Two years ago in November I posted an item here about a hidden memorial plaque for two young murder victims who died here in 1985. Mary Gioia and Greg Kniffin, aged 22 and 18, respectively, were Deadheads following the band, and stayed briefly at Rainbow Village, a legally approved camp for homeless people living in their cars, located near the site of the plaque. The area was then still a working garbage dump; conversion to the park was just beginning. A man, Ralph International Thomas, was soon arrested, charged with their murder, convicted, and sentenced to death. He eventually appealed and won a new trial but died in prison in 2014 before it began. Mary’s mother, Pat Gioia, became an advocate for parents of murdered children and wrote a book. There the story ended, I thought, and I heard no more about it.
Then a couple of weeks ago my inbox brought two items about this case. One was a comment on my 2018 post from a Jon Hodgins, who describes himself as a friend of Greg Kniffin. He writes:
I just saw this post today. 35 years and one day after the death of my good freind Greg Kniffin from the town of Wilton, CT.
I did not know there was a plaque for both of them.
I however did know someone who was another freind from my adolescent years that was part of that Rainbow community in Ventura. His name was Dan Adams.
As fate would have it, I met Dan again after not seeing him in years at the Bridgeport Correctional Center in CT.
in 99. Dan relayed to me that Thomas “International” ( i forget the last name) was in fact, not the murderer. Thomas owned the bus that the murderer stole the rifle from and was arrested because he owned the rifle. The man that did it was a guy who had a street name and nobody knew his birth name.
Years later a lawyer had contacted Dan when he was in jail somewhere in like Ohio or in the center of the U.S. while Dan was incarcerated (busted) for heroin charges while on Dead Tour, to get Thomas exonerated from Greg’s murrder on Dan’s testimony but it never came together.
After Dan told me about all of this sent me into a bit of a spiral. I know Dan was not lying but I then had a newfound compassion for a person I previously despised for decades.
Thomas died in jail about 8 or 9 years ago. I never told this story to Greg’s Mother or Sister because it has no resolve. No answers. It only leaves questions.
Dan also passed away in 2000.
Thanks for posting this article on the plaque. . I gotta say I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a bit weepy reading this 35 years and one day after it happened.
Shortly thereafter came an email from a Payne Lindsey. Podcast fans may recognize his name as author of the Up and Vanished podcast, or the Atlanta Monster series. I did not know who he was or what he had accomplished. He said he was having trouble locating the memorial plaque, and could I help him find it. We made a date and I came to the scene, and after some pacing and scraping the ground, I found the plaque again; it was completely overgrown and covered with dirt. Payne took pictures and recorded audio. He had obviously done his research. He knew everything I knew about the case, and more. He didn’t reveal what he intended to do, but he pledged to donate funds to establish an information display of some kind about Rainbow Village and the two kids’ deaths.
I’m speculating here. Payne made his name pursuing true crime cases that had gone astray; he set them straight, or tried to. Will there be another such series about the murders of Mary Gioia and Greg Kniffin? Will he bring the murder story back to life?
Cesar Chavez Park harbors many stories, if you dig for them.