Robert Hillsborough was a gardener for the City of San Francisco. His brutal murder in 1977 is sometimes referred as the catalyst that "woke up the city" to the growing violence against homosexuals in the city - and in fact, the entire state.
On June 21, 1977 he had gone to a disco with his friend Jerry Taylor. At about midnight they stopped at a burger joint a few blocks from Robert's apartment in the Mission District. They were followed from the parking lot by four young men and attacked when they parked their car. Taylor managed to escape and make his way to a friends apartment, but Robert didn't. After being beaten, he was stabbed 15 times by 19 year-old John Cordova who yelled "Faggot! Faggot!" Cordova was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to ten years in prison. Three other young men were also held - Thomas J. Spooner (21), Michael Chavez (20) and a 16-year-old boy whose name was not released by officials - all were from Daly City.
There are been several versions of the proceedings of that night which included Hillsborough and Taylor being intoxicated, and suggestions that Cordova was involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with a construction worker. But no matter what the true story was, one thing is for certain. A young man died that night before his time due to a hatred of his sexuality.
Times (San Mateo, California) - June 24, 1977
Moscone Raps Crusaders
SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) - Mayor George Moscone has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of four men who attacked a homosexual couple, fatally stabbing Robert Hillsborough, 33. In an angry mood Thursday, the mayor also lashed out against "anti-gay crusaders" and accused them of "inciting violence" in the city.
Hillsborough and his roommate, Jerry Taylor, 27, were attacked on the sidewalk near their Mission District apartment Wednesday by knife-wielding youths shouting "faggot! faggot!" Although beaten to the ground, Taylor managed to scramble over a fence and reach a friend's door. Hillsborough suffered 15 stab wounds in the face and chest during the melee and died within a few hours.
Various homosexual organizations have also pledged private rewards for capture of the attackers. The Tavern Guild of San Francisco, an organization representing the city's homosexual bars, pledged a $5,000 reward. The Biarritz restaurant and the N'Touch Disco jointly posted a $2,000 reward. And a $1,000 reward was offered by the Emperors Council, a social organization of wealthy homosexual men.
They mayor directed much of his anger at state Sen. John Briggs, R-Fullerton, who is a gubernatorial hopeful and a vocal supporter of Anita Bryant's recent anti-homosexual campaign in Florida. Moscone called Briggs an anti-homosexual "demagogue" and said he was responsible for "inciting trouble by walking right into San Francisco, knowing the emotional state of his community. He stirred people into action," Moscone said. "He will have to live with his conscience."
The senator held a news conference in front of City Hall last week, announcing efforts to remove homosexuals from teaching. In Sacramento, Briggs said he regretted "the taking of anyone's life." Then he added: "I think Mayor Moscone ought to give some thought to resigning or getting a new police chief to make San Francisco safe."
Times (San Mateo, California) - June 28, 1977
2 Arraigned in Homosexual Death
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - An arraignment was held for two men in the knifing death of Robert Hillsborough, just hours apart from a memorial service for the slain homosexual attended by more than 3,000 persons.
Thomas J. Spooner, 21, and John Cordova, 19, both of Daly City, were arraigned Monday before Municipal Court Judge Louis Garcia, each on a single charge of murder. The two men have been held without bail since their arrest Friday. Garcia scheduled another hearing for Thursday, when the two suspects are expected to enter pleas.
Hillsborough was killed last Wednesday outside his apartment here, when four young assailants set upon him and stabbed him 15 times. Also being held without bail in connection with Hillsborough's death are Michael Chavez, 20, of Daly City, and unidentified 16-year-old Daly City youth. They were taken into custody Saturday.
Hours after the arraignment Monday, the gathered mourners at Grace Cathedral listened to an emotional service in memory of the 32-year-old city gardener, who mother described as a "peaceful young man." Helen Hillsborough, a 73-year-old retired real estate broker from San Diego, said her son told her he was gay six years ago and hated violence "or any kind of unhappiness."
From the pulpit, the Rev. James Brown told the crowd, "In the matter of sexuality and homosexuality, in particular, the church has failed. In that failure it has hurt and caused to bleed some of her most devoted children."
New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania) - November 18, 1977
Bryant case dismissed
SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) - A federal judge has dismissed a $5 million lawsuit accusing Anita Bryant of conducting a hate campaign against homosexuals. The suit had been filed by the parents of Robert Hillsborough, 33, a homosexual killed June 21 by four young men.
U.S. District Judge Stanley A. Weigel said Thursday he lacked jurisdiction over the case because Miss Bryant lives in Florida. Hillsborough's parents said Miss Bryant's public comments constituted "a campaign of hate, bigotry, ignorance, fear, intimidation and prejudice" against their son and other homosexuals. This, they said, amounted to a conspiracy to deprive Hillsborough of his civil rights.
Social Security Death Index
Robert L. Hillsborough
Born: March 10, 1944
Died: June 22, 1977
SS#: 571-58-3120, issued in California 1959