His Name Was John McGraham

The homeless man the devils burned to death on 3rd Street Thursday night wasn’t the one I’d thought after reading about it in the LA Times. The one I’d thought had been so unfathomably murdered was still alive and in his usual vicinity of 4th and Vermont pushing a cart by the Shatto Lanes bowling alley¬† when I biked past him this morning. He was wearing his big coat and dark glasses with a closely cropped beard still the same unnatural color so incongruous to the rest of him that it makes me think he might dye it with shoe polish.

I was micro-fractionally relieved that he wasn’t dead, but the dread was still there as I pedaled up Vermont to 3rd and west a block and a half to the makeshift shrine that had been erected by area residents in the wake of such horror.

When I arrived, a few women stood solemnly before the assemblage of countless candles and flowers and plush toys beneath the pictures and letters taped to the glass window of the shuttered clinic where he’d been attacked.

The first letter I read was signed by Victor Martinez:

“I just most of all want you to know that I love you and hope you are having a fun and peaceful vacation up there in heaven.”

On pink paper festooned with hand-drawn hearts, Michelle Castillo wrote, “We will miss you so much. You are a good man. I am safe when I am near you.”

Another printed out in a large font read, “You were a beautiful and harmless man. No matter what state you were in, your crystal blue eyes shined through all of it and through them we saw your innocense, your honesty and your calm. We saw something in you that many of us will never access within ourselves.”

John’s relatives have posted some biographical information (transcribed after the jump; along with a link to the Flickr photoset I snapped of the memorial this morning):

“John McGraham was born in Highland Park, California August 26 and came from a family of six (eight if you count our half brother and sister). His oldest sister, Virginia “Chick” passed away last year from kidney failure at the age of 68. He has a brother who is 67, a sister who is 58, a brother who is 57, and his youngest sister Susanne.

Despite rumors, John was not a businessman and did not serve in Vietnam. He worked as a bellman at the Ambassador Hotel where he was a faithful employee who always showed up on time, worked hard and got lots of tips because of his kindness and helpfulness. He was a kind and gentle spirit that somewhere lost his way.

He started out homeless because he had mental problems that caused our mother much concern and worry. She had no choice but to ask him to leave. He was a very intelligent and attentive man but somehow that didn’t seem to be enough to get him through a difficult time in his life which started with a broken heart.

He started out on 6th Street we think because his sisters worked down there @ 6th & Vermont. He was stabbed coming out of a liquor store and was hospitalized. When he left the hospital he “moved” to the neighborhood on 3rd.

Our family wants to thank all of you for your kindness. We always worried about him and felt so sad for his life. It is comforting to know that he touched the lives of so many people with his gentle spirit. We thank you for all the kindness and generosity you showed him. Something as small as a taco or as little as a pair of socks would have meant so much to him. Thank you all so very much.

Lastly, please do what you can, even if it is anonymously, to help capture the people who ended his life so horribly. He was harmless and kind and we hope you can help us.”

Photos from the memorial can be viewed here.

7 thoughts on “His Name Was John McGraham”

  1. I’m weeping, 2400 miles away from my old LA at this act of barbarism. May John find in the Great Beyond what he sought here. And may those who did this find retribution beyond their greatest fears.

  2. Thank you for posting this, Will. Even though I am currently exiled in Las Vegas, I do receive the L.A. Times and read this story with great horror and a heavy heart. Despite the notions of many, everyone living on the streets has a tragic backstory that put them there. They are humans, not animals, and deserve to be treated with whatever shred of respect we can find in our hearts to lend to them. We can only hope that this leads to an equal tragic and incendiary end for the murderers.

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