A Hidden Memorial for Murder Victims

I’ve walked past this spot more than a hundred times and never before noticed this memorial plaque on the ground.  It commemorates Mary Regina Gioia and Gregory Allen Kniffin.  They both died young on August 16, 1985.  Gioia was then 22 years old and Kniffin 18.

According to one website, Gioia was “murdered with a friend and found in the bay in Berkley California, while following the Grateful Dead concerts around the U.S.”

The East Bay Times wrote in 2009 that “The victims’ bodies were found floating in the Bay off the Berkeley Marina in mid-August 1985; they’d been beaten and shot to death. Thomas [their accused murderer] had been living in Rainbow Village, a waterfront area set aside for homeless people living in vehicles; Kniffin and Gioia were among “Deadheads” passing through there because the Grateful Dead was playing a Berkeley show the following weekend.”

Berkeleyside included the episode in its 2016 chronicle of homelessness in Berkeley.  It wrote:

Two “Deadheads” living at Rainbow Village were shot and killed. The bodies of Mary Regina Gioia, 22, of Schenectady, New York, and Gregory Kniffin, 18, of Wilson, Connecticut, were found in the bay. They had been beaten badly and shot at close range in the neck. Within a few days, Berkeley police had arrested Ralph International Thomas, another occupant of Rainbow Village, and he was eventually charged with the murders. He was convicted of the killings and sentenced to death. New attorneys later argued in court that Thomas’ defense attorney had not sought witnesses that could have helped his case and a federal appeals court eventually ordered a new trial decades later. Thomas, 59, died in jail in January 2014 while waiting for a new trial.

Gioia’s mother co-authored a book about the murder and the subsequent legal proceedings. My web search turned up no further information on Kniffin.

The memorial plaque is in the ground on the east side of the park, a few feet east of the paved pathway and a bit south of the drinking fountain next to the picnic areas there.  This and the plaque for Helen Rand Parish  are the only memorial plaques not attached to a bench.  Readers with information about when and by whom this plaque was placed, please contact me.  Thank you.

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