Deadheads Gone but Not Forgotten

Patricia Gioia, mother, and Joan Celentano, sister of murder victim Maria Gioia, holding memorial plaque installed in park. Photo from Patricia Gioia’s book, p. 78.
Mary Gioia, one of the murder victims. From Patricia Gioia’s book, p. 82.
The memorial plaque when installed. The tree in the background has not survived. From Patricia Goia’s book p. 78.

Cesar Chavez Park hosts dozens of memorials to the dead. More tan fifty benches commemorate loved ones, their names inscribed on brass plaques affixed to the back rests. There are also two plaques off benches. One is mounted on a stone on the southside annex in memory of Helen Rand Parish, and the other is on a block of cement now almost buried and out of sight on the east side of the park just south of the water fountain. The latter memorializes two young followers of the Grateful Dead band who camped in what was then briefly Rainbow Village, a City-approved homeless camp on the northeast corner of the park. On Friday, August 16 1985, Mary Gioia, age 22, and her friend Greg Kniffin, 18, were murdered in the park, their bodies dumped in the North Basin waters. Decades of criminal prosecution and appeals followed. Mary’s mother, Patricia Gioia, chronicled the family’s grief and the legal ordeals in her book, The Berkeley Marina Murders: One Family’s Story. Short coverage of the victims’ story can be looked up here and here on this website. Now, the prize-winning podcasters Payne Lindsey (Up and Vanished) and Jake Brennan (Disgraceland) have teamed up to produce a series on the strange disappearances of a number of Deadheads, focusing in great detail on the saga of Mary and Greg. You can listen to the episodes here. My thanks to Kacey Carolan for a shout-out to this podcast series.

Lindsey visited the park in September last year, and I was able to locate and dig out the memorial stone for him. He promised at the time to donate funds to make the stone visible again and to put up a display about the young victims and their temporary home, Rainbow Village. Lindsey made good on that promise. The Chavez Park Conservancy has this project on its to-do list.

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