle from a company called Aftermath Services. A strange man stood outside the home to meet it. Free and his neighbors dialed 911 to get the police.
“We said: ‘Get over there now; there’s something really fishy happening,’” said Free.
Within minutes, the slightly dilapidated, clapboard house on Clara Street was cordoned off into the grisly crime scene of one of San Francisco’s most perplexing mysteries. Police said in a statement that they obtained a search warrant after they “found evidence including cleaning products and suspicious odors in the residence”.
After searching Egg’s house for days, police discovered the badly decomposed body in a concealed fish tank. Sources quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle said the head and the hands were missing and that household chemicals had been poured into the fish tank.
“We have not released information about what liquid was in the tank or anything about the tank,” said Grace Gatpandan of the San Francisco police department.
Police announced they had arrested two men, who neighbors said had been seen at the home. One of them, Lance Silva, 39, was charged in court documents with using Egg’s credit card to order the crime scene cleanup van and to buy a used BMW for $5,000 back in June.
Police originally arrested the two on charges of homicide, fraud, theft, identity theft and elder abuse charges. But these charges were dropped. Silva remains in custody on a parole violation for a previous fraud case. The second arrestee, 52-year-old Robert McCaffrey, was released.
Police have asked the public for information on anyone using Egg’s funds. But two weeks after discovering it, investigators have still have not announced the identity of the corpse.
Nonetheless, Free and his neighbors are planning a memorial for Egg on his upcoming 66th birthday, 11 September.
“In my opinion, it can’t be anyone else but him,” said Free. “We can only imagine what has gone on in that house.”
Egg had long been a fixture on Clara Street, where property records show he bought his 800 sq ft house for $19,000 in 1976. The two-story white house, with a wrought iron gate downstairs and peeling paint on the roofline, is one of the few remaining Victorian buildings in a neighborhood now taken over by new condominium construction for the booming technology economy. The house is now valued at $1.5m on Zillow.
Egg was a bit paranoid and didn’t use a computer or a cellphone, said his neighbor Alex Lyuber, who added that Egg would garden on the street and talk daily with neighbors, while his fluffy white dog, Lucky, yapped incessantly. Other neighbors, who joined a discussion about Egg’s disappearance on the neighborhood website Nextdoor, said he had at times invited them into the beautiful garden he kept in his backyard.
Decades ago, Egg was a bartender at the Stud, a celebrated San Francisco gay bar known for its leather parties and drag queen shows.
But Free, who lived across the street for 30 years and once briefly rented a room from Egg, said Egg hadn’t worked in decades and lived an extremely frugal life. He said Egg ate almost every day at the free lunch program at San Anthony’s Foundation, which serves homeless people a mile away in the Tenderloin neighborhood.
Free and Lyuber said Egg often offered men he met there a place to stay. Some of them came carrying their belongings in backpacks and plastic bags, said Lyuber.
“He opened his door for people and they took advantage of him,” said Lyuber. “It makes me sad and angry.”
Neighbors said that they hadn’t seen Egg since at least June and noticed all summer that other people seemed to be living in the house. Police said Egg’s family reported him missing on 7 August. Egg’s brother, Devon Egg of Florida, told the Bay Area Reporter newspaper that he became suspicious after calling his brother’s house and getting an answering machine with another man’s voice on it.
Egg’s days of bartending at the Stud harken back to an age of exuberance for San Francisco’s gay community. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the bar was a popular gathering place for gay people, who had become a powerful political and cultural force in the city.
An article about the Stud printed in 1994 in the Bay Area Reporter, a local gay newspaper, mentioned that Egg had left the bar and “hasn’t been heard of in some time”.
Free, who does a comic standup routine as a drag queen named Pippi Lovestocking, also worked at the Stud, performing in a weekly show that began in 1996.
“It was much edgier back then,” said Free.
According to Free and Lyuber, Egg had his own dark history with the Stud. They said he had gotten into trouble for faking his own suicide, after losing his job at the bar in the late 1980s or early 1990s. They said they had heard he had broken bottles and destroyed property at the barbefore driving his car on to the Bay Bridge and abandoning it. Eventually, they said, he was busted by police for pretending to have jumped into the bay.
Gatpandan, the police officer, said the department does not release information about past arrests. No court records or news accounts of the alleged faked suicide could be found online.
Honey Mahogany, a current co-owner of the Stud, said she had not heard the story, but that the bar had changed owners numerous times.
Lance Silva, the man being held in jail on parole violations after allegedly using Brian Egg’s credit card, has his own interesting past life. While police said they arrested him at a hotel in an area popular with transient people, financial records show that Silva once served as the president of a nationally known upholstery company, once run by his father.
After Silva’s father, Don, died in 2010, the National Upholstering Company shut down its operations. But in 2014, Lance, who was then listed as president of the company, was convicted of bilking the retirement accounts of four of its former employees of $43,380. After an investigation by the US Department of Labor, prosecutors in Alameda county charged that Silva changed names and addresses on the accounts in order to receive the funds. He was sentenced to six months in jail and five years’ probation and ordered to repay the money.
Egg’s neighbors said they were impatient for investigators to sort out the twists of the case and release the identity of the body. They are angry at police for not having acted sooner.
“If we hadn’t said anything to police, nothing would have happened,” said Free. “Even then, they didn’t take it seriously.”