Murder suspect talks to the BAR
by Ed Walsh
Accused murderer Jim McKinnon says he's the real victim.
McKinnon, 37, is accused of murdering his friend, Gary Lee
Ober, 55, and then leaving Ober's body to rot in the bathtub
of Ober's apartment in the Glen Park neighborhood of San
Francisco for several weeks before it was discovered. But in
an exclusive interview with the Bay Area Reporter, McKinnon
said that he was forced to kill Ober to fend off a sexual
assault, a claim that Ober's friends strongly dispute.
"It was self-defense, that's all I am going to say. I was
attacked while I was on the toilet," said McKinnon last week
from the San Francisco County Jail.
When asked why he had to resort to killing a man nearly 20
years his senior in self-defense, McKinnon explained that
because he was sick, he was much weaker and more vulnerable to
"I had pneumonia and a temperature of 102-point-8 and I was on
the toilet with my pants down around my ankles," the murder
suspect said. "And he was an ex-veteran of Vietnam so he was
a trained killer. I never had any training. I took three karate
classes. I signed up for a year and I took three classes and
my Mom wound up paying 300 and some odd dollars for nothing. I
was 11. I never liked it. I never liked the violence. I used
to get beat up every day when I was a kid. I hate violence. I
hate it with a passion.
"He tried to sexally assault me," McKinnon insisted.
McKinnon was arrested on September 13. Three days earlier
police found Ober's body in the bathtub of Ober's home. They
were alerted by a neighbor who noticed a foul odor coming from
Ober's apartment. Police said McKinnon told neighbors that he
was watering Ober's plants while Ober was away on a cruise.
Police say Ober was first noticed missing about a month before
his body was found. McKinnon told the B.A.R. that he doesn't
know when he killed Ober.
McKinnon said he had bruises that were noticed by people at
the Pendulum bar that are proof of the struggle he said he got
in to defend himself.
A Pendulum bartender, Frank Franco, told the B.A.R. that
people there noticed the bruises. Franco said that McKinnon
explained that he got the marks as a result of a fight he had
with Ober. McKinnon didn't say that the fight resulted in
Ober's death. Franco strongly disputes McKinnon's claim of
"That's bullshit. Bullshit," an angry Franco said. "I do not
believe it. He's a motherfucker and I'd gladly pull the
When told that McKinnon wanted Franco to leave $10 on his jail
commissary books, Franco said the only thing he wanted to
leave for McKinnon is a note to say that he wanted him
Franco knew both McKinnon and Ober for about a year and a
half. Like Ober, he briefly let McKinnon live with him while
McKinnon was down on his luck.
"The cops told me it was just lucky it's not your murder we
are investigating," Franco said.
Franco said that Ober wouldn't have attacked anyone. He said
that Ober was vulnerable because he had been very sick because
of a back problem.
Franco said Ober's killing left him in a state of shock.
"Not only was I shocked, but I was sick over this for over a
week," he said.
Franco said because of his experience dealing with so many
different types of people, he considers himself a good judge
of character, but he said he was never so completely fooled
by anyone. He said McKinnon destroyed his belief in his
ability to make judgments about the character of others.
People vs. peephole
McKinnon told the B.A.R. that he lived with Ober for three
days before he allegedly killed him. He said that Ober agreed
to let him stay with him because he was homeless. He said they
were friends, not boyfriends.
"He was lonely and seemed like a really nice guy," said
McKinnon, noting that he knew Ober for over a year.
McKinnon said that although he has spent a long time in bars
in the Castro and is attracted to men, he doesn't consider
"I'm not gay. I'm not bi. I'm a people person. And I love
people. I don't like peepholes. Do you know the difference
between a peephole and a people? A peephole, you can see
right through them."
When asked why he didn't go to the police immediately if he
believed he acted in self-defense, McKinnon responded: "You
know what? I'm just a fucking human being and I got scared.
And you know what? I'm not scared anymore. It doesn't matter
what happens to me. What matters is what happens to this
planet if somebody doesn't do something; it's not going to be
pretty. Revelations. Read it. It's already happening, the
plagues. Man against man. The East against the West. It's
"I want people to know what happened," said McKinnon. "I did
nothing wrong. You understand that? The government does more
wrong in five minutes than I've done in my entire life. They
let Saddam Hussein get away with it 10 years ago, 11 years
ago, 12 years ago, and now they let Osama bin Laden go."
McKinnon didn't want to go into detail about his alleged
struggle with Ober but he told the B.A.R. that he used no
weapon. Police suspect that Ober may have been stabbed and are
examining a knife for DNA evidence.
"I don't know why anyone is talking about a knife for. I don't
know nothing about no knife. I really don't.
"I did not use any weapons at all. I was sitting on the damn
toilet," he added.
Police say Ober's body was found sprinkled with baking soda,
in an apparent attempt to mask the smell. 'When asked about
that, McKinnon answered: "I'm not going to comment on that."
McKinnon also declined to comment on an allegation that he
abused an elderly man in his care.
When asked about a report that he may have told another
customer at the Pendulum while he was drunk that he "did a
bad thing," McKinnon answered: "I don't know. If I was drunk,
I was drunk. I can't remember and that's all I can say about
that ... And you know 'I've done a bad thing' can be a lot of
things, [like] I peed on the toilet seat. You know I've done a
lot of bad things in my life like running out on my first
wife, running out on my second wife. Running out on my first
child, running out on my second child."
McKinnon explained that he was married twice and each time
walked on his wife. He said he has a son from his first wife
in Canada. He said the boy is now 14, 15, or 16 years old. He
said he has a 12- or 13-year-old daughter from his second wife
in Florida. He said he's originally from Canada and moved to
this country when he was 21 or 22. He said he has lived in the
Bay Area for five years.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, McKinnon said that
he designed, produced, and sold Tshirts to raise money for
9/11 victims. He said he produced 72 shirts, 32 of which are
still at the printers because he owes the printer $400.
"That will show you the type of person I really am inside," he
McKinnon said he hopes to spend his time in jail writing
books. He said he has the first 10 pages written of his new
novel. And he said he plans to write a book about his murder
Last Thursday, September 26, a day after the interview was
conducted, McKinnon phoned this reporter from jail to say
that on orders from his attorney, he can no longer talk to the
B.A.R, or any other media outlet.
Since the interview, the B.A.R. has learned of more
potentially damaging evidence against McKin non. Franco told
the B.A.R. that McKinnon "was suddenly flush with money" in
the days after Ober disappeared. Franco said McKinnon bought
rounds of drinks for customers and gave away and sold pain
medication. In retrospect, Franco is convinced the drugs and
money were Ober's. He noted that Ober had to take pain
medication for his back. The drugs included Valium,
OxyContin, and morphine.
The B.A.R. has learned that a backpack containing a loaded gun
and Ober's checkbook was left in the Midnight Sun bar sometime
in mid-August, during the time when Ober was missing. The
backpack was eventually turned over to San Francisco Patrol
Special Police officer Jane Warner, who filed a report and
turned it over to her superiors. The backpack was shuffled
off to SFPD's burglary detail. After reading Ober's name last
week in newspaper stories, a Midnight Sun bartender remembered
the name and alerted Warner to it. Warner in turn alerted
SFPD's homicide Inspector Holly Pera.
Pera told the B.A.R. that her office just received the
backpack from the burglary detail and she wasn't sure yet how
significant that find would be to their investigation.
Meanwhile, Ober's next door neighbor and close friend
Stephanie Henry has kept candles lit outside Ober's apartment
door since his body was discovered.
"I keep the candles lit, so his spirit will soar," Henry
explained. "I loved him."
Henry fondly remembers Ober's kind, thoughtful, and
generous spirit. She remembers the gifts he made for her
nieces and nephews. Most of all, she remembers the time they
spent together. She said they would sometimes keep each
other's doors open and amuse themselves by referring to their
apartments as the west or east wing, as if they lived in a
Her friend's murder has left Henry sad, shaken, and feeling as
if she constantly has to look over her shoulder. "No one
deserves what happened to him," she said.
Police are asking anyone with information to come forward,
particularly anyone who may have seen McKinnon during the
time Ober was missing. People can call the SFPD homicide
department at (415) 553-1145.